What would it take to revolutionise Britain? Change of government? Rebalancing of the economy? Harnessing of technology? Perhaps what's needed is a cultural revolution? What about a return to traditional family values? Or maybe it's the church that needs to rediscover its roots, a second reformation is that what we need?
As we rejoin 2 Kings for the last time, we're about to see a root and branch revolution in Judah. Under king Josiah everything is about to change, such a drastic transformation of a nation is perhaps not found anywhere else in the bible and yet it isn't enough to prevent the end of this book, which we'll get to in a few weeks time, being in Babylon with God's people carried off into exile. We're looking at chapter 22 this morning, which I'll divide into the traditional three sections:
1. v1-10 Josiah rediscovers God's Law
2. v11-14 Josiah responds to God's Law
3. v15-20 The Law reveals God's mercy but it cannot quench his wrath
1. Josiah rediscovers God's Law [1-10]
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for thirty-one years. His mother's name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. 2 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
Context: Israel split in two the northern and southern kingdoms. The larger northern kingdom has by this point been destroyed, only Judah in the south remains. Judah however also faces disaster, it has been on a downward slope for some time, a slope which in a couple of chapters time will end with exile in Babylon. And now they have an eight year old king.
The most remarkable thing here is not that Josiah was eight years old. Rather it is that he 'did what was right in the eyes of the LORD'. Only seven of Israel's kings were given this description and the comparison to king David is applied in only one other place; describing Hezekiah whose reign ended fifty seven years before Josiah's began. In between Hezekiah and Josiah has been the reigns of Manasseh and Amon whose micro biographies are somewhat less flattering; they 'did evil in the eyes of the LORD'.
So Josiah's reign stands in marked contrast to those that have gone before him, he is the beginning, it would seem, of a new dawn. We see in v3-6 that at the age of twenty-six, in the eighteenth year of his reign, that Josiah began a deliberate and concerted attempt to repair God's temple. This was the temple that had been built by Solomon but in which Manasseh had placed an Asherah pole, turning the place where God said he would set his name into a place of idol worship. But now Josiah collects money from the people and entrusts all of it to those who will repair the temple, he tells them to spend freely because v7: 'they are acting faithfully'.
It's then at this point that Hilkiah the high priest informs Josiah of his discovery. The Book of the Law has been found. For Book of the Law we may read 'covenant'. Most likely what Josiah fond was the book of Deuteronomy, that is the fifth book that Moses wrote which set out the connection between Israel and God in terms of a covenant a binding two-sided agreement. Josiah is rediscovering the foundation upon which Israel's (now fractured)relationship with God was built.
It's a discovery of incredible importance, that's reflected in v8 and 9 when the focus remains firmly fixed on the Book rather than on the completion of Josiah's comands to renew the temple.
Josiah is the great reformer. His reign as we'll see even more clearly in chapter 23 is about attempting to turn Judah as a nation back to God. This reformation is going to be driven by the rediscovery of God's covenant with his people. But were not there yet (that's v11). But even in these first ten verses there is something which we can learn from Josiah.
We should act faithfully according to the knowledge that we do have. Josiah acts to restore the temple before he rediscovers the Law. He knows that the desecration of God's temple is wrong and he earnestly wants to restore it. In spite of fifty seven years of sin and idolatry before him, Josiah acts rightly. Romans 1.18-20 reminds us that:
'since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have ben clearly seen, being understood from what is made, so that men are without excuse'
Josiah is at a disadvantage without the Law that reveals God's character and will, however it cannot be used as an excuse to ignore him. There is something deep within all of us that perceives God's presence and design, creation screams of his thereness, his reality. Josiah is still able then to act to restore the temple without full knowledge of its workings which were contained within the Law.
Similarly we must act faithfully according to the knowledge we have. There are many things we do not know but in comparison to Josiah we are rich in knowledge. We have God's word in it's full form and we have his son Jesus who reveals the fullness of God's glory in human form. We have everything we need in order to live godly lives the bible tells us. Therefore like Josiah we must act according to the true information we have.
We must seek to live lives that are pleasing to God. We must with God's help love our brothers and sisters and our neighbours. We must stand as witnesses to Jesus whilst we wait for his return. We don't always know the details but that doesn't mean we cannot act.
So Josiah acts according to what he knows, despite his youth and the godless culture around him and know the Book of the Law has been rediscoved.
2. Josiah responds to God's Law [11-14]
God's covenant agreement has been found, now it is responded to. Look at v11:
11When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law he tore his robes. 12He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shephan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king's attendant. 13Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about hat is written in the book that has been found. Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.
Josiah's first reaction on hearing God's covenant with his people is to tear his robes, he responds by repenting. We see in v13 how Josiah immediately understands the severity of the situation. Israel has not fulfilled it's side of the agreement, they have failed to obey God's law and now,rightly, they face God's wrath. It's this understanding of the danger that they are in because 'the Lord's anger burns against us' that drives Josiah to enquire of God.
Josiah's reaction is totally appropriate. God's Word demands repentance of us. It's not simply a system of thought, a philosophy, a plain account of Israel's history. God's Law demanded a response from Israel, they had a moral obligation to fulfill the requirements of God's word to them. The same is true for us. God's word is his word to us, it demands a response from us.
So for example when John the Baptist arrives 600 years on from this, he comes preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John arrives with a message, a message which must be responded to in repentance and faith.
Josiah models repentance for us. His reaction is genuine. Josiah hears God's covenant with his people and immediately recognises that although God has been entirely faithful to his end of the agreement, Israel has been entirely faithless. And this isn't some abstract concept to Josiah it's personal. He understands that he is responsible, this affects him. So he sends and envoy to inquire of the LORD 'for me and for the people and for all Judah', he acknowledges that 'the Lord's anger burns against him'. In other words Josiah when faced with God's covenant Law understands his sin.
So Josiah enquires of God. Via his priest Hilkiah he sends message in v14 to Huldah the prophetess. Josiah knows his sin, the sin of his people and so he goes to God to ask what he will do.
So there's a question for us this morning. Are we listening to God's word in the same way that Josiah did? Do we understand that God's word is a word to us? Do we know that this is a gift of God's grace to us, that it demands a response from us? Or is it for us guidelines which we are free to follow as we wish, to assess and adopt at will? I've heard the word 'Bible' turned into an acronym: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, there's some truth in that I guess but it's so much more. In hear are the words which bring life, words which tells us of our greatest need, words which tell us of our great saviour, of our greatest hope.
Personally I was priviledged to hear these words as grew up. I had probably heard them explained many hundreds of times before, in God's grace, I responded to them. It's perhaps possible that there are some of you here this morning who have heard God's word many times before but have not responded like Josiah, have not understood that you, you are implicated by them. Friends that is not an option that God leaves on the table for us, we must respond. We must tear our clothes as it were. We must understand and admit our natural guilt before God and we must go to him for forgiveness.
That's actually what we were doing earlier in the service when we prayed the confession prayer; we admitted our guilt before God and then we sought him out. We asked him to forgive us according to his covenant with us. For us that's the covenant made with Jesus' blood shed on the cross.
That's point two Josiah responds to God's Law in genuine repentance and by seeking God. But how will God respond to Josiah and his people; Judah? That's what I want us to look at in our third point: 'The Law reveals God's mercy but it cannot quench his wrath'.
3. The Law reveals God's mercy but it cannot quench his wrath [15-20]
In v14 Josiah sends his envoy to enquire of God via the prophetess Huldah, in v15 we hear the first part of God's response:
15..."This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 'This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.'
God is going to judge Judah, his wrath burns against Judah and v17 'it will not be quenched'. God is angry, he is angry because of his people's sin, because of their idolatry against him, because they have abandoned him and followed other God's instead. Notice what it says about God's judgement in v16 he will bring this judgement according to what has been written in the book that king Josiah has read. God is not flying of the handle here. No God simply says that he will act according to the terms of the covenant he has previously made with his people. His anger is settled and just, his judgement is precisely what Israel deserves, precisely what he has graciously forewarned. God is a God whose promises can be always be trusted and that includes his promises to justly punish sin. The news then is not good, Josiah's discovery of the Law has only confirmed what these chapters at the back half of 2 Kings have been constantly crying out; Judah, God's people are guilty before him.
But what of Josiah? Josiah who like David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Josiah who had found the Law as he rightly tried to renew the temple, surely he is not guilty? Read on with me from v18:
18Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the LORD, 'This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you have heard 19Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and becaue you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. 20Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.'"
God is going to show mercy to Josiah. Although disaster will still come upon Judah eventually ending in them being carried off into exile in Babylon) Josiah will be spared, he will die 'be gathered to his fathers' before the full extent of God's judgement is revealed. Josiah will be rewarded for his right actions, except that's not what it says is it? Look again at v19: Josiah is shown mercy because he responds to God's covenant Law with genuine repentance: 'because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself... because you tore your robes and wept in my presence'. Josiah is shown mercy not because of what he has done, but because he repents. That's what mercy, what grace means; not being treated as we deserve but being treated according to his great patience and unfailing love.None of are here because we deserve it, all of us are here but by God's grace. From the weakest of sinners to the bravest of leaders like Josiah, we are all in desperate need of God's grace.
Verse 17 stills sticks in the throat though. God's anger burns against Judah and it will not be quenched. Yes God will show a measure of mercy to Josiah because of his genuine repentance but God's anger still burns against his people, it is not yet quenched. The story will be much the same even as we move through chapter 23 next week and Josiah, succesfully it seems, reforms Judah according to God's Law. A reformation is not enough and so chapter 23.26 repeats v17 here saying:
'Neveretheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger'
Total civic and religious transformation in Judah, the restoration of the temple, the drastic purging of idol worship which king Josiah brings about is not enough to quench God's wrath. We'll here more about Josiah's reforms next week and make no mistake they were wonderful things but they are not capable of making payment for Judah's sin. Repenatnce and reform are not enough on their own, even when pursued so enthuisastically as here. No there is something lacking.
Turn with me would you to our new testament reading from Hebrews 10 and v1
1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.
... 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.
In order for sin to be forgiven, blood must be shed. When Josiah rediscovered the Book of the Law he saw how his predeccesors had failed to operate the sacrificial system, ahd failed to offer the blood of bulls and goats and so they had exposed God's people to his wrath. But the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that the sacrifice of bulls and goats cannot take away sin. The sacrificial syatem, the Law itself was only a shadow of that whcih was to come; Christ.
It is only by Christ's death on the cross, by the spilling of hsi blood - the perfect lamb of God. It is only by him taking the punsihment that we deserve that God's rightful anger, his just wrath can finally be quenched.
It's only by going there, to the cross that we can receive forgiveness. It's there that God writes a new covenant, a new agreement, in Jesus' blood that says we are made right with him, totally forgiven. So if you read in Hebrews 10 to v15 it says:
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 'This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.'[b]
17 Then he adds:
'Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.'[c]
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
Jesus Christ's death on the cross is the thing that can quench God's wrath. Without sheltering under it we are in desperate danger, under it we have perfect freedom and peace.
So what have we seen from the beginning of Josiah's reign this morning? First we have seen Josiah actinh faithfullly according to the information he had available. We've seen that God's word is to us, something that we must respond to. We've seen that God's Law reveals our guilt before him. We've seen Josiah responding to God's Law with genuine repentance provoking God's mercy. And we've seen that repentance and reform are not enough on their own; the only thing that can exstinguish God's wrath is Christ's blood.