Tragedies are more than the assiduous production of the fertile Greek intellect since they cross all boundaries, take no prisoners and dig into the human soul like no other. When we think tragedies we naturally think Greek tragedies, a period in the 5th Century when Greek authors like Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles produced works like The Story of Orestes, Cyclops and Women of Trachis; tragedies that leave us absolutely dumbfounded and mesmerized.
But Greek tragedies are fiction and however galling do not carry the emotional and mental impact of existential tragedies; especially when God is involved.
Take the case of this genuine believer, a man of integrity and a sincere commitment to God, a man whom God called on to deliver an important message, and he did so only to fall a cropper through misguidance.
The Bible puts it well like this:
"By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. 2 By the word of the LORD he cried out against the altar: 'Altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: "A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you."' 3 That same day the man of God gave a sign: 'This is the sign the LORD has declared: the altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.'
4 When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, 'Seize him!' But the hand he stretched out towards the man shrivelled up, so that he could not pull it back. 5 Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD.
6 Then the king said to the man of God, 'Intercede with the LORD your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.' So the man of God interceded with the LORD, and the king's hand was restored and became as it was before.
7 The king said to the man of God, 'Come home with me for a meal, and I will give you a gift.'
8 But the man of God answered the king, 'Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here. 9 For I was commanded by the word of the LORD: "You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came."' 10 So he took another road and did not return by the way he had come to Bethel.
11 Now there was a certain old prophet living in Bethel, whose sons came and told him all that the man of God had done there that day. They also told their father what he had said to the king. 12 Their father asked them, 'Which way did he go?' And his sons showed him which road the man of God from Judah had taken. 13 So he said to his sons, 'Saddle the donkey for me.' And when they had saddled the donkey for him, he mounted it 14 and rode after the man of God. He found him sitting under an oak tree and asked, 'Are you the man of God who came from Judah?'
'I am,' he replied.
15 So the prophet said to him, 'Come home with me and eat.'
16 The man of God said, 'I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. 17 I have been told by the word of the LORD: "You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came."'
18 The old prophet answered, 'I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the LORD: "Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water."' (But he was lying to him.) 19 So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house.
20 While they were sitting at the table, the word of the LORD came to the old prophet who had brought him back. 21 He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, 'This is what the LORD says: "You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. 22 You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors."'
23 When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him. 24 As he went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was left lying on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it. 25 Some people who passed by saw the body lying there, with the lion standing beside the body, and they went and reported it in the city where the old prophet lived.
26 When the prophet who had brought him back from his journey heard of it, he said, 'It is the man of God who defied the word of the LORD. The LORD has given him over to the lion, which has mauled him and killed him, as the word of the LORD had warned him.'
27 The prophet said to his sons, 'Saddle the donkey for me,' and they did so. 28 Then he went out and found the body lying on the road, with the donkey and the lion standing beside it. The lion had neither eaten the body nor mauled the donkey. 29 So the prophet picked up the body of the man of God, laid it on the donkey, and brought it back to his own city to mourn for him and bury him. 30 Then he laid the body in his own tomb, and they mourned over him and said, 'Alas, my brother!" (1 Kings 13:1-30 New International Version - UK)
Every believer must feel a measure of sorrow for the hapless end to this man of God, for he seemed to have done everything right yet met with a death unbefitting his station. "Unmerited death is redemptive" says Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but however hard we examine this situation the more elusive becomes the demerits of this untimely death.
So what cogitation should occupy our minds as we contemplate the demise of this man of God?
1. He was undoubtedly a good man. God chose and anointed him a prophet and selected him for an important mission, which he carried out very well. Warning: The devil does not care how you fall as long as you fall; for that is his sole aim. (Luke 22:31)
2. His instructions were clear and when asked he was able to repeat them with complete accuracy. Warning: Sometimes when believers get themselves into trouble they resort to the age-worn shibboleth of "I wasn't too sure" or "I can't remember" or "I forgot" and in the process compound the tragedy. (Galatians 5:7)
3. After a resounding victory he became complacent and became less diligent. Warning: It is always the case that following a victory believers need to fortify their resolve and be ready for a fresh assault from the enemy. Paul was stoned and left for dead after carrying out a miraculous act of healing(Acts 14:19)
4. He rationalised that a fellow prophet would not deceive him even though it was clear that the new instructions went contrary to God's will. Warning: To allow oneself to go contrary to God's word is a sure road to tragedy; false teachers and false prophets are everywhere so anything contrary to God's clear instructions must be rejected and we should do as the folks in Berea did. (Acts 17:11)
5. He could have avoided the tragedy by seeking confirmation from God. It was possible, but not likely, that God amended his previous instructions and in that case such a radical reversal of instruction should sound a warning and need for confirmation. Warning: Believers should not proceed in any dubious matter until they seek God's will in the matter.
There are important lessons to be learnt here but surely the most important is that you have a particular responsibility for your own salvation; its excellence, its progress, its longevity and its robustness. It is for good reason the Bible says, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12) Being misled by a dumb believer is as bad as being misled by an unsaved, charismatic pastor and as bad as being misled by a loving, ignorant parent. Believers have a responsibility to get it right and to do so means living close to God and following the dictates of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:12)
Books by this author (non-fiction except indicated otherwise)
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013