Josiah is in utter despair as he hears the words of the Book of the Law. He knows the sins of the people put them in jeopardy. Their future is foretold by Huldah.
We left Josiah on the floor of his throne room last time. He has torn his clothes and fallen on his knees in repentance. This is his reaction to Shaphan reading to him from the Book of the Law that was found in the Temple during its restoration. Josiah recognizes the words of God and what they mean to a sinful Judah. Will his people be saved? Will God utterly destroy them, as the text says? Will God have mercy on them? He needs to know. He sends for answers from the Lord.
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Josiah waits. He sent Hilkiah, the high priest, and several others to inquire of the Lord regarding the people and the Law. He has risen to the steps in the throne room but no higher. This is where he will remain until he hears the answer of the Lord.
Hilkiah, Ahikam, Shaphan, Abadon, and Asaiah rush from the palace in search of answers for their king. Hilkiah had suspected that the words of the Lord from the Book of the Law would impact their king but he had no idea how deeply. Josiah’s response bore witness to his heart for the Lord and for the people. Josiah’s reaction is righteous fear of the Lord.
Hilkiah also knows the silence of the Lord on his own behalf. He does not believe God would answer his plea for information soon enough for him to bring comfort to Josiah. But he knows of one who is in constant contact with the Lord. Hilkiah led the group to the home of Shallum. He had heard reports that his wife, Huldah, was a prophetess. These were reliable reports and so the group sought her out.
As the group approaches the gate, they are met by Isabel. Hudlah was told by the Lord that men would be coming. She sent her daughter to wait by the gait to greet them. Before Hilkiah can even utter a word, Isabel speaks greetings and instructions to the men.
“My mother has been expecting you. She is in the garden. Please follow me.”
“But we sent no word that we were coming” replies Hikliah.
“One who listens to the Lord has no need of man to inform her of important visitors.”
Her reply leaves Hilkiah with no response but to follow. The five men and the young girl make their way around to the back of the house. Hudlah is sitting on a stone at the edge of her vegetable garden. She turns her head to take in the approach of the visitors.
Isabel says nothing as she presents the men to her mother. She politely inclines her head and then leaves.
Hudlah holds up a hand to silence Hilkiah as he was about to speak the reason for their visit. She has already heard from the Lord. He spoke the moment Josiah uttered his first cry of anguish.
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken Me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands, therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched. But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before Me and have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place and its inhabitants’” (verses 23-28).
Hilkiah drops his head in acceptance of the Lord’s judgment and in acceptance of his duty to return this answer to the king. There is not a shred of doubt in the hearts of the men who stand before Hudlah as to the truth of what she has relayed. These are truly the words straight from the mouth of God. And these are the exact words that will be brought back to Josiah, the king of Judah.
Hudlah turns her back on the men and returns to caring for her garden. Her task is complete. The five men respect her dismissal and make their way back out to the street. What they did not see were the tears lightly falling from the eyes of Hudlah as she silently prays for the king as he hears the words of the Lord. “Give him clarity of mind and a steadfast spirit as he hears Your answer. Lead him in the way he should go for the time of grace You have granted unto him and this people.”
The steps of the five men are no longer rushed but they are determined instead. They have received the answer they sought. There is nothing more to do but to share the answer of the Lord with their king. The words both good and bad MUST be told.
As the group approaches the threshold to the throne room they can see their king sitting on the stairs leading to his throne. They clearly recognize the look of distress displayed in his posture. His brows are knit together and his head droops, his shoulders are stooped, his forearms rest on his thighs and his hands are clasped between his knees.
Josiah raises his head at the sound of their approach. He searches the faces of the men as they enter the room. He is looking for evidence of either good news or bad in their countenance. The set of their jaws speaks of unpleasant news. Josiah breathes deeply before speaking.
“Tell me it all” he commands.
“The words of the Lord that were spoken to Moses have not changed my lord. The Lord God of Israel will surely do as He has promised” replies Hilkiah.
Josiah nods his head in acceptance.
“However, the Lord has seen your response to His words. He has heard your cry and has observed as you humbled yourself before Him. He has promised grace for you and that He will wait until after you have been gathered to your fathers before pouring out His wrath on the people.”
“Tell me His exact words” commands Josiah.
Shephan had made a record as Hudlah spoke the words of the Lord. He read these back to the king.
Josiah ponders the words of the Lord. He is grateful that the Lord has heard his cry and has promised to withhold His judgment in Josiah’s own lifetime. But where does that leave the people of Judah now? If the people turn to Him with their whole hearts and continue their commitment to Him after Josiah’s death, will the Lord continue His mercy towards Israel? And humbling himself before the Lord is not enough. He must also DO what is recorded in the Book of the Law; both him and the people.
Josiah finally stands to his feet. He has made up his mind as to what must be done.
The five men have waited patiently as Josiah wrestled within himself. When he stood, they immediately straightened their stance in preparation of their king’s next orders. They will do whatever he commands.
“Take a message to all the leaders of Judah. There is to be a solemn assembly in seven days. ALL are required to be in attendance. We will meet before the Lord; stand before His Temple and recommit ourselves to following His commandments.”
Word went out that very hour. No quarter in Judah or Benjamin was not visited by the king’s servants. Travelers began arriving in Jerusalem for the king’s edict two days later. By the time the appointed day arrived, Jerusalem was teeming with people.
The ram’s horn sounded announcing the time for the morning sacrifice. In attendance for this sacrifice were the king, all the elders of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites. There were others both great and small in attendance too as their hearts longed for a deeper relationship with their Lord.
Josiah stood in his customary place and prayed silently as the morning sacrifice was offered to the Lord. As soon as the priests had finished, Josiah turned to face the people.
“You all know of the efforts to restore the House of the Lord our God. During the process a book was discovered. It was the Book of the Law which was handed down to the people through His servant Moses. This book has been long neglected by the people. Our sins are great when measured by the Lord’s statutes. We deserve utter destruction at this very moment. We have neglected our Lord and sought other gods. We have forsaken his appointed feasts and holy days. In short, we have broken covenant with Him.”
Josiah looks at the faces before him, wondering which ones are truly hearing the state of the nation and which are applying his words to their own hearts. After a moment he continues.
“Today we will together read EVERY WORD that is contained herein. Listen with an open heart and mind. Judge your own hearts, not your neighbors. Answer Him honestly as to the state of your heart and be ready to make a new commitment to the Lord as a people.”
Josiah motions for Shaphan to step forward and begin reading the Book of the Law.
Shaphan’s voice rises loud and clear as he makes his way through the Book of the Law. The people stand with rapt attention. No one speaks, turns their attention in another direction or attempts to leave during the entire reading. When he finishes Shaphan reties the scarlet cord around the scrolls and hands them carefully to the king.
“These words are the very voice of our Lord” begins Josiah. “We, as a people and personally, are responsible to follow His commands. We are His chosen people. He has promised us His blessings when we do so. But He has also promised us His discipline when we don’t. I, for one, am recommitting to follow the Lord God of Israel this day.”
Josiah turns to face the Temple and he holds the scroll out towards it. “In my hands Lord God I hold Your words spoken to my fathers. They are as crucial to my life today as they were to those You ransomed from Egypt. The words You commanded of my fathers I vow myself to follow. I also vow to shepherd Your people and have them follow them also. With all that I am, I will follow You. From this day until the day I take my last breath, I will follow You.”
Josiah then turned back to the people and addressed them. “Will you covenant with me to follow the Lord God of Israel. Will you commit to follow His words, just as they are written in this Book? Will you be a people who carry His name with honor? What say you all.”
A rousing “We Will” rose up from the crowd. None remained silent when this commitment was put to them. Josiah bowed his head in acceptance of their answer. He turned again and faced the Temple.
“Your people, ALL that remain of Israel, have covenanted with me, their king, to follow You this day. Cleanse us of our sins and walk with us. For as long as this people remain steadfast in their walk before You, protect them and withhold Your rightly earned wrath.”
Josiah faced the people once more. “The Lord’s words of wrath for the sins of our past will surely be done as He has declared. It is YOU now who stand before Him that will stay His hand, for a time. As long as you are faithful and humble yourselves before Him, He will hold his judgment. When You reject Him again, He WILL act. Of this be certain.”
Josiah waited while his words sunk in. After a few minutes he gave his first command to a newly committed people.
“THIS DAY we will tear down ALL remaining idols, high places, and abominations. NONE will stand to provoke the Lord. If there are any such places in your homes or your hearts, TEAR THEM DOWN. We have vowed to return to the Lord with a WHOLE HEART. Let that not become another sin He can lay at our feet.”
Josiah’s words of warning hung in the air. None missed them. They reached the very corners of the assembly. One last thing remained before Josiah dismissed the people.
“Bring forward the goats for the sin offering. Place your hands upon his head as he passes so that your sins may be carried on him.”
The head Levite took the rope and led the goat through the leaders of Judah. Each placed his hand upon the head of the goat as it passed. When all had laid their hand upon his head the goat was led to Josiah. He too placed his hand upon the head of the goat. The Levite then handed the reins to Hilkiah. He took the goat before the altar of the Lord, spilled its blood into a basin, prepared it for the sacrifice, laid it on the altar, lit the fire, and threw the blood against the altar. All the people stood silent as this sacrifice was consumed.
When the last of the goat was consumed by the fire Josiah spoke again. “Go and do as you have covenanted before the Lord this day.”
The people broke up and began to move out into the streets. They began destroying EVERY object that would be offensive to the Lord. They cleansed the land, their homes and their hearts.
Josiah ensured that this cleansing was complete with his command as king. NO OTHER gods would be allowed in the land as long as he lived. And his reach extended to the exiles who remained in Israel.
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I’m curious about something. How many people followed the Lord because of Josiah’s command as king and how many followed Him out of their own commitment? Were they following only to avoid human punishment? How many people claim to follow Him today just to look good to others? Only God knows the true state of each man’s heart. It isn’t my place to pass judgement on anyone but myself.
Father God, thank You for King Josiah. A man who was not afraid to stand up to a whole nation and say, “This far and no farther!” A man who saw to it that all those under his command followed Your statutes. Maybe an outward compliance is all he could mandate. But I bet he hoped for much more! That is my hope for my family; my children in particular. Do what it takes to get their attention.