2 Kings 22:1-23:28
(Delivered Sunday, May 26, 2000 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James version.)
When I started going to school as a little boy, it wasn't too long before I heard about a strange and frightning place. To this day, I don't know if this place ever really existed or, if it did, whether or not it was really like what I imagined it to be. But I knew for sure that I didn't ever want to go there. It was a place called "Reform School". The other kids that I ran around with told me that it was where they put you when you had become so bad that they didn't know what else to do with you; and all their stories put the fear of "Reform School" in me early in my academic life. I thought that, once you were put into reform school, they'd never let you out. I assumed that to be the reason why I never actually met any kids who'd ever been there.
Now I may be alone in this; but I think I grew up with a negative reaction to the word "reform" because of the thought of "Reform School". Maybe I thought "Reform School" was a kind of double-negative. Right or wrong, I always associated the word "reform" with something very bad; when in reality, "reform" is something very good.
To "reform" means to become or to behave better -- to abandon evil or immoral practices and adopt good and moral ones. Used as a noun, a "reform" is an action taken to correct faults or change evil practices, and make things the way they should be. Sometimes, a whole movement to correct things that are wrong can be called a "reformation". One of the most notable moments in Church history is the "Protestant Reformation" of the sixteenth century, with its most outstanding list of "reformers" being such men as Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin and Zwingli. There's even an entire branch of the Protestantism that calls itself "Reformed" in order to distinguish itself from Lutheran tradition.
This morning, I would like us to focus in on "reform", that is, in the sense of abandoning the things that impede spiritual growth, and becoming more of what God says in the Bible that He wants us to be. And in doing so, I'd like to introduce you to one of the greatest "reformers" in the Bible. He experienced a personal reformation while quite young; and he sought to bring about the reformation of his entire nation while still only a teenager. He stands out as one of the great heros of the Bible, although you may not have heard of him before. His name is King Josiah; and we'll be looking at his story from 2 Kings 22-23.
My prayer this morning is that we'll be moved, as a community of individual believers in Christ, to experience personal spiritual reform, and thus experience a reformation of our church, and to even become a church full of "spiritual reformers" in our community. King Josiah's story shows us some of the essentials for experiencing a personal reformation in our walk with God.
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We can't appreciate the sort of reform Josiah's story represents to us unless we understand the times in which he lived. It was a deeply dark spiritual time for Israel. The northern kingdom of Judah had been conquered by a dreaded nation from the North, Assyria. God spared the southern kingdom of Judah through the prayers of godly King Hezekiah; but things went all downhill quickly after he died. Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, was placed on the throne; and he has gone down in Bible history as one of the most ungodly kings Judah ever had.
The worship of idols had been a problem for Jewish people at many points throughout her history; but Manassah took the problem to a new level. He led the people of Judah into the sin of idolatry to an unprecidented degree. He established altars for Baal in the land; and even set up a wooden idol in the temple of God. He set up altars to false deities in the temple courtyard, and sacrificed his own son to one of them. He practiced witchcraft, and relied on spiritists and mediums for directions and instructions. In addition, he was personally responsible for the shedding of much innocent blood in Jerusalem.
Finally, God had enough of it all. God spoke through His prophets and said,
"Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; I will whipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. So I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become victims of plunder to all their enemies, because they have done evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day" (2 Kings 21:12-15).
The Bible tells us that Menassah was taken captive by the Assyrians and led away to Babylon. While there, he turned to God in repentance, and God forgave him and restored him to his throne. But it was too late. The spiritual toxins Menassah had introduced into Israel had spread and done their damage. He got rid of the altars and false deities from the city; but it was to no avail. After he died, his son Amon took the throne and brought them all back again. He was every bit as wicked as his father had been, but unlike his father, he never repented. Amon was twenty-two when he became king; and he reigned for only two years. He was assasinated by two of his own servants. It was a terribly grim, spiritually dark, seemingly hopeless time for God's chosen people.
And then, Amon's son, Josiah, became king.
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Over the past few years, I've been reading about and studying some of the great revivals and revivalists of the history of the Church. It's been facinating to me how often God causes a mighty outpouring of His Holy Spirit to revive His church during times that are, from all human appearance, spiritually hopeless and dark, much the same as the times in which Josiah was born. I believe God often brings about revival at the most unexpected and unlikely times in order to show that true revival is His doing, not man's.
It was at just such an unlikely time that God raised up Josiah to be one of the greatest "revivalists" of the Old Testament times. And God further demonstrated His great power by the fact that He brought this great reformer to the scene, not as a mighty conquering soldier, or as a shrewed and seasoned politician, or as a wise philosopher, but as just a little boy who loved God.
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside from to the right hand or to the left (22:1-2).
Josiah was a remarkable boy. By God's grace, he had overcome the wicked heritage his grandfather and father had left him. Instead of walking in their example, he walked according to the example of his great ancestor, King David in terms of his love and devotion to God. And even though he came to the throne at a time of crisis, even against the ugly backdrop of the assasanation of his own father and the execution of the assassens, Josiah was nevertheless characterized as doing what was right in the sight of the Lord.
You should know, in fact, that little Josiah had the distinction of being appointed by God as a reformer of his people three-hundred years before he was born. Many years prior, a wicked man named Jeroboam led the northern kingdom of Israel into a split from the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam became the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. All of the northern kingdoms kings were evil; but Jeroboam was the wicked king that was used in Scripture as the standard by which the wickedness of all the other kings of Israel would be measured. Often, when an evil king assumed the throne, the Bible would introduce him by saying that "he walked in the ways of Jeroboam".
Jeroboam knew that if the people of the northern kingdom worshiped the one true God, they'd reunite with their brothers in the southern kingdom. So, Jeroboam created two golden calves, just like the ones built in Exodus. He set up an alter to these two calves, and called upon the people of the northern kingdom to worship them, saying, "Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28).
God raised up a prophet to rebuke Jeroboam, right as he was standing at the alter burning incense to the two golden calves. And this is what the prophet said;
"O altar, altar! Thus says the LORD: 'Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men's bones shall be burned on you.'" (1 Kings 13:2).
Josiah was that child, prophesied by name three-hundred years before he was born. Follow his story with me; and please take note of the key elements of his history-making spiritual reformation.
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1. A DEVOTION TO GOD'S LORDSHIP.
The first thing to notice is Josiah's commitment to the authority and rule of God in his life and in his nation. We've already seen something of this in the fact that God has included that wonderful description of him right at the beginning of his story: that "he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside from to the right hand or to the left".
To see how he displayed his commitment to the Lord early in his reign, we need to look at his story as its recorded for us in 2 Chronicles 34:3-7. There, it says;
For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young [that is, sixteen years old], he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year [that is, when he was twenty] he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images. They broke down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars which were above them he cut down; and the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images he broke in pieces, and made dust of them and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And so he did in the cities of Manasseh, Ephriam, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali and all around, with axes. When he had broken down the altars and the wooden images, had beaten the carved images into powder, and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem (2 Chron. 34:3-7).
It's interesting that he carried on these acts of cleansing not only in Judah, but also in the cities of the northern kingdom of Israel as well. Perhaps it was Josiah's hope that the two kingdoms could be reunited again under the common banner of the God of Abraham.
Josiah's bold and aggressive actions may sound intolerant to modern ears. But if we dismiss Josiah on the basis of what seems like intolerance, we will badly miss one of the most significant elements of his character. Yes, he was "intolerant"; but note the nature of his intolerance. His intolerance was directed toward anything that was a rival to the God who called his nation into being, the God of Israel. With respect to the realm over which Josiah had the right to exercise royal authority, he would tolerate no rival to the one true God. Nor would he tolerate anything that the one true God would not tolerate. Nor would he tolerate the continued existance of even the opportunity to worship a different god. And that is what, at the rock bottom, made him a great reformer and a great man. To call him "intollerant" is to be guilty of looking at his whole-hearted devotion to God from the wrong perspective!
And by the way: no one will ever be a great reformer who is afraid of being called "intolerant" toward that which is offence to the one true God! No one will ever be a great reformer who "tolerates" the things that corrupt people's souls and separate them from their Creator, and from their ultimate happiness as His creatures! Great spiritual reformers are "intolerant" people, intolerant toward the things that God Himself does not tolerate.
Now, let's apply this to ourselves accurately. Josiah had the legal right to go throughout his realm and destroy any altar to any false god, and to desecrate any of the sacred places of any group of idolators. But you and I do not have the right to do what he did in the same way he did it. We do, however, have responsibilities intrusted to us, our homes, our families, our work-stations, our relations, our leasure, our own minds and hearts. And in those areas, we do have the right, even the moral obligation!, to be intolerant of anything that is an offense to the one true God who has called us to be exclusively His.
Dear brother or sister in Christ: begin the work of personal reformation in your own life by becoming completely committed to the lordship of God in every area over which you have authority. Begin by cultivating a practical devotion to the sole Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of your life.
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2. A CONVICTION BY GOD'S WORD.
The second thing we notice about Josiah as a reformer is the impact that the word of God had upon him.
Seventy-five years had passed, from the time that godly King Hezekiah had died. The temple of God had been under the care of two wicked kings during that time, and it was a mess. It not only had to have been cleaned of the idols; it was also very badly in need of repair. The Lord laid it upon the heart of Josiah to appoint Shaphan the scribe to go to Hilkiah the high priest, order Hilkiah to count up the money that had been donated to the repair of the temple in previous years, take the money to those who were commissioned with the repair work, and get the project going.
While the work was going on, an amazing thing happened. During the restoration project, Hilkiah the high priest found a copy of the Book of the Law of Moses, a scroll of the Scriptures that had been hidden in the temple. It may have been that, under the reigns of Manasseh and Amon, all the other copies of the Scriptures had been lost or destroyed. Whether it was the last copy of the Scriptures in existance or not, we can't say. All we can say for sure is that it was the only one known about; and that God, in his providence, provided that this one copy was found by Hilkiah.
If this is the case, then think of the precious Bible you have in your hand right now. To some degree, you and I may well have the Scriptures now because Hilkiah found the Scriptures then! Just think of how Hilkiah's hands must have trembled as he held it, carrying this rare copy of the word of God out of its hiding place as if it were the most precious thing in the world, because it surely was! He gave it to Shaphan the scribe, and Shaphan read it; and they agreed that it must be taken to the king.
Shaphan reported back to the king that the money had been counted, and the restoration work on the temple had begun. But God was about to do a spiritual restoration work on His people, Shaphan said to the king, "Hilkiah the priest has given me a book;" and then, he presented the word of God to the king and began reading it.
Scholars have tried to guess at what portion of the Scriptures Hlikiah read to the king. Perhaps we'll never know for sure; nor will we know how long Hilkiah read to him. But we read this:
Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Sphapan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asiah a servant of the king, saying, "Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us" (22:11-13).
Immediately, this austere group of royal representatives went to a woman named Huldah, a prophetess who was the wife of an official in the city. She said to them,
"Thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'Tell the man who sent you to Me, "Thus says the LORD: OBehold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants, all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read, because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched.'"' But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, in this manner you shall speak to him, 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel: "Concerning the words which you have heard, "because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitance, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you," says the LORD. "Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place"'" (22:15-20).
It says in Hebrews 4:12-13, "For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and the spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." No doubt, Josiah felt pretty well Osliced and diced' by the word of God that day.
Josiah was a great man. He had displayed a fervent devotion to God from the time he was a little boy. And yet, when he heard the verdict of the Scriptures, when he heard about the majesty holiness of God, and of His dreadful wrath for sin, and of His call to repent and flee to Him for mercy, Josiah didn't say, "Wow! All those wicked and sinful people out there in Judah ought to hear this!" Instead, he tore his own clothes. He himself wept. He himself cried out to God for mercy.
Judgment was coming, just as the Scripture had warned. But Josiah's own response of humility before the verdict of Scripture moved God to graciously postpone judgment until Josiah's days were ended. Josiah's conviction and sense of brokenness under the word of God resulted in mercy to the people of his day.
History has shown, and I believe always will show, that no nation has ever turned the corner morally except on the basis of a spiritual revival. Education has never done it. Politics has never done it. Only a spiritual revival can turn a nation around in a permanent and substantial way. And history also shows that no spiritual revival has ever occured apart from a bold, confident, faithful proclimation of the Word of God.
And it's a strange paradox of history that, during the times when reformation is most needed, the word of God is most disregarded and ignored. But as believers, we must not disregard it. We must proclaim it. It's God's appointed means of bringing people to faith (Rom. 10:17). The story of Josiah encourages us by showing how powerful the word of God is in bringing about spiritual reform.
We must become forces of spiritual reform by exposing ourselves regularly and prayerfully to the word of God. We must study it; obey it; and teach it to others (Ezra 7:10). God says, "On this one I will look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66:2).
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3. A LEADERSHIP IN REPENTENCE.
Third, we notice that Josiah, as a spiritual reformer, was characterized by a ready willingness to agree with God's verdict. He displayed a genuine sorrow for sin and geuninely turned from it in repentance; and he did so in such a way as to lead others to do the same with him.
Once his group of royal representatives returned to him with God's response through the prophetess,
... the king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him. The king went up to the house of the LORD with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD.
Does it seem surprising that a godly man like Josiah was so fervent in being the first to repent? It's obvious that he'd been following the Lord faithfully all his life. Certainly he didn't need to make a covenant to follow the Lord and keep His commandments, did he?
Once again, if you examine the history of the great Old Testament leaders who truly made a difference in their times, it was they, usually the most godly men of the day, who took the lead in repenting of sin. They didn't wait for others; they got the ball rolling. We see this in such Old Testament reformers as Ezra (Ezra 9:1-15), or Nehemiah (Neh. 1:4-11), or Daniel (Daniel 9:1-19). Likewise, we see that Josiah, a comparitevly righteous man, took the lead in a national repentance.
Notice how he led them in this. He called the people together. He shared his own sense of conviction with them by reading to them the Scriptures that had convicted him. He set the example for his people by showing them how to respond, by making a covenent before God, right there in God's house, to follow Him, keep His commandments whole-heartedly, and to do what God said in the Scriptures. The people took a stand with him in this. They did as he did.
You and I don't have the power to call all the people around us, and lead them in repentance as Josiah did. Josiah's power was by authority; while ours is by influence. But I suggest to you that when we've been truly convicted from the word of God of the sins that are all around us; and when our hearts break in a personal way over how we've displeased God; and when we pass on that conviction to others by sharing the word with them in the power of the Holy Spirit; and when we become the first to actively repent and recommit to the Lord; God will use us, and we will bear an influence on some. Perhaps on many. May God help us to be spiritual reformers who lead the way in repentance.
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Josiah displayed a heart-felt devotion to the Lordship of God, a genuine conviction of the word, and a eager readiness to repent. What happened as a result of this? God used this proven reformer to reform his nation even more!
Josiah had already cleared his nation of so much of the idolatry, witchcraft, sin and superstition that was in it. But now, he goes back and does it again, this time to a much more extensive and thorough level. Time doesn't allow us to go into the details; but what we'd have to conclude from it all is that even though he began the work of cleaning away all the moral rubble, he hadn't completed the work. A further reformation of his own heart revealed further sin matters that needed to be taken care of.
That's one of the things that distinguishes a genuine spiritual reform from a mere humanly-engendered "resolution". When it's a product of our own flesh, we can begin with apparent zeal to get our moral life in order; but after a while, the zeal begins to wane. We left things undone that needed to be taken care of; and we develop a "that's good enough" mentality. But in the case of a genuine spiritual reform from God, we find that the closer we move to where God wants us to be, the more we discover the things that we should have taken care of. The Holy Spirit will not allow us to be content until we've completed the work of reformation that He's begun in us.
Sin can be very deceiving. We can think we've got it handled; and suddenly find that we'd been fooling ourselves. I heard recently about an Anglican Biship who once said, in fullest sincerity, that though he knew he inherited many sins from Adam, he praised God that pride was not one of them.
Let's let God do the work of spiritual reformation in us. Let's open ourselves up to His searchlight; and let's deal with the sins in our life that He reveals to us. And lets be sure that we do a complete work of it. Let's not leave anything undone. Let's not only display "initiative", but "finish-itive" as well.
And second, we read,
Then the king commanded all the people, saying, "Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant." Such a Passover surely had never been held since the days of the judges who judge Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah. But in th eighteenth year of King Josiah this passover was held before the LORD in Jerusalem (23:21-23).
Genuine spiritual reform not only resulted in a renewed zeal for personal holiness, but also for worship. The people had not been celebrating Passover; and as God renewed their hearts, He renewed their zeal to worship Him as they should. The full account of this particular Passover is found in 2 Chronicals 35; and it's a marvel to read about! As our passage says, there hadn't been one like it for centuries!
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What was God's assessment of all this? Was He pleased with what He saw? God's own word includes this marvelous closing commendation of Josiah:
Now before him there was not king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him (23:25).
Josiah was a spiritual reformer. He stood out marvelously in God's eyes. Wouldn't you want to hear that sort of a commendation spoken by God about you at the end of your life?
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