Rev. L. Althouse
November 12, 2006
Background Scripture: 2 Kings 22 through 23. Devotional Reading: Psalms 103:1-18.
The late Harry Emerson Fosdick tells us that before Martin Luther became a great Protestant reformer, he was in an Augustinian monastery, where he struggled with his doubts.
One of his teachers is said to have remarked, “Brother Martin, let the Bible alone; read the old teachers. They give you the whole marrow of the Bible; reading the Bible simply brings unrest.”
Of course, that’s what the Bible is supposed to do: bring unrest! And that is what happened in 2 Kings 22 when 18-year-old King Josiah sent Shaphan, his secretary, to Hilkiah the high priest for an accounting of temple income. But Hilkiah had something much more important to report: “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” (22:8)
This “book of the law” which he found in some musty recess of the temple is quite probably the earliest form of the present biblical book of Deuteronomy. The implication is that this book was once known to the people of Judah, but became lost and forgotten.
Without this book, the people have long since stopped obeying the commandments of God. Returning to King Josiah, Shaphan first reports on the temple income and then says simply, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” (22:10)
How many times Christianity has been reformed and turned right side up because someone found a book?
The words of this book
Of course it takes more than that. It takes someone like Josiah to perceive the vital importance of this book. He was so shocked and moved by what he heard in this reading that he tore his clothes, a customary way of expressing remorse and repentance.
Josiah did not need either Hilkiah or Shaphan to explain to him what this book would mean for the people of Judah. Right away the King recognized what this meant for his kingdom: “…for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do all according to all that is written concerning us.” (22:13b)
Next, Josiah reads it to the people of Judah in its entirety and then makes “a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul…” (23:3)
These were not just words thoughtlessly offered to the assembled people of Judah. 2 Kings 23:4 through 25 is a long recitation of all the changes that Josiah made to actualize the promises of the covenant. He had all pagan influences removed from the temple, all pagan places of worship torn down and destroyed, anything that was contrary to the covenant. When we find God’s book we need to clean house.
Baby and bathwater
Of course, there’s always the possibility that we may go too far. In the early days of Luther’s reformation, he left his home in Wittenberg to make a journey. But, when he returned, he found that his people had been carried away with their passion to pull up and tear down and had wrought a terrible destruction in the church. As the old saying goes, they had thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Instead of cleaning house, they had almost destroyed it.
King Josiah’s heart was in the right place, but maybe not his head. He went throughout Judah and destroyed a great deal. But reform is dependant not so much upon destruction, but upon construction.
For all the altars he had pulled down, for all the witches and soothsayers he had driven away, what God desired was a change in the course of the nation’s morals and worship. Despite the reforms he brought about, at his death his son, Jehoahaz, took the throne and soon was back in the familiar rut: “And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (23:32)
Once again someone needed to find for them the book.
This farm news was published in the Nov. 8, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.