When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Ng Wee Keong
When I say the phrase, “bad things happening to good people”, what comes to your mind?
Sometimes we think maybe the person is not THAT good; or the things that happened to them are not THAT bad…
Now read 1 Kings 13. This is a troubling passage, about an unnamed man of God. He crossed the border from Judah to Bethel in the North to confront King Jeroboam, just as Jeroboam was about to offer sacrifices on the altar of the golden calf. The man of God prophesied against Jeroboam, and as a sign that the prophesy was from God, the altar that Jeroboam was sacrificing on split into two and the ashes spilled out. It was victory for the man of God, or so it seemed.
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. He (the old prophet) found him sitting under an oak tree and asked, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?”
“I am,” he replied.
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.’” (1 Kings 13:11-17)
Now we are introduced to this old prophet. He must have been once faithful to God else he would not be introduced this way. But he has chosen to live in the border town of Bethel. What does that tell you about his convictions? This old prophet not only lived in a compromising place; he lived a compromised faith-life. He allowed his sons to be at the sacrifice of the golden calf. For those of us who have been Christians for a while, are we like this old prophet? Maybe we were once full of zeal for God, but have we given in to bitterness, faithlessness and selfishness?
The old prophet found the man of God from Judah under an oak tree. WHY was he sitting under an oak tree and not doubling back to Judah as fast as his legs could carry him? Maybe he was genuinely hot and tired. Maybe he felt good about himself after a job well done. After all, it is not every day you can challenge a powerful monarch and get away with it! Whatever the reason, he lingered a little longer than he should…
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.
While they were sitting at the table, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet who had brought him back. 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. 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.’” (1 Kings 13:18-22)
The Israelites have a tradition of burying members of the same household in the same tomb. To be excluded and denied burial with the family is a great regret and loss indeed. But the man of God was a good man. It was the old prophet who lied! Why was the one being deceived punished way more severely than the deceiver? And merely for a small act of eating and drinking? If this was punishable, how about King Jeroboam who was perverting an entire nation’s faith! Bad things happened to this good person…
But consider this, Galatians says even if an angel from heaven were to preach a gospel other than the one we received, let him be eternally condemned! We don’t even take an angel’s word casually, what more contradicting claims from a stranger! We just can’t let our guard down.
When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him. 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...
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. Then he laid the body in his own tomb, and they mourned over him and said, “Alas, my brother!” (1 Kings 13:23-30)
How did they even have any appetite to finish eating their meal? How could the old prophet just let the man leave his house after condemning his fate? Should he not try to pray to God? However, he must have felt the FULL WEIGHT of his guilt fall on his heart when he heard the news. He saddled his donkey and went to collect the body of the man of God. He took time to grieve and mourn for him. Then he laid the man in his own tomb. The significance of this is like accepting the man of God as family. He even called him “my brother”.
After burying him, he said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave where the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. For the message he declared by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel and against all the shrines on the high places in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true.” (1 Kings 13:31-32)
The old prophet wanted his body to be buried in the same tomb as the man of God because he knew the prophecy that Josiah will break all the altars and shrines of the cult worship places will come true. All the ashes will be thrown out and desecrated!
Fast forward 300 years, and the prophesy finally came true.
“Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin — even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also. Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things.
The king asked, “What is that tombstone I see?”
The people of the city said, “It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it.”
“Leave it alone,” he said. “Don’t let anyone disturb his bones.” So they spared his bones and those of the prophet who had come from Samaria.” (2 Kings 23:15-18)
What do we think of the old prophet now? His bones were spared from being dug out and desecrated because he had chosen to be buried with the man of God. Could his actions 300 years ago be a calculated move? Or did he show sincere remorse for his sins and wanted his bones buried with a righteous man? Could it all be part of God's plan? Bad things happen to good people for reasons that we sometimes will never know…
Ng Wee Keong
After serving in the full time ministry in Central Christian Church for 25 years, Wee Keong stepped out on faith to seek outside employment and continue his adventure with God. He is now doing mediation work and considers his salvation, his wife and sons and his spiritual experiences the greatest gains in his life.