2 Kings 22 (NIV)✞: The Book of the Law Found
After a couple of bad kings we get back to a good one: Josiah. He’s eight years old when he becomes king, reigns for thirty-one years, and does a good job of it:
He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
The reign of Josiah reminds me a lot of the reign of Joash back in 11:21–12:21.
|Age reign started||7||8|
|Reigned for||Forty years||Thirty-one years|
|An important act||Repaired the Temple||Repaired the Temple|
Does this mean everyone who became a king of Judah at a young age turned out to be a good king? Not at all! Manasseh became king at twelve in the last chapter and he was the worst king Judah ever had.
Josiah doesn’t seem to have the same problems trying to repair the temple that Joash had had, but he discovers a different issue: as the Temple is being repaired they discover the Book of the Law. (The Old Testament means the book we now call Deuteronomy when it refers to “the Book of the Law.”) And you’d think this would be a good thing, right? Except no, not really – not if you read it and realize you haven’t been following it!
11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. 12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 “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.”
Josiah sends people to consult with a prophetess named Huldah to find out how much trouble they’re really in. Her answer isn’t comforting, unfortunately:
15 She said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 ‘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. 17 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.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 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. 20 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.’” …
Once again we get a prophecy delivered to a king of Judah mentioning that God is going to bring disaster to the nation, but not in the lifetime of the king. In 20:12–21 a similar prophecy was delivered to Hezekiah, the most faithful king Judah ever had1, and he didn’t react very well. (“No big deal, it won’t happen to me!” he thought.) We’ll have to wait for the next chapter to see how Josiah responds…
The most striking thing to me about this passage is that the Book of the Law had been lost. Though, as I think about it, I’m not sure “lost” is the right word; it seems like it was more “misplaced.” I mean… it’s not like it was buried in someone’s backyard to be uncovered years later by archaeologists, it was right there in the Temple where it was supposed to be! That means the priests had been going about their business in the Temple for some period of time, doing some (but presumably not all) of their duties, and simply neglecting the Word of the LORD.
And to be clear, Josiah didn’t set out to reform worship in Judah. He was just trying to repair the Temple! However, when confronted with the words of the Book of the Law he responds appropriately: it becomes immediately apparent to him that the people of Judah haven’t been faithful to the LORD so he seeks His guidance.
And I’m not one to keep people in suspense2, so I’ll point out that Josiah’s response to the word of God is more commendable than Hezekiah’s had been: in the next chapter he’ll bring the people of Judah together to renew their covenant with God. He’s not just going to say, “Oh well, it won’t happen to me so I don’t need to worry,” he’s going to try to get the people to do the right thing.
Is it a fool’s errand? Is he disobeying the LORD? Is he wasting his time, knowing that this prophecy has been delivered? Not at all! We are way, way too quick to decide that something is impossible and therefore not worth our effort. (Why bother trying to eradicate poverty? After all, Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us, so we know we can’t solve the problem!) As far as I can recall, the Bible never tells us to evaluate how successful our actions will be before doing the right thing; we are to do the right thing and leave the results up to God.
Funnily enough, there is one place where the Bible tells us to count the cost before acting: in Luke 14 (NIV)✞ Jesus tells people to count the cost before becoming a Christian in the first place! It’s a striking contrast! Should you help the poor? Yes. Should you read the Word and strive to follow it? Yes. Should you become a Christian? Well, you should probably sit down and think about it, first…
Maybe Josiah wouldn’t be successful restoring the relationship between God and His people but trying was still the right thing to do. (And surely there would have been people in Josiah’s day who’d be thankful to have their individual relationships with God restored, even if the nation as a whole was still doomed!) Maybe we can’t eliminate poverty, but it’s still the right thing to help the poor in any way we can. (And surely the individual people we help will be benefitted3 even if we can’t get to everyone!)
- Maybe I should stop saying this? The ESV Study Bible makes the case that Josiah surpasses Hezekiah in faithfulness… ↩
- That sounds a bit too much like a quote from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but what’s done is done, too late to change it now. ↩
- Notice I say “benefitted,” not “grateful.” Whether people are “grateful” or not is never the point! In the West, in this day and age, we’re a little too concerned with helping the “worthy” poor (which, by definition, must mean that there are “unworthy” poor), but this is a notion that doesn’t come from the Scriptures. ↩
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