Josiah and His Days: "After All This"

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The history of the kings of Israel and Judah is a dreary recital of provokings of the Holy One to anger, so that the reigns of a Jehoshaphat, a Jotham, and a Hezekiah stand out brightly as lights in the midst of a dark waste. The spirit of idolatry, dispossessed for a while by repentant Manasseh, returned in sevenfold power, for "Amon sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made," and did worse and worse, so that according to the number of the cities of Judah were her gods, and according to the number of the streets in Jerusalem, they set up altars to burn incense unto Baal. The horses which the kings of Judah gave to the sun were stabled at the entering in of the house of the Lord (2 Kings 23:1111And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs, and burned the chariots of the sun with fire. (2 Kings 23:11)), while the ark of the Lord was cast out of the sanctuary (2 Chron. 35:33And said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the Lord, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the Lord your God, and his people Israel, (2 Chronicles 35:3)). It is at this juncture, an hour of all but total apostasy, that the son of Amon, a child of eight years old, came to the throne. But how wondrous are the ways of God! He had reserved unto Himself, in the midst of these abominations, a remnant who, like Simeon and Anna of after days, sighed and cried before Him; and the boy king, suckled at the breasts of idolatry, found grace in His eyes. The history of His work in and through Josiah is given with much minuteness in 2 Chronicles 34 and 35.
In the eighth year of his reign, "while he was yet young," Josiah began to seek after the God of David his father. Four years after, at the age of twenty, he set about purging Judah and Jerusalem of high places, groves, and carved images; broke down the altars of Baal; made dust of the idols, strewed it upon the graves of their worshipers, and burned the bones of their priests on the altars. Nor did he stop here. As a consequence of the idolatry of the latter years of the reign of Solomon, ten tribes had been rent from the throne of David; but the faith in the energy of which Josiah acted had respect to the claims of Jehovah in regard of the land, and he would not cleanse Judah and Jerusalem only, but "so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali." And here we must not fail to notice an incident which, though unmentioned in these chapters, is given at some length in 2 Kings 23. Standing by the altar at Bethel (the seat of the false worship devised by Jeroboam, the first king of the separate kingdom of Israel), while engaged in the act of breaking it down and defiling it with the bones of its idolatrous priests, Josiah turned and noticed an inscription at a short distance from him He inquired what it was, and was told by the men of the city, "It is the sepulcher of the man of God, which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou host done against the altar of Bethel." More than three hundred years had elapsed since the man of God cried in the word of the
Lord against the altar, and declared that a child should be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name, who should do such and such things; and though signal indeed was the failure of the instrument, directly after speaking in the word of the Lord, that word had been brought to pass, so that as Josiah stood between the altar and the sepulcher, and listened to the prophecy, he had both a wondrous confirmation of his being the special servant of the Lord for the work he was engaged in, and a solemn admonition to hearken attentively to the Lord.
Six years later he sent to the temple to repair and amend that which former kings of Judah had destroyed, and proceeded to restore, according to its prescribed form, the worship of the true God. In the midst of these labors, a book was discovered by the high priest-a long neglected and forgotten book-what was it? "A book of the law of the LORD given by Moses." It was taken and read before the king. "And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes." "Go," he said, "inquire of the LORD for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do after all that is written in this book." Scripture may be neglected, but it cannot be broken; the Lord answered Josiah, that while he personally, on account of his tenderheartedness in trembling at the word, should be gathered to his fathers in peace, so as not to see the evil, the curses read out of the book shall assuredly take hold. Having gathered together all the people, both great and small, into the house of the Lord, he read before them all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found there; made a covenant, "with all his heart, and with all his soul," to perform that which was written in the book; caused all present to stand to it; took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to Israel; and brought the people back to the service of Jehovah. "And all his days they departed not from following the LORD, the God of their fathers."
And now came the crowning, as it were, of this zeal for the Lord. The Passover was kept after a most godly sort. The Levites prepared themselves by the houses of their fathers, after their courses, "according to the writing of David king of Israel, and according to the writing of Solomon his son." They killed the passover, sanctified themselves, prepared their brethren, and the priests sprinkled the blood from their hand, removed the burnt offering, that they might give according to the division of the families of the people, to offer unto the Lord "according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses." The passover was roasted, "according to the ordinance." The singers, the sons of Asaph, stood in their places, "according to the commandment of David." Josiah has a "Thus saith the LORD" for all he did. What a wondrously lovely picture! "There was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem." It was reserved for a backslidden people, on their return to God and His Word, to keep such a commemoration of the night much to be remembered when the blood of the lamb was under His holy eye for His Israel, as even Solomon in all his glory never kept.
The hour was one of light and gladness in Zion. Yet there was rottenness at the core: "Judah hath not turned unto ME with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD." Jer. 3:1010And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:10). And thick darkness was gathering ahead, and he that hindered the bursting of the storm was soon to be taken out of the way.
Nor did the sun of Josiah go down in an altogether cloudless horizon. The emphatic words which stand at the head of this paper are found here, and form a hinge on which the Bible narrative of Josiah and his times turns to a shaded side. "After all this (we read) "when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him." v. 20. The potsherds of the earth were at strife among themselves; wherefore was it that the Lord's anointed was found mixing himself up with their strife, unless indeed he had a word from the Lord bidding him to do so? Had he such a word? No; but the very opposite. Listen to Necho's remonstrance: "What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that He destroy thee not." And mark what the Scripture says: "Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo." v. 22.
How solemnly instructive is this! Whence came it that the ear which was recently so attentive was deaf to the voice of God? We are told concerning another godly king, Uzziah, that "he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction," and we may regard the case of Josiah as somewhat parallel. The flesh in a saint, through unwatchfulness, will fatten on the very prosperings of God; and a lifted-up heart both deafens and blinds. But though we may refuse to listen to the voice of God, there is no disguise by which we can get from under His eye, and no shelter that will avail us. Feigning himself, like ungodly Ahab, to be another than himself, like Ahab he was struck down by an arrow commissioned of Him who sees through all disguises.
So Josiah fell—taken away in loving-kindness from the evil to come. Yet it is sad and humbling to see a saint of God fall by the hand of the uncircumcised in an hour of self-will.
Great lamentation was made over him: "All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations." v. 25. Let us draw near to the mourners and see if they have not some word of admonition for ourselves.
In the book of "The Lamentations of Jeremiah" (chap. 4:20), there are these significant words: "The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen."
It was with his whole heart and soul that Josiah set himself to work to bring back worshipers of graven images to the living and true God. He was a bright and a shining light, and the people were willing for a season to walk in his light. "All his days" (as we have seen) "they departed not from following the LORD." Yet they were at heart, according to the Lord's declaration, idolaters still. They walked in the light of Josiah, not in the light of the Lord. They lived upon the breath of Josiah, not upon the words that proceeded out of the mouth of God. They thought to dwell under the shadow of Josiah, not under the shadow of the Almighty.
These things happened of old. They "are written for our admonition." Like the bell swinging to and fro above the sunken rock, giving warning to the mariner that near where he is passing others have been wrecked, they sound in our ears, even while we are being borne along by wind and tide -"Take heed!" "Take heed,... lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from t h e living God." Heb. 3:1212Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12).