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2 Kings 22:1-20
ACCESSION OF JOSIAH. REPAIR OF THE TEMPLE. RECOVERY OF THE BOOK OF THE LAW.
2 Kings 22:1-7
GENERAL CHARACTER OF JOSIAH'S REIGN. His repair of the temple. The writer begins his account of Josiah's reign with the usual brief summary, giving his age at his accession, the length of his reign, his mother's name and birthplace (2 Kings 22:1), and the general character of his rule (2 Kings 22:2). He then proceeds to mention some circumstances connected with the repair of the temple, which Josiah had taken in hand (2 Kings 22:3-7).
2 Kings 22:1
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign. So the writer of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 34:1) and Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.4. § 1). He must have been born, therefore, when his father was no more than sixteen years of age, and Amen must have married when he was only fifteen. And he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. Probably from B.C. 640 to B.C. 609—a most important period of the world's history, including, as it does,
(1) the great Scythic invasion;
(2) the fall of Assyria;
(3) the formation of the Median empire; and the foundation of the Babylonian empire by Nabopolasar.
And his mother's name was Jedidah—i.e. "Darling"—the daughter of Adaiah of Boscath. Boscath is mentioned as among the cities of Judah (Joshua 15:39). It lay in the Shefelah (Joshua 15:33), not far from Lachish and Eglon. The recent explorers of Palestine identify it with the modern Um-el-Bikar, two miles and a half southeast of Ajlun (Eglon). (See the 'Map of Western Palestine,' published by Mr. Trelawny Saunders.)
2 Kings 22:2
And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in an the way of David his father. This is a stronger expression than any which has been used of any previous king of Judah except Hezekiah, and indicates a very high degree of approval. The son of Sirach says of Josiah, "The remembrance of Josias is like the composition of the perfume that is made by the art of the apothecary: it is sweet as honey in all mouths, and as music at a banquet of wine. He behaved himself uprightly in the conversion of the people, and took away the abominations of iniquity. He directed his heart unto the Lord, and in the time of the ungodly he established the worship of God. All, except David and Ezekias and Josias, were defective: for they forsook the Law of the Most High, even the kings of Judah failed" (see Ecclesiasticus 49:1-4). And turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; i.e. he never deviated from the right path (comp. Deuteronomy 5:32; Deuteronomy 17:11, Deuteronomy 17:20; Deuteronomy 28:14; Joshua 1:7; Joshua 23:6).
2 Kings 22:3
And it came to pass in the eighteenth year of King Josiah. The writer of Kings, bent on abbreviating as much as possible, omits the early reforms of Josiah, which are related in 2 Chronicles 34:3-7, with perhaps some anticipation of what happened later. The young king gave marked indications of personal piety and attachment to true religion as early as the eighth year of his reign, when he was sixteen, and had just attained his majority. Later, in his twelfth year, he began the purging of the temple and of Jerusalem, at the same time probably commencing the repairs spoken of in 2 Chronicles 34:9. Jeremiah's prophesying, begun in the same or in the next year (Jeremiah 1:2), must have been a powerful assistance to his reformation. That the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of the Lord, saying. Shaphan held the office, which Shebna had held in the later part of Hezekiah's reign (2 Kings 18:18), an office of much importance and dignity. According to the author of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 34:8), there were associated with him on this occasion two other personages of importance, viz. Maaseiah, the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz, the "recorder," or "remembrancer."
2 Kings 22:4
Go up to Hilkiah the high priest. Hilkiah is mentioned again in the genealogy of Ezra (Ezra 7:1). He is there called "the son of Shallum." That he may sum the silver which is brought into the house of the Lord. A collection must have been progressing for some time. As in the reign of Joash, after the impieties and idolatry of Athaliah, it was found necessary to collect money for the repair of the temple (2 Kings 12:4-14), so now, after the wicked doings of Manasseh and Amen, a renovation of the sacred building was required, and the money needed was being raised by a collection. Great care was taken in all such cases that an exact account should be kept and rendered. Which the keepers of the door—literally, of the threshold—have gathered of the people. The money had, apparently, been allowed to accumulate in a box or boxes (see 2 Kings 12:9), from the time when the collection was first authorized, probably six years previously. The high priest was now required to count it, to take the sum of it, and undertake the distribution.
2 Kings 22:5
And let them deliver it into the hand of the doers of the work, that have the oversight of the house of the Lord. The "doers that have the oversight" are not the actual workmen, but the superintendents or overseers of the workmen, who hired them, looked after them, and paid them. And let them give it to the doers of the work which is in the house of the Lord—let the overseers, i.e; give out the money to the actual workmen, the carpenters, etc; of the next verse—to repair the breaches of the house; rather, the dilapidation of the house. It is not implied that any violence had been used, such as is required to make a "breach." The "house" had simply been allowed to fall into disrepair.
2 Kings 22:6
Unto carpenters, and builders, and masons, and to buy timber, and hewn stone to repair the house. The money had to be expended, partly in labor, partly in materials. The materials consisted of both wood and stone, since it was of these that Solomon's temple had been built (see 1 Kings 5:18; 1 Kings 6:7, 1 Kings 6:9, 1 Kings 6:10, 1 Kings 6:15, 1 Kings 6:36).
2 Kings 22:7
Howbeit there was no reckoning made with them of the money that was delivered into their hand, because they dealt faithfully. The superintendents or overseers were persons of position, in whom full confidence was placed. Their names are given in 2 Chronicles 34:12. They were, all of them, Levites.
2 Kings 22:8-14
Discovery of the book of the Law. When Shaphan had transacted with Hilkiah the business entrusted to him by the king, Hilkiah took the opportunity of sending word by him to the king with respect to a discovery that he had recently made, during the investigations connected with the repairs. He had found a book, which he called without any doubt or hesitation, "the book of the Law"—סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה—and this book he put into the hands of Shaphan, who "read it," i.e. some of it, and found it of such importance that he took it back with him to the palace, and read a portion to the king. Hereupon the king "rent his clothes," and required that special inquiry should be made of the Lord concerning the words of the book, and particularly concerning the threatenings contained in it. The persons entrusted with this task thought it best to lay the matter before Huldah, a prophetess, who lived in Jerusalem at the time, and proceeded to confer with her at her residence.
2 Kings 22:8
And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord. There has been great difference of opinion as to what it was which Hilkiah had found. Ewald believes it to have been the Book of Deuteronomy, which had, he thinks, been composed some thirty or forty years before in Egypt by a Jewish exile, and had found its way, by a sort of chance, into Palestine, where "some priest" had placed a copy of it in the temple. Thenius suggests "a collection of the laws and ordinances of Moses, which was afterwards worked up into the Pentateuch;" Bertheau, "the three middle books of the Pentateuch, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers;" Gramberg, "Exodus by itself." But there seem to be no sufficient grounds for questioning the ancient opinion—that of Josephus, and of the Jews generally—that it was a copy of the entire Pentateuch.. The words, סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה, "the book of the Law," are really sufficient to decide the point; since, as Keil says, they "cannot mean anything else, either grammatically or historically, than the Mosaic book of the Law (the Pentateuch), which is so designated, as is generally admitted, in the Chronicles and the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah." The same conclusion follows from the expression, "the book of the covenant" (סֵפֶר הַּבְּרִית), in 2 Kings 23:2, and also from 2Ki 23:24, 2 Kings 23:25, and 2 Chronicles 34:14. Whether or no the copy was the actual original deposited in the ark of the covenant by Moses (Deuteronomy 31:26), as Keil believes, is doubtful. As Egyptian manuscripts which are from three to four thousand years old still exist in good condition, there can be no reason why a manuscript of Moses' time should not have been found and have been legible in Josiah's. But, if not the actual handwriting of Moses, it was probably its lineal descendant—the copy made for the temple service, and kept ordinarily "in the side of the ark"—which may well have been lost in the time of Manasseh or Amen, and which was now happily "found." And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. We need not suppose that Shaphan read the whole. But he read enough to show him how important the work was, and how necessary it was to make it known to the king.
2 Kings 22:9
And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, Thy servants have gathered the money that was in the house (see above, 2 Kings 22:4-6), and have delivered it into the hand of them that do the work, that have the oversight of the house of the Lord; i.e. "We have carried out the king's orders exactly, in every particular."
2 Kings 22:10
And Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. Shaphan does not venture to-characterize the book, as Hilkiah has done. He is not officially learned in the Law. And he has only read a few passages of it. To him, therefore, it is only "a book," the authorship and value of which he leaves it to others to determine. And Shaphan read it before the king. It is most natural to understand hero, as in 2 Kings 22:8, that Shaphan read portions of the book. Where the author intends to say that the whole book was read, he expresses himself differently (see 2 Kings 23:2, "The king read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant").
2 Kings 22:11
And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the Law, that he rent his clothes. To Josiah the book was evidently, as to Hilkiah, in some sort a discovery. It was not, however, a wholly new thing; rather, he accepted it as the recovery of a thing that was known to have been lost, and was now happily found. And in accepting it he regarded it as authoritative. It was not to him "a book of Law" (Ewald), but "the book of the Law." We can well imagine that, although the book may have been lost early in Manasseh's reign, yet echoes of it had lingered on
(1) in the liturgies of the Jehovistic worship;
(2) in the teachings of the prophets;
(3) in the traditional teaching of religious families; so that the pious ear recognized its phrases as familiar.
It is also probable that there were external tokens about the book indicative of its character, which caused its ready acceptance.
2 Kings 22:12
And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan. "Ahikam the son of Shaphan" is almost certainly Jeremiah's protector at the court of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:24), the father of the Godaliah who wan made governor of Judaea on Nebuchadnezzar's final conquest (Jeremiah 39:14; Jeremiah 40:7). "Shaphan;' his father, is no doubt "Shaphan the scribe." And Achbor the son of Michaiah. The parallel passage of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 34:20) has "Abdon the son of Micah," which is probably a corrupt reading. Achbor was the father of El-nathan, one of the "princes of Judah" (Jeremiah 36:12) in Jehoiakim's reign. And Shaphan the scribe, and Asa-hiah a servant of the king's—or Asaiah, as the name is given in Chronicles, l.s.c.—saying,
2 Kings 22:13
Go ye, inquire of the Lord for me. Inquiry of the Lord, which from the time of Moses to that of David was ordinarily "by Urim and Thummim," was after David's time always made by the consultation of a prophet (see 1 Kings 22:5-8; 2Ki 3:11; 2 Kings 8:8; Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 37:7; Ezekiel 14:7; Ezekiel 20:1, etc.). The officers, therefore, understood the king to mean that they were to seek out a prophet (see 2 Kings 22:14), and so make the inquiry. And for the people, and for all Judah—the threats read in the king's ears were probably those of Deuteronomy 28:15-68 or Le Deu 26:16 -39, which extended to the whole people—concerning the words of this book that is found. Not "whether they are authentic, whether they are really the words of Moses" (Duneker), for of that Josiah appears to have had no doubt; but whether they are words that are to have an immediate fulfillment, "whether," as Yon Gerlach says, "the measure of sin is already full, or whether there is yet hope of grace?" (compare Huldah's answer in Deu 26:16 -20, which shows what she understood the king's inquiry to be). For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us. Josiah recognized that Judah had done, and was still doing, exactly those things against which the threatenings of the Law were directed—bad forsaken Jehovah and gone after other gods, and made to themselves high places, and set up images, and done after the customs of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before them. He could not, therefore, doubt but that the wrath of the Lord "was kindled;" but would it blaze forth at once? Because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us. Josiah assumes that their fathers have had the book, and might have known its words, either because he conceives that it had not been very long lost, or because he regards them as having possessed other copies.
2 Kings 22:14
So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahi-ham, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asa-hiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah. The principal prophets at or very near the time were Jeremiah, whose mission had commenced in Josiah's thirteenth year (Jeremiah 1:2) and Zephaniah, the son of Cushi, whose prophecy appears by internal evidence to have belonged to the earliest part of Josiah's reign. It might have been expected that the matter would have been laid before one of these two persons. Possibly, however, neither of them was at Jerusalem. Jeremiah's early home was Anathoth, and Zephaniah may have finished his course before Josiah's eighteenth year (see Pusey, l.s.c.). Huldah may thus have been the only possessor of the prophetic gift who was accessible. The son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; literally, keeper of the garments: In Chronicles the name of the keeper is given as "Hasrah." Now she dwelt at Jerusalem in the college—rather, in the lower city (comp. Zephaniah 1:10 and Nehemiah 11:9; literally, in each place, "the second city ")—and they communed with her; literally, spoke with her; ἐλάλησαν πρὸς αὐτήν, LXX.
2 Kings 22:15-20
The prophecy of Huldah. The word of the Lord comes to Huldah with the arrival of the messengers, or perhaps previous to it, and she is at once ready with her reply. It divides itself into two parts. In 2 Kings 22:15-17 the inquiry made is answered—answered affirmatively, "Yes, the fiat is gone forth; it is too late to avert the sentence; the anger of the Lord is kindled, and shall not be quenched." After this, in 2 Kings 22:18-20, a special message is sent to the king, granting him an arrest of judgment, on account of his self-humiliation and abasement. "Because his heart was tender, and he had humbled himself before Jehovah, the evil should not happen in his day."
2 Kings 22:15
And she said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel. Huldah is the only example of a prophetess in Israel, who seems to rank on the same footing with the prophets. Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Isaiah s wife (Isaiah 8:2), and Anna (Luke 2:36) are called "prophetesses," but in a secondary sense, as holy women, having a certain gift of song or prediction from God. Huldah has the full prophetic afflatus, and delivers God's oracles, just as Isaiah and Jeremiah do. The case is a remarkable exception to the general rule that women should "keel) silence in the Churches." Tell the man that sent you to me. The contrast between this unceremonious phrase and that used in verse 18 is best explained by Thenius, who says, "In the first part Huldah has only the subject-matter in mind, while in verse 18, in the quieter flow of her words, she takes notice of the state of mind of the particular person who sent to make the inquiry."
2 Kings 22:16
Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place—i.e. Jerusalem—and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the King of Judah hath read. In the parallel passage of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 34:24) the expression used is stronger, viz, "Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have road before the King of Judah." The passage which most strongly affected Josiah was probably that, already mentioned, in Deuteronomy 28:1-68; which began with a series of curses.
2 Kings 22:17
Because they have forsaken me. This was the gist of their offence, the thing that was unpardonable. Against this were all the chief warnings in the Law (Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 29:25-28; Deuteronomy 31:16, Deuteronomy 31:17; Deuteronomy 32:15, etc.) and the prophets (Judges 10:13; 1Sa 8:8; 1 Samuel 12:9; 1 Kings 9:9; 1Ki 11:33; 1 Kings 18:18; Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 65:11; Jeremiah 1:16; Jeremiah 2:13, etc.). It was not merely that they broke the commandments, but they turned from God altogether, and "cast him behind their back." And have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; i.e. "with the idols that they have made for themselves" (Keil). Therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place—i.e. against Jerusalem—and shall not be quenched. Here lies the whole point of the answer. God's threatenings against nations are for the most part conditional, and may be escaped, or at least their fulfillment may be deferred indefinitely, by repentance, as we learn from the example of Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-10). But if a nation persists long in evil-doing, there comes a time when the sentence can be no longer averted. A real repentance has become impossible, and a mock one does but provoke God the more. For such a state of things there is "no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36:16), and this was the state of things reached by the Jews. God's anger against them could not be quenched.
2 Kings 22:18
But to the King of Judah which sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall ye say to him (see the comment on 2 Kings 22:15), Thus saith the Lord God of Israel. As touching the words which thou hast heard; i.e. the words that were read to thee by Shaphan (2 Kings 22:10)—the awful threats which caused thee to rend thy clothes and to make inquiry of me.
2 Kings 22:19
Because thine heart was tender—or, faint, timid (comp. Deuteronomy 20:3; Isaiah 7:4)—and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord. Rending the garments (2 Kings 22:11) was an outward act of humiliation. Josiah had accompanied it by inward repentance and self-abasement. He had even been moved to tears (see the last clause but one of this verse). When thou heartiest what I spake against this place. The book was, therefore, a record of what God had really spoken, not a fraud imposed on the king by the high priest, or on the high priest by an unknown Egyptian exile. And against the inhabitants thereof; that they should become a desolation and a curse. This is not a direct quotation from the Law, but a summary, in pregnant language, of the general effect of such passages as Leviticus 26:31-35 and Deuteronomy 28:15-20. The language is like that of Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 41:18; Jeremiah 44:22. And hast rent thy clothes (see Jeremiah 44:11), and wept before me. This had not been previously stated, but might have been gathered from Josiah's evident sincerity, and from the ordinary habits of Orientals. I also have heard thee, saith the Lord. The general sense of Jeremiah 44:18, Jeremiah 44:19, is, as Bahr notes, "Because thou hast heard me and taken heed to my threats, I also have heard thee, and will delay their fulfillment."
2 Kings 22:20
Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace. There is a seeming contradiction between these words and the fact of Josiah's violent death in battle against Pharaoh-Nechoh (2 Kings 23:29). But the contradiction is not a real one. Huldah was commissioned to assure Josiah that, though the destruction of his kingdom and the desolation of Judaea and Jerusalem, threatened in the Law, were at hand, yet they would not come in his day. He would not see the evil time. Before it came he would be "gathered to his fathers" i.e; in Jerusalem, as his predecessors had been (2 Kings 23:30), and not hurried off into captivity, to die in a foreign land, or given "the burial of an ass, drawn and east forth before the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:19). The promise given him was fulfilled. He died in battle; but he was buried in peace (2 Chronicles 35:24, 2 Chronicles 35:25); and the fated enemy who was to destroy Jerusalem, and carry the Jewish nation into captivity, did not make any attack upon the land until three years later, when he was departed to his rest, and the throne was occupied by Jehoiakim (see 2 Kings 24:1). And thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place; e.g. the three sieges of Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of the temple and city by Nebuzaradan (2 Kings 25:9, 2 Kings 25:10), the deportation of the bulk of the inhabitants (2 Kings 25:11), and the calamities which happened to the remnant left (2 Kings 25:22-26). Josiah did not witness any of this. He was "taken away from the evil to come." And they brought the king word again; i.e. Hilkiah, Shaphan, and their companions (2 Kings 22:14) reported to Josiah the message which Huldah had sent by them.
2 Kings 22:1-13
A righteous branch from a wicked root.
Josiah is the most astonishing instance that is contained in Scripture of goodness springing up, and attaining high perfection under the most extraordinarily unfavorable circumstances. Josiah was—
I. THE SON OF AN EXTRAORDINARILY WICKED FATHER. Amon, Josiah's father, did evil in the sight of the Lord to an extent scarcely equaled even by any of the Israelite monarchs. "He forsook the Lord God of his fathers" (2 Kings 21:22), and gave himself wholly up to idolatry. And he did this notwithstanding the example of his father's fall, punishment, and repentance. As the writer of Chronicles says (2 Chronicles 33:23), "he trespassed more and more." Every idolatry of every neighboring country was adopted by him and reintroduced into Judah; the temple was defiled afresh; the fires of Tophet were relighted; sodomites polluted the temple precincts (2 Kings 23:7). Wickedness of every kind was encouraged, not only idolatry and debauchery, but "violence and deceit" (Zephaniah 1:9), profane swearing (Zephaniah 1:5), luxury in apparel (Zephaniah 1:8), covetousness (Zephaniah 1:18), oppression (Zephaniah 3:1), injustice (Zephaniah 3:2), treachery (Zephaniah 3:3), and utter shamelessness (Zephaniah 3:5).
II. THE GRANDSON OF A STILL MORE WICKED GRANDFATHER. Manasseh was worse than Amon in that he set at naught all the restraints of his bringing up, the example of his saintly father, and the instruction of Isaiah, whom he is said to have executed. He was worse, again, as the original introducer of many most corrupting idolatries which, but for his example, Amon might never have thought of. And he was worse as enforcing his false and impure religion on those who were reluctant to adopt it by means of persecution, and so "filling Jerusalem with innocent blood from one end to another" (2 Kings 21:16)—a sin which is never laid to the charge of Amon. If heredity be indeed the strong predisposing cause which modern biologists assert it to be, what depths of depravity might not a prince have been expected to sound, who had such a father as Amon, such a grandfather as Manasseh!
III. BROUGHT UP IN A CORRUPT COURT. Manasseh's court, even after his repentance, was probably but half-purified. Amon's must have been a sink of corruption. Childish innocence is soon lost in an atmosphere of profligacy; and Josiah, ere he was eight years of age, had probably been made to witness many of the worst forms of human depravity. "Nil dictu foedum facture haec liming tangat intra quae puer est" was a maxim not likely to obtain much observance in a palace where the rites of the Syrian goddess were approved and practiced.
IV. WITHOUT, SO FAR AS WE KNOW, ANY RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTOR. Isaiah had been martyred in the earlier portion of Manasseh's reign. Micah had gone to his rest even earlier. Jeremiah did not receive his call until Josiah's thirteenth year (Jeremiah 1:2). Habakkuk and Zephaniah lived, perhaps, under Amon, but are not likely to have been allowed access to his court, much less opportunity for influencing the heir to the throne. Josiah's official tutors and instructors under Amon must undoubtedly have been persons devoted to the court religion, which was the syncretic idolatry conceived by Manasseh and maintained by his successor. It is not quite easy to see how the young prince would come into contact with any of the professors of true religion, or obtain any knowledge of the Jehovistic worship. Such, however, was the natural purity and strength of character by God's grace implanted in the young prince from the first, that to none of the evil influences within him or without him did he succumb. It is declared of him in the infallible Word, that "he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left (verse 2). As soon as he had any power to show what his inclinations were, as soon (that is) as he was free from the trammels which confined a Jewish prince during his minority, he courageously set himself to undo the ill that his father and grandfather had done, to abolish the strange rites, to drive out the foul idolatries, and to restore the worship of Jehovah. And he earned the praise that "Like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him (2 Kings 23:25). We may learn from this history not to assign too much weight to a man's surroundings, but to hold firm to the belief that there is in each man a sufficient force of personality and will to enable him, if his heart be set on well-doing, to resist any amount of external circumstances, and to mould his life and character for himself, even in the exact opposite shape to that whereto all the external circumstances pointed, and which they might have seemed to have rendered necessary.
2 Kings 22:8-13
A strange loss, and a strange recovery.
The loss by a nation of its sacred book is a strange and extraordinary occurrence. Books deemed sacred are naturally so highly valued and so deeply reverenced that the utmost care is taken of them. Generally, copies are multiplied and are in so many hands that the loss of all, while the nation itself survives, is practically impossible. It is practically impossible, nowadays, that the Christians should lose their Bible, or the Mohammedans their Koran, or the Hindoos their Vedas, or the Parsecs their Zendavesta, or the Chinese their Shu-King or their Taou-tih King. To understand what had taken place in Palestine shortly before Josiah came to the throne, we must consider the peculiar circumstances of the Jewish religion, and the place, which "the book of Law" occupied in it. The following points are especially worthy of note.
I. THE ORIGINAL BOOK OF THE LAW WAS DEPOSITED RESIDE THE ARK, AND KEPT THERE, "It came to pass," we are told, "when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this Law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book of the Law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against them" (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).
II. THERE WAS NO PROVISION FOR MAKING COPIES OF IT UNTIL SUCH TIME AS ISRAEL SHOULD HAVE KINGS. Then indeed each king was to "write him a copy of the Law in a book out of that which was before the priests the Levites ' (Deuteronomy 17:18). But, except on such occasions, the book, it would seem, remained in the ark, and was not lent about to be copied.
III. THE DESIGN WAS TO MAKE THE LAW KNOWN TO THE PEOPLE BY READING IT TO THEM PUBLICLY. Such reading was prescribed once in each seven years, in the sabbatical year, at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). Under Nehemiah certainly (Nehemiah 8:2-5), perhaps at other times, the precept was acted on.
IV. MULTIPLICATION OF COPIES WAS NOT NEEDED FOR SYNAGOGUES, WHICH DID NOT AS YET EXIST. The result was that probably, besides the temple copy, very few copies of the Law had at any time existed. Irreligious kings, as Rehoboam, Abijah, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Ahaz, Manasseh, and Amen, would, as a matter of course, disobey the precept to make a copy; and it is not even certain that all religious kings would carry out the precept. David, whose delight was in the Law (Psalms 119:77), Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Hezekiah, would almost certainly have made copies; but Solomon may not have done so, nor Amaziah, nor Uzziah, nor Jotham. If the prophets seem to show such a familiarity with the Law as implies constant study, it may well be that the "schools of the prophets" were in possession of some of the royal autograph copies, or the prophets may have been allowed access as often as they required it to the temple copy. Passages of the Law as the Decalogue and other precepts regarding conduct, or, again, the promises made to the patriarchs, and to the nation at large through Moses, may have been widely known, being fixed in the memory of the people, and passed on from father to son by word of mouth. And these well-known passages may also have sometimes taken a written shape. But entire copies of the Law must, even in the time of the later kings, have been exceedingly scarce. Thus when an irreligious king like Manasseh set aside the Jehovistic worship, and thrust, it may be, into lumber-rooms, the old furniture of the temple, so that the book of the Law, i.e. the temple copy, became mislaid or lost, there was no very ready way of replacing it. Nor, perhaps, did there seem to be any absolute necessity of so doing. Except once in seven years, the reading of the Law does not appear to have formed a part of any temple service. The precepts of the Law were inculcated orally by priests and Levites, who had received them from their predecessors. Hilkiah and the priests generally were probably content to carry on the traditional teaching, and did not feel the need of seeking the water of life from the fountain-head. But suddenly a discovery was made. There had been no wanton or malignant destruction of the book of the Law. It had merely been thrust out of sight, and then forgotten. As the repair and restoration of the temple proceeded, and even lumber-rooms and closets were searched, that the whole building might be brought into proper order, those employed in the work came upon the lost volume. It was, probably, very easily recognized. As Bahr says, it may have been "distinguished by its external appearance, size, material, beauty of the writing," etc; as the Samaritan copy of the Pentateuch at Nablous is distinguished. Or it may have had for its title, "The Book of the Law of the Lord by the hand of Moses" (2 Chronicles 34:14). There may even have been priests living who had seen the book before it was lost, and knew it as the volume with which, fifty years before, they had been familiar. At any rate, priests, king, and people unanimously, though with much grief and fear, accepted it. The prophetess, who was God's mouthpiece at the time, confirmed their view; and it remained for nineteenth-century critics to throw a doubt upon the conclusion thus come to, and to brand the work as a forgery of Hilkiah's, or as a chance production of a chance author, who had amused himself by composing a code of laws for a Utopia.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 22:1
2 Kings 23:30
The reign of King Josiah.
The last days of Judah as an independent kingdom are fast hastening to a close. The people, in spite of all God's merciful dealings with them, in spite of all the judgments and warnings which he had sent to their fathers, in spite of the influence and example of good kings and holy prophets whom he had raised up, were becoming worse and worse. More than a hundred years before, God had already abolished the kingdom of Israel, when the ten tribes were led away into captivity. And now for their great idolatries the destruction of the kingdom of Judah also is close at hand. In the midst of this period of decline and decay Josiah came to the throne to redeem for a time the history of his nation, and for a time to save it from its impending doom.
I. JOSIAH'S EARLY DEVOTION. We read that in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father. He was then sixteen years of age.
1. He began to seek after God in a time of almost universal godlessness and corruption. It is almost impossible for us to conceive the depth of degradation to which the nation had sunk. Two wicked kings in succession had undone all the reforms of good King Hezekiah. The first of these was Hezekiah's own son, Manasseh, the second was Manasseh's son, Amon. Manasseh worshipped all the host of heaven, and built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. He set up the worship of Moloch, which is almost too terrible to describe (see above on 2 Kings 16:1-20). He made his own son to pass through the fire to Moloch. He introduced not only the horrid cruelty of heathenism, but also its most filthy lusts. The reign of Amon was no better, but worse. He revived, and continued all the idolatries and all the corruption of his father's reign. It was at such a time as this that, when Amon died, his son Josiah, then only eight years old, came to the throne. At such a time as this he began to seek after the Lord his God.
2. Moreover, he was the son of a godless and wicked father. All the influences which surrounded him seem to have been unfavorable to the growth of true religion and the fear of God. But Josiah determined that, as for him, he would not bow down to idols, that he would serve the Lord only. And God gave him strength to serve him, and crowned his subsequent efforts with blessing and success. Learn here the folly of excusing yourself from serving God by the circumstances in which you are placed. You are responsible to God for your own life, and for your own conduct, no matter how others may act. It may cost us many a hard struggle to resist the temptations that surround us on every side; but it always succeeds in the end. You may be children of ungodly parents; you may be at service in ungodly households; you may be thrown by your business among ungodly companions and surroundings;—no matter! God expects you to be faithful unto him. Young men, Josiah's early devotion is a bright example for you to follow. Never suffer yourselves to be led astray by the notion that religion is an unmanly thing. The truly religious man is the noblest and most perfect man. He is great in all that constitutes true manhood. And if you want to find the greatest heroes in the world's history, you will find them, not among the followers of the world's fashion and the world's pleasure, but among the prophets, apostles, martyrs, and humble Christians in the Church of God. It is the highest aim any young man can set before him to be a humble and devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Never mind what circumstances or companions surround you, except to try and make them better. Joseph was faithful to God in Egypt. His faithfulness sent him to a prison for a time; but afterwards it raised him to be the greatest man in Egypt after the king. Daniel was faithful to God in Babylon, though he knew well it was at the risk of his life. His faithfulness brought him for a little while to the lions' den; but it afterwards made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon. It is true heroism to be ready to suffer—to suffer bodily pain, to suffer the loss of worldly goods, yes, to suffer even the loss of reputation itself, for the sake of truth and purity and right. Like Josiah, the sooner you begin to serve God the better. You will never regret it.
"Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth."
II. JOSIAH'S WORK OF REFORMATION. (Verse 3.—2 Kings 23:25.) Here also he began very early to do what he believed to be right. It was in the twelfth year of his reign—when he was only twenty years old—that he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places and the idols. Then in the eighteenth year of his reign—when he was twenty-six years old—he began to repair the house of the Lord, which had been long disused and neglected. God so prospered him in this work that the people brought large sums of money for the repairing of the temple. It was when this was being done that Hilkiah the priest found in the temple the book of the Law. There it lay, probably all covered with dust, like the unused Bible in many a home, a silent reproof to those who should have known what was right but did not do it. When the book of the Law was read to the king, he rent his clothes, in sorrow and in shame, when he thought of how the Law of God had been broken and neglected. It was determined that it should be so no longer, and, having gathered all the people together, he read in their ears all the words of the Law. Then, standing on a pillar, he made a covenant that they would serve the Lord and keep his commandments, and all the people agreed to it. After this was done, he appointed a solemn Passover to be kept by all the people. And it is said, "Surely there was not holden such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, wherein this Passover was holden to the Lord in Jerusalem" (2 Kings 23:22, 2 Kings 23:23). It was a marvelous work for a young king to have accomplished in the twenty-sixth year of his age. He found the land full of idolatry and corruption. But he had already pulled down the altars, and burned the idols, and swept away the dens of vice. He found the temple closed, neglected, and in decay. He had already repaired it and restored the worship of the true God. He found the Law of God forgotten, forsaken, and unknown—the temple copy of it hidden away out of sight. He had already restored it to its proper place as the ruling principle of his government and of the nation's life. Truly a marvelous work for a young king of twenty-six. We see here, as we have seen in the life of Hezekiah, the power of decision for what is right. Josiah was not content merely to know God and serve him by himself. He was determined that, so far as he had any influence, others should know and serve God too. He might have said, in the spirit of many lukewarm Christians of modern times, "What matters it? They have their religion, and I have mine." He might have said that, as a ruler, he had nothing to do with his people's religion, but only with their conduct as members of the state. Not so. He knew that it is religion, or the want of it, which makes or mars the happiness and prosperity of the nation. He knew that, as a servant of God, he was bound to bear his testimony and to use every influence in his power against sin and in favor of what was right. And so he acted, not with half-measures, not with half-hearted hesitation, but with firmness, fearlessness, promptness, and determination, as becomes one who is doing the work of God. And so, also, God stood by him, and gave him success in all his work. Such an example is full of instruction for our modern life. Never be a consenting party, even by your silence, to what your conscience tells you is wrong. Never consent, even by your silence, to anything dishonoring to God or not in accordance with his will. Never be a consenting party to anything that you would be ashamed of in the sight of God and men—to acts of injustice to others, to dishonesty or unfairness of any kind, to profanity, to neglect of Sunday observance, or any other form of prevailing wickedness. "O my soul, come not thou into their secret; with their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united." Like Josiah, we can never begin too soon, not only to serve God ourselves, but also to bring others to him. Like Josiah, let every servant of God show the reality of his and her religion by deeds of usefulness, by bearing testimony against sin, and by unwavering firmness in the cause of Christ and duty.
III. JOSIAH S EARLY DEATH. Josiah died at an early age. He was mourned for with great lamentation. Some think that it is of him that Jeremiah, in his Book of Lamentations, speaks when he says, "The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of Jehovah, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen." The passage perhaps indicates how great was the influence for good, which Josiah exercised, and how much the people depended upon him as their leader and defender. His early death, before he had completed his fortieth year, must have caused many to wonder at God's mysterious providence. But his work was done. He had really done the work of many lives in one. And so when servants of God are taken away in the prime of life—or prematurely, as we say—let us remember that God's ways are not our ways. In Ms sight their work is done. They have finished the work, which he gave them to do. Let us so use the precious time, which God has given us, that in our dying hour we shall not have to look back upon a wasted life. But let us live, as Josiah lived, a life of holiness, of usefulness, "redeeming the time." And then when we are drawing', near to the gates of death, we shall feel that for us they are the gates of heaven. We shall be able humbly and thankfully to say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 22:1-20
A monarch of rare virtue, and a God of retributive justice.
"Josiah was eight years old," etc. There are two subjects in this chapter that arrest our attention, and which are fertile with suggestions.
I. A MONARCH OF RARE VIRTUE. "Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem," etc. In this monarch we discover four distinguished merits.
1. Religiousness of action. "He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord." This is the testimony of the historian, whoever he may be, and we are further told, "Josiah walked in all the way of David his father." Elsewhere we have given the biblical account of David's life. £ From that account it might, perhaps, be questioned whether to "walk in the way of David" was a morally creditable life. But undoubtedly in the opinion of this writer, Josiah was a man whose activity was inspired, by true religious feeling. Here we find him providing for the repairs of the temple. And it came to pass in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of the Lord, saying, Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may sum the silver which is brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the door have gathered of the people: and let them deliver it into the hand of the doers of the work, that have the oversight of the house of the Lord: and let them give it to the doers of the work which is in the house of the Lord, to repair the breaches of the house." The king who provides for the religions instruction and worship of his people proves thereby that he is under the influence of the religious sentiment. In repairing the temple, Josiah honors his people, not only by allowing, but by encouraging them to co-operate with him in the noble work. He coerces none; all were left free, and they did their work honestly and honorably. "Howbeit there was no reckoning made with them of the money that was delivered into their hand, because they dealt faithfully."
2. Docility of mind. "And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again. And Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the Law, that he rent his clothes." What book was this? Old time buries the choicest books; volumes that once moved the intellects and fired the hearts of men are sunk in the black waves of oblivion. In all probability the book here was the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. A copy of this, it seems, having been laid beside the ark in the most holy place (Deuteronomy 31:25, Deuteronomy 31:26), had been lost, and now, during the repairing of the temple, it was discovered. Was this a Divine book? If so, why should its Author have suffered it to have been lost, perhaps for generations? A human author, had he the power to prevent it, would not suffer his productions to meet with such a fate. But the thoughts of God are independent of books; they are not only written on the pages of nature, but in imperishable characters on the souls of men. But how did Josiah act towards this discovered book? Did he reject it, or was he indifferent to it? No. "It came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the Law, that he rent his clothes." Herein how unlike is this man, not only to ordinary mortals, but also to ordinary kings! How many kings have been ready to receive new light? Are they not for the most part so mailed in traditions and prejudices as to render the admission of a new truth well-nigh impossible? If the modem occupants of thrones would but universally open their eyes to those old truths of eternal right which come flashing from their graves, all oppressions would cease, and kingdoms would march on to freedom and. light. "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth."
3. Tenderness of heart. See how the discovery of the book affected him. "He rent his clothes." It is also said, in 2 Kings 22:19, "Thine heart was tender." Sensibility of heart gives life, worth, and power to intellect. Where sensibility and intellect are not in their due proportion, the character is defective. Where the sensibility is stronger than the intellect, the man is likely to become a morbid pietist or a reckless fanatic. Where the intellect is stronger in proportion to the sensibility, the man is likely to become a cold theorist, living in the frigid abstractions of his own brain. But where both are properly combined, you have a man fit for great things. A man who, if he be a friend, will give counsels that will tell alike on your understanding and heart. Sensibility feathers the arrows of argument, gives poetry and power to thought.
4. Actualization of conviction. When this discovered document came under Josiah's attention, and its import was realized, he was seized with a conviction that he, his fathers, and his people, had disregarded, and even outraged, the written precepts of Heaven. He exclaims, "Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us." With this new conviction burning within him, wharf does he do? Does he strive to quench it? or does he allow it to burn itself out without any effort on his part? No; he at once commands his servants to make an effort on behalf of himself and his people. "Go ye, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found." The new emotions that rushed into his tender heart prompted him to seek immediate counsel how to avert the curses under which his kingdom lay. They obeyed his behests. "So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college); and they communed with her. And she said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the King of Judah hath read: because they have forsaken me, etc. (2 Kings 22:14-18). Here the prophetess spoke the universal sentiment of mankind, viz. that where wrong is, suffering must follow. All experience, all history, attests the truth of the sentiment. But the noteworthy point here is that this tender-hearted man translated his emotions into actions. He did not allow his new feelings to pass away as the morning cloud, nor did he expend them in sentimental sighs and groans. Well would it be for all men if they acted thus; for this, in truth, is the only method of spiritual progress. It is only as men embody true thoughts and feelings in actions that they rise to true manhood.
II. A GOD OF RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE. Such a God the prophetess here reveals. "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the King of Judah hath read." The government over us, and to which we are bound with chains stronger than adamant, is retributive; it never allows evil to go unpunished. It links in indissoluble bonds sufferings to sin. Sorrows follow sin by a law as immutable and resistless as the waves follow the moon. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." In this retribution
(1) the wicked are treated with severity, and
(2) the good are treated with favor.
In the name of God this prophetess declares concerning Josiah, "As touching the words which thou hast heard; because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heartiest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord. Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place." Though righteous judgments were soon to descend upon his country on account of its manifold and heinous sins, he, Josiah, who had proved faithful amongst the faithless, would be spared the terrible storm. He should neither feel it nor see it; his body would be sleeping in the quiet grave, and his spirit be gathered to his "fathers," with all the true men of past times. We are prone to think of death as an evil; it is an event that often appalls us with the ghastly aspects that it assumes before our imagination. There are circumstances that make it appear especially sad. For example: when a man like Josiah, of immense influence for good, dies in the zenith of life, and in the midst of usefulness, we deem it an occasion of special sadness. But it is not so, either to the man himself or to his generation. He is taken away from the evil that is coming, and the circumstance of his death, and the loss caused by his departure, tend to rouse his contemporaries to serious and salutary thought. Death is no respecter of persons. The Divine government of the world is like a stream that rolls under us; men are only as bubbles that rise to its surface; some are brighter and larger, and sparkle longer in the sun than others: but all must break, whilst the mighty current rolls on in its wonted majesty. We are shadows, and following shadows. There is nothing real but God.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 22:1-7
Josiah: the temple again repaired.
The reign of Josiah affords another example of the law of action and reaction in national life. Dr. R. Payne Smith says, "The nation itself had gradually swung round, as nations now do, and had begun to be as dissatisfied with Baal and Moloch as their fathers had been with Jehovah" ('Introduction to Jeremiah'); and Dean Stanley remarks, "The popular election which placed Josiah on the throne, of itself marks some strong change of public feeling". It is safer, however, to infer this change in public feeling from the support afterwards given to Josiah in his measures of reform, than from the mere fact of his accession; for as yet his disposition was quite uncertain. The craving for a change of some kind, with a secret weariness of the policy and extreme doings of the pagan party, had perhaps more to do with the young king's popularity than any real desire to serve Jehovah.
I. THREE BEGINNINGS.
1. The beginning of a reign. Josiah was but a boy of eight years old when he was placed upon the throne. At this age he was in danger, like his grandfather Manasseh, of being a mere puppet in the hands of the godless aristocracy. But God's providence seems to have watched over Josiah, and to have caused some care to be taken to guide the young king right. The queen-mother, Jedidah ("the beloved of God"), daughter of Adiah ("the honored of God"), may perhaps have deserved her lofty name, and given her boy the priceless benefit of a godly mother's example and counsels" (Geikie). She may even have acted as regent during his minority, and in that capacity have gathered around her the worthy persons who afterwards figure in the narrative, Shaphan the scribe, etc.
2. The beginning of grace. Josiah from the first must have shown good dispositions, and a willingness to be guided and taught by godly counselors. But it is to the eighth year of his reign, that is, his sixteenth year, that the Book of Chronicles attributes the first decided evidence of his determination to seek Jehovah. "For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek after the God of David his father' (2 Chronicles 34:3). From this period his career seems to have been a singularly straightforward and consistent one: "He walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left." What led to this decision in his eighth year we cannot tell. The age at which he had now arrived marks the time about which independent thought commonly begins; possibly some increase of responsibility led him to deeper reflection; it may well be that his mind had long been secretly brooding on religion, and he now took some public step which showed decidedly which side he was on. Nothing seems so beautiful as early piety. A character like Josiah's appearing after reigns like those of Manasseh and Amon is as a snowdrop at the close of winter. It is the piety which begins early that lasts longest, and shows the most blameless record. Beautiful in all, early grace is specially beautiful in those who occupy high positions, and are destined to exercise a wide influence. With many young men the sixteenth year of life is a turning-point in a different direction. Josiah then "began" to seek the Lord. Too often it is the period when the restraints of home religion are thrown off, and young men "begin" to think and act for themselves in forbidden ways.
3. The beginning of reforms. The chronicler gives us another date, viz. the twelfth year of Josiah's reign, as that in which he began to effect a religious reformation in the land. "In the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the Asherim, and the graven images, and the molten images," etc. He was then twenty years of age, and the reforms mentioned, though begun in that year, extended on till after his eighteenth year. He had probably to begin cautiously, dealing with the more obvious abuses, and gradually feeling his way to bolder changes. A strong party, no doubt, were opposed to his reforms, and it is difficult to say how far they had advanced before the repair of the temple and the finding of the Law-book. The narratives of neither Chronicles nor Kings adhere strictly to chronological order, but we may suppose that before the projected repairs on the temple building were undertaken, both "the land and the house" had been purged of their worst abominations (2 Chronicles 34:8). The Baal-altars, idols, and Asherim would be removed; idolatrous worship on the high places stepped, though the people may still have sacrificed on them, as in the latter days of Manasseh, "yet unto the Lord their God only" (2 Chronicles 33:17); the sacrifices to Moloch in the valley of Hinnom put an end to. If this was so, it is certain that the temple, in which the worship of Jehovah, with a priest like Hilkiah at its head, had been restored, would not be left uncleared of its Baal-images, its horses of the sun, its prostitutes, etc. (2 Kings 23:6, 2 Kings 23:7, 2 Kings 23:11). Things, in short, would be brought back to the state in which they had been left at Manasseh's death (2 Chronicles 33:15-18). This Josiah might safely attempt, though passages in the prophets show that much idolatry still remained. Earnest religion invariably brings forth its appropriate fruits in zeal for the honor of God, the purification of his worship, and the purging away of evils and abuses.
II. THE EIGHTEENTH YEAR. Hitherto, whatever Josiah had done had been more or less the result of his individual action. The conscience of the nation had not been touched, nor had any enthusiasm been awakened in favor of the new reforms. On the contrary, these had probably aroused not a little bitterness and sullen hostility. At the head of this narrative in Kings, therefore, is placed the date of "the eighteenth year of King Josiah," when the movement enters on an altogether new phase, and swells to national dimensions. The immediate occasion of this change was the finding of the Law-book in the temple, and this again was owing to the repairs which the king had ordered to be executed on the sacred edifice. Glancing at present only at the narrative of these repairs on the temple, we find that they were:
1. Much healed. There is no record of repairs on the temple since the days of King Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:3). In the interval the building had frequently suffered from total neglect, and idolatrous kings had made changes in its structure to suit their own purposes. There were "breaches' to repair (verse 5), roofs to fit with "beams' (2 Chronicles 34:11), and much carpentry and mason work to do with timber and hewn stone throughout the house. It is strange how indifferent those who dwell in their own "ceiled houses" can often be to the state of the house wherein God is worshipped (Haggai 1:4). It is the sign of a true zeal for God when there is a proper desire shown to maintain even the outer fabric of ecclesiastical buildings in a decent condition of repair.
2 Already collected for. The means for executing the repairs on the Lord's house had been obtained by voluntary collections at the door of the temple. It is by the king's order, sent through Shaphan the scribe to Hilkiah the high priest, to sum up the money which had been thus gathered, that the matter first comes before us in the narrative. These collections from the peoples which must have been going on for some time, show that the worship of Jehovah was now regularly conducted. They also afford us a lesson as to the mode of meeting the expense connected with church building and repairs.
(1) The money was raised before the repairs were commenced. This was a sound principle, and, if more frequently acted upon, would save a good deal of trouble with Church debt. The temple was sorely in need of repair, and it might have been pleaded that the case was too urgent to admit of delay till the money was collected. It was resolved, however, to collect the money before a single workman was put upon the building.
(2) It was raised by voluntary, subscription. The people were not taxed, or forced in any way, to give this money. It was their own free-will offering. Yet apparently the sums required were raised without difficulty. The modern Church expedients of bazaars, etc; are surely inferior to this Old Testament plan. If the appeal to voluntary liberality sometimes does not yield all that we could wish, it is, on the whole, the surest source of income to rely on, and reacts, as no other does, on the heart of the giver.
3. After a good precedent. Alike in the collecting of the money, the distribution to the workmen, and the reliance placed in the fidelity of the overseers, those in charge of this business seem to have followed closely the precedents of the reign of Joash. It is good to learn from those who have gone before us.—J.O.
2 Kings 22:8-20
The finding of the Law-book.
The finding of the book of the Law by Hilkiah in the temple marks a distinct turning-point in Josiah's reformation It is admitted generally that this Law-book included, if it did not exclusively consist of, the Book of Deuteronomy. As it is further allowed that some of the main narrative documents of our present Pentateuch, and the book of the covenant (Exodus 21:1-36.-23.), if not also collections of priestly laws, were then in existence, and had long been, we see no reason to doubt that the "book of the Law" discovered by Hilkiah included the bulk of the writings which make up "the five books of Moses." Several legitimate inferences may be drawn from the narrative.
1. A "book of the Law" was known to have been once in existence. Hilkiah speaks of it as "the book of the Law"—a book long lost, now found, and at once recognized.
2. The copy found was the complete, standard, authoritative copy. It was this which gave it its peculiar value.
3. It would seem as if no other copies of the book were then known to exist, at any rate none were in possession of the parties named in this chapter. If they had been, we can hardly doubt that the contents would have been in some way communicated to the king. This last inference, however, must not be pushed too far. Complete copies of the Law would at all times be rare, and amidst the troubles and persecutions of Manasseh's long reign may well have been lost, especially as there do not seem to have been in Judah organized prophetic guilds such as existed in Israel, or at least the prophets we now, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Huldah, etc; did not belong to them (cf. the state of matters before the Reformation m Europe, and the finding of the Latin Bible by Luther in the convent at Erfurt). But it does not follow that in prophetic circles no parts or fragments of the Law were in existence. The narrative parts of the Law would be more frequently copied than the legislative, and abstracts or summaries of the book of the covenant, or of the laws in Deuteronomy, perhaps selected passages from these books, may have been in circulation. There was even an order of "scribes" whom Jeremiah accuses of using their false pens to falsify the Law. "How do ye say, We are wise, and the Law of the Lord is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes hath wrought falsely' (Jeremiah 8:8). The scribes may have falsified the Law itself, altering its text, expunging its denunciations against idolatry, or making unauthorized additions to it; or they may have falsified it by their comments and interpretations of its meaning. The only thing certain is that the portions of the Law which so affected the conscience of the king were not in any current summaries or copies.
I. FINDING GOD'S WORD. "And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord." This Law-book—"the book of the Law of Moses" (2 Kings 14:6)—had undergone strange vicissitudes. We see it:
1. Sinfully lost. What treasure, one would think, so precious as the words which God had spoken to this nation through their great law-giver Moses—the statutes and judgments and commandments he had ordered them to keep, and which constituted their great glory as a people (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)? "What advantage then hath the Jew? … Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:1, Romans 3:2). Yet this Law of God had been so sinfully neglected that the very knowledge of it had well-nigh perished out of the land, and the book which contained it, from which this knowledge might be revived, had disappeared. The king had neglected it, he who should have been its chief defender; the official classes of the court had neglected it; the priests who had charge of God's house had neglected it, and allowed it to remain unused till it had got into some corner or room where it was covered up with rubbish and lost sight of; the scribes used what knowledge they retained of it only to falsify it. What sin! It was as if there were a deliberate conspiracy to hunt this first Bible out of existence. If to-day there is not the same danger of the knowledge of the Bible being lost as at some past periods of history, it is not because among many classes there is not as strong a hatred of it or as great neglect. With how many is the Bible an unopened book from one week's end to the other! Multitudes are as ignorant of its contents as the far-off heathen; multitudes more have lost whatever knowledge they once had of it through neglect and misuse; in the case of yet greater multitudes its truths are as inoperative as if the book were indeed lost.
2. Providentially found. God's providence is seen in nothing more remarkably than in the care he has exercised over the written Word. He has wonderfully protected it through all ages alike from the neglect and the fury of men. If for a time the knowledge of it seemed lost, it was again revived at the most favor-able juncture for the execution of his purposes. Thus at the Reformation we see a preparation for the new movement in the revival of learning, the invention of printing, the emergence into light of important manuscripts of the New Testament, etc. That was practically a finding of the Law-book of the Church, as marvelous and as providential as this discovery in the reign of Josiah. It was Josiah's zeal in the repairing of the temple which prepared the way for the discovery here; and the book was found just in time to give a new impetus to the reforming movement. In Divine providence, all things fit together in time and place.
3. Reverently examined. Hilkiah knew the book when he saw it, and he gave it to Shaphan the scribe, and he read it. It would be with trembling, eager hand that Shaphan turned over the pages, and, with his scribe's professional instinct, satisfied himself that this was the veritable lost copy of the Law. Taking it with him, he read it more leisurely, not completely, of course, but parts of it, those parts especially which were new to him. This was the right way to treat God's Word. Our chief anxiety, if we possess the sacred volume, should be to know what God the Lord will speak to us (Psalms 85:8). Cf. Edward Irving's lectures on "The Word of God"—
(1) the preparation for consulting the Word of God;
(2) the manner of consulting the Word of God;
(3 and 4) the obeying of the Word of God ('Lectures,' vol. 1.).
II. TREMBLING AT GOD'S WORD.
1. Shaphan's announcement. Having ascertained the contents of the book for himself, Shaphan lost no time in bringing it under the notice of the king. He seems to have felt the need of care in his manner of doing this. The book contained strong denunciations and terrible threatenings (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-68.), and he was not sure how the king would receive the ancient message. He resolved, therefore, not to prejudice its reception by any statements of his own, but simply to make the announcement of the discovery, and leave the book to speak for itself. He begins, accordingly, by stating the fulfillment of his commission in regard to the monies of the temple. Then he showed the book to the king, saying merely, "Hilklah the priest hath delivered me a book." Critics have detected subtle meanings in the studiously simple way in which this announcement is made; but the above, probably, is the true explanation of it.
2. The book read. The king, whose interest was at once awakened, naturally asked to have part of the book read to him. Shaphan began to read, selecting apparently parts towards the close of the roll—Deut, 28; 29; and the like. How much he read we are not informed, but the effect produced was instantaneous and profound. Our aim in reading the Scriptures should be to ascertain from it the whole counsel of God. We must not dwell on the promise to the exclusion of the threatening, or think that any part is without its use "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction," etc. (2 Timothy 3:16).
3. Conviction by the Word. "The Spirit of God," say the Westminster Divines, "maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners." Remarkable revivals of religion have often been produced by the reading of the Word alone. It was so in the case of Josiah. The book of the Law was the only preacher, but, as Shaphan read it aloud, its words went like sharp swords to the heart of the king. He knew previously that the nation had committed great sins, with which God was displeased, and he had done what he could to institute reforms. Now for the first time he learned what direful woes were predicted on those who should commit such sins, and he saw the enormity of the nation's evil as he had never before realized it. In deepest emotion he rent his clothes, and sent at once an honorable deputation "to inquire of the Lord concerning the words of the book" of the Prophetess Huldah. We see.
(1) The power of the Word to convince men of sin. This power belongs to the words of Scripture as to those of no other book. "The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul," etc. (Psalms 19:7). "The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," etc. (Hebrews 4:12). The fact that it is so is an evidence of the divineness of Scripture. The power of the Bible is derived from the nature of the truths it declares, from the inspired grandeur of its utterances, from the "thus saith the Lord" which stands behind them and drives them home with authority, and from the inward attestation which its words find in the conscience (2 Corinthians 4:2). Great reformations have always been accompanied with an extended circulation of the Bible (Wickliffe, Tyndale, Luther, etc.).
(2) An example of the right reception of the Word. Josiah did not act like the profane Jehoiakim, who, when God's threatenings were read to him, took his penknife and cut the prophet's roll to pieces, casting it into the fire (Jeremiah 36:20-24). He trembled at God's Word (Isaiah 66:2). He was, like Noah, "moved with fear," when he heard of the dreadful evils God would bring upon the nation. He did not dispute the justice of God's threatenings, but acknowledged that he was righteous, and the people wicked. He included himself in the general condemnation: "Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened," etc. This is how God's Word ought always to be received—with humility, with faith, with trembling of heart at his threatenings, if also with joy and hope at his promises.
III. LIGHT SOUGHT ON GOD'S WORD.
1. A holy woman. The king, as above stated, sent "to inquire of the Lord" at the hands of an accredited prophet, with the view of ascertaining what means should be adopted to reverse, if possible, the curse which the sins of long generations had brought upon the nation. The persons sent were five—Hilkiah the priest, Shaphan the scribe, and his son Ahikam, Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Asahiah a servant of the king's,—an honorable deputation. The person to whom they went was a prophetess named Huldah, who dwelt in Jerusalem. This holy woman was no recluse, but the wife of Shallum, the keeper of the royal (or priestly) wardrobe. In the distribution of God's gifts, woman is not less honored than man. We learn from Huldah that religion and the duties of common life do not stand apart.
2. The Word confirmed. On the general question the prophetess had little to give them in the way of comfort. Probably she had already learned the tenor of the threatenings in the sacred book, or its words were now read to her; but she could only speak to give the threatenings emphatic confirmation. "Tell the man that sent you, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place," etc. The words of the Law would be fulfilled, because the people had committed the sins which the Law denounced: "They have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods," etc. This is not contrary to Jeremiah's word, "If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them" (Jeremiah 18:8; cf. Jeremiah 2:0 Kings 26:3). It was the knowledge and foresight that Judah would not truly repent which gave the absoluteness to the prophecy. Jeremiah, while exhorting to repentance, also gives expression to the other side of the truth, that the nation's condition is hopeless (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 15:1, etc.).
3. Mercy to the king. To the "man" Huldah had no message of comfort; but to "the King of Judah" she had a word of mercy to send. Because Josiah's heart was tender, and he had humbled himself when he had heard of the desolation and the curse that would come upon the land, therefore God had heard him, and would spare him the experience of the evil that was to come. He would be taken away "from the evil to come" (Isaiah 57:1). Had the nation as a whole repented in like manner, we cannot doubt that it would have been similarly spared. God never rejects the humble and contrite heart (Isaiah 66:2). It is noteworthy that this prediction was fulfilled in a way which externally was a great calamity to the nation, viz. Josiah's defeat and death at Megiddo, in battle with Pharaoh-Nechoh (2 Kings 23:29, 2 Kings 23:30). God's mercy veils itself under strange disguises.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 22". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany