2 Kings 22 - 23
Dr. Chris White June 30, 2013
If ever a young man was destined to repeat the troubles of a troubled family name, Josiah was the man. The fifty-seven years of his grandfather’s and father’s tenure before him were years of religious wasteland. His grandfather Manasseh and father Amon were builders of altars to local fertility gods, seekers of mediums and astrologers, and destroyers of all that the previous king, Hezekiah, had done to revive Judah for their worship of God (2 Ki. 21:1-9). So when we see a boy named Josiah become king at age eight, we would expect that it just be a matter of time until he takes up the family business. Because the first eighteen years of his reign are as a vassal to the Assyrians and a combatant of the invading Scythians, religious reform is quiet. And then it happens.
Second Kings 22 tells the story of the young king calling on builders to begin repairs on the temple in Jerusalem from the offerings that had slowly been building up for this cause. A nice development in itself, but then the real turn occurs. Read with me from 2 Kings 22:8-10. Scholars believe that the portion of the Book of the Law read to the king is from Deuteronomy 12-26. Chapter 12 begins this way: These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. You must not worship the Lord your god in their way.
The response of the king is recorded in verses 11-13 of 2 Kings 22. Please read this with me. What follows is a reformation of Judah. As chapter 23 records, Josiah calls in the elders and has them accompany him to the temple in Jerusalem. There the Book of the Law is read loud, the covenant with God is renewed, and any and all signs of pagan worship are destroyed. He even goes so far as to burn an Asherah pole and scatter the ashes over the pauper cemetery to further insult the pagan god (v. 6). It is a long treatment of the meticulous elimination of foreign gods and worship from Jerusalem, and it ends with a celebration of the Passover that surpasses any celebrated since the day of the judges (v. 21).
One man. Even a one-man revival. If you are open to the possibilities through one person exercising faith in God, you have to be drawn to this story. If ever you have discounted your own faith as “just me” or discounted yourself as one who does not have the right genealogy for the great things of God, you have to read this story. And if ever you face a day when you believe that your faith, your life, can be used of God, you at least have to understand this story.
How do you experience a one-man, Josiah-type revival?
First, you begin with the Bible. The story of the man’s life erupts with the discovery of the Hebrew Scriptures. Not only does he hear what is said, he believes what he hears. This is the leap in those who experience God in life. That is, hearing the Word leads you to do something in response to it, and this response is an act of faith in God. The Bible is chock full of people who resemble Josiah’s response: Abram leaving home, Moses going home, Joshua leading alone, and Samuel awakened in the night with a difficult assignment, and David putting his faith to the test against a giant. The word of God changed the directions of individuals, and these individuals changed the direction of families and tribes and nations.
As I’ve mentioned many times, the best quote to stay in my head from seminary was this: “If you’re reading the Bible and it doesn’t bother you, you’re not reading it close enough.” The Bible covers four-thousand years of events and people and stories of faith, and there is no room to hide when you read it. A revolution is under every rock. Consider how hopeless lives have changed under the reading of Psalm 23 and the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15; how people keeping their distance found a reason to get close through the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10; or how many people have started their first step toward the mission field after reading the Great Commission in Matthew 28. There must be a place in your life for the Scriptures if such revival would come.
Second, we must change structures. Josiah’s effort to remove all the signs and structures of the pagan religion was obvious and necessary. The great destruction of the idols was a clear sign of his intent and the only way to go forward. We all know well that faith does not go forward merely in the brain. Structures must change. This is why Paul’s letters to the new believers coming out of a pagan world is so concrete with directions to pray, to read, to gather, to break bread, to give, to care for one another. You cannot have the believing without the doing. It is like setting out to change your diet: you begin with removing and never bringing home what is inconsistent with your new diet.
But here we have to take pause. Josiah’s story does not end with permanent reformation. He will die and the nation will return to its pagan practices. And they will go into exile. As one commentator wisely noted, Josiah’s work was that of destruction, not construction. He tore down much, but it was not replaced with true faith. To return to the diet analogy, it is not enough to clear the house of what you are NOT going to eat. You have to eat something, so what you EAT is the centerpiece of the diet. For all that we want to remove structurally in America and cable and internet and families, the removal of the bad does not necessarily make a Christian. Destruction is a first step, but what are you constructing? The habits that build must be with you: prayer, community, giving, and Scripture.
And this is leading to the third, difficult challenge in reformation. Josiah could not control what most needs to be controlled for a one-man revival: the heart. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. The Hebrew notion of heart is the center, the core, the truest identity of identities. While Psalm 14:1 records, “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no god,’” and all that follows is tied to this belief, the flip-side says that saying in your heart, “There is a God,” has transforming power. This is why David writes in Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God,” and in verse 17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The work of God in our day is not written on tablets of stone but on hearts (2 Cor. 3:3).
It is the case that some things on the outside need to change if we are to experience this one-man revival, but the flesh, the family, the school, the church, the town, the nation, the times are not the true problem. The true problem for you and for me is in the heart. We want the wrong things. We refuse to accept, to change, to forgive, to trust, to wait, to accept. We want what God cannot give. It is time to ask God to help us want what should be wanted, to love who should be loved, to forgive who should be forgiven. No one had a worse environment or family line than Josiah. But change came. It happened in him. It can happen in you.