THE LAST EFFORT OF REFORMATION UNDER JOSIAH
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2Ki . He did that which was right—In his minority Josiah was. guarded and directed by godly teachers and counselors. Yet training is not to be wholly accredited with the difference between Manasseh and Josiah, who both, during their minority, must have been under tutors and governors. The natural bent of disposition is a factor in reckoning; and yet further, the sovereign operation of God's grace. 2Ki 22:3-7. The repair of the temple—For 250 years, since the reign of Jehoash (2Ki 12:5), the fabric had been allowed to decay. Besides "Shaphan the scribe" here mentioned, Chronicles adds Maaseiah the city governor, and Joah the chancellor (2Ch 34:8); for the work was not to be a private undertaking by the king and priests, but civic and national.
2Ki . Hilkiah the high priest said … I have found the book of the law—The temple roll was ordered to be kept by the side of the ark (Deu 31:26), but during the idolatrous profanations under Ahaz, Manasseh, and Amon, the very ark had been removed (comp. 2Ch 35:3) from the house; and doubtless in this way the "book" had become lost. Dr. Bähr notes that מָצָא is here emphatic, and does not mean to fall in with something which is known to be somewhere at hand, but to discover what was concealed. It would seem that the written law of God had passed from human knowledge, lost in the haze of heathenism, which had so long enveloped the land. Although this finding of "the book of the law" does not imply that the nation or the priests had no other copy, yet the narrative clearly indicates that king and people were strangers to its contents. Shaphan the scribe "read it" (2Ki 22:8) as if it were a new thing come to hand. He moreover "read it before the king" (2Ki 22:10) as being an unknown book to the monarch, and deserving his attention; whereas the effect its words produced upon Josiah plainly show that he heard them then for the first time (2Ki 22:11). Controversy is keen as to what this "book" was; whether only a section of the Pentateuch—i.e., the book of Deuteronomy—of the complete book of the law of Moses. Hilkiah calls it סֵמֶר הַתּוֹרָה. "the book of the law," the technical form of expression distinctive of the entire Pentateuch. Shaphan, however, speaks of it to the king as "a book" (2Ki 22:10), without describing it in any way further. Hilkiah's emphatic word, "the book," implies that either no other copy had been known to exist, or that this copy was different from, more complete, than any other possessed. And the latter alternative meaning of his words gives opportunity for the theory that Deuteronomy was then first seen by them, for Deuteronomy contains just those searching words which would lead the king to distress. But if other copies existed, and Deuteronomy were an appendage, comparison would soon have led to the rejection of this spurious addition to the book as Moses left it. The natural meaning is that the written law had been lost, its substance meanwhile only existing in memory, or as a tradition; but that now the very Word of God was found.
2Ki . When the king had heard the words—Shaphan did not read the entire book, but read therein, בּוֹ (2Ch 34:18); and if Deuteronomy were read (see chaps. 27, 28) there would be found sufficient there to account for Josiah's alarm (comp. 2Ki 5:18).
2Ki . Huldah the prophetess (now she dwelt in Jerusalem)—This fact of her being accessible accounts sufficiently for their seeking her. Jeremiah, the conspicuous prophet of Josiah's reign, who for five years had been witnessing for Jehovah against His godless nation (for he began his work in the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign, see Jer 1:2, while this finding the law occurred in the eighteenth year) lived at that time in Anathoth in Benjamin. Of Huldah we know nothing beyond what this incident reveals. Her husband was "keeper of the wardrobe," more probably of the priests' garments than of the royal wardrobe, and she "dwelt in the college," rather, "in the other part," or the lower city. 2Ki 22:15-20. God's denunciations should have absolute fulfilment, albeit Josiah should be spared seeing them, because his "heart was tender," and he had humbled himself before the Lord.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2Ki
THE AWAKENING POWER OF THE DIVINE WORD
I. That it is a great national calamity when the Divine Word is neglected and forgotten. For more than half a century the influence of idolatry, in its grossest aspects, reigned supreme in Judah. The apostate people ignored the Divine law, which accused them too faithfully of their sins. By many it was forgotten, and treated as if it did not exist. Only a few of the faithful—the prophets and some of the better classes—would possess a copy. The guiding star of the nation was quenched; and the people grovelled in ever deepening darkness. The state, like a rudderless vessel, drifted into anarchy and crime. The Bible—read, studied, loved—is a nation's blessing, and its absence a national calamity. Napoleon, with true insight, placed the Bible in the political division of his library; and he who faithfully teaches the contents of that book, gives to the world its fairest, happiest shape.
II. That the most striking discoveries of the Divine Word are often made in connection with the Temple. No repairs of any moment had been done to the Temple since the days of Joash—more than two hundred years before. One of the first acts of Josiah was to restore the mutilated building and purge it of its idolatrous abuses. In the progress of this laudable work, the Divine Law was formed, probably in the hand-writing of Moses; and this discovery had an important influence upon the succeeding efforts of religious reform. And is it not in connection with the work of the Temple that we have first sighted our freshest, most awe-inspiring, and most abiding views of Divine truth? The Bible has become another book to us, in its flashes of celestial light and openings of profound depths, as we have "enquired in the Temple."
III. That the declarations of the Divine Word awaken the deepest interest and concern in the mind of the sincere seeker after truth. The Bible has an interest all its own to the antiquarian, the historian, and the philosophic critic; but it comes with a piercing significance and manifold suggestiveness to the man who is in quest of the highest truth. Josiah was singularly prepared for the revelation vouchsafed to him. His mind was keenly alert in its receptiveness; hence the profound, alarming impression created by the Divine record. The Bible will be a closed or open book to us according to the spirit we bring to its study. To the cold, scoffing sceptic it is a dumb Sphinx, refusing to utter its secrets; to the humble, earnest student, it sparkles with the radiance of a palace of gems. Its threatenings may well terrify, for they are true; and its promises soothe the distress its denunciations cause.
IV. That a mind awakened by the Divine Word is emboldened to undertake the most difficult work of reform. Whatever dim visions of reform Josiah may have cherished before, it is noticeable that from the moment he became acquainted with the mind of God as contained in the discovered book, his efforts after reformation amounted to a passion. He saw it to be the one work of his life, and he entered into it with a zeal, a determination, a thoroughness that might be accused of violence. It was a desperate attempt to reverse, if possible, the threatened doom of Judah. It is in the light and teaching of God's word that our life-work becomes most clearly defined to us. Here we learn what sacrifices must be made, what points must be guarded, what work is worthy of our powers and possible for us to do, and where to find the source of inspiration and strength in every struggle.
1. The light of the Divine Word cannot be permanently obscured.
2. The Divine word is the surest guide amid national defection and error.
3. The Divine word supplies the most potent motives in all aggressive reforms.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2Ki . Josiah, the kingly reformer: an example of youthful piety. For many reasons, Josiah is one of the most interesting characters in Old Testament history. The son and successor of a weak and worthless king, he was a mere child when called by the unanimous voice of the nation to the throne. He is remarkable as having been the most faultless of all the kings of Judah or Israel; and his reign is remarkable for the thorough and wide-spread national reformation, of which he was the moving cause. His premature death, at the age of thirty-nine, may be said to have brought to a close the prosperity of the kingdom of Judah. "The reign of this prince is like a gleam cast from a lowering sky before it bursts with the tempest. Under his government Judah rose only to fall with greater violence afterwards" (Evans). None of her kings had been more deservedly beloved; none was more tenderly lamented. The prophet Jeremiah, who flourished during the greater part of his reign, composed his funeral elegy, and for ages afterwards his memory was cherished with the fondest regret. The author of the apocryphal book of "Ecclesiasticus" indulges in this glowing panegyric (chap. Sir 49:1-4):—"The remembrance of Josias is like the composition of the perfume that is made by the art of the apothecary; it is sweet as honey in all mouths, and as music at the banquet of wine. He behaved himself uprightly in the conversion of the people, and took away the abomination of iniquity. He directed his heart unto the Lord, and in the time of the ungodly he established the worship of God. All, except David, and Hezekiah, and Josias, were defective." To have perpetuated such tender regards in the hearts of the Jewish nation for so long a period, and to be spoken of to this day as the Timothy of the Old Testament, the pattern of youthful piety, and of reverence for God's word—the last good king of Judah must have been no ordinary man. The records of the first half of his comparatively brief life are very scanty, yet they contain some points worthy of note. We have here—
1. A child king;
2. A boy-king seeking God;
3. A youthful royal reformer.
1. He was the good son of a wicked father. We see Hezekiah, a most pious king, succeeded by Manasseh, by far the most abandoned prince who ever sat on the throne of David. But in Josiah we have a "root out of a dry ground." Young persons who are seeking to live a godly life under unfavourable circumstances, in an irreligious or careless family, among ungodly companions, should take comfort and courage from the case of Josiah, whose father's influence and example, in so far as they could be impressed on one so young, were wholly evil.
2. It is probable that the bias of his mind towards religion was due to maternal training. The only notice of his mother is a very brief one, and nothing definite is recorded as to her influence upon his earliest years; but considering that even though a king, he was too young to dispense with a mother's care and training, and that twenty years of his life were passed in comparative privacy, may we not reasonably infer that the seeds of religious instruction dropped from a mother's hand into his young mind, bore fruit many days after in personal decision for God, and national reformation? A mother's influence, in a religious point of view, cannot be over-estimated.
3. We see this early training bearing fruit in due season in what would have been spoken of as his conversion: "While he was yet young" (viz., at 16 years of age), "He began to seek after the God of David, his father." Religion became to him what it must become to all—a matter of personal concern. His father's wickedness would not condemn, nor his mother's piety avail to save, him. Amos saw his father Manasseh penitent and forgiven when he was old, but did not copy his example. Josiah was the son of ungodly Amon, and yet he became a godly child. Grace is not hereditary like houses, and lands, and titles. Piety does not run in the blood. Religion is a personal matter. "Every one shall give account of himself unto God." "The salvation of a father does not bear his son into heaven; the loss of a parent in his own sin does not tear away his converted child from the love of God.—Arnot.
(4) The piety of Josiah was developed in spite of unfavourable surroundings.—"The people were surely deteriorating; sinking lower and lower in the social and moral degradations inseparable from the cruel and licentious forms of worship to which they were so fatally addicted. Idolatry had eaten into the heart and life of the nation (Venables). Yet this awful condition of national life did not lead Josiah to swim with the current. Single handed he resolved to stem the tide of national ungodliness. Instead of becoming the creature of circumstances, he rose to the occasion, and became their master. Personal piety was followed up by religious zeal. It needed courage to declare himself on the Lord's side, when the whole current of the nation's life was sweeping on in an entirely opposite direction. This is the true order. Personal piety first; zeal for the religious welfare of others next. Like charity, piety must "begin at home," if it is to be of any value in a wider sphere.
5. He begins the work of a religious reformer. "Acting as only Eastern monarchs can, he set about ridding the country of every trace of idolatry" (Geikie). He had now the authority fairly in his own hands, and displayed independence of action. His great design was to extirpate idolatry, and restore the religion of Jehovah. The desperate case of the nation demanded stringent measures. "The pagan worship was uprooted with the same punctilious care as that which, during the Paschal season, the houses of Israelites were to be cleansed from every morsel of leaven. Every instrument or image, if of wood, was burnt; if of metal or stone, was shattered to pieces and ground to powder" (Stanley.) Notice, as to this reformation—(a) It was personally superintended. He made a tour throughout his kingdom, and even beyond it (2Ch ). At least six years were occupied in this work. It could not be done in a moment; it would not have been done thoroughly had he not been present, lending th weight of his example and authority. Work for God is best done, as a rule, when done in person. (b) It was perseveringly carried on. Though carried out with zeal, and even severity, the work could not be accomplished all at once. "The very act of destroying every idol, and exterminating the idolatrous priests, which would require a minute search into every remote dwelling, would necessarily occupy much time. But probably, in addition to this, Josiah had to encounter much obstinacy. All who know anything of human nature must be aware how very difficult it is to cleanse the fountain of men's minds, and force the stream from a defiled to a purer channel" (The History of Josiah—Anon—Lond., 1842.) In spite of the unfriendly spirit of the bulk of the nation, cheered only perhaps by a single prophet, Josiah persevered in his arduous, but necessary, work of destruction. There is need not only of courage, but of perseverance in the Lord's work still, (c) It was brought to a successful issue. The six years' labour were not in vain. The country was, for the time being, effectually cleansed, leaving Josiah free to turn his attention to the condition of the temple at Jerusalem. Though his work can scarcely find its exact parallel in modern times, and under the more benignant dispensation of Christ, Josiah's spirit of persevering zeal against all evil may well be copied by Christian workers.
(1) The possibility and the beauty of early piety. Josiah, Joseph, Samuel, Obadiah, Timothy.
(2) Seeking and finding God early saves from many evils, and ensures many blessings.
3. The most useful Christians are generally those who have sought the Lord in their early days. Did not Josiah's early piety help him to the formation of a strong, earnest, godly, useful manhood? Oh! let no young life be tempted to say:—
"I am too young—the stirring voice of morning,
Calls me to wander gaily while I may;
My heart leaps up, restraint and task-work scorning:
Not now the hard won steep—the narrow way.
When time shall bring my treasure's desolation,
And no more sweetness in life's cup shall be,
The bitter dregs will do for a libation
To Him who died for me."
—We ought not to despair of the children of the godless, and to give them up; they may become, as in this case Josiah did, the most pious, through whom God accomplishes wonders. Good instruction and discipline may, by the blessing of God, correct much evil which such children have inherited or learned from their parents.—Lange.
2Ki . Josiah an example for young men.
I. The piety of Josiah as illustrative of the power of a good example. "He walked in all the ways of David his father." Few influences are more powerful than that of example. The child imitates his parent; the school-boy his class-mate; the youth his play-fellows; and soon, through every stage of life. Note in what recorded actions of Josiah there were marks of an imitation of David's example.
1. The first of these in order of time was his attachment to God's house and his devotion to God's service. When he had purged the land of idols, he gave directions for the repair of the Temple. For this object the people contributed liberally; incited thereto by the example of their princes, and especially of their young king. Josiah's acts remind us of David's preparation for the building of the Temple.
2. His love to the word of God. Turn to the narrative in 2Ch . David said of the man who is blessed, that "his delight is in the law of God." There is no book more valuable to the young. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by giving heed thereto according to thy word." What boy is not delighted with stories of enterprise and adventure? Where can more entrancing ones be found than which tell of Israel's war, the prophets' dangers, and Paul's travels? What youth does not love poetry? And what are Milton and all his compeers—what their writings—to the poetry of the Hebrew bards?
3. His reverence for Godly men. See Chap. 2Ki . We know enough of David's life to recognize in this respect for a man of God an imitation of his example. The servants are to be revered; to be "esteemed very highly for their work's sake." Goodness is always worthy of regard, and he who does not respect it tells us that he has no goodness in himself to be respected.
II. The piety of Josiah as illustrative of the strict intregrity of godliness. "He turned not aside to the right hand, nor to the left." The man of the world may turn his creed, and shape his course "according to the fashion of the varying hour;" but not the Christian. He must bear in mind the words of wisdom: "Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee."
1. Josiah was not influenced by the force of ancient custom, when that custom ran counter to the course pointed out by conscience. Amidst all the idolatry already referred to, the Temple service was still performed—but slovenly, disgracefully, repulsively. Josiah said this should be so no longer. His reforms, depend upon it, were cried out against as innovations. The service had been good enough for his seniors: why were they not good enough for him? Because they were not good enough for his God; and, heedless of fault-finding, and complaining, and backbiting, and all the usual resources of the followers of "ancient custom," he had the Temple repaired, and the sacrifices slain, and the singers and skilled musicians employed, and the porters waiting at the Temple gate; and all was done "according to that which was written in the law of the Lord."
2. He was not influenced by any feeling of false shame. When the book of the law was found and read before him, he rent his clothes, feeling that he was a sinner. Calling his servants, he said: "Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for them that are left," &c. Many are turned away from the way of God for fear of others. This is especially the danger of young people, who shrink from ridicule. Remember that those who honour God, He will honour.
III. The piety of Josiah illustrates the course of life that ensures Divine approval. "He did that which was right in the sight of God." It is comparatively easy to pursue a course that seems right to ourselves, or that may secure the applause of the world. It is a widely-different matter so to live as to ensure the approval and commendation of God.
1. By far the greater part of men seem to live for self. They have no care or consideration for others. Selfishness is the vilest principle that ever spread in this world.
2. Others care most about the approval of the world. These are selfish, too. It is because that applause is gratifying to their selfish vanity. The man who would lick the dust to secure the favour of a fellow mortal would sacrifice his dearest friend for gain.
3. They only are God like who do and love that which is holy and true; who live not for themselves, but for others and for God.
Have an object in life! Live! Do not be content with mere existence. Remember, there is but one unfailing condition of true greatness, and that is—goodness.
"Life's more than breath and the quick round of blood:
It is a great spirit, and a busy heart.
… He most lives
Who thinks most—feels the noblest—acts the best."
The Study and Pulpit.
2Ki . The restoration of God's House.—
1. Is prompted by a devout and generous love for the sanctuary.
2. Is carried on with enthusiasm and fidelity by those whose hearts are in the work.
3. May be the occasion of making important discoveries of truth.
—How well doth it beseem the care of a religious prince to set the priests and scribes in hand with re-edifying the Temple! The command is the king's, the charge is the high priest's, the execution is the workmen's. When the labourers are faithful in doing the work, and the high priest in directing it, and the king in enjoining it, God's house cannot fail of a happy perfection; but when any of these slackens, the business must needs languish.—Bp. Hall.
2Ki . Honesty.—
1. A strong recommendation for work requiring trust and responsibility.
2. Can afford to dispense with count and reckoning.
3. Should not be less honest by keeping strictest count and reckoning.
4. Ought not to be unnecessarily tempted.
2Ki . The preservation of the Holy Scriptures.—
1. One of the most marvellous features of their history.
2. Accomplished, notwithstanding unfaithfulness of custodians, jealousy of sects, and fierce attacks of numerous enemies.
3. A strong collateral proof of their Divine character.
—The whole history of Israel bears witness to the guiding and controlling hand of God; but if there is any one event in which, more than in any other, the providence of God is visible, then it is this important discovery. It was a physical proof that God watches over this document, which is the testimonial to Israel of its election, and the highest Divine revelation, that He preserves from the rage of idolaters, and that, even if it lies long unnoticed and unknown in the night of apostasy, he will bring it again to light and make it to show its force once more. The discovery of the book was a pledge to the king and people of the indestructibility of the Divine written word.—Lange.
—It is hard for us to realize the full force of this discovery. We can scarcely conceive of a state of things in which, during centuries of the nominal establishment of Christianity, the people should still observe solemn festivals at the old sites of Druidical worship, the altars of Thor and Woden and Freya should smoke with sacrifices in every city, town, and village; their statues be set up in our cathedrals, and the heights round London should be crowned with the temples of Sivah and Juggernaut, all this lasting for centuries, with an occasional and partial return to the purer form of worship, while the Bible, never multiplied by printing, and only known in older and purer times through infrequent readings by the clergy, should have been utterly lost and forgotten. Add to this the supposition that the lost volume contained, not the dark symbols of the apocalypse, but the clear warning of national destruction and captivity to befal us because of these idolatries, and then let us imagine our feelings on its sudden discovery. No wonder that Josiah rent his clothes, and could not rest till he found a prophet too xpound these terrible denunciations!—Dr. Smith's Student Scripture History.
—What a shame is it that Bibles, now so common, are so little set by amongst us, when our devout forefathers would have purchased some few chapters at a great rate! It is a sad complaint that Moulin makes of the French Protestants; whilst they burnt us, says he, for reading the scriptures, we burnt with zeal to be reading them. Now with our liberty is bred also negligence and disesteem of God's word.—Trapp.
2Ki . O gracious tenderness of Josiah! He does but once hear the law read, and is thus humbled; humbled for his father's sins, for the sins of his people. How many of us, after a thousand hammerings of the menaces of God's law upon our guilty souls, continue yet insensible of our danger! The very reading of this law thus affects him, the preaching of it stirs not us; the sins of others struck thus deep with him, our own are slighted by us. A soft heart is the best tempered for God. So physicians are wont to like those bodies best which are easiest to work upon O God! make our clay wax, and our wax pliable to thine hand, so shall we be sure to be free either from sin, or from the hurt of sin.—Bp. Hall.
HOMILETICS OF 2Ki
THE REVELATION OF THE DIVINE PURPOSE
I. Is clearly interpreted by a duly authorised messenger (2Ki ). Though little is known of Huldah, the prophetess, there is sufficient to indicate that she must have been a remarkably gifted woman. Her great influence in Jerusalem is shown by the fact that the high priest and the king's most trusted ministers seek light from her. It is but rare that the prophetic function is bestowed on woman. There are only two other prophetesses mentioned in the Old Testament—Miriam (Exo 15:20), and Deborah (Jud 9:4); but neither of these seemed to touch the high spiritual elevation reached by Huldah. In the spirit of ecstacy, they sang sacred songs and excited the enthusiasm of the people after signal victories; but they did not prophesy, like Huldah, in that higher sphere of Divine authority which warranted the use of the phrase—"Thus saith the Lord." The Divine Spirit is no respecter of person or sex in the distribution of His precious gifts. The Divine word can be interpreted only by those who are taught by the Divine spirit. As the scientist should be most competent to interpret science, so the spiritual man should be the best authority in explaining spiritual things.
II. Furnishes reasons for the exercise of Divine vengeance (2Ki ). God never strikes without sufficient warning and remonstrance. In this instance Huldah announces that punishment will be imposed because Judah had abandoned Jehovah, and rendered homage to other gods. This treachery was so bold, so persistent, so inveterate, that vengeance was inevitable. Still Jehovah pauses to reason, to explain, to make it clear He does not act from vindictiveness and passion; the offender provokes his own ruin. Napoleon once said, "Vengeance has no foresight;" and this is true regarding human vengeance. Not so with God; the reasons for the Divine procedure are so far revealed as to justify God, and leave man without excuse or cause of complaint.
III. Indicates the Divine willingness to show mercy to the sincerely penitent (2Ki .) The tears and pleadings of Josiah touched the heart of God, and he was spared the pain of witnessing the calamities of his country. How eager is our God to show mercy; how slow to punish.
Heaven has but
Our sorrow for our sins, and then delights
To pardon erring man. Sweet mercy seems
Its darling attribute, which limits justice,
As if there were degrees in infinite:
An infinite would rather want perfection,
Than punish to extent.
1. The Divine purpose may be deciphered in great national changes.
2. The Divine purpose is plainly revealed in rewards and punishments.
3. The Divine wrath may be averted by timely repentance and reform.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2Ki . The dignity of woman.
1. In being exalted to an office of great responsibility and power.
2. In being highly gifted with intellectual and spiritual insight.
3. In commanding the respect and homage of the great.
4. In being honoured and inspired to authoritatively interpret the will of God.
—The grave priest, the learned scribe, the honourable courtiers do not disdain to knock at the door of a prophetess; neither do any of them say, it were hard if we should not have as much acquaintance with God as a woman. But, in humble acknowledgment of her graces, they come to learn the will of God from her mouth. True piety is modest, and stands not upon terms of reputation in the businesses of God, but willingly honours his gifts in any subject, least of all in itself.—Bp. Hall.
2Ki . The Divine wrath.
1. Is explicitly declared against all workers of iniquity (2Ki ).
2. Is unalterable in its attitude towards obstinate apostasy (2Ki ).
3. Is postponed by sincere repentance and self-humiliation (2Ki ).
4. Will inevitably overtake the impenitent wicked.
2Ki . A tender heart.
1. Is keenly susceptible to good influences.
2. Is powerfully affected with the malignant nature of sin.
3. Compassionates the terrible condition of the victims of sin.
4. Finds a profound and immediate response in the tender mercy of God.
—How happy a thing it is to be a reed unto God's judgments, rather than an oak! The meek and gentle reed stoops, and therefore stands; the oak stands stiffly out against the strongest gust, and therefore is turned up by the roots. At least, let us lament those sins we have-not avoided; and mourn for the sins of others while we hate our own.—Bp. Hall
2Ki . Josiah, a pattern for the ignorant. Both the character and the fortunes of Josiah are described in these words: his character, his heart was tender and he feared God: his fortunes, an untimely death, designed as a reward for his obedience. Josiah was brought up among very wicked men, in a corrupt court, after an apostasy of more than half a century, far from God's prophets and in the midst of idols. He had every temptation to go wrong; and had he done so, we might have made allowances, and said that he was not so bad as the other kings, for he knew no better; he had not sinned against light. Yes, he would have sinned against light—the event shows it; for if he had light enough to go right (which he had. for he did go right), it follows, that if he had gone wrong, it would have been against light. This is very important. Everyone, even the poorest and most ignorant, has knowledge enough to be religious. Education does not make a man religious; nor is it an excuse for a man's disobedience that he has not been educated in his duty. Josiah had that which all men have, heathen as well as Christian, till they pervert or blunt it—a natural sense of right or wrong; and he did not blunt it. His heart was tender; he acknowledged a constraining force in the Divine voice within him; he heard and obeyed. Though all the world had told him otherwise, he could not believe and would not, that he might sin without offence, with impunity; that he might be sensual, or cruel, after the manner of idolaters, and nothing would come of it. And further, amid all the various worships offered to his acceptance, this same inward sense of his, strengthened by practice, unhesitatingly chose out the true one, the worship of the god of Israel. Such was the beginning of Josiah's life. At sixteen he began to seek after the god of his fathers; at twenty he commenced his reformation with a resolute faith and true-hearted generous devotion. From the language of Scripture, it would seem, he began of himself; thus he is left a pattern to all ages of prompt obedience for conscience' sake. At first not having the book of the law to guide him, he took such measures as natural conscience suggested; he put away idolatry generally. Thus he set out not knowing whither he went. But it is the rule of God's providence that those who act up to their light shall be rewarded with clearer light. Accordingly, while he was thus engaged, after a few years, he found the book of the law in the course of his reformations. Josiah's conduct on this discovery marks his character. Many men, certainly many young men, who had been so zealous as he had already shown himself for six years, would have prided themselves on what they had done, and though they began humbly, by this time would have become self-willed, self-confident, and hard-hearted. Far from it; his peculiar praise is singleness of mind, a pure conscience. His was not that stern enthusiasm which has displayed itself in some so-called reformations, fancying itself God's peculiar choice, and despising others. Here we have the pattern of reformers, singleness of heart, gentleness of temper, in the midst of zeal, resoluteness and decision in action. All God's saints have this union of opposite graces: Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, Nehemiah, St. Paul; but in which of them all is the wonder-working power of grace shown more attractively than in Josiah? Observe his conduct when the law was read to him—"he rent his clothes." He thought far more of what he had not done, than of what he had done. He felt how incomplete his reformation had been; and he felt how far more guilty his whole people were than he had supposed, receiving, as they had, such precise guidance in Scripture what to do, and such solemn command to do it; and he learned, moreover, the fearful punishment which was hanging over them, for in that Book of the Law were contained the threats of vengeance to be fulfilled in case of transgression. Observe in what Josiah's chief excellence lay—"he turned not aside to the right hand or to the left" (2Ki 22:2). He kept the narrow middle way. Now what is this strict virtue called? It is called faith. It is no matter whether we call it faith or conscientiousness, they are in substance one and the same. Where there is faith there is conscientiousness, where there is conscientiousness there is faith. They may be distinguished from each other in words, but they are not divided in fact. They belong to one, and but one, habit of mind—dutifulness; they show themselves in obedience, in the careful, anxious observance of God's will, however we learn it. And this is called faith, because it implies a reliance on the mere word of the unseen God overpowering the temptations of sin. May God grant that we, like Josiah, may improve our gifts, and trade and make merchandise with them, so that when he cometh to reckon with us, we may be accepted!—Condensed from J. H. Newman.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 22". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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