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‘Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign.’
2 Kings 22:1
For all the years Josiah had been represented as one of the models of the Bible. Nothing appears in his history which the Lord seems to have disapproved. Four things there are in our verse which show the remarkableness of this boy-monarch’s piety; these we note in turn.
I. First, he was so young in years.—He was only sixteen at the time when he ‘began to seek after the God of David his father.’ It is a fine thing to have an ambition to be good and great when one is as yet a mere boy. Once, as Goethe’s mother saw him crossing a street with his boyish companions, she was struck with the extraordinary gravity of his carriage of himself. She asked him laughingly whether he expected to distinguish himself from the others by his sedateness. The little fellow replied: ‘I begin with this; later on in life I shall probably distinguish myself in far other ways from them.’
II. Next, Josiah’s piety was remarkable because he had had no paternal help.—Two generations of awful wickedness lay behind him; Amon was his father, and Amon was the son of Manasseh. Josiah had no Bible; in those days the ‘book of the law’ was lost. Jedidah is mentioned in the story; the name means ‘beloved of Jehovah’; and we really have a hope that Josiah felt the prayers and counsels of a pious mother.
When one is puzzled and baffled, perhaps even scandalised, by an older person’s behaviour, let him bear in mind that he was never bidden to imitate anybody but Jesus Christ. Once a man told Augustine that a strong wish was in his heart to become a Christian, but the imperfections of other people who professed religion kept him back; and the excellent preacher replied thus: ‘But you, yourself, lack nothing; what a neighbour lacks, be you for yourself; be a good Christian in order that you, by your consistency, may convince the most calumnious pagan!’
III. Josiah’s piety was also remarkable because he was reared in a palace of indolence and luxury.—He was a king’s heir, and was exposed to all the indulgence of easy-going life and the flatteries of court.
All this must be met by a resolute and devout heart. A youth with a real love for God and love for man has no miserable aristocracy of human rank in his disposition. In modern times, when the Duke of Gaudia arrived at Lisbon, and was waited upon by a man of quality who had received a royal order for that purpose from King Don John III, he noted that this suave companion kept giving him repeatedly the title of ‘most illustrious Lord,’ even when he did no more than ask him if he was not fatigued by his journey; at last the duke told the courtier frankly that he was not so very tired yet, only wearied by so much illustriousness heaped on him.
IV. Again, Josiah’s piety was remarkable because he was entrusted with the throne so early in his career.—He became king at eight years of age. Unlimited power came into his hands when he was as yet a mere child. Around him were the old vicious parasites of the realm, the veteran placemen who had been living and fattening on his father’s favour.
Often a boy is a regular little tyrant, lording it over nurse, or brothers and sisters—older as well as younger—or whomsoever else he can make subject to his will for the time being. A child of eight years old needs to know how to rule well in his sphere. A responsibility for good government is on him. He ought to be made to feel it betimes. And Josiah bore gravely, as a boy, the burden of royalty.
(1) ‘Even a child maketh himself known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right. Commonly it is before a child is eight years old that his character receives its permanent impress for good or evil, and that his line of conduct for life is indicated. Already he is either doing that which is right in the sight of the Lord, or doing that which is wrong in the Lord’s sight. How is it about the children of that age who are under your control?’
(2) ‘Much depends on the way one starts. It is said that, when the old Rudolph of Hapsburg was to be crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, there was an imminent moment in which the pageant halted, for the imperial sceptre was mislaid by the attendants, and could not be found. The emperor was just in the act of investing the princes with their honours. With an admirable presence of mind, and in the true spirit of high religious chivalry of those times, he turned to the altar before which he stood; and, seizing from it the crucifix itself, exclaimed, “With this will I govern!” ’
A MEMORABLE YEAR
‘The eighteenth year of king Josiah.’
2 Kings 22:3-20
Josiah mounted the throne when he was eight years old. He was the son of Amon and the grandson of Manasseh, both of them evil rulers who had forgotten God. It is therefore all the more surprising and delightful to light on the tender heart of this young king. It was to Jedidah that he owed everything, under God. Where Boscath (her ancestral city) stood, we do not know. It was a town somewhere near the Philistine border. But it is not there that we must seek her monument. It is in the character and work of King Josiah.
I. Josiah had given his heart to God.—He had sought God early, and according to His promise had found Him. His religion began in the home of his own soul, but a religion that begins there, cannot stop there. Josiah looked out on the people God had given him. His father’s lineaments seemed stamped upon them. They called themselves the servants of Jehovah, yet how corrupt and how debased they were! Men were still worshipping the host of heaven. Fathers were offering their children to the fire-god. Altars still smoked with sacrifices to Baal. Idolatrous things still stood in the Temple Court. Josiah had a mighty task before him. He had cleansed his heart—could he ever cleanse his land? I think it shows the earnestness of the king that he began resolutely with what was in his power. If he could not call his people back to God, at least he could repair the House of God. The Temple had fallen into sad disrepair since Joash had renewed it two hundred years ago. So Josiah set to work upon the Temple. Let him begin there, and greater things will follow. We find him paying the carpenters and masons, and God was to pay him back a thousandfold. Do we not need to learn that lesson still? Are we not often tempted to do nothing, simply because there is so much to do? Josiah teaches us that the road to victory begins in doing what we can do, to-day. As Newman sings—
When obstacles and trials seem
Like prison-walls to be,
I do the little I can do,
And leave the rest to Thee.
Josiah could at least employ the carpenters, and the covenant was nearer than he thought.
II. What was it that made reformation possible?—What was it that breathed a new spirit through the land, and brought the people back to God again? It was the discovery by the high priest Hilkiah of an old volume in the House of God. Hilkiah had his heart in the right place; he was eagerly seconding Josiah’s efforts, and he too, like Josiah, doing what he could, did a great deal more than he had ever dreamed of. Can you not picture him busy in the Temple, helping to clear out the dusty rooms? Can you not see him, in some neglected corner, lighting upon that old and discoloured parchment? He opened it with a scholar’s curiosity. In that moment he forgot all his cleaning work. I don’t think a man’s heart ever throbbed so violently at the chance discovery of some rare old tome as did Hilkiah’s in that memorable hour. He had discovered the lost law-book of Jehovah. It was in substance our Book of Deuteronomy. It was the voice of Jehovah speaking to the age. It was the very message that the times required. The land might mock at Jeremiah’s threatenings; but here was a message that would convince the stubbornest.
III. The book was found, then, and passed on to the king.—Shaphan the scribe read it before the throne. And as Josiah listened to its awful judgments, hurled at the sin with which his land was seething, a great fear seized upon his kingly heart. Was there no hope? Might not God stay His anger? It might be well to consult the prophets about that. But the case was urgent, and Jeremiah was not living in the city; was there no interpreter of God within the walls? The thoughts of the council turn at once to Huldah, an aged saint who dwelt in the lower town. How men would stare, and how the women would talk as the embassy went hurrying through the streets! How many a worshipper at the street-corner shrines would have his hand arrested as the envoys passed! Something had happened. The city grew apprehensive. Uneasy consciences are quick to take alarm. Then the trumpet sounded a rally to the Temple. The people crowded up the slope at its summons. There stood the king, touched by a greater Presence. In his hand was the book that had been found. He read it all to them, with what passion you may guess. There and then he made a covenant with God. And the people, struck by a common fear, moved by a common impulse, feeling the majesty and jealous love of God as they had never felt it in their lives before, turned from their sin to serve their great Deliverer, and entered into covenant with Him.
(1) ‘John Newton was very wild and wicked when he was young. But his mother also was Jedidah—“beloved,” and when he became a Christian he used to say this. He used to say, “Even when I was very wild, I could never forget my mother’s soft hand. When going to do something wicked, I could always feel her soft hand on my head. If thousands of miles away from her, I could not forget that.” Without question it was so with young Josiah.’
(2) ‘A Bible found in the monastery of Erfurt had an incalculable influence on Luther. A pedlar’s tract, brought to his father’s door, was the means of the conversion of Richard Baxter. The accidental discovery of a little volume on an old soldier’s window-head at Simprin gave new spiritual life to Thomas Boston, and through Boston to thousands over Scotland. Surely (as Wordsworth writes in the “Excursion”) God is
Whose everlasting purposes embrace
All accidents, converting them to good.’
THE BIBLE—LOST OR FOUND?
‘And Hilkiah the priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.’
2 Kings 22:8
There is an apparent discrepancy between the recorded facts of the reign of Josiah and the indications of his inward temperament and disposition which are given to us. The facts of his reign, if we could come to their study independently, would lead us to characterise him as an ardent, sanguine, energetic man. All seems consistent with this view; his zeal for religion, his labour in the restoration of the Temple and the reformation of the kingdom, and the warlike spirit which forced a collision with the power of Egypt and cost him his life at Megiddo. Activity, forwardness, and enterprise seem to mark the man, quite as distinctly as the deep religious principle which hallowed his doings.
Such would be the conclusion from the data of a human historian. But here the superhuman element comes in to represent his real character in a very different light. Huldah the prophetess is appropriately introduced to speak of him as tender, sensitive, and feminine in character, and to promise as his best reward that he should be taken away early from the evil to come.
I. During the restoration of the Temple a sensation was produced by the discovery of the original roll of the Law, which had been put into the ark eight centuries before.—The reading of the book produced panic and dismay because of its contents, its threatenings, the evil denounced in it against the sins of the house of Judah. King and people alike seem to have been ignorant of the very existence of their Bible, as a book containing the revelation of God’s wrath against sinners.
II. This story touches not only the nation or the Church; it touches every one of us.—Are there not many of us who have lost the book of life—lost it how much more wilfully, how much more guiltily, because in so many senses we have it? If we acquire the habit of studying the Bible merely or chiefly with scientific or literary views, of prying into it, dissecting it, criticising the word because it is man’s, as if it were not also God’s, can we help fearing that we may be losing the word of life?
III. Notice the result of the discovery of the Book of the Law.—The king rent his clothes, and sent to inquire of the Lord for himself and his people concerning the words of the book that was found. Let us also seek for deep and living repentance for the sin which our ignorance has been.
‘The book had been lost. Strange to say, too, it had been lost in the Lord’s House. The way it came was this—the people had given up the worship of God, and naturally they gave up God’s book. When they were worshipping idols they had no inclination for the holy law. When the book was used no longer, it easily got lost. The Bible is often lost in modern life. One may have a very nice copy of the Bible bound in morocco, and may even prize it as a handsome book, perhaps as a present, and keep it carefully, and yet really have no Bible. The Bible we do not read, take into our heart, and obey, is a lost Bible to us.
There are many persons who once loved the Bible and used it, but who have now lost it. They never open it. They pay no heed to its commands. Their hearts have become filled with other things; there is no room for God’s Word. Sometimes the book is entirely given up and sneered at. There are homes where the Bible was once a living book, highly prized, but where it is now lost. There is no more family worship. There have been times in the history of the world when even in the Church the Bible was a lost book.’
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Kings 22". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany