Summary: This may be the only sermon preached against an altar! When God's prophet came to Bethel, some interesting things happened. Something even happened to the altar itself.


The Bible records messages proclaimed against many topics. This is especially true in the Old Testament: the prophets spoke about (and against) various kings, nations, and even the nations of Israel and Judah.

The text here is unusual because, first, it’s spoken against an altar! So far as I’ve found, no other message has ever been preached specifically against an altar. Secondly, it’s spoken by an unnamed prophet, a citizen of Judah, the southern kingdom, against the altar in Bethel, which was a place of worship in the northern kingdom or Israel. Third, it has a multi-part application, in that no fewer than four specific prophecies, uttered at that episode, were all literally fulfilled. Let’s take a closer look at the text:

[1 Kings 13:1-10, NASB] 1 Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. 2 He cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, "O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, 'Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.'" 3 Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, "This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, 'Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.'" 4 Now when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, "Seize him." But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD. 6 The king said to the man of God, "Please entreat the LORD your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me." So the man of God entreated the LORD, and the king's hand was restored to him, and it became as it was before. 7 Then the king said to the man of God, "Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward." 8 But the man of God said to the king, "If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. 9 "For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.'" 10 So he went another way and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.”


It’s important to know a little of the background for this message. The united kingdom of Israel, all 12 tribes, had come to Shechem to crown Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, as king. He made one of the worst blunders in history, with the end result being that the 10 northern tribes seceded, and Rehoboam had to run for his life back to Jerusalem. All this and more is found in 1 Kings 12, which should be required reading for every new elected official!

We’re not told how much time elapsed between the events of verses 25 and 28 of 1 Kings 12. Jeroboam, the usurper and newly crowned king of the northern tribes, could have already made plans for building an idol to cement his grip over the people. At any rate, he made the plans, made the altar, made the idol, and made his declaration of independence, even from God, when he cried out, “Behold you gods, O Israel!” The last few verses of chapter 12 give the sad story of how, once again, God’s people left Him behind. They knew all about the promises, blessings, curses, and so forth of the Law—and yet, they walked away from it, all because of the new king.

So now, as He has done so often in the past, God, the God of ALL Israel, sent them a prophet.

The message about the altar

The Bible doesn’t give us any specific information about Jeroboam’s altar, in Bethel, except what is recorded in the last couple of verses of1 Kings 12. Jeroboam was not only crowned king, but had made himself the chief religious leader of the Ten Northern Tribes. He was probably preparing to make a sacrifice when God’s prophet came and declared the first, and probably only, message against an altar! Whether Jeroboam’s altar was made of stones, dirt, metal, or anything else—again, we’re not told much about it—God was very displeased with it.

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