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CRITICAL NOTES.] This and next chapter give history of Josiah, and parallel with 2 Kings 22:0 and 2 Kings 23:1-30. Josiah’s good beginning (2 Chronicles 34:1-7); cleanses temple (2 Chronicles 34:8-13); finds a copy of the law (2 Chronicles 34:14-17); which is read by Shaphan (2 Chronicles 34:18-22); Huldah’s message (2 Chronicles 34:23-28); J. reads the law to the elders (2 Chronicles 34:29-33).
2 Chronicles 34:1-7.—J.’s good beginning. Walked, declined neither to right hand nor left: honourable contrast to predecessors. 2 Chronicles 34:3. Young, fifteen or sixteen years old. Jewish youths in majority at thirteen. 2 Chronicles 34:4. Images, sun statues (marg.), 2 Chronicles 14:3. Dust (Exodus 32:20). Strewed, as if graves guilty of crimes of inmates. Burnt, greatest infamy to disinter bones of idolatrous priests (cf. 2 Kings 23:13-20). 2 Chronicles 34:6. Cities of Mana. The power of Assyria now (B.C. 629–624) greatly weakened, if not completely broken. J., it is evident, asserted and maintained a claim to authority over the whole land of Isa. [Speak. Com.]. Mattocks, “in their dry (desolate) places” (cf. Psalms 109:10). 2 Chronicles 34:7. He had, king himself went in person and purified the land.
2 Chronicles 34:8-13.—Temple repaired. Purged, first cleansed, then repaired (2 Kings 23:4). S., M., and J. sent to report progress; repair, carry on the work. 2 Chronicles 34:9. Money collected in temple and in all parts of Judah and Isa. 2 Chronicles 34:10. Workmen, overseers or superintendents (2 Kings 22:5). Eastern people only work under overseers. 2 Chronicles 34:11. Couplings, beams to bind the house and support joists. Floor, to rafter chambers surrounding temple or outbuildings attached to courts. 2 Chronicles 34:12. Faithfully, skilfully and diligently. 2 Chronicles 34:13. Scribes, now designating a class, a distinct division of Levitical body.
2 Chronicles 34:14-22.—Discovery of a copy of the law. Found, probably an original copy of Pentateuch. 2 Chronicles 34:15. The book, the temple copy, kept in most holy place (Deuteronomy 31:26). Shaphan the scribe able to read it. “If this were the very autograph of Moses or his scribe, it would not be more than 830 years old. Manuscripts exist of nearly twice this age” [Murphy]. 2 Chronicles 34:16. S. took the book to king and reported the work (2 Kings 22:9). 2 Chronicles 34:17. Gathered, emptied out of a chest into a bag. 2 Chronicles 34:19. Rent, in distress of mind. 2 Chronicles 34:21. Enquire, from a prophet. Agitated feelings prompted J. to seek immediate counsel to avert curses under which his kingdom lay. Huldah, keeper of wardrobe, priestly or royal garments; she dwelt in college, second part or suburb of city (cf. Nehemiah 11:9; Zephaniah 1:10).
2 Chronicles 34:23-28.—Message of Huldah. Tell, oracular response, in which justice is blended with mercy, announcing impending evil to overtake the city and its inhabitants. Very likely such places as Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 28-32 were read to the king. 2 Chronicles 34:27. Heard, wrath delayed and prayer of king heard on account of penitence.
2 Chronicles 34:29-33.—Public reading of the law. King does what he can to bring people to penitence. Elders, representatives of the nation. Read, caused to be read aloud before the whole assembly. 2 Chronicles 34:31. Place, upon his pillar, covenanted with his subjects to keep commandments and walk after the Lord. 2 Chronicles 34:33. Took away. Completes purgation of the land, is followed by the people in outward reformation during his lifetime; but the special mission of Jeremiah in earlier ministry to rebuke the error and urge real change of heart and life (cf. Jeremiah 7:3-4; Jeremiah 7:21-24).
JOSIAH, OR EARLY PIETY.—2 Chronicles 34:1-13
What Hezekiah had accomplished was soon undone by successors, Manasseh and Amon. Manasseh brought down God’s judgment for present and awful threatenings for future. Destruction not averted, but delayed. God’s goodness and longsuffering displayed. Josiah mounts the throne, and even in youth shows the power of true religion, and the blessings which it gives to its possessor.
I. Displayed in seeking God in youth. “For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, &c.” A minor till thirteen years old, he sought God, in three years after he attained majority. Probably devout and prayerful before this. No difficulty in young persons serving God. Joseph, Samuel, David, and Timothy. Boys may evince beautiful character, and give promise of virtuous life. Beza thanked God, in his last will and testament, that he became a Christian at the age of sixteen. “Those that seek me early shall find me.”
II. Displayed in the administration of his kingdom. “In the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem.”
1. He purged the temple. In the long reign of his idolatrous grandfather, and short but wicked rule of his father, the temple neglected and out of repair—dilapidated and deserted for the gods of heathenism. Concerned for God’s glory and God’s house—sought to make temple attractive and restore it to former beauty.
2. He cleansed the land. Altars of Baal overturned, images broken down and turned to dust, and groves uprooted. The shrines of idols forsaken and obliterated. The land cleansed and the worship of temple restored and performed with scrupulous obedience.
III. Displayed with undeviating consistency. “Declined neither to the right hand nor to the left.” Not satisfied with first impressions, first convictions, and first feelings towards God, but reformed the wrong and “did that which was right.” Surrounded by profligate courtiers, opposed by unprincipled men, he was earnest, decided, persevering, and consistent. “He began to seek,” continued and spent a whole life in setting things right through length and breadth of his kingdom. One of the first, he was one of the most zealous converts. Judah never had a more devoted and earnest prince.
JOSIAH THE YOUNG REFORMER
I. Reform originated by personal agency. Personal efforts of king and priests, elders and officers of the court. Good laws, religious institutions, helpful, required and not to be ignored; but moral influence essentially personal. Good men, earnest reformers—originate good laws and good institutions—the means of revivals and extensive reforms. Luther, Whitfield, and Wesley.
II. The object of reform to restore the worship of God in the land. Not commerce or education even—not to introduce any new religion, but revive the old, pure religion which God instituted at first. J. destroyed the evil and fostered the good; secured workmen and overseers to repair the temple in great numbers. We are addicted to idolatry, to love the creature more than the Creator; but God will have no rival, should have the chief place in our hearts and lives, in our temples and kingdoms.
III. Reform was regulated by the principles of God’s Word. Engaged in the work, he was stimulated by the discovery of the law. Henceforth he acted with greater intelligence and reverence for the book. Great reforms have always been preceded and accompanied by study of God’s Word. In days of Isaiah and Ezra people brought to penitence and prayer by reading of Scrip. The Reformation prepared by the translations of Tyndale and Wycliffe. The germ of the great movement in days of Whitfield and Wesley, in the “Holy Club,” a meeting of a few students and tutors to study the Greek Testament in Oxford University. Bible study and Christian activity now joined together. “Have a Bible always about you,” was Wesley’s injunction. Follow not what is fashionable, prevalent, and convenient, but what is right in the sight of the Lord.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE BOOK.—2 Chronicles 34:11-21
The Book of the Law found is no other than the temple copy, which was deposited beside the ark in the holy of holies (Deuteronomy 31:25-26), and during the ungodly reigns of Manasseh and Amon, perhaps under Ahaz, when the temple itself had been profaned by idols, and as we may infer from 2 Chronicles 35:3, the ark also removed from its place, was somehow lost, and was now found again during the repair of the temple [Keil].
I. The Scriptures may be lost for a season. If not actually lost, hidden away and forgotten. The Bible lost by wilful neglect to read; by mere attention to the letter and not the spirit; by criticising and dissecting it as if the production of man; by every abuse of it, though boasting of its possession.
II. When found and rightly read, the Scriptures will quicken spiritual life. Its discovery a complete surprise to the king, who “rent his clothes,” studied the book himself, and read it to others. “It is possible that it may have been a mere rediscovery, like the revival of the Pandects at Amalfi, like the revival of the Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible at the Reformation. But, in either case, this sudden appearance of the Law amounted almost to a new revelation” [Stanley].
1. It reminded of neglected duty. Duties of prophets, priests, and kings set forth in the volume, concerning religious and political unity, the destruction of high places and obedience to Jehovah. “All that which is written concerning us.”
2. It produced a sense of guilt. “Our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book.” Curse pronounced on apostasy pierces the king’s heart; he rends garments and bows down in deep sorrow before God.
3. It gave insight into God’s service. “Enquire of the Lord.” The enquiry revealed the moral condition of the nation and urged the necessity of reform. “There was still a higher purpose which the ‘Second Law’ served, a still nobler spirit in which Moses might be said to have risen again in the days of Josiah, to promulgate afresh the coda of Sinai. Now, for the first time, the love of God, as the chief ground of his dealing with his people—the love towards God as the ground of their service to him—the spiritual character a free choice of that service—were urged on the nation with all the force of Divine and human authority” [Stanley].
4. It stimulated to vigorous activity. King active before, more so after discovery. Not deterred by stern message from Huldah. Rulers of people inspired, if not with the spirit of penitence, yet with the burning zeal that destroys the monuments of idolatry and repeats the deeds of Elijah.
III. Hence, when a right sense of duty is created by reading the Scripture, a revival of religion will ensue. Spiritual sensibility was maintained in the king’s profession and elevation. In the personal life of the leaders, the religious worship of the temple and the government of the nation. Political reforms and ameliorations beneficial when a spirit of piety pervades the people, and the nation fears God. Regard to God’s will the secret of prosperous churches, happy governments, and genuine revivals. As individuals, churches, and nation, how do we treat the Bible? Is it losing or keeping its hold upon our religion, our manners and customs? “Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye that tremble (with holy awe) at His word” (Isaiah 66:5).
THE LOSS OF THE SCRIPTURES
Consider what we should lose if we were to part with the Christian Scriptures, and with all the institutions and blessings for which we are indebted to them. I. In the loss of the Bible and its fruits, we should lose the knowledge of the true God. History proves this beyond reasonable dispute. God must speak, or man does not find him. Mankind needs a book to keep alive in the earth the knowledge of a spiritual and personal God. II. By the loss of the Scriptures and their results from the knowledge of mankind, we should lose sooner or later our institutions of benevolence. Benevolence on a large scale, and in the form of permanent institutions, and for all classes of mankind, is a Biblical idea. III. In the loss of the Bible and its fruits, we should sooner or later suffer the loss of our institutions for popular education. Culture has existed without a revelation from heaven. Schools are not the product of the Bible only. But it is beyond question that popular education is of Bible origin. Other than Christian religions build themselves on the ignorance of the masses. IV. By the loss of the Scriptures and their creations, we should sooner or later part with our institutions of civil liberty. History shows that the great charter of freedom in the world is the Word of God. The great free nations of the earth are the great Christian nations [A. Phelps, O. T. a Living Book].
EARLY PIETY AND ITS ADVANTAGES
I. Enlightened piety consists in seeking God. J. “while yet, young began to seek after God.” God the object of all religion. To seek his favour, presence, glory, the end of rational and immortal beings. The essence of sin to deny, dishonour, and disobey God.
1. In seeking earnestly. Not enough to think, talk, and argue about God. Seek as after riches, “he that seeketh findeth.”
2. In seeking promptly. J. delayed not. Jehovah had kept him from influence of corruption, from passing through the fire in his father’s reign; but this satisfied not, he sought higher knowledge, “began” early and promptly “to seek God.”
3. In seeking perseveringly. In youthful inexperience, surrounded with temptations and hindered with disadvantages, he pursued “that which was right with decided steps,” “declined neither to the right hand nor to the left.”
II. Seeking God early will conduce to honour. In temporal things it tends to health, reputation, and long life; in spiritual and eternal more advantageous.
1. It keeps alive religious susceptibilities. “His heart was tender,” not only in the ardour and sensibility of youth, but in maturity of age, crowned with regal honours and surrounded by worldly pleasures.
2. It saves from snares. Temptations like wind, spring from every quarter. Exposed in company and in solitude, in God’s house and in our own—always exposed. Business, pleasure, and companions may become a snare. But great risks in youth. Religion alone can preserve.
3. It brings eminent usefulness in life. Power in patience, love, courage, and action; influence over others in relations of life; safety in position. Self-willed monarchs have brought destruction on themselves and ruin on kingdoms.
4. It prepares for happy death. J. honoured in age and lamented in death. Virtues which led to prosperity cherished, and vices which tended to poverty escaped. Converted in early morning, his day bright, his work accomplished. Few sins to bewail at last, no remorse, no sins of youth to fill his bones with pain; his end, though mysterious, peaceful and triumphant. “Godliness profitable to all things, &c.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
2 Chronicles 34:3. The character of Josiah. I. He began to serve God at a very early period of life. II. He proceeded in his career with extraordinary zeal and diligence. III. He was as zealous in promoting piety as in suppressing vice. IV. In all he did he adhered strictly to the Word of God [Rev. C. Simeon]. Learn—I. That a child may begin to serve God early. II. That a child may serve God when the world is most attractive. Moses, David, Josiah. III. That when a child begins to serve God early he will be likely to become honourable and useful. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” A lesson—I. To the young. Avoid the wrong and “do that which is right.”
2. To parents and guardians of youth. Look well to rising generation. The welfare of families, churches, and the nation depends upon their training. “That of all men we meet with, nine parts out of ten are what they are, good or bad, useful or not, according to their education” [Locke]. Began to seek. “Sweet words are these!—to ‘begin;’ not only to begin, but to begin ‘to seek.’ What suggestions of modesty, lowliness, and insignificance of effort! What determination expressed in simple patience! No violence, no demonstrativeness, nothing of ostentation, but inquiry, waiting, expectancy, a look that means I know not from what part of the heavens the Lord may come, but from some point he will presently descend, and it is for me to seek, to be prepared to receive him” [Dr. Parker]. The verse contains a description—I. Of our moral condition; without God.
2. Of essential principles of all religion; seeking God.
3. Of true prayer; earnest desire for God, not cold asking, formal seeking, &c. The words also describe the way to
(1) eminent piety;
(2) eminent consistency;
(3) eminent usefulness.
2 Chronicles 34:13. Scribes. Hitherto designation of a class, officers of state, who mustered troops and managed finances (cf. 2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25; 2 Kings 12:10; Isaiah 33:18). Here evidently a new state of things—an order of scribes forming a distinct division of Levitical body. The class term first found in this passage, yet probably originated in reign of Hezekiah, who employed men to “copy out” uncollected proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 25:1). Probably to the rise of this class are we indebted for preservation of many prophecies belonging to Hezekiah’s time, while works of previous prophets—of Ahijah, Iddo, Shemaiah, Jehu son of Hanani, and others—have perished [Speak. Com.].
2 Chronicles 34:14. Found a Book.
1. The profound sensation created.
2. The intense anxiety to know the truth. The inquiry, personal reading, and public exposition.
3. The need of the Book now. To preserve religion, educate the race, and advance the cause of God and humanity.
2 Chronicles 34:23-28. The faithful message. Notice—
1. The estimate of the king. “Tell the man.” Only a man, sinful and mortal like other men. Kings need to be told this truth. “I acknowledge myself a mortal,” said Charles V. Emperor. With God no respect of persons.
2. The threatened judgment. “I will bring evil upon this place.” No hiding, no toning down of unpleasant truths.
3. The procuring cause of judgment. “They have forsaken me.” Announcement to Manasseh repeated with terrible significance to Josiah. Repentance will not avail, now too late to save guilty people “Wrath poured out and shall not be quenched.”
2 Chronicles 34:26-28. A tender spirit. Huldah in first outburst of prophetic spirit thinks only of the matter in hand, forgetting the person of the inquirer; but when that is past, and the stream flows more smoothly, the thought of the person occurs to her, “the King of Judah” [Speak. Com.]. Here she giveth him his just title, whom before she had called “man.” Piety is no enemy to civility [Trapp]. I. Give a general account of a tender heart.
1. It implies a quick and ready sense of feeling in spiritual things—quickness of apprehension, ready reflections of conscience, a disposition to be easily affected.
2. A pliable disposition to yield to Divine influences. II. The way in which such a temper should express itself.
1. In relation to the Word of God.
2. In relation to sin.
3. In relation to providential events.
4. In relation to the honour of God. III. What foundation is laid for such a temper in Christianity.
1. Good men in the ancient church were not strangers to it.
2. The recompenses of the life to come are more fully revealed.
3. Richer discoveries of grace are made to us.
4. Ceremonials have given way to substantials of religion.
5. The softening spirit is more plentifully communicated. IV. Inferences.
1. Discern the difference between a truly Christian temper and some things mistaken for it: it is not natural easiness of disposition, not occasional tenderness.
2. Let us all seek after and cultivate this tenderness of spirit.
3. If conscious of its possession, take the comfort of it as good evidence of a renewed and Christian state [Dr. Evans].
2 Chronicles 34:29-33. I. The public reading of the Book. The Book exists; not to be invented; only to be found, used, understood, and obeyed. II. The making of the solemn covenant. Made with sincerity, “with all his heart and with all his soul;” made “to perform” in Kings (2 Chronicles 23:2), “to stand to the covenant.” Many forget and fall away. III. The impression created upon the people. The example of the king, reforms in the temple and solemn resolution in open covenant. A restraint for a season. No open idolatry, no grove, nor Baal worship, yet superficial, not deeply seated amendment. Did not stand for personal purity and loyal obedience. The mission of Jeremiah in his early ministry to rebuke and urge a real change. “Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 34
2 Chronicles 34:1-7. Eight years old. There is at the top of the Queen’s staircase in Windsor Castle a statue from the studio of Baron Triqueti, of Edward VI. marking with his sceptre a passage in the Bible, which he holds in his left hand, and upon which he earnestly looks. The passage is concerning Josiah. “J. was eight years old when he began to reign … and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.” The statue was erected by the will of the late prince, who intended it to convey to his son the Divine principles by which the future governor of England should mould his life and reign on the throne of Great Britain [T. Hughes].
2 Chronicles 34:8-13. Men did work faithfully (2 Chronicles 34:12). What we are accustomed to decry as great social evils will, for the most part, be found to be but the outgrowth of man’s own perverted life; and though we may endeavour to cut down and extirpate them by means of law, they will only spring up again with fresh luxuriance in some other form, unless the conditions of personal life and character are radically improved. If this view be correct, then it follows that the highest patriotism and philanthropy consist, not so much in altering laws and modifying institutions, as in helping and stimulating men to elevate and improve themselves by their own free and independent individual action [Smiles]. We put too much faith in systems and look too little to men [B. Disraeli].
2 Chronicles 34:14-22. The Bible the Saviour of the Church. Men say that the Church has saved the Bible. I say that the Bible has saved the Church ten thousand times over. You shall find that when great questions come up in a community churches do not go ahead. You cannot make them. Churches are like the baggage-waggons of an army. They carry the provisions and indispensable things; but, after all, baggage-waggons never go first in a march. And the Church is so busy taking care of the things which it carries that it has no time to devote to new things that present themselves. Reforms hardly ever originate in churches. I am not speaking against churches, I am merely putting them where they put themselves, and saying that tendencies to unusual conduct in the application of gospel principles to new questions are oftentimes ridiculed by ministers, rejected from pulpits, and refused places in conference meetings, and stigmatised by church members as being fanatical [H. W. Beecher]. When we find the book of the law, let us not shrink from finding its judgments as well as its gospels. The prophecies must all be fulfilled, when they indicate that the wicked shall be destroyed (2 Chronicles 34:25), shall be driven away in the wrath of God. The Bible is not all gospel; or where it is all gospel it involves the element of judgment and the certainty of doom [Dr. J. Parker].
2 Chronicles 34:33. Departed not. The multitude “go at all adventures” (Leviticus 26:21, marg.), careless of their ways, reckless of their end. It is with them scarcely worth looking into—whether God is displeased or not; whether they be walking in the narrow or broad path, and what the end of that path may be. Sometimes they come into the world fresh from the influence of a religious education. For a while they yield alternately to their conscience and their corruptions. They are touched a moment under the convictions of the word, or the corrections of the rod. Yet the want of steadiness and consistency soon sweeps all away into “worse” hardness than before [C. Bridge].
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 34". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent