Josiah and His Times: Part 3

2 Chronicles 34‑35  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 8
THE various periods in the life of Josiah are very strongly marked. "In the eighth year of his reign, he began to seek after the God of David his father." »' In the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem." And, " in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God."
Now, in all this, we can mark that progress which ever results from a real purpose of heart to serve the Lord. " The path of the just is as a shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Such was the path of Josiah; and such, too, may be the path of the reader, if only he is influenced by the same earnest purpose. It does not matter what the circumstances may be. We may be surrounded by the most hostile influences, as Josiah was, in his day; but a devoted heart, an earnest spirit, a fixed purpose will, through grace, lift us above all, and enable us to press forward, from stage to stage of the path of true discipleship.
If we study the first twelve chapters of the Book of Jeremiah, we shall be able to form some idea of the condition of things in the days of Josiah. There we meet with such passages as the following, "I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands. Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them." " Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, and with your children's children will I plead. For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit." So also, in the opening of chapter iii. we find the most terrible imagery used to set forth the base conduct of "backsliding Israel and treacherous Judah." Hearken to the following glowing language in chapter iv. " Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart. My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, Ο my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction up< η destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment. How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? For my people are foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding; they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. I beheld the earth, and, 10, it was without form and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, 10, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, 10, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger."
What vivid language! The whole scene seems, in the vision of the prophet, reduced to primeval chaos and darkness. In short, nothing could be more gloomy than the aspect here presented. The whole of these opening chapters should be carefully studied, if we would form a correct judgment of the times in which Josiah's lot was cast. They were evidently times characterized by deep-seated and wide-spread corruption, in every shape and form. High and low, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, prophets, priests, and people—all presented an appalling picture of hollowness, deceit, and heartless wickedness which could only be faithfully portrayed by an inspired pen.
But why dwell upon this? Why multiply quotations in proof of the low moral condition of Israel and Judah in the days of king Josiah? Mainly to show that, no matter what may be our surroundings, we can individually serve the Lord, if only there be the purpose of heart to do so. Indeed, it is in the very darkest times that the light of true devotedness shines forth most brightly. It is thrown into relief by the surrounding gloom. The very circumstances which indolence and unfaithfulness would use as a plea for yielding to the current, will only furnish a devoted spirit with a plea for making head against it. If Josiah had looked around him, what would he have seen? Treachery, deceit, corruption, and violence. Such was the state of public morals. And what of religion? Errors and evils in every imaginable shape. Some of these were hoary with age. They had been instituted by Solomon and left standing by Hezekiah. Their foundations had been laid amid the splendors of the reign of Israel's wisest and wealthiest monarch; and the most pious and devoted of Josiah's predecessors had left them as they found them.
Who then was Josiah that he should presume to overturn such venerable institutions? What right had he, a mere youth, raw and inexperienced, to set himself in opposition to men so far beyond him in wisdom, intelligence, and mature judgment? Why not leave things as he found them? Why not allow the current to flow peacefully on through those channels which had conducted it for ages and generations? Disruptions are hazardous. There is always great risk in disturbing old prejudices.
These and a thousand kindred questions might, doubtless, have exercised the heart of Josiah; but the answer was simple, direct, clear and conclusive. It was not the judgment of Josiah against the judgment of his predecessors; but it was the judgment of God against all. This is a most weighty principle for every child of God, and every servant of Christ. Without it, we can never make head against the tide of evil which is flowing around us. It was this principle which sustained Luther in the terrible conflict which he had to wage with the whole of Christendom. He, too, like Josiah, had to lay the ax to the root of old prejudices, and shake the very foundation of opinions and doctrines which had held almost universal sway in the Church for over a thousand years. How was this to be done? Was it by setting up the judgment of Martin Luther against the judgment of popes and cardinals, counsels and colleges, bishops and doctors? Assuredly not. This would never have brought about the Reformation. It was not Luther versus Christendom; but Holy Scripture versus error.
Reader, ponder this! Yes, ponder it deeply. We feel it is a grand and all-important lesson for this moment, as it surely was for the days of Luther, and for the days of Josiah. We long to see the supremacy of Holy Scripture—the paramount authority of the word of God—the absolute sovereignty of Divine Revelation reverently owned throughout the length and breadth of the Church of God. We are convinced that the enemy is diligently seeking, in all quarters and by all means, to undermine the authority of the word, and to weaken its hold upon the human conscience. And it is because we feel this that we seek to raise, again and again, a note of solemn warning, as also to set forth, according to our ability, the vital importance of submitting, in all things, to the inspired testimony—the voice of God in scripture. It is not sufficient to render a merely formal assent to that popular statement, "The Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants." We want more than this. We want to be, in all things, absolutely governed by the authority of scripture—not by our fellow mortal's interpretation of scripture, but by scripture itself. We want to have the conscience in a condition to yield, at all times, a true response to the teachings of the divine word.
This is what we have so vividly illustrated in the life and times of Josiah, and particularly in the transactions of the eighteenth year of his reign, to which we shall now call the reader's attention. This year was one of the most memorable, not only in the history of Josiah, but in the annals of Israel. It was signalized by two great facts, namely, the discovery of the book of the law, and the celebration of the feast of the passover. Stupendous facts! Facts which have left their impress upon this most interesting period, and rendered it pre-eminently fruitful in instruction to the people of God in all ages.
It is worthy of note that the discovery of the book of the law was made during the progress of Josiah's reformatory measures. It affords one of the ten thousand proofs of that great practical principle, that " to him that hath shall more be given." And, again, " If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine."
"Now, in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God. And when they came to Hilkiah the priest, they delivered the money that was brought into the house of God......And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah the priest answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, 1 have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. And Shaphan carried the book to the king......And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes." 2 Chron. 34:8-198Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God. 9And when they came to Hilkiah the high priest, they delivered the money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites that kept the doors had gathered of the hand of Manasseh and Ephraim, and of all the remnant of Israel, and of all Judah and Benjamin; and they returned to Jerusalem. 10And they put it in the hand of the workmen that had the oversight of the house of the Lord, and they gave it to the workmen that wrought in the house of the Lord, to repair and amend the house: 11Even to the artificers and builders gave they it, to buy hewn stone, and timber for couplings, and to floor the houses which the kings of Judah had destroyed. 12And the men did the work faithfully: and the overseers of them were Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites, of the sons of Merari; and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to set it forward; and other of the Levites, all that could skill of instruments of music. 13Also they were over the bearers of burdens, and were overseers of all that wrought the work in any manner of service: and of the Levites there were scribes, and officers, and porters. 14And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. 15And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. 16And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and brought the king word back again, saying, All that was committed to thy servants, they do it. 17And they have gathered together the money that was found in the house of the Lord, and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers, and to the hand of the workmen. 18Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. 19And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes. (2 Chronicles 34:8‑19).
Here we have a tender conscience bowing under the action of the word of God. This was one special charm in the character of Josiah. He was, in truth, a man of an humble and a contrite spirit, who trembled at the word of God. Would that we all knew more of this! It is a most valuable feature of the christian character. We certainly do need to feel, much more deeply, the weight, authority, and seriousness of scripture. Josiah had no question whatever in his mind as to the genuineness and authenticity of the words which Shaphan had read in his hearing. We do not read of his asking, " How am I to know that this is the word of God?" No; he trembled at it. He bowed before it. He was smitten down under it. He rent his garments. He did not presume to sit in judgment upon the word of God, but, as was meet and right, he allowed that word to judge him.
Thus it should ever be. If man is to judge scripture, then scripture is not the word of God at all. But if scripture is, in very truth, the word of God, then it must judge man. And so it is, and so it does. Scripture is the word of God and it judges man thoroughly. It lays bare the very roots of his nature—it opens up the foundations of his moral being. It holds up before him the only faithful mirror in which he can see himself perfectly "reflected. This is the reason why man does not like scripture—cannot bear it—seeks to set it aside—delights to pick holes in it—dares to sit in judgment upon it. It is not so in reference to other books. Men do not trouble themselves so much to discover and point out flaws and discrepancies in Homer or Herodotus, Aristotle or Shakespeare. No; but scripture judges them—judges their ways—their lusts. Hence the enmity of the natural mind to that most precious and marvelous Book, which, as we have already remarked, carries its own credentials with it to every divinely prepared heart. There is a power in scripture which must bear down all before it. All must bow down under it, sooner or later. " The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." Heb. 4:12, 1312For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12‑13).
Josiah found it to be even so. The word of God pierced him through and through. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king's, saying, Go, 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." What a striking contrast between Josiah, with contrite heart, exercised conscience, and rent garments, bowing down under the mighty action of the word of God, and our modern skeptics and infidels who, with appalling audacity, dare to sit in judgment upon that very same word! Oh! that men would be wise in time, and bow their hearts and consciences, in reverent submission, to the word of the living God, before that great and terrible day of the Lord, in the which they shall be compelled to bow, amid " weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth!"
God's word shall stand forever, and it is utterly vain for man to set himself up in opposition to it, or seek by his reasonings and skeptical speculations to find out errors and contradictions in it. " Forever, Ο Lord, thy word is settled in heaven." " Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." " The word of the Lord endureth forever." Of what possible use is it, therefore, for man to resist the word of God? He can gain nothing; hut oh I what may he lose? If man could prove the Bible false, what should he gain? But if it be true, after all, what does he lose? A serious inquiry! May it have its weight with any reader whose mind is at all under the influence of rationalistic or infidel notions!
We shall now proceed with our history.
"And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college:) and they spake to her to that effect." At the opening of this paper we referred to the fact of a child of eight years old being on the throne of David, as indicative of the condition of things amongst the people of God. Here, too, we are arrested by the fact that the prophetic office is filled by a woman. It surely tells a tale. Things were low; but the grace of God was unfailing and abundant; and Josiah was so thoroughly broken down that he was prepared to receive the communication of the mind of God through whatever channel it might reach him. This was morally lovely. It might, to nature's view, seem very humiliating for a king of Judah to have recourse to a woman for counsel. But then that woman was the depository of the mind of God, and this was quite enough for an humble and a contrite spirit, like Josiah. He had, thus far, proved that his one grand desire was to know and do the will of God, and hence it mattered not by what vehicle the voice of God was conveyed to his ear, he was prepared to hear and obey.
Christian reader, let us consider this. We may rest assured that herein lies the true secret of divine guidance. "The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way.'' (Psalm 25:99The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. (Psalm 25:9).) Were there more of this blessed spirit of meekness amongst us, there would be less confusion, less controversy, less striving about words to no profit. If we were all meek, we should all be divinely guided and divinely taught, and thus we should see eye to eye; we should be of one mind, and speak the same thing, and avoid much sad and humbling division and heart-burning.
See what a full answer the meek and contrite Josiah received from Huldah the prophetess—an answer both as to his people and as to himself. " And she answered them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their bands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched."
All this was but the solemn reiteration and establishment of what had already fallen upon the open and attentive ear of the king of Judah; but then it came with fresh force, emphasis, and interest, as a direct personal communication to himself. It came enforced and enhanced by that earnest sentence, " Tell ye the man that sent you to me."
But there was more than this. There was a gracious message directly concerning Josiah himself. " And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, concerning the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again." 2 Chron. 34:23-2823And she answered them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, 24Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: 25Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched. 26And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; 27Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. 28Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again. (2 Chronicles 34:23‑28)
All this is full of instruction and encouragement for us, in this dark and evil day. It teaches us the immense value, in the divine estimation, of deep personal exercise of soul, and contrition of heart. Josiah might have deemed the case hopeless—that nothing could avert the mighty tide of wrath and judgment which was about to roll over the city of Jerusalem, and the land of Israel—that any movement of his must prove utterly unavailing—that the divine purpose was settled—the decree gone forth, and that, in short, he had only to stand by and let things take their course. But Josiah did not reason thus. No; he bowed before the divine testimony. He humbled himself, rent his clothes, and wept. God took knowledge of this. Josiah's penitential tears were precious to Jehovah, and though the appalling judgment had to take its course, yet the penitent escaped. And not only did he himself escape, but he became the honored instrument, in the Lord's hand, of delivering others also. He did not abandon himself to the influence of a pernicious fatalism, but in brokenness of spirit and earnestness of heart, he cast himself upon God, confessing his own sins and the sins of his people. And then, when assured of his own personal deliverance, he set himself to seek the deliverance of his brethren also, This is a fine moral lesson for the heart. May we learn it thoroughly!
(To be continued, if the Lord will.)