Thursday, June 9, 2016
Prophets And Kings, Day 120. Josiah King Of Judah, Part 3
Prophets And Kings
Josiah King Of Judah
The king has heard the message of the Lord from the prophetess Huldah about the future destruction of Judah. He also knows the Lord won't bring it about in his lifetime. Josiah doesn't let this message discourage him about Judah or make him lazy about his own spiritual life.
2 KINGS 23:1-20
"Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets---all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord---to follow the Lord and keep His commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant." (2 Kings 23:1-3) It was customary for a priest to read the covenant before the king and the people, then the king would pledge himself to the covenant, after which the people would pledge themselves to the covenant. But Josiah is likely the most godly man in Judah at this time, more so than the priests, and in a sense he is a Moses-type figure to them. Moses read the covenant for the first time to the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy because he served as an intermediary between God and the people during all those years in the wilderness. Josiah too is serving as an intermediary.
Also I believe the word of the Lord burns in Josiah's heart and he reads it with such emotion that the nation is moved by his faith. No other man in Judah could have read it to them with as much power of the Spirit. And so all the people, stricken to the core by the word of the Lord and their awareness of guilt, turn from their sins and pledge themselves to the Lord's covenant. The Chronicler tells us, "As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors." (2 Chronicles 34:33b) The sincere faith of Josiah inspires the people to stay true to their God during the king's lifetime.
"The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel. He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem---those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and all the starry hosts. He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord, the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah." (2 Kings 23:4-7) When we looked at portions of 2nd Chronicles a couple days ago we saw some of these things mentioned in regard to Josiah's reforms. We see that even the temple of the Lord had been turned into a house of sin before Josiah came to the throne. There was prostitution going on in the house dedicated to the Lord. It's hard to imagine anything more blasphemous than that. Josiah puts all these things out of the temple and out of the land. He even spreads the ashes over graves in the valley in order to desecrate the ashes so no one will scoop them back up for further use. Such things ought to have made the people realize there is no god but the God of Israel. If Baal were a god, could he not prevent his altar from being torn down? If Ahserah were a goddess, could she not keep her idol intact? The fact that Josiah is able to grind these false gods to powder should have been proof that they were not gods at all, yet after his death the people will turn once again to useless idols.
"Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the gateway at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which was on the left of the city gate. Although the priests of the high places did not serve at the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, they ate unleavened bread with their fellow priests." (2 Kings 23:8-9) The gateway is where legal cases were heard and even that had been defiled by idol worship. Cases were being ruled on according to whatever the judges felt the gods were saying to them, not according to the rules set forth by God.
"He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molech. He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun." (2 Kings 23:10-11) The Assyrians used horse and chariot imagery in their sun cults.
"He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the Lord. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley. The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption---the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the people of Ammon. Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones." (2 Kings 23:12-14) The author reminds us that it was Solomon, son of the godly King David, who first introduced these unholy altars to Israel. Solomon wanted to please his foreign wives and did not require them to convert to his own religion but instead built altars and shrines and idols for them to keep on worshiping their own gods. We find it hard to imagine a man like David producing a son who would do such a thing, but Josiah himself will produce a wicked son. This leads me to wonder whether some in the nation were following their king more than they were following their God. Maybe they lost a sense of security when the king died because they trusted in him more than in the Lord. Without strong leadership and a godly example on the throne, things tended to fall apart.
"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." (2 Kings 23:15-16) This fulfills the prophecy of 1 Kings 13 when Jeroboam was sacrificing on the altar and an unnamed prophet came and pronounced a curse against the altar, stating that a man named Josiah would be born to the house of David who would defile the altar by burning bones on it.
"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 23:17-18) In 1 Kings 13 the unnamed prophet went home with an elderly unnamed prophet to eat, an elderly prophet who was no longer receiving messages from the Lord because he had become discouraged by idolatry and had given up. The Lord had told the younger prophet not to return to the city but he disobeyed the Lord by eating with the older prophet and he died the same day. The old prophet had the other prophet's body placed in his own tomb. When the old prophet later died he was buried in the same tomb with the other man. These are the men who are spoken of in this passage. Their bones were left undisturbed because they were prophets of God, even though both had made mistakes.
"Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria and that had aroused the Lord's anger. Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem." (2 Kings 23:19-20) Josiah is able to do these things in the northern territory of Israel because the people have been conquered by Assyria and taken captive. There is nothing but a remnant of Israelites left in the land. The king of Assyria settled Israel with subjects loyal to him but they are either too weak to prevent Josiah's actions or they care nothing for Canaanite gods or the priests who serve at their altars.
Josiah's zeal for the Lord reminds me of these words written by David, "the zeal of Your house consumes me". (Psalm 69:9a) David's words were later attributed to the Lord Jesus Christ by the Apostle John when Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers and the sellers of sacrificial animals in the temple courts. "His disciples remembered that it was written: 'Zeal for Your house will consume Me.'" (John 2:17) The zeal for the Lord's house consumed Josiah. He knows what the Lord has said through the prophetess but it may be he hoped to turn judgment away from Judah if the people all turned back to God and stayed true to Him. And if they had done so, I think the Lord would have had mercy on them, but their revival was temporary. Either way, Josiah doesn't intend for these ungodly things to happen on his watch, not while he is king of Judah. He is saying, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15b)
We can't control what children do once they grow up and leave our households. We can't control what our descendants do after we are gone. Neither could Josiah. But he could control what happened in his household and in his kingdom while he lived and so he endeavored to set the best example possible. The generations alive during his reign could never claim they never heard the words of the Lord and didn't know the right way to live. Josiah both read the word to them and lived it out in their sight. That's all we can do while we are here. So let's be like Josiah, striving to be the best example possible.