Josiah conveneth all Judah to the hearing of the book of the law of God, which Hilkiah had found in the temple. This chapter relates the circumstances of this solemnity. The King reneweth the covenant of the Lord, and prosecuteth the destruction of idolatry.
There is a wonderful degree of beauty in this chapter, as well as a great degree of humble reverence manifested by Josiah upon the occasion, in thus convening all Judah to hear God's sacred word. Josiah had been told that God's decree for the punishment of Israel was gone forth, and could not be altered. Yet Josiah still prosecutes the service of learning himself, and causing Israel to hear and observe the law of God. Not content with causing the blessed book to be read, it should seem he read it to the people himself. Perhaps, in obedience to that precept, Deuteronomy 17:18-19.
The covenant here spoken of means the renewal of that gracious one the Lord had vouchsafed in times past, when he formed Israel into a church; in which God graciously said, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Implying the people's hearty and joyful consent to have God for their God in a covenant way, as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Exodus 19:5-6.
When the king had finished reading the words of God's holy law, he proceeded with an holy zeal to bear testimony to God's truth, in the destruction of all that God's holy law had forbidden. And what a blessed work was here wrought. Reader! are you not astonished to behold, and read the account! How was it possible for the great enemy of souls to have kept up his cursed empire in the heart, and even in the midst of God's own people, from generation to generation, in this manner! Reader! do you wonder at it? Look within! See what a body of sin and death, even in the midst of grace, (if in mercy the Lord the Spirit hath regenerated you) you carry about with you! if we recollect, moreover, that Josiah had sat upon the throne, at the time that this great work was done, about eighteen years ; during which time he had set his people a good example, it is not a little wonderful that, under the blessings of such a reign, idolatry should have held out to such an extent. Reader! what will example do? nay, what will even reading the sacred word of God do, unless that reading of God's own word be accompanied with his own power? It is hardly possible to read this account of what Josiah destroyed, but with fear and trembling. There were vessels of Baal even in the temple of the Lord: there were idolatrous priests who, at the command of the former kings, had dared to burn incense in the high places: there were even houses for the transaction of such abominable filthiness and unnatural uncleanness, as are not to be once named among us, as becometh saints. And all these not merely in the suburbs of Judea; not near the cloisters of God's church; but in the very church itself. There were horses given to the sun, that were, as it should seem, kept for the worshipping of the sun by them. Perhaps, as some have thought, at sun-rising the idolaters went forth on them, to make exercises in honor of this creature of God, the sun. And strange to think, the stables of these beasts were in the very temple itself. And the image of Moloch, in the valley of Tophet, was among the horrible services of the people, where they committed these unnatural and unfeeling crimes, to make their own children, in honor of this dunghill-god, pass through fire. Reader! pause as you read, and let our souls he humbled to the dust in the view of such a state of degradation to which, by sin, the human mind is capable of being brought. Let us never lose sight of one unquestionable truth, as we read the awful account, namely, that by the fall of man, all men are by nature the same. What one man, or one nation is capable of doing, all are equally prone to. It is grace, free, sovereign, distinguishing grace which maketh all the difference. And therefore think, Reader, (and oh! my soul, do thou never, never for a moment lose sight of it) what unspeakable, what endless mercies do we owe to Jesus, who, in the fulness of grace and truth, came to repair the desolations of many generations, and to raise up the ruins of David which were fallen down. Oh! thou precious, blessed, adorable Redeemer! Hail! thou glorious, gracious Benefactor of mankind! Amos 9:11.
There is somewhat particularly interesting in the history to which these verses refer, and I would beg the Reader to mark it with me. If he will turn to the thirteenth chapter of the first book of the kings, he will read the history of those events, which the Lord, by the prophet there spoken of, predicted that Josiah himself should fulfil. And although it was at a distance of no less than 350 years from the time of the prediction to the accomplishment, yet so exact, and so particular was the correspondence of one to the other, as if it had been recorded in one and the same day. Reader! doth it not warm your heart, the very thought of it? Oh! how delightful is this doctrine, considered as to the great object of all doctrine, the salvation by our Lord Jesus. He was set up from everlasting. And Paul tells us that the church also was chosen in him before the foundation of the world. See those precious scriptures to this effect: Proverbs 8:22-31; Micah 5:2; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9. In addition to the observations made in the Commentary, on this history of the prophet, 1Ki 13, I would only here add, that though the Lord was pleased, by way of example to the church, to punish that prophet's disobedience with temporary death; yet you observe here the Lord watched over his dust; and amidst the burning of the bones of others, his lay secure. It is a part of the covenant to inflict the rod, by way of chastisement, for sin, but the everlasting salvation of the Lord's heritage is secured, from the Lord's righteousness. Psalms 89:30. What the old lying prophet proposed to himself, in being laid in the same sepulchre, I know not, but like another lying prophet, he thought, perhaps, the very dust of God's Israel a gracious preservative. Numbers 23:10. Reader! think of this! And be assured no goldsmith ever prized the precious dust of the golden ore, equal to what Jesus doth the very ashes of his people. However, to your view, or my view, this may seem lost, and scattered, and mingled amidst the rubbish of the earth, or the bodies of the carnal, Jesus beholds every particle of his whole mystical body; and when he cometh to make up his jewels, will as easily gather them altogether, and reanimate, and cause them to rise up a glorified body, as he first called them out of the dust of the earth, when he breathed in their nostrils the breath of life. Sweet thought. Oh! my soul, cherish it. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalms 116:15.
What a delightful view of Josiah is here given? He first sets his heart to cleanse the temple; and next offers himself and his people to the Lord. And as this passover was typical of Christ, no doubt Josiah and his people had an eye to Jesus in it. And what a delightful testimony the Holy Ghost hath given of it. Surely there never was holden such a passover through all the periods of the history of Canaan. How is Josiah's memory blessed in this view!
When we consider the youth of this good king, it serves to teach young persons of all ranks, how grateful in the Lord's sight is early piety.
Reader! we learn from hence these most solemn truths. The word of the Lord is unalterable. He hath proclaimed the sure wages of sin to be death. And rather than this law shall be altered, his only begotten Son shall die. Oh! how solemn a consideration in the very moment while we bless God for the mercy. We rejoice indeed; but we rejoice with trembling.
No character among the sons of men is free from imperfection. The best pictures have their shade. Of none but he who is the brightness of his Father's glory, and fairer than the children of men, could it ever be said that in his mouth was found no guile. None but thee, thou blessed Jesus, was altogether holy, harmless, undefiled; separate from sinners, and higher than the heavens! Josiah, we see in this instance, lost his confidence in the Lord. What though Pharaoh went up against the king of Assyria, what was that to Josiah? Was he afraid that in so doing, he might come too nigh to Judah? And if so, why did he not consult the Lord? Beside, as we read in the parallel history, (2 Chronicles 35:20-21) the king of Egypt told him that he was acting under the authority of God, Yet Josiah slighted all these things, and the consequence was fatal. Alas! what is man in his highest attainments! Oh! dearest Lord Jesus, how glorious to the view is it, in my soul's esteem, that thy righteousness is complete, by which the poor sinner is justified.
We are hastening now to the period of Judah's history, as a kingdom. Three short months Jehoahaz reigned; and then was made a prisoner. The prophet Ezekiel laments him under the similitude of a young lion. Ezekiel 19:1-3. And Jeremiah, who taught the people to mourn over Josiah, (2 Chronicles 35:25) lamented the obstinacy and disobedience of his son. Jeremiah 22:10-12. Another of Josiah's children was made king, when Jehoahaz was carried away captive. But neither the captivity of his brother, nor the poverty of himself, under the tyranny of the king of Egypt, induced any reform. We read of nothing but evil; and Judah ripening for God's Judgments. Alas! when God's milder chastisements will not reclaim; is it wonderful, nay, is it not gracious, that severer ones are adopted!
How interesting to good Josiah appeared the law of God! With what peculiar delight did he convene all the people to attend the reading of it! And with what holy joy did he celebrate the passover, and renew the covenant God had made with their fathers. Think, Reader! I charge you what should be your joy and mine in receiving the gospel, the precious, blessed gospel of the ever blessed God! How should we delight to attend the public assemblies, and gather others to attend also! And if the mere celebration of the paschal feast in commemoration was so interesting, which after all was but a type of better things, founded upon better promises, how should our joy burst forth at the feast of Christ our Passover, and with what holy rapture should we attend Jesus at his supper! Oh! thou Lamb of God! oh! thou who art both the Passover, the sacrifice, the High Priest, and the golden Altar on which the sacrifice was offered! Be thou my joy, my sacrifice, my righteousness, the whole of the covenant, and my all in all. Let it be said indeed, that surely there never was holden such a passover, as when Christ was sacrificed for his people. And never was my soul really, and truly feasted, until by happy faith, I ate of his flesh, and drank of his blood, by which I have eternal life abiding in me.
Let us not take our farewell of Josiah without gathering one improvement more from the view the Holy Ghost is pleased to give of him. Though it be not always becoming to cull out the shades of good men, yet if the soul be led to improve such views as show the universal imperfection of nature, in order to lead to Jesus, then we may not only with safety do it, but also derive much advantage from it. Yes, blessed Lord Jesus! wherever I look, to whomsoever I direct my attention, I find frailty and imperfection mark them all. But in thee I behold all perfection, all glory. Oh, then! on thee let my soul unceasingly look. Let me behold thee as God my Father beholds thee; and as far as a poor finite creature can imitate infinite delight, let my ravished soul say in humble breathings, this is my beloved Jesus in whom I am well pleased for salvation. I count all things else but dung and dross that I may know thee. Be thou my joy and my portion forever.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany