Creative writer Seth Villegas explores the aftermath of the old prophet’s lie in his short story, “The Old Prophet Stands,” based off of 1 Kings 13:
The king said to the man of God, “Come home with me for a meal, and I will give you a gift.”
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. 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.’”
. . .
So the prophet said to him, “Come home with me and eat.”
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. 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.’”
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.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house.
(1 Kings 13:7-10,15-19)
The Old Prophet Stands
An old man rides into the city on a donkey. A staff rests across his lap and a young man leads the donkey through the city gates. Once they get to the city square, the young man helps the old man down off the donkey and onto a stone platform, one perhaps as old as the city itself. Standing halfway between the temple and the city gates, the old man raises the staff over his head to address the crowd.
“Test the prophets! Is that not what we are told in the To’rah? Test the prophets!” says the old man.
His voice rings out but his raised arm shakes. The bustle of the people appears undisturbed. The old man sees that the young man is watering the donkey from a nearby well.
“Does the prophet’s message not stand? Shall you continue on as if he were never here?”
The old man notices the people of the Book strolling through the crowd from the direction of the city gates. They wear long gowns and tassels. Their attention is focused forward as they pass between the well and the stone platform.
“Do not act as if you do not know of whom I speak,” the old man continues, “the man of God from Judah, the prophet who rebuked the king in his own chambers!”
One of the men of the book turns toward the platform and spits on the ground. The donkey screeches. The young man pets the donkey’s neck, looking up at the men of the Book.
“He knew the Lord spoke,” says the old man. He raises his voice as the men of the Book near the far side of the city square. “I lied to him just as you continue to lie to your king!
“But I am guiltier than you,” he continues, “because I pretended to be what he most wanted in a hostile land: an ally, a colleague, a kindred spirit…a father.”
The men of the Book enter the temple. A section of the crowd follows them in.
“His prophecy was not just to protect him from you nor even from the king, but to protect him from me,” he says. “Me, the man he should have been able to trust.”
The old man looks at the younger man, but the younger man does not return his gaze. The younger man continues to pet the donkey.
“When had I changed so much that I could not longer recognize a move of God when it was before me? But as the donkey and the lion sat next to the prophet’s corpse, it was a sign against me just as it is now a sign against you.
“Priests! I have no temple; I have no courts. King! I have no armies; I have no crowns! But let me now be a sign against you for this prophecy shall come to pass: should you continue as you are, your kingdom and your house cannot stand.”
The old man tries to raise his staff again, but instead it breaks his fall as he drops to one knee, his face wet and hot. The younger man pushes through the crowd of gawkers that has gathered around the old man. Once he gets to the platform, the old man stops him with a raised hand.
“I cannot bury anymore prophets,” he says, looking at the young man. He manages to stand. “I cannot bury any more of my sons. The cost…is too high.”
The younger man urges the old man down from the platform. The old man stumbles again as he reaches the ground. The younger man holds his arm out and the old man takes it. They walk together through the crowd to the well and the donkey. The young man helps the old man onto the donkey.
As they leave, various people come to the younger man to ask if he and the old man would like to stay the night. But in each instance, the younger man looks back to the old man and declines. The old man says nothing.
The two travel together through the night, away from the city back to their small village. Along the way, they stop at the tomb of their ancestors to offer a prayer. They finish the final leg of their journey as father and son.
From the Artist:
When reading the Bible, certain stories tend to stick with you. The story of the “Man of God from Judah” in 1 Kings 13 has stuck with me for a long time. As an aspiring Christian leader, this story has always bothered me. I still have trouble seeing why a person in a position of influence would deliberately mislead someone else, especially in a religious context.
The story that I have written in response to this story contains many of my own reservations about the old prophet. Perhaps that is how the story ended up being one focused on generational reconciliation. While I am sure that is not all this story is about, it has to end for me with the reunification of father and son in the actual roles that they inhabit.
Within the current Christian sphere, there continues to be a tension between the generations of people that makeup the church. 1 Kings 13 seems to show just how much damage one generation can do to another. But I also think it also shows just how much the younger generation yearns for support. In the end, we need one another. As Jesus himself said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Seth Villegas is a creative writer and arts organizer living in the greater Pasadena area. He grew up fascinated by stories, most notably the mundane and fantastical stories told to him by his father. He wrote his first short stories in high school and has continued to write regularly ever since. In college at Stanford University, Seth took every creative writing class available to him, including a seminar taught by Pulitzer Prize winning author Adam Johnson. He feels that he best expresses himself in prose, though he sometimes works in poetry and drama.
In his current work, Seth seeks to articulate the tension between pain and possibility. For Christians, these possibilities are rooted in a hope in God. This is not an easy hope, however, because we must still acknowledge our pain and our failures to find it. His stories try to draw out these themes in the lives of his characters.
Seth is currently finishing up his master’s degree at Fuller Theological Seminary and hopes to pursue doctoral studies in the area of theology, science, and technology.
This work was curated by Rebecca Testrake.
This work is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.
Help more artists create works on biblical text by donating to Spark and Echo Arts.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™