Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 118. Josiah King Of Judah, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 118
Josiah King Of Judah
Part 1

We begin our study today of one of Judah's best kings, Josiah, a man whose rise a prophet predicted way back in 1 Kings 13.

2 KINGS 22:1-13, 2 CHRONICLES 34:3-7
King Josiah, son of Amon, grandson of Manasseh, ascends to the throne at only eight years of age. But he is the king an unnamed prophet predicted in 1 Kings 13:1-2, "By the word of the Lord a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. By the word of the Lord he cried out against the altar: 'A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.'" The fulfillment of this prophecy took three hundred years, a long time to our mortal minds, but, "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) God could have struck Jeroboam down for making an offering to a golden calf and not to the living God. This is what Jeroboam was doing when the prophet made his pronouncement against the sinful altar. The Lord could have destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel for the idolatry they so quickly turned to during the reign of their first king. But instead He gave them three hundred years to absorb the dire prophecy and to turn from their sins. He did this because He was patient with them, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. They didn't do it, but they can never accuse Him of not extending His mercy during those three hundred years.

"Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother's name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left." (2 Kings 22:1-2) Josiah lost his father at a young age but this was a blessing on him and on the nation. If Amon had lived long enough to raise his son, Josiah might have fallen under his wicked influence. Instead he grew up in the fear of the Lord, faithful and unswerving, committed to his God. I love it that the author skips over all the generations between David and Josiah and refers to David as Josiah's father. What a precious way to speak of this fatherless little boy. 

We don't know what religious instruction Josiah received before the age of eight, if any, but something in his heart longed to know the Lord. The Chronicler tells us, "In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David." (2 Chronicles 34:3a) Josiah was sixteen, an age when we might expect a young man to sow some wild oats, but instead he earnestly sought Who he believed could satisfy every longing in his soul. It wasn't that he lacked gods to choose from; he could have chosen any from the pantheon of gods whose idols his father set up. He could have worshiped Baal like King Ahab and King Manasseh. He could have set up Asherah poles and turned the temple into a brothel as Manasseh did. He could have promised his firstborn son to the Canaanite god Molech as a couple of kings before him did. Or he could even have turned to the gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians, the gods the astrologers believed ruled every aspect of their lives. Josiah was a young man who could have anything he wanted and could have lived any way he wanted. But he found something lacking in every form of worship available except for the worship of the living God. His heart was open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Josiah had a heart like David's, a heart that said the same thing David's did, "My heart says of You, 'Seek His face!' Your face, Lord, I will seek." (Psalm 27:8) Josiah looked around him at all the pagan idols and felt no emotion. Nothing about them drew him to them because his heart said, "Seek the Lord's face!" And Josiah answered, "Yes, Lord! I will seek Your face!"

"In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles and idols. Under his direction the altars of the Baals were torn down; he cut to pieces the incense altars that were above them, and smashed the Asherah poles and the idols. These he broke to pieces and scattered over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them." (2 Chronicles 34:3b-4) Josiah was twenty when he began ridding the land of idols. He tore down what his father had built because his father built nothing but lies. It was a lie to believe there was any other God or help in any deity except the God who had brought them out of Egypt. 

"He burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and so he purged Judah and Jerusalem. In the towns of Manasseh, Ephraim and Simeon, as far as Naphtali, and in the ruins around them, he tore down the altars and the Asherah poles and crushed the idols to powder and cut to pieces all the incense altars throughout Israel. Then he went back to Jerusalem." (2 Chronicles 34:4-7) The priests mentioned here were the pagan priests, likely already dead and buried, and he took their bones out and burned them on the altars to desecrate the altars. Josiah was able to tear down the altars even to the upper regions of the northern kingdom because Israel had been conquered by Assyria and taken into captivity. There was a remnant that remained in the land but they were either unable or uninterested in stopping Josiah. Their gods had not saved them from their enemy Assyria, why protect their gods from Judah? 

"In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: 'Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord---the carpenters, the builders and the masons. And have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.'" (2 Kings 22:3-7) At the age of twenty-six he ordered the temple repaired and refurbished just as his precedessor King Jehoash did in 2 Kings 12. He knew and trusted the men in charge of the work. He was able to discern their godly character and had no fear of them misappropriating the money.

"Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, 'I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.' He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: 'Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.' Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, 'Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.' And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king." (2 Kings 22:8-10) The Law was not being read in Jerusalem and had been neglected during the reign of Manasseh and Amon and possibly during the reigns of even the godly kings. Up til now it had been neglected during the reign of Josiah, although he knew enough about the Lord and His word to have found his way to Him. The priests who served at the temple knew a fair amount of the word of God from memory but they weren't being obedient to the Law given in Deuteronomy concerning the book, that it was to be read aloud before all the people every seven years, that the king was to have his own personal copy to consult at all times. 

Some scholars believe the part Shaphan read was from Deuteronomy concerning the king having a copy of the law and concerning the rule that it be read aloud every seven years and the covenant with the Lord reaffirmed at its reading. Josiah has never heard this portion of Scripture before and it cuts him to the heart. "When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes." (2 Kings 22:11) I love this verse! When we hear a portion of the word of the Lord that pierces our consciences, there are only two reactions we can have. We either harden our hearts and refuse to repent or we are grief-stricken to the core like Josiah. The tearing of his robes in grief and humility symbolizes his sadness over his sins and over the sins of the nation. He is acknowledging guilt before Almighty God. And that's where healing begins. If we acknowledge our sins before a merciful God, He will not have to charge us with them at the judgment. We can have them taken care of right here and right now. 

Josiah isn't familiar enough with the word of the Lord to fully understand what he has heard, but he knows enough to recognize his sin. His heart is open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. What he has heard of the Law makes him want to know more. "He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king's attendant: 'Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.'" (2 Kings 22:12-13) 

There were probably copies of the Law throughout the land but rabbinic literature indicates that Hilkiah found the actual book of the Law written by Moses, the copy that was to be kept with the Ark of the Covenant, and the fact that it was the original book of such antiquity caused Josiah to feel the whole weight of its importance. There is an ancient legend that some of the priests had hidden the book during the reigns of wicked kings so it would not be destroyed. Because the temple was undergoing repairs it came to light. If so, this was the very book Moses penned with his own hand, the very book he read aloud to the people when first affirming the covenant with the Lord. It would have been considered the most holy book in existence. It has a profound effect on the king, an effect of the word of God that the author of Hebrews wrote about, "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) This sword pierced Josiah's heart, just as it pierces all the hearts of those willing to hear the truth of the Lord. It cuts all the way to the heart, revealing our sins to us, making us aware that we have offended a holy God. 

When we hear the word of the Lord, we must do something about it. We can choose to scoff at it and reject it as an ancient and useless volume or we can accept it in faith and receive new life. Josiah made the best choice, the right choice. God gave us His word not to beat us down with it and make us feel worthless but to bring us to Himself and to the joy of His fellowship. He wants to make us whole, not tear us apart. He wants to give us life, not death. The word reveals our hearts to us so we can bring to Him anything that doesn't line up with His law. 

Moses gave a warning to those who heard the words of the law and rejected them, "When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, 'I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,' they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as on the dry." (Deuteronomy 29:19) Josiah says, "No wonder the Lord is angry with us! We have neglected His word! We have failed to follow His law! We knew what our holy God required of us but we persisted in going our own way."

When Moses finished reading the Law to the people, he concluded with these words, "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) The time will come when Judah will so forsake her God that He will take her from the land He promised to her fathers. But that time won't come during the reign of Josiah because he chooses life. He chooses blessing. The Lord makes the same offer to us today: life or death, blessings or curses. Let's make the good choice Josiah made. Let's allow the word of God to minister to our hearts, revealing our sins to us so we can turn from them. His word will show us how to live in this dark world, how to walk in His light even on the gloomiest of days, how to live in hope even in the most perilous times. 

The song link below reminds me of the attitude of Josiah who decided to follow the Lord, no turning back.

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