Exegetes paint vastly different portraits of the prophet from Beit El, and offer a range of possible motives to explain his actions. Many assume that he was a false prophet, acting out of either national or personal interest. R. Samet, thus, suggests that he was trying to undo the Man of God's prophecy so as to legitimize Yerovam's religious innovations in Beit El, while Josephus asserts that he attempted to defame the Man of God for selfish reasons, hoping to prevent prophetic competition. While Samet suggests that the prophet had a change of heart and repented by the end of the story, Josephus presents him as being the main cause of Yerovam's persistence in his idolatrous ways.
Others claim that the elderly prophet was a retired, true prophet, with positive, but misguided, intentions. T. Verdiger suggests that his actions were motivated by his confusion regarding the religious practices taking place in Beit El. Despite their problematic nature, he was uncertain if the Divine choice of Yerovam sanctioned his religious innovations as well, and thus wanted to determine if the Man of God spoke truth or not. Finally, Abarbanel suggests that the prophet was utterly altruistic and had only wanted to be hospitable to a fellow Man of God. According to both, the prophet was not wicked, and only unintentionally caused the Man of God's downfall.
The Prophet from Beit El was a false prophet acting out of either national or personal interest:
The Prophet from Beit El hoped that by having the Man of God disobey his own words and prophetic sign, he could undo the prophecy against Beit El.
- Reaffirm status of Beit El – According to R. Samet, after the אִישׁ הָאֱ-לֹהִים cast doubt on the legitimacy of the new worship during the dedication ceremony, the Prophet from Beit El realized he needed to reaffirm his prophetic position and thereby restore Beit El's religious status. By getting the אִישׁ הָאֱ-לֹהִים to accept his word, he could assert himself as the more senior prophet, and prove that his stance towards the new worship was the correct one.
- Reverse the prophetic sign and its content – Prof. Simon suggests that the act of undoing a prophetic sign11 was believed to actively affect the word of God that lay behind the sign.12 Thus, the prophet believed that if he could reverse the decrees against eating he could also undo the prophecy which they symbolized. [In contrast to R. Samet, though, Prof Simon assumes that the fate of the new religious system was less troubling to the old prophet than the prophecy regarding the burial plots, and it was mainly this which he wanted to prevent coming to fruition]
- Corrective – It was imperative for the Prophet from Beit El to get the prophecy so that after the אִישׁ הָאֱ-לֹהִים died, he could confirm to the people of the city that this happened by the word of Hashem for his transgression.18 In so doing, he was able to reverse some of the damage done by his deception of the אִישׁ הָאֱ-לֹהִים.
- Test – R. Samet adds that the prophecy was also a test to the false prophet. Would he change in the aftermath of hearing the word of God, recognize the truth of the original prophecy, and help spread it, or would he remain mired in his old ways?
The prophet from Beit El was looking after his personal interests and doing what he thought would be best for his prophetic business. The variations of this approach differ both in their evaluation of the Man of God and regarding the immediate motives of the Prophet from Beit El:
Defame the Man of God
The Prophet from Beit El viewed the Man of God as competition, leading him to try and de-legitimize him in the eyes of the king.
Co-opt the Man of God
The Prophet from Beit El saw in the Man of God a potential partner who might join him in his false prophesying.
The Prophet from Beit El was a true prophet who unintentionally caused the Man of God's downfall. These sources divide regarding his specific motive:
The Prophet from Beit El did not know if the Man of God was a legitimate prophet or an emissary sent by Rechavam to attack Beit El for political reasons. His invitation was intended to discover whether or not he truly spoke the word of Hashem and, thus, whether or not Beit El was Divinely rejected.
The prophet's motives were misguided, but altruistic. He simply wanted to prevent the Man of God from going home hungry.