Think of two opposites. Like the ends of a battery, the poles of the Earth, light and dark, soft and hard. Ok. You get the picture. What I read this morning was exactly like that. I began reading in chapter 21 about King Manasseh. It didn't take me long to realize this guy was awful. He was pure evil. In fact, the modern-day equivalent that came to mind was Hitler. No, not because they did the same things, but because they were both a single person with the ability to lead people to do the most horrible of things. A few of King Manasseh's atrocities were:
- rebuilding the high places his father destroyed (like temples devoted to bad things)
- erected altars to Baal
- made an Asherah pole
- bowed down to and worshiped the starry hosts - he even put alters up for them in the Lord's temple
- sacrificed his own son - his own son!!! Who does this?!
- practiced divination
- sought omens
- consulted with mediums and spiritists
- shed so much innocent blood it filled Jerusalem from end to end
- he led the people astray
He passed, and a kid he didn't sacrifice took his place. For two years. He was killed by an advisor. Guess they'd had enough. Then came Josiah. I don't know if he was the son of his predecessor, we are only told of who his mother is and that he is in King David's lineage. However, what is known, he did right in the eyes of the Lord. In fact, everything Manasseh was, this guy was not. But it didn't start that way exactly. See, he did good but he didn't exactly promote others to do the same straight off. No, it took him until year 18 of his 22-year gig to get things back on track.
The short of it comes as this, he sent his chief of staff, a guy named Shaphan, to the temple Priest, Hilkiah, to get all of the tithes. Shaphan was to then give the money to the contractors in order to restore and rebuild the temple of the Lord. We're not talking a small project here either. I'm not an architect and the blueprints of the temple are completely out of my realm of comprehension, I'm so thankful for the excellent detail the Lord gave us so we can understand the breadth of the work, but it was a bit too much for me. I digress. I don't even have a viable modern-day equivalent for it and anything I chose will not give it justice. We're just going to have to go with the fact it was intense and great. Anyway, they pay the contractors for labor and materials and they set off to work. A normal day in the neighborhood.
During the renovations, Hilkiah (also the sight foreman) finds a book. This thing had been buried behind some tables, blocked by a few dozen chairs, old lamps, etc, basically shoved to the back of a storage closet. But this book wasn't just any book, this book was the Book of the Law. As in THE book that had the words God gave Moses. Hilkiah gave it to Shaphan, who promptly read it. I mean, wouldn't you? Shaphan then went to Josiah and read it to him. This is where Josiah becomes mind-blown. He was already touted as being good and doing good in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 22:2), but now his own eyes were opened up to all. of. the. truths. Since no one had been teaching these things for a minimum of 75 years he fell in disbelief, tore his clothes, and wept. (That was a really old school way of repenting.)
What happens next you ask? Naturally, Josiah wants to know what the Lord has to say about all of this. I mean here is a king ruling over a bunch of people who have been doing anything but follow God's commands for so many years they've lost count. “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13) So, Hilkiah, Shaphan, and a couple other guys went to speak to a prophet. Prophets kind of had an inline connection with God, you know. I think it is pretty cool that the prophet they went to, Huldah, was a woman. Here you have a bunch of guys going to a woman to get directions. (I'll let the irony stay! HA!)
She didn't sugar coat anything. "This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched." (2 Kings 22:16-17) I don't know about you, but that would have me petrified. I mean, how can I be guilty of something I didn't know about?! BUT, she wasn't done because God wasn't done. Don't you just love that? She finished off with this, "Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.” (2 Kings 19-20)
Can you imagine how happy Josiah was at hearing this? Because he humbled himself before the Lord, repented, and sought him he was going to be saved from God's wrath. Yet, he didn't stop there. Here is where he was so much different from his predecessor. He didn't take the blessing for himself and run. No, he decided to take the amount of time he had left and share the Book of the Law with the people he was the leader of. He didn't want to keep this truth for himself, he wanted to spread the word and have others find the same hope in God that he had.
"Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes, and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant." (2 Kings 23:1-3)
What we had next was a good old house-cleaning party. Josiah ordered all the things Manasseh had built or erected be torn down. Not only were they to be torn down, but they were to be burnt outside the city. (You know it's bad when it's taken outside the city walls!) He got rid of everything that was ever given in dedication to the false gods. He even had the false teachers put to death so they couldn't continue to spread their lies to the people. He got rid of every single last thing that was in direct objection to the Lord - the mediums, spiritists, idols, household gods, you name it - it was removed and destroyed. While all of this was happening, the people celebrated Passover like it had never been celebrated before. There was an epic level of revival going on and the people were turning back to the Lord their God. All of this was done in accordance with the Book of the Law and it is said, "Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses." (2 Kings 23:25)
One would think after all of this we would have a happy ending, but that is a different story for a different time.
The main thing I took from these passages of scripture this morning is how a bad leader can direct our paths in a wayward direction if we aren't careful to keep our hearts and minds ever vigilant on the truths of the Lord. Here's the catch though. Unlike the people of that day who looked to their leaders for the answers to absolutely everything, we often look to ourselves. We can be that bad leader in our own life. We can set up idols and false gods and take our eyes off the things the Lord wants for us. But, just like king Josiah did, we can repent. We can clean house and come back to the Lord and seek to follow him. He is never too far away and we are never too far gone.
While he does forgive us when we repent, the consequences of our choices when we followed our own broken paths don't disappear. Instead, they offer us the opportunity to lead another who is making a similar mistake or series of choices, down the right path - like Josiah did when he read the Book of the Law to the people and reinstated the Passover Celebration. We have an amazing opportunity to share God's goodness, his saving grace, and the joy fellowship with him brings.
People, God is so good.
What needs to come down in your life? What story do you have to share with another?