I heard the story of a young man taking his driving test. He was nervous and shaking as he started, but he remembered to put on his seatbelt, adjust his seat, check his mirrors, put on his indicators and waited for a gap in the traffic. But as he pulled out he noticed that the instructor was staring at him with his mouth open! He had only gone about 100 meters down the hill before the instructor told him to pull over. He stopped the car. And the instructor said to him,, 'Do you know why I'm going to have to fail you?' The young man thought about it…he'd checked his mirrors, he'd indicated, he hadn't gone above the speed limit… And so the instructor, seeing that the young man was struggling said. "You forgot to turn on the car."
With the exception of king David, the story of the kings of Israel isn't a pretty one. David's son Solomon started off well by building the temple, but by the end of his life he had taken hundreds of foreign wives, and built altars and shrine to their gods as well. Then two of Solomon's sons, Rehoboam and Jeroboam, both tried to take over and eventually split the country into two. Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Immediately Jeroboam in the North set up golden calves to be their new gods; and things continued getting worse and worse until eventually God sent the Assyrians to destroy Israel, the Northern kingdom and wipe it out forever. That's back in 2 Kings 17. And in Judah in the South things weren't much better. There was the odd good king here or there but basically each new king took the nation further away from God, until in 2 Kings 21 with king Manassah we read these words…
The LORD said through his servants the prophets: Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle... I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down...because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day.
And then came Josiah. And if you were here last week I'm sure you'll remember those amazing words in 22 v 2… Despite the fact that his father and grandfather were some of the most wicked and evil kings of Judah, Josiah loved the LORD. And so we saw that when the High Priest found the Book of the Law (which was probably Deuteronomy as we'll see) and he read it to the king, Josiah was full of remorse. He tore his robes and he sent his officials to find out from God what he should do. And a prophet named Huldah gave him this message, 22 v. 16-17
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. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made,my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.
In Deuteronomy God had promised his people that if they rejected him then he would reject them. And they have so now God says he will. But that's not all God said. In 22 v.19-20 God said to Josiah
Because 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 a curse and be laid waste – and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.
The nation will be wiped out says the LORD, but not in your day. And the first thing we see in chapter 23 is
1) Josiah's response to God, v.1-25
Look at 23 v.1-3
Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets – all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord.The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.
Josiah gathers together all the people, not just in Jerusalem but in all of Judah, not just the rulers and the leaders, but EVERYONE in the whole country, young and old. And he stands up before them and he reads them the book of the law. And when he has finished reading out the whole thing, he turns to the people, and in the presence of God he declares that the LORD is his God, and he promises that he will live his life following him! And then all the people say the same!
After hundreds of years of worshipping every different pagan god under the sun, and worshipping the sun! After the nation of Judah and their kings had rejected God so thoroughly that not only had they filled the temple of the LORD with idols and statues of pagan gods but they had actually lost their own copy of the Bible, the book of the law! Now with one voice, led by their king, they declare that they will follow the LORD! And what does that look like? Well look at v.4
The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel.
(Baal, Canaanite god of fertility, Asherah his goddess)
Then in v.5 Josiah gets rid of the pagan priests who burnt incense to Baal and to the sun and the moon and the stars.
Then look at v.6
He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people.
Just burning the pole wasn't good enough for Josiah, and nor was grinding it to powder, instead as it says in Deuteronomy, he scattered it over graves to make sure it could never be used for worship again. Then in v.7 he gets rid of the prostitutes that were part of the pagan worship, and those who used weaving to worship those false gods. Then in v.8 we're told Josiah goes from Geba, which was way up in the North, to Beersheba which was right down in the South and breaks down all the shrines and destroys the places of pagan worship he finds along the way. Then in v.10 we read
He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek.
And in v.11
He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.
He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the Lord. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley. The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption – the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon. Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones.
In v.15-18 Josiah hunts out the altar that Jeroboam had set up right when the two nations divided, and destroys it, just as it had been prophesied he would in 1 Kings 13.
Then in v.19 and 20, not satisfied with clearing out all the idols and pagan gods in the Southern kingdom Josiah goes into the land that used to be the Northern kingdom and clears that out too! Do you see what he's doing? When Josiah reads the book of the law and believes in the God of the Bible he knows that they must stop worshipping all the false, pagan gods. So he hunts out every shine and altar and idol, he goes North and South and East and West, and gets rid of everything that has ever been set up in Israel to worship false gods, right from the very beginning. And he doesn't just throw them out, he smashes them and burns them and grinds them to powder and desecrates them so that they can never be used again.
It's what the Bible calls repentance. This is Josiah's response to God. And it is the right response. If God is going to be the God of your life then nothing else can be. If you believe in him, and want to follow him then you must worship NOTHING else. What Josiah understood is that becoming a Christian doesn't just mean starting to follow the God of the Bible, it meaning stopping following any other gods.
And it's exactly the same for us. We may not have shrines and poles and altars and idols quite like they did back then, but we worship just as many false gods today. You only have to look at our advertisements to know what they are. We worship money, and pleasure and leisure. We worship clothes and gadgets and holidays and handbags. We worship education and success. We worship our husbands and our wives, our boyfriends and girlfriends. Parents worship their children, and sometimes children worship their parents.
Idols are anything in our lives that take the place of God. So for example, when we find our security in our bank balance, and not in God, then it's an idol. When we seek to find our contentment in relationships and not in God, then it's an idol. If you want to know what your idols are, or the things that are in danger of becoming idols, then ask yourself this question. 'What could you not live without…?' Those things. They are your idols.
And if, like Josiah, we want to follow the one true God, then we need to stop worshipping those other things. We don't need to get rid of all of those things necessarily, but we need to stop worshipping them, and that may mean we need to get rid of those things that help us to worship them. Let me give you an example. Perhaps one of your idols is relationships. You might be in a relationship or you might not be, but your temptation is to find you identity, your happiness, your contentment in relationships. And all the romantic comedies that you have on DVD or go to the cinema to watch, they drum into you the message that finding the right guy or girl, THAT is the way to a fulfilled life. They help you worship your idol. And if you struggle worshipping that idea then my advice to you would be, throw them out. Chuck them out. You don't have to burn them or grind them to pieces (!) but it they or anything else is causing you to worship something other than God, then follow Josiah's example and get rid of it.
But that's not all. Repentance isn't just chucking out what shouldn't be there, it also means adding in what should be, look at v.21-23
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.
Repentance means more than just stopping worship other gods, it means starting to actively follow God. And that means putting into our lives things that will help us to worship him.
Bible study, prayer, family devotions, being committed to a church, joining a home group, or Women's fellowship, etc. Repentance, if you like, is about more than just pulling out the weeds, it's about planting the flowers. That was Josiah's response to God. And it's the ONLY right response of anyone who wants to follow him. And repenting is not just something we do once when we become Christians, it's something we must keep on doing, every day. If you call yourself a Christian today let me ask you, are you still repenting? Josiah's response to God is remarkable, and it doesn't stop there, look at v.24
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 fulfil the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord.
That was Josiah's response to God. And secondly we see…
2) God's response to Josiah, v. 26-27
Now look at v.26-27
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."
After all that Josiah has done, after all of his repentance and reforms. After he's cleared out the temple, and torn down the shrines and poles and altars to the false gods. After he's got rid of all the pagan priests and prostitutes, the horses and the chariots, and all the other articles of false worship that have ever been set up, not just in Judah but even in Israel. And after he's re-instated the Passover and turned to God with all his heart and all his soul and all his strength…What does God do? What is Gods response to Josiah? Does God repent? No. Nothing has changed
And the first time you read that, if you're anything like me, it's comes as a shock. If Josiah repents, why doesn't God? If Josiah is sorry and turns to God then why does God forgive and forget? We are shocked… But I don't think we should be, and although the passage doesn't tell us, I don't think Josiah was either. Instead the passage gives us two reasons why God does respond to Josiah in this way and the first is that…
…sin is serious
As the writer of 2 Kings lists for us in chapter 23 all these things that Josiah tore down and destroyed I think we should be amazed… not just at Josiah's repentance, but at just how far the people of Judah had fallen from God. The sheer number of altars and shrine and idols that are mentioned in this chapter is staggering, isn't it. They set up pagan worship in the temple, v.4! They sacrificed their sons and their daughters, v.10! They had prostitutes and weavers and horses and chariots and stones and poles and all sorts of things dedicated to worshipping any other god but the one true God who had made them a people, and rescued them out of Egypt and given them this land. And their sin was serious not just in scope but in age. They had been doing this for years. Did you notice in v.13 there were pagan places of worship that had been used since Solomon's days. And in v.22, they hadn't celebrated the Passover since the Judges, that was 500 years ago. Their sin was serious. Sin always is.
But that's not all. And in fact that's not the main reason God did not change his judgement when Josiah repented. The main reason is that
…repentance doesn't rescue
Or if you like alliteration …sorry doesn't save. I don't think Josiah was surprised when he heard God's response in v.26-27 because it is exactly what God said he would do back in chap 22 v.16-17. God had already told him that he was going to wipe out the nation of Judah. And Josiah didn't repent to try to change God's mind or to try to make up for all the sin over all the years that had gone before. He repented because he believed in the one true God revealed to him in the Bible and knew that he should worship him and stop worshipping anything else. But repenting didn't mean Josiah and the people of Judah wouldn't face God's punishment. Saying sorry doesn't save… Repentance doesn't rescue… And I think Josiah knew that because for the first time in 500 years he had just celebrated the Passover. The Passover was a festival which reminded the Israelites of the time that God had saved them out of Egypt. God had saved them, not because they were better than the Egyptians, or nicer. God saved them not because they were good and deserved saving. God had saved them because he loved them. The people didn't save themselves or earn their salvation by being good. GOD had saved them.
And now God responds to Josiah by saying that nothing had changed, that he was still going to wipe Judah out. And we are shocked, but we shouldn't be. Because sin is serious. The people still deserved God's punishment, and Josiah knew it. And he also knew that repentance doesn't rescue. Sorry doesn't save.
When Jesus came into the word and preached the good news, his message was very simple. It tells us in Mark 1 v 15
"The time has come,' he said. 'The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.'"
And when Jesus left and the Apostles preached the gospel to the nations, they said the same thing.
"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptised, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins...'" Do you see? Repentance is not enough.We need to repent AND believe. I think we forget that sometimes. We're good at telling people that being a Christian is all about believing in Jesus, and that's right. But that's not all. We need to repent and believe, and we need to keep on repenting. Being a Christian is just about choosing to start following God, it's also about choosing to stop following our other idols. But on the other hand I think sometimes we're in danger of thinking that being a Christian is all about obeying God's laws and not being like the world around us. And that's right, but it's not all. Just repenting is like sitting in the driver's seat obeying all the laws and rules, checking your mirror and indicating. You're doing everything right…but unless you actually turn the ignition and start the car, you're not really driving.
If you want to follow God then you must respond in just the same way that Josiah did. Repentance is not enough, you also have to believe.