Posted by: mattcolvin | September 27, 2012

“Stretched Out His Hand”

Wednesday and Thursday of the 16th week after Trinity: 1 Kings 13:11-end and Acts 12:1-11.

This is one of those striking juxtapositions that I would have missed if I hadn’t done a recap of a missed day of Lectionary reading. At first glance, these two passages have little to do with each other. But then we see a phrase in common:

So it came to pass when King Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, who cried out against the altar in Bethel, that he stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Arrest him!” Then his hand, which he stretched out toward him, withered, so that he could not pull it back to himself. (1 Kings 13:4)

Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. (Acts 12:1)

Now, it is possible that it is mere coincidence. There are many instances of the phrase in the Bible. Most of them have God, or Moses, or Jesus as a subject, and they are saving and punishing, inflicting plagues, and healing, respectively. But it may also be a deliberate echo, intended to make us think about Peter’s (and the martyred James’, and the other apostles’) relation to Herod Agrippa by analogy with the relation of the prophets to Jeroboam. And it is certainly an iconic gesture of malevolence:

(Stretching out a hand usually means you’re up to no good, especially when you have nails like this.)

In many ways, 1 Kings 13 is the most puzzling chapter in the Bible. The entire action is an enigma to me, and I have seen no adequate explanation in scholarship. Why should God send a prophet to lie to the man of God, then have a lion slay him for believing the lying prophet? What does it mean that the lion and donkey stand by his dead body? And what does all this mean — for meaning it must surely have had — for Jeroboam and his house?

I never heard this story in Sunday school when I was growing up. Nor have I heard it preached or taught in any church. Pastors tend not to touch the passages that they are aware they don’t understand. (By contrast, they camp out on the passages that they are unaware they don’t understand!) But I think it’s important for Christians to see their pastors wrestle with the Bible, and for them to admit, often, that they don’t have all the answers.



  1. If memory serves, Leithart’s treatment of 1 Kings 13 in his commentary has some helpful insights.

    • Yes, I have it. Helpful, but not a solution.

  2. Gen 3:22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

  3. I’ve edited my commentary on 1 Kings 13:

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