(2 Chronicles 34:15)
After the death of Solomon, Israel and Judah were divided into separate kingdoms. Both had periods in which they were in rebellion to God, but Israel's existence was continuously characterized by idolatry and ungodliness. Because of her rebellion, Israel was the first of the two kingdoms to fall under the judgment of Jehovah God. She was taken into Assyrian captivity in approximately 722 BC, and ceased to exist as a nation .
At the time of Israel's destruction, Judah was benefitting from the reign of Hezekiah. It is said of Hezekiah, " ... He did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done" (2 Chronicles 29:2). Hezekiah reigned for 29 years in Judah, and during his reign cleansed the temple (29:3-19); restored temple worship (29:20-36); kept the passover (30); and accomplished many reforms in Judah (31).
However, after his death his son Manasseh took the throne. It is said of Manasseh, "But he did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel" (2 Chronicles 33:2). Manasseh's reign of 55 years, together with the short (2 year) reign of his son Amon, was characterized by idolatry, human sacrifice (of his own son), witchcraft, and immorality (cf. 2 Chronicles 33).
An interesting aspect of this evil reign was the effect it had on the people of Judah. The writer of Chronicles reveals (33:9), "So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel." In light of the current scandals we are suffering in the highest reaches of our government, it is important to note that character does indeed matter. Especially with regard to the leaders of our government. When our president or other governmental leaders show a lack of character and morality, it is bound to influence the citizenry. Is it any wonder that marital infidelity and dishonesty are rampant when even those who are supposed to be the "best and brightest" among us are so defiled in their actions and conversation?
It was into this morally decrepit culture that Josiah was born to his father Amon. And, after his evil father was assassinated, Josiah ascended the throne of Judah at the tender age of 8, (cf. 2 Kings 22:1). Unlike his grandfather and father before him, Josiah was a good ruler, and faithful servant of Jehovah God. It was said of him in 2 Kings 22:2, "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 to the right hand or to the left."
Note the following passage from 2 Chronicles 34:3-7:
By the time Josiah was 26 years of age, the restoration of Judah's standing before God was well under way. Idol worship had been abolished, and the temple was being renovated, with the ark of the covenant restored to its rightful position in the Holy Place. At this time, Hilkiah the high priest made an important discovery. "Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, 'I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.' And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan" (2 Chronicles 34:15).
Here I quote from William Smith's, Old Testament History, (College Press), pages 652-653).
Josiah was a strong and righteous man. In the face of all the ungodliness of Judah, he demanded accountability and action. Imagine a leader of the people who pulled them up out of the muck rather than dragging them down into it with him. When he found the law and read it, his heart was pierced. As a result, he had the law read to the people. The language used to record this event is striking. Notice 2 Chronicles 34:29-33:
Two things stand out about this passage:
First, the obvious strength of Josiah. A godly man and strong king, he compelled Judah to "take a stand", and "diligently serve the LORD their God." A strong example can work wonders. We need men and women like that in the church today. There is much ungodliness in the world, and its leavening influence is being felt among the people of God. There are cries for "tolerance" and "compromise" by false brethren who are serving as "change agents." Appeals to love and autonomy are masking an unwillingness to conform to the will of God. Their influence will alter the course of the unwary unless there are militant brethren who insist that a diligent stand be taken to "perform the words of the covenant."
Second, the importance the "commandments, testimonies and statutes" played in the restoration of Judah. Again, this concept is under attack in our day. These same "change agents" are calling for a kinder type of preaching. A reduction in emphasis on "doctrine, the church, the plan", etc. is preferred. Motives are often questioned when sin is reproved. False teachers are defended while a militant defense of the truth is decried as "mean-spirited" and "arrogant."
As an example of this, I am supplying an excerpt from an email I recently received from a young Christian with whom I am personally acquainted. The young man was commenting on a Web site I maintain for the West Side congregation where I preach. The site contains articles for study which include the reproving of sins of immorality, false doctrine, and other transgressions of God's commands. Without commenting on the validity of the scriptural arguments tendered on these matters, the young man wrote, "The only comment I have at this time is that you might want to consider how some of the things sound to the reader. Whether you are or you are not, it doesn't always sound like you're 'preaching the truth in love.' Be careful!!" The reader is welcome to read any and all of the articles contained at the site to gauge how my writing "sounds", but I fear the problem is less with the tone than with the substance. It is the reproval of sin itself, regardless of the tone used, that is upsetting to so many today.
But, Josiah recognized the importance of keeping " ... His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book" (2 Chronicles 34:31). As did Josiah and the people of Judah, we have a New covenant, set by God, that we are to keep with all our heart and soul. Our responsibility today is even greater than that of Josiah. The Hebrew writer reveals, "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:1-4).
Josiah and people of Judah had lost the law of God. This was not an acceptable excuse for not serving Jehovah according to His precepts. However, how does Judah of old compare to Christians today? We have no excuse at all! The words of God are ever before us! If we will but look and listen we can benefit from them. But, we must embrace the words of God, and determine always to keep His commandments and testimonies and statutes with all of our hearts and souls. May we, as Josiah, "not turn aside to the right hand or to the left." (2 Kings 22:2)
e-mail Stan Cox
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