Friday, June 10, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 121. Josiah King Of Judah, Part 4

Prophets And Kings
Day 121
Josiah King Of Judah
Part 4

Josiah celebrates Passover, which had not been celebrated for quite some time. And he continues his campaign to rid the land of all idols. But we find out that the revival in Judah will be temporary, lasting only as long as Josiah is on the throne, and the Lord still intends to let Judah go into captivity.

2 KINGS 23:21-27
Josiah has just finished ridding the land of idols and has taken everything out of the temple that desecrated it. Now, in his eighteenth year as king, at the age of twenty-six, he celebrates Passover. "The king gave this order to all the people: 'Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.' Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem." (2 Kings 23:21-23) The Chronicler puts it like this, "The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem." (2 Chronicles 35:18) Josiah is so exuberant in the faith that even the remnant left in the northern kingdom of Israel celebrates Passover with him. Not since the prophet Samuel stood before the people had a Passover been celebrated so enthusiastically. 

"Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord." (2 Kings 23:24) Josiah is obedient to the word of the Lord from the book of Deuteronomy which says, "When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 18:9-13) 

The Lord drove out the people of Canaan for the sins listed above and planted Israel in the land. It was His intention for Israel to completely expel the Canaanite tribes from the territory but they failed to fully carry out His instructions. So they ended up socializing with them, intermarrying with them, having business dealings with them. And eventually many in Israel were corrupted by them. They were seduced by the very practices that caused the Lord's anger to burn against the Canaanites. It's easy for us, in our times, to shake our heads and wonder what God's people were thinking when they adopted pagan religions. If these practices enraged the Lord against the Canaanites, would they not also enrage Him against the twelve tribes of Israel? Is He not also able to pluck Israel from the land? But throughout history and on up into our times, there has always been a pressure to conform to the ways of the world. There has always been a spirit of antichrist which persecutes the faithful, which mocks those who obey the Lord, which puts down the word of God as outdated and irrelevant. We all have to continually swim against the stream in order to live godly lives but thanks be to our Lord, He is able to give us that strength. If He were not able to help us stand firm He wouldn't say in the Scriptures, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2a) Our Lord is able to daily renew our minds and refresh our spirits.

"Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did---with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the Law of Moses." (2 Kings 23:25) Josiah obeys what the Lord Jesus said is the greatest commandment of all, "Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.'" (Matthew 22:34-37) Jesus quoted the Law that Moses read in Deuteronomy 6:5, when Moses was instructing the people and cautioning them to, "be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Deuteronomy 6:12) Josiah knows the people did forget the Lord. He knows the Lord has pronounced a curse on Judah for her disobedience. It could be he hopes all the reforms and the resulting revival will last and the Lord's wrath will turn away. Or it could be, as we said yesterday, he suspects Judah will fall back into idolatry but he doesn't intend to let it happen while he sits on the throne. As king, he is the spiritual leader of the nation, and he sets a godly example like no king before him, not even David. David loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind but he had some weaknesses of the flesh that we are not told Josiah had. As far as we know, there was no sin in Josiah's life that could compare to the sins of David's life.

"Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of His fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to arouse His anger. So the Lord said, 'I will remove Judah also from My presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, 'My name shall be there.'" (2 Kings 23:26-27) We know that Manasseh repented somewhere in the second half of his reign after the Lord humbled him by allowing him to be taken captive by Assyria. Manasseh attempted to undo all he had done against the Lord in Judah. But a great deal of damage was already done that couldn't be undone. As king, like Josiah he should have been the spiritual leader of the nation, setting the example for everyone to follow. Instead, for a good part of his reign, he worshiped everyone and everything except the one true God, the God who brought them out of Egypt and settled them in the promised land. He turned the temple into a brothel, filling it with prostitutes who served the fertility goddess Asherah. He set up idols in the courtyard of Almighty God, useless idols incapable of hearing a prayer or bringing deliverance. And if all this blasphemy weren't enough, he cared so little for his own flesh and blood that he burned at least one of his children, and possibly more than one according to the Chronicler, to the detestable and unspeakable pagan god Molech. Manasseh was almost as bad an influence on the people as Satan himself and his repentance appears to have been too little too late to change the hearts of the people or even the heart of his son and successor Amon. This is the environment most of the generations alive during the time of Josiah grew up in. And though while Josiah lived and enforced the law of God they experienced a turning back to the truth, something in their hearts longed for the old ways of sin. Something in them was not fully committed to the God who had always been fully committed to them. 

The Scriptures are not saying that the Lord didn't forgive Manasseh. I believe Manasseh truly repented of all his sins. I believe he was saved by grace through faith. The Bible tells us he humbled himself greatly and the Lord heard him. His actions after repentance prove to us that his conversion was real. The Lord forgave Manasseh. The Scriptures tell us the Lord's anger burned against Judah because of what Manasseh had done, because the sins Manasseh set in motion are still ongoing in Judah. The people's hearts yearn for their fertility shrines and for the household gods and for the practices of divination. Their carnal natures don't want to let go of the things they enjoyed during the idolatrous years of wicked kings. The sex cults appeal to the flesh, to a longing to belong to a society where anything goes and faithfulness to a spouse is unimportant because the orgies serve their goddess. The witchcraft and spiritism and seances appeal to a wrong type of spirit in them, a spirit that wants to speak to the dead and learn the future instead of consulting the word of God. The appeal that the horrifying cult of Molech held for them tells us something was desperately wrong with them at the very core, that they would have so little regard for innocent life, for the lives of their very flesh and blood. Manasseh was indeed forgiven by God but these ongoing sins against Him are not forgiven because a majority of the nation does not really repent. Many are giving nothing but lip-service to God. They are going with the flow so long as Josiah reigns and makes it illegal to possess idols. They are obeying the law of the king but in their hearts they are not obeying the law of the Lord. We know this because the Lord said to the prophet Isaiah, "These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught." (Isaiah 29:13) 

Josiah does all he can possibly do during his life to save Judah from a terrible fate but none of us is capable of changing another person's heart. All he could do was live out his faith in the sight of the people and make the law of the Lord the law of the land. That's all any of us can do. We are called to live as Christ would have us live, loving God and our fellow man, setting an example to follow. But we can't make anybody follow the Lord. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. At one point I was consumed with the desire to make somebody's heart change until the Lord made it clear to me that it took the Holy Spirit to change my own heart. Why did I think I had the power to change someone else if I hadn't been able to change myself? When the Lord drove this point home to me, it was a huge relief. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. We are called to be the light of the world, to live for Christ in the sight of our fellow man, to intercede in prayer for them, and to share the gospel with them. The rest is up to God. He will plead with people's hearts but they still retain the ability to refuse Him. He won't force anyone to accept Him. Josiah fulfilled his duties in the Lord but he knew he couldn't change people's hearts. He knew, because the prophetess had said so, that a time of judgment was coming upon the nation sometime in the future. He knew this would happen because, even though the Lord pleaded with His people for hundreds of years, many would refuse to hear Him. But it can never be said of this king that he failed. It can never be said of him that he didn't share the word of God with the people or that he didn't live a godly life before them or that he didn't make clear what their God expected of them. Like the Apostle Paul, Josiah fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7) That's all each of us can do. That's all our God requires of us. That simple statement is the statement of a life well-lived. 

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