Life and Times of Josiah: Part 2

2 Chronicles 34‑35  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In studying the history of Josiah and his times, we learn one special and priceless lesson; namely, the value and authority of the Word of God. It would be utterly impossible for human language to set forth the vast importance of such a lesson—a lesson for every age, for every clime, for every condition, for the individual believer, and for the whole Church of God. The supreme authority of Holy Scripture should be deeply impressed on every heart. It is the only safeguard against the many forms of error and evil which abound on every hand. Human writings, no doubt, have their value; they may interest the mind as a reference, but they are perfectly worthless as authority.
We need to remember this. There is a strong tendency in the human mind to lean upon human authority. Hence it has come to pass, that millions throughout the professing church have virtually been deprived altogether of the Word of God, from the fact that they have lived and died under the delusion that they could not know it to be the Word of God apart from human authority. Now this is in reality throwing the Word of God overboard. If that Word is of no avail without man's authority, then, we maintain, it is not God's Word at all. It does not matter in the smallest degree what the authority is, the effect is the same. God's Word is declared to be insufficient without something of man to give the certainty that it is God who is speaking.
This is a most dangerous error, and its root lies far deeper in the heart than many of us are aware. It has often been said to us, when quoting passages of Scripture, "How do you know that that is the Word of God?" What is the point of such a question? Plainly to overthrow the authority of the Word. The heart that could suggest such an inquiry does not want to be governed by Holy Scripture at all. The will is concerned. Here lies the deep secret. There is the consciousness that the Word condemns something which the heart wants to hold and cherish, and hence the effort to set the Word aside altogether.
But how are we to know that the book which we call the Bible is the Word of God? We reply, It carries its own credentials with it. It bears its own evidence upon every page, in every paragraph, in every line. True, it is only by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the divine Author of the Book, that the evidence can be weighed, and the credentials appreciated. But we do not need man's voice to accredit God's Book; or, if we do, we are, most assuredly, on infidel ground as regards divine revelation. If God cannot speak directly to the heart—if He cannot give the assurance that it is He Himself who speaks—then where are we? Whither shall we turn? If God cannot make Himself heard and understood, can man do it better? Can he improve upon God? Can man's voice give us more certainty? Can the authority of the church, the decrees of general councils, the judgment of the Fathers, the opinion of the doctors, give us more certainty than God Himself? If so, we are just as completely at sea—just as thoroughly in the dark—as though God had not spoken at all. Of course, if God has not spoken, we are completely in the dark; but if He has spoken, and yet we cannot know His voice without man's authority to accredit it, where lies the difference? Is it not plain to the reader of these lines, that if God in His great mercy has given us a revelation, it must be sufficient of itself; and, on the other hand, that any revelation which is not sufficient of itself cannot possibly be divine? And, further, is it not equally plain that if we cannot believe what God says, because He says it, we have no safer ground to go upon when man presumes to affix his accrediting seal?
Let us not be misunderstood. What we insist upon is this: the all-sufficiency of a divine revelation apart from and above all human writings, ancient, medieval, or modern. We value human writings; we value sound criticism; we value profound and accurate scholarship; we value the light of true science and philosophy; we value the testimony of pious travelers who have sought to throw light upon the sacred text; we value all those books that open up to us the intensely interesting subject of biblical antiquities; in short, we value everything that tends to aid us in the study of the Holy Scriptures; but, after all, we return with deeper emphasis to our assertion as to the all-sufficiency and supremacy of the Word of God. That Word must be received on its own divine authority, without any human recommendation, or else it is not the Word of God to us. We believe that God can give us the certainty in our own souls that the Holy Scriptures are, in very deed, His own Word. If He does not give it, no man can; and if He does, no man need. Thus the inspired Apostle says to his son Timothy, "Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." 2 Tim. 3:14, 1514But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14‑15).
How did Timothy know that the Holy Scriptures were the Word of God? He knew it by divine teaching. He knew of whom he had learned. Here lay the secret. There was a living link between his soul and God, and he recognized in Scripture the very voice of God. Thus it must ever be. It will not do merely to be convinced in the intellect, by human arguments, human evidences, and human apologies, that the Bible is the Word of God; we must know its power in the heart and on the conscience by divine teaching; and, when this is the case, we shall no more need human proofs of the divinity of the Book than we need a candle at noonday to prove that the sun is shining. We shall then believe what God says because He says it, and not because man accredits it, nor because we feel it. "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness" (Jas. 2:2323And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (James 2:23)). He did not need to go to the Chaldeans or to the Egyptians in order to find out from them if what he had heard was in reality the word of God. No, no; he knew whom he had believed, and this gave him holy stability. He could say, beyond all question, God has established a link between my soul and Himself by means of His Word, which no power of earth or hell can ever snap. This is the true ground for every believer—man, woman, or child, in all ages, and under all circumstances. This was the ground for Abraham and Josiah, for Luke and Theophilus, for Paul and Timothy; and it must be the ground for the writer and the reader of these words, else we shall never be able to stand against the rising tide of infidelity which is sweeping away the very foundations on which thousands of professors are reposing.
However, we may well inquire, Can a merely national profession, a hereditary faith, an educational creed, sustain the soul in the presence of an audacious skepticism that reasons about everything and believes nothing? Impossible! We must be able to stand before the skeptic, the rationalist, and the infidel, and say, in all the calmness and dignity of a divinely wrought faith, "I know whom I have believed."... God has spoken, and His voice reaches the heart. It makes itself heard above the din and confusion of this world, and all the strife and controversy of professing Christians. It gives rest and peace, strength and fixedness, to the believing heart and mind. The opinions of men may perplex and confound. We may not be able to thread our way through the labyrinths of human systems of theology; but God's voice speaks in Holy Scripture—speaks to the heart—speaks to me. This is life and peace. It is all I need. Human writings may now go for what they are worth, seeing I have all I need in the ever flowing fountain of inspiration—the peerless, precious Volume of my God.
But let us now turn to Josiah and see how all that we have been dwelling upon finds its illustration in his life and times.
"Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign" (2 Chron. 34:11Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years. (2 Chronicles 34:1)). This tells a tale as to the condition and ways of God's people. Josiah's father had been murdered by his own servants after a brief and evil reign of two years, in the twenty-fourth year of his age. Such things ought not to have been. They were the sad fruit of sin and folly—the humiliating proofs of Judah's departure from Jehovah. But God was above all; and although we should not have expected ever to find a child of eight years of age on the throne of David, yet that child could find his sure resource in the God of his fathers, so that, in this case as in all others, "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:2020Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: (Romans 5:20)). The very fact of Josiah's youth and inexperience only afforded an occasion for the display of divine grace, and the setting forth of the value and power of the Word of God.
This pious child was placed in a position of peculiar difficulty and temptation. He was surrounded by errors in various forms and of long standing; but "He did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images."
This was a good beginning. It is a great matter, while the heart is yet tender, to have it impressed with the fear of the Lord. It preserves it from a host of evils and errors. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Pro. 9:1010The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)); and it taught this pious youth what was "right," and to adhere to it with unswerving fixedness of purpose. There is great force and value in the expression, "He did that which was right in the sight of the LORD." It was not that which was right in his own eyes, nor yet in the eyes of the people, nor in the eyes of those that had gone before him, but simply what was right in the sight of the Lord. This is the solid foundation of all right action. Until the fear of the Lord gets its true place in the heart, there can be nothing right, nothing wise, nothing holy. How can there be, if indeed that fear is the beginning of wisdom? We may do many things through the fear of man, many things through force of habit, through surrounding influences, but never can we do what is really right in the sight of the Lord, until our hearts are brought to understand the fear of His holy name. This is the grand regulating principle. It imparts seriousness, earnestness, and reality—rare and admirable qualities! It is an effectual safeguard against levity and vanity. A man or a child who habitually walks in the fear of God is always earnest and sincere, always free from trifling and affectation, from assumption and bombast. Life has a purpose, the heart has an object, and this gives intensity to the whole course and character.
But, further, we read of Josiah that he "walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left." What a testimony for the Holy Ghost to bear concerning a young man! How we do long for this plain decision! It is invaluable at all times, but especially in a day of laxity and latitudinarianism, of false liberality, and spurious charity, like the present. It imparts great peace of mind. A vacillating man is never peaceful; he is always tossed to and fro. "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." He tries to please everybody, and, in the end, pleases nobody. The decided man, on the contrary, is he who feels he has "to please but One." This gives unity and fixedness to the life and character. It is an immense relief to be thoroughly done with men-pleasing and eye-service—to be able to fix the eye upon the Master alone, and go on with Him, through evil report and through good report. True, we may be misunderstood and misrepresented, but that is a very small matter indeed; our great business is to walk in the divinely appointed path, declining "neither to the right hand, nor to the left." We are convinced that plain decision is the only thing for the servant of Christ at the present moment, for so surely as the devil finds us wavering, he will bring every engine into play in order to drive us completely off the plain and narrow path. May God's Spirit work more mightily in our souls, and give us increased ability to say, "My heart is fixed, 0 God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise." Psalm 57:77My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. (Psalm 57:7).
We shall now proceed to consider the great work which Josiah was raised up to accomplish; but, ere doing so, we must ask the reader to notice particularly the words already referred to; namely, "In the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father." Here, we may rest assured, lay the true basis of all Josiah's valuable service. He began by seeking after
God. Let young Christians ponder this deeply. Hundreds, we fear, have made shipwreck by rushing prematurely into work. They have become occupied and engrossed with their service before the heart was rightly established in the fear and love of God. This is a very serious error indeed, and we have met numbers within the last few years who have fallen into it. We should ever remember that those whom God uses much in public, He trains in secret, and, further, that all His most honored servants have been more occupied with their Master than with their work. It is not that we undervalue work; by no means; but we do find that all those who have been signally owned of God, and who have pursued a long and steady course of service and Christian testimony, have begun with much deep and earnest heart-work, in the secret of the divine presence. And, on the other hand, we have noticed that when men have rushed prematurely into public work—when they began to teach before they had begun to learn—they have speedily broken down and gone back.
It is well to remember this. God's plants are deeply rooted, and often slow of growth. Josiah "began to seek... God" four years before he began his public work. There was in his case a firm groundwork of genuine personal piety on which to erect the superstructure of active service. This was most needful. He had a great work to do. "High places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images" abounded on all hands, and called for no ordinary faithfulness and decision. Where were these to be had? In the divine treasury, and there alone. Josiah was but a child, and many of those who had introduced the false worship were men of years and experience. But he set himself to seek the Lord. He found his resource in the God of his father David. He betook himself to the fountainhead of all wisdom and power, and there gathered up strength wherewith to gird himself for what lay before him.
This, we repeat, was most needful; it was absolutely indispensable. The accumulated rubbish of ages and generations lay before him. One after another of his predecessors had added to the pile; and, notwithstanding the reformation effected in the days of Hezekiah, it would seem as though all
had to be done over again. Hearken to the following appalling catalog of evils and errors. "In the twelfth year he [Josiah] began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strewed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them. And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round about. And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.
See also the narrative given in 2 Kings 23, where we have a much more detailed list of the abominations with which this devoted servant of God had to grapple. We do not quote any further. Enough has been given to show the fearful lengths to which even the people of God may go when once they turn aside, in the smallest measure, from the authority of Holy Scripture. We feel that this is one special lesson to be learned from the deeply interesting history of this best of Judah's kings, and we fondly trust it may be learned effectually. It is indeed a grand and all-important lesson. The moment a man departs the breadth of a hair from Scripture, there is no accounting for the monstrous extravagance into which he may rush. We may feel disposed to marvel how such a man as Solomon could ever be led to build high places "for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon." But then we can easily see how having, in the first place, disobeyed the word of his Lord, in going to those nations for wives, he easily enough fell into the deeper error of adopting their worship.
But, Christian reader, let us remember that all the mischief, all the corruption and confusion, all the shame and dishonor, all the reproach and blasphemy, had its origin in the neglect of the Word of God. We cannot possibly ponder this fact too deeply. It is solemn, impressive, and admonitory beyond expression. It has ever been a special design of Satan to' lead God's people away from Scripture. He will use anything and everything for this end—tradition—the church, so-called—expediency—human reason—popular opinion—reputation and influence—character, position, and usefulness—all those he will use in order to get the heart and conscience away from that one golden sentence—that divine, eternal motto, "IT IS WRITTEN." All that enormous pile of error which our devoted young monarch was enabled to grind into dust, and beat into powder—all, all had its origin in the gross neglect of this most precious sentence. It mattered little to Josiah that all these things could boast of antiquity and the authority of the fathers of the Jewish nation. Neither was he moved by the thought that these altars and high places, these groves and images, might be regarded as proofs of largeness of heart, breadth of mind, and a liberality of spirit that spurned all narrowness, bigotry, and intolerance—that would not be confined within the narrow bounds of Jewish prejudice, but could travel forth through the wide, wide world, and embrace all in the circle of charity and brotherhood. None of these things, we are persuaded, moved him. If they were not based upon, "Thus saith the LORD," he had but one thing to do with them, and that was to beat them into powder."