The spiritual condition of Judah at the time Josiah took the throne of the kingdom was deplorable. His grandfather Manasseh had ruled for 55 years, and apart from repenting of the evil late in his reign, Manasseh was the most evil ruler Judah ever had. His long reign years assured that two generations of Judah would have been influenced by his practices and that there would be hardly anyone alive who could remember the good that Manasseh’s father, Hezekiah, had done. This loss of memory led to the total neglect of God’s Word, the mixing of the worship with the pagan religions. The people of Judah burnt their children on the fire to the god Molech. They set up sacred groves to the goddess Asherah, who was served by male prostitute priests, some of which lived on the Temple grounds in Jerusalem itself. Idols to the sun and altars to the worship of the sun as well as to Baal had been set up in the Temple itself, the symbol of Jehovah’s presence. Chariots of the sun were drawn by horses in the religious processions. The Levites themselves seemed to have carried the Ark of the Covenant in these pagan processions.
In the north, the ten tribes had been carried away captive for doing the exact same abominations some one hundred years earlier. Hosea compared these practices as committing adultery against Jehovah. And indeed, this was an appropriate analogy. By putting up statues of other gods in front of and in the very presence of Jehovah would be like a man putting pictures of all his illicit lovers in his wife’s bedroom. Would any spouse put up with this treatment? Would the spouse really feel loved if this adulterer told her, “Honey, I love you?”—Of course not! So why should the Holy Jehovah, the creator of heaven and earth feel any different? Were not Israel and Judah clearly told by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Jehovah is your God, Jehovah only”? The LORD was to be Israel’s sole love. Because they had failed in this and polluted their worship with the worship of other gods, the gods of the other nations. It came to the point that the practice of the Israelites could not be distinguished from that of the other nations. It does not take a genius to see that once this happened, that the nation lost its identity. Where are these ten tribes today? Surely their descendants are with us today. But they have no identity. This threat was very real to the southern kingdom of Judah.
God, by His mercy had already spared Judah once out of a sense of compassion for King David in the days of Josiah’s great-grandfather, Hezekiah. Hezekiah had followed King Ahaz, who like Manasseh had introduced the worship of Baal and the host of heaven. Hezekiah in his earlier years made urgently needed reforms to the true worship of Jehovah. It was because of this that God stopped the Assyrian King Sennacherib at the gates of the city of Jerusalem. It was not the military might, but rather the power of God.
Unfortunately, Hezekiah became soft later in his life. He begged for life when he got sick. God graciously gave him fifteen years more life. But the Bible says he did not return the benefit of this gift. Anyone who knows arithmetic knows that Manasseh would never have been born save for these fifteen years. Perhaps the example Hezekiah set in later life influenced Manasseh or at least did not prevent Manasseh from the evil he committed. Scripture lists all the evils he committed far and above all his predecessors. It particularly notes the huge amount of innocent blood he shed. Even so, God showed grace in his judgment of him, granting him repentance later in life. But the evil he did so corrupted the people of Judah that God was determined to send them into exile in Babylon. Manasseh started to make some reform, but died, leaving his young son Amon to reign.
Amon reigned only two years before he died, but they were evil ones. He undid all the few reforms that Manasseh had started. In two years, Judah was again in the same depth of depravity as it had been in most of the years of Manasseh. At the same time Assyrian domination of the Middle East was waning, and a new breath of freedom was dawning in Judah and what was left of Israel. The people may have even had a tinge of optimism that things were getting better, perhaps even that God was blessing them. How little did they know how much trouble they were really in.
Josiah became king at the age of eight. He would have been assigned a tutor who actually would have run the government in Josiah’s name until, he came to maturity. Somewhere in this God’s grace intervened, for it says that this young king sought the Lord. Josiah soon began to make reforms. The way of the LORD had long been neglected. The Law of the LORD was lost. The priests were half pagan and ignorant of God’s truth. But common sense dictates a good place to start in restoring the relationship was to clean the house and fix it up in such a way to make Jehovah happy. Surely it was a bad idea to have the pictures of Judah’s other lovers in the house.
God then intervened by allowing a copy of His Law to be found. Perhaps a copy of it had been put in the foundation stone box of the Temple by Solomon. Perhaps is had been hidden there for safekeeping by one of the true priests of the LORD during the reign of Manasseh. Perhaps it was neglected and considered out of touch with the times. It was the old religion which was no longer relevant. But how things quickly changed when the Word of God was found.
Hilkiah the priest had the Book of the Law read to Josiah. In those days, few had the ability to read or write, so this was not uncommon. The reading of the Law alarmed Josiah. The king believed what was read to him was the word of God Himself. Just a casual look around revealed just how angry God was with the nation. If these words were true, then Judah was in terrible danger. He had Hilkiah check with the prophetess Huldah to inquire of the LORD for guidance. The word came back to him as he had feared. The nation was going into captivity for its sins. However, Josiah was promised that things would go well for him as he had humbled himself.
Hezekiah, his great-grandfather had heard these words. But he was simply satisfied that it would not happen it his lifetime, that he would go to the grave in peace. But this was not so with Josiah. He had the heart of Abraham who tried to save Sodom, as wicked as it was, even talking God into saving the entire city if even ten godly people were found there. He was another Moses who was not content with the promise that God would make of him a great nation, preferring to die rather than see his fellow Israelites destroyed for their disobedience. Josiah showed all the characteristics of a true man of God.
The time called for action. Rather than simply being content with “Peace in our time”, Josiah immediately started to institute reforms. In addition to the reforms which had already been started, which included the cleansing and repair of the Temple in Jerusalem, it involved a national effort to remove all sites in Judah and Israel dedicated to the foreign Gods and to defile them so they could never be used again. They removed the Tophet where babies were placed in the red hot arms of Baal as a sacrifice. The priests of these foreign gods were removed and probably executed with their own bones being burnt on the altars to defile them. The houses of the male cult prostitutes were removed from the temple grounds. The altars to the sun were torn down and the horses who drew them removed to the stables in the country.
Josiah then told the Levites that they were no longer to take the Ark of the Covenant out of the Temple. They were given a new assignment, to teach the children of Judah as well as the remaining Israelites about the Word of God contained in the Book of the Law. The book of Deuteronomy said that the Israelites were to teach these statutes diligently to their children. Their repeated failure to do so had led up to the disastrous situation that Judah found itself in.
Josiah then invited all of Judah and the remnant of Israel to the Passover celebration. This celebration was instituted to remind the Israelites of how God had delivered them from Egyptian bondage. Every year at Passover, the children of Israel were reminded of the special covenant they had with Jehovah and that they were Exodus People. They were reminded that the land they were in was a gift from God in fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham. They should also have been reminded that there was an obligation expected of them as well, to be faithful to the covenant lest they be thrust out of the land flowing with milk and honey.
There was only one problem. Instead of the regular celebration of the Passover, the Israelites neglected it. There had been a Passover celebration held some 70 years ago under Hezekiah in the wrong month. Before that the Scripture says it had not been celebrated in the correct matter since the day of Samuel the prophet, some four hundred years earlier. If Israel and Judah forgot the very foundation of their faith, then what was the rest of their spiritual building like? No building can long stand on decayed foundations, even if the building looks sound. It is no better than building it in the sands of the flood plain. As Jesus noted, all that was needed was a little adversity, a little rain and wind, and the entire edifice would collapse. Indeed, this had already happened to the northern kingdom of Israel as we have already noted.
Unfortunately, this Passover celebration turned out to be a one-night stand for God. I would guess that Josiah kept the annual celebration of Passover for as long as he lived, some twelve more years. But this wasn’t long enough, because after his death in battle with Pharaoh Necco, the Scripture says that his sons reverted to evil ways. Within a few years the Temple was destroyed and Judah led captive. Yet in a way, Judah was saved in that they went into captivity with a memory of who and whose they were. Instead of blending in with the other nations, they remembered. They would come to a time where they were restored to the land, unlike the ten lost tribes who disappeared from history by blending in.
This message would be no more than a history lesson or a lesson in morals if we could not apply it today. A German Philosopher named Hegel stated that “The only thing we can learn from history is that we don’t learn anything from history.” Another historian, George Santayana stated that “Those who fail to learn the lessons from history are doomed to repeat it.”
In all too many ways, we are repeating history. The Christian Church has forgotten its very foundations. We forget we are the people of the broken bread and the cup. We too, are Passover people, redeemed by the blood of our Passover lamb, Jesus Christ. Nowhere is this neglect of God’s temple, our bodies, greater than in this generation and in this nation. We are irregular with our church attendance and careless about our obligations to the covenant. As Jesus warns the church of Ephesus in the book of Revelation, we have left our “first love.” This word first does not mean the first love in reference to time but rather our first love in priority. Can we answer Jesus’ question to Peter “Do you love me more than all these things?” in the affirmative. In a world in which in places like Africa where people are leaving their old gods and coming to Jesus, it is a shame that here we are mixing the true worship of God with American Idol. The prophet Amos says that in the last days there will be a great famine, not of bread, but of the Word of God. And what excuse can we give? There are Bibles in every hotel and hospital. The Word of God is freely available on the Internet. Most homes have Bibles in them. We are guilty of willful ignorance and neglect.
Last year, we at Mount Zion had a low key Homecoming. Only twenty people came. This year we felt led to go all out and invite everyone, members, former members, former pastors, and everyone else. This is what Josiah did. And we are thankful that so many of you have come. This is confirmation that the Lord’s hand is in all this. We can only hope and pray that this is the beginning of a great revival.
What conditions are our Temples in? By this, I mean more than just the buildings we worship in. It is important we keep our church buildings in good order. But the Scripture say that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Have we invited other gods into our hearts? Have we been true to the Lord Jesus? Or have we treated Him like a one-night stand? Surely there is more to being a Christian than making a profession of faith in Jesus, being baptized, and disappearing from view. What would your spouse have thought if you made your wedding vows and waited around for the pronouncement of marriage and then disappear even before the honeymoon. Yet this seems to have happened in all too many cases.
The Book of Deuteronomy warned Israel that if they were true to the Covenant that the Lord would bless them. But if they were false, then curses would come upon them. One of these curses was that they would become indebted to many nations as well as become a reproach to them. Where is public opinion today in the world? And how bad has our trade debt become? China owns so much of our debt that they control our economy and even our foreign policy. Yet we are blind to what is happening.