Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 119. Josiah King Of Judah, Part 2

Prophets And Kings
Day 119
Josiah King Of Judah
Part 2

Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law during temple renovations. Upon hearing the law, King Josiah tore his robes in grief over his own sins and the sins of the nation. Today he sends trusted officials to a prophetess to inquire of the Lord about what will happen to them for breaking the law.

2 KINGS 22:14-20
Yesterday Josiah commissioned Hilkiah the priest, Shaphan the secretary, Shaphan's son Ahikam, along with his officials Akbor and Asaiah to inquire of the Lord regarding the Book of the Law. Having heard the law, Josiah knows he has not kept it. He knows the people of Judah have not kept it. He has read the curses destined to fall upon them for not keeping the law and wants to know how things will go for the nation. He wants guidance from someone more spiritually mature than himself. The high priest Hilkiah, because the nation has neglected the law for so long, doesn't possess the insight needed. His own son Jeremiah is a prophet during this period of history but he resided at Anathoth and the urgency of the mission required the men to seek help from a closer source in Jerusalem. In this case, the prophet available happens to be a woman. She is not the only prophetess in the Bible. Isaiah's wife was also a prophet and the Bible mentions several other prophetesses besides these two: Deborah in the Old Testament, Miriam in the Old Testament, Anna in the New Testament, the daughters of Phillip in the New Testament, and various other women known only as women of God. The spirit of prophecy temporarily came upon several other women who were not known as prophetesses but who spoke of future events such as Rachel, Hannah, Abigail, Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, and Mary the mother of Jesus. 

"Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter." (2 Kings 22:14) Huldah's husband was responsible for the king's wardrobe. In our day we would call him a tailor or clothing designer. He was likely assigned to Josiah as soon as he became king and was in and out of the palace on a regular basis over the course of many years. I think we can safely assume Shallum was a godly man. If he weren't, he might not have lasted long in the godly Josiah's employ. Plus he would have found living with a prophetess intolerable. This man may have had a lot of influence on Josiah through the years as he custom-made his clothes. He would have had to spend a great deal of time in the presence of the king, measuring him for clothing, pinning the clothing, consulting him about designs and materials and enjoying the type of friendly chatting that goes on at such times. I like to imagine them as friends in the faith. 

The men come to Huldah and make the king's request to her. He has read the words of the law, the covenant the Lord made with the people by the hand of Moses. He knows the blessings the Lord promised to those who keep the law. He also knows the curses the Lord has promised to those who break the law. Because he and the nation have sinned in not reading or keeping the law, he fears for the future of Judah. 

Josiah is wise to fear the curses of Deuteronomy for they include such things as trouble in the country and in the city, the failure of crops and flocks and herds, the inability of their wives to bear children, plague and drought and famine, the failure to be successful in work, defeat in battle, and finally the ruin of the nation and captivity in a foreign land. You can find these curses in all their horrifying detail in Deuteronomy 28. No wonder Josiah is shaken to the core.

The prophetess gives the men the answer they seek and it's a mixture of good news and bad news. "She said to them, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read.'" (2 Kings 22:15-16) Huldah sets about delivering the bad news first. God will indeed call the people into account for their backsliding, for their idolatry, for their sins, for their complete disregard for His law. God is just and righteous; He cannot be anyone other than who He is. The curses He pronounced for setting the law aside are the penalty for Judah's disobedience. He is going to keep His word regarding this penalty. I imagine the hearts of the men sinking when they hear what Huldah has to say.

But if God's word can't be trusted, where is our hope in His faithfulness? Where is our hope in His justice? We can compare this situation to our faith in the justice system of our country. We expect our judges to follow the laws on the books and to enact the penalties appropriate for breaking the laws. Don't we feel cheated and angry when justice isn't carried out? Don't we lose faith in our leaders when they give someone special treatment because of who they are or because of how much money they have in the bank? We cry out, "This is wrong! This is unfair!" God is not an unjust judge who turns a blind eye to sin because of someone's social status or because He just doesn't care about the crime and feels like going easy on the offender. God set forth His laws and His penalties for breaking those laws. If He failed to enforce the law wouldn't we feel cheated and angry? Wouldn't we raise our voices in protest? Our hearts long to see mercy on Judah because these events happened so long ago but if the things that happened during the reigns of some of the kings of ancient Judah were happening in our times (the turning of the temple into a brothel, the idols on every hilltop and under every large tree, the child sacrifice to the Canaanite god Molech, the rampant injustice toward widows and orphans and those too poor to bribe a judge, and complete disregard for anything to do with the Lord) we would feel differently. 

Huldah points out the righteousness of God's judgment. The people are guilty of the crimes of which they stand accused. The Lord says through her, "Because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods and aroused My anger by all the idols their hands have made, My anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched." (2 Kings 22:17) Imagine we are in God's shoes. He has been a Father to Israel, bringing her up in His truth and grace. He has been her Deliverer, the one who took her by the hand to lead her out of slavery in Egypt. He has been her Provider, the one who sustained her in the wilderness. He has been her Mighty Defender, the one who plucked up the idolatrous tribes of Canaan and planted her in their place. He has been her Redeemer, the one who chose her as His own out of all the nations of the world. He has been her Husband, faithful to her for all these years. Yet she has rejected Him in favor of idols made by human hands. She has spit in His face, turned her back, and walked away to commit adultery with false gods. She has worshiped the creature and not the Creator. She has served the flesh and not the Spirit. God must impose the penalty on her or she will never understand that He is God and He is the only God. It would be doing her a disservice if He didn't. For her own sake, He has to prove to her who He is: her only hope, her only help. 

Huldah now delivers the good news. I don't know about you, but if somebody asks me whether I want the bad news or the good news first, I always choose the bad news, hoping that the good news will make me feel better. "Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people---that they would become a curse and be laid waste---and because you tore your robes and wept in My presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.' So they took her answer back to the king." (2 Kings 22:18-20) 

The Lord won't bring the downfall of Judah during Josiah's lifetime because the king is at peace with Him. The king is saved by grace through faith. Because he has a heart for the Lord, a heart like David's, the Lord is going to let him go to his grave with the nation of Judah still intact.

We will find later on that Josiah dies of a wound received when he tries to prevent Pharaoh Necho from crossing Judean territory to assist Assyria, but he will die of the wound in his own bed at Jerusalem. Pharaoh has no quarrel with Judah and is no threat to her at the time, so when Josiah perishes Judah is still secure, granted a reprieve by the mercy of God. 

The faith of one godly man held off the judgment of God for a season. For Josiah's sake, the Lord has mercy on Judah during his lifetime. The Lord says in verse 19, "Because you have heard Me, I have heard you," which reminds me of what the Lord's brother James said, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16b) James urged those in Christ to confess their sins and pray for each other because God hears the prayers of those who belong to Him. He hears the sincere and heartbroken prayers of the repentant. He hears the entreaties for mercy from those who are faithful to His name. How many disasters through history have been averted because God's people prayed? How many might be prevented in the future if God's people pray? The prayer of the heart that clings to God is powerful. It has an effect on events because God intervenes on behalf of those who love Him. 

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