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2 Kings 23:1-28
And the King sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem.
Good aims and bad methods
The verses I have selected record and illustrate good alms and bad methods.
I. Good aims. Josiah’s aims, as here presented, Were confessedly high, noble, and good.
1. To reduce his people to a loyal obedience to heaven.
2. Generated within him by the discovery of the Divine will.
II. Bad methods. How did Josiah now seek to realise his purpose, to sweep idolatry from the face of his country? Not by argument, suasion, and moral influence, but by brute force and violence (2 Kings 23:4-28). I offer two remarks concerning his method.
1. It was unphilosophic. Morals evil cannot be put down by force; coercion cannot travel to a man’s soul.
2. It was mischievous. The evil was not extinguished; it burnt with fiercer flame. Persecution has always propagated the errors it has sought to crush. “He that taketh the Sword shall perish by the sword.” (David Thomas, D. D.)
A revival of religion
A young and active king now sits on Judah’s throne. Our text finds him at the age of six-and-twenty, in the midst of reforms which might have appalled many a man of twice his age. The earlier years of his reign he has occupied in many and various reforms, Now we find him in the midst of a revival of religion, the like of which the world has but seldom seen. The king, the court, the elders, the rulers, and the people all felt its power. Beginning at the house of God, it thrilled through all classes, and changed the whole religious life and thought of the land. And it is this revival of religion that I desire now to consider.
I. This revival began at the house of God. And surely that was the best place. In God’s house, in God’s presence, we are to assemble and look for Him. It is there we may expect the Shekinah fire, no longer visible over the ark between the cherubim, but felt in force and power in human hearts. It is there we must seek for renewed vigour and Divine influence. It is there we must look for the Lord Himself, and pray Him to strengthen and quicken us. It is there we must come for the deepening of our faith in the Eternal, enlarging of our courage and zeal, and the expansion of cur Christian hope. It is there all revival must begin. If, then, we are to have a revival, it must begin at God’s house. Votes of the House of Commons cannot do it, Acts of Parliament will never make men religious. Decrees of State will not fill empty churches with men and women full of the Holy Ghost and fire. All this has been tried. Some two or three hundred years ago soldiers were stationed at the doors of the parish churches, not so much to see who attended as to note who was absent. Fine, imprisonment, exile and worse, fell to the lot of those who did not fill their places. These things did not succeed. They never can. Fine, sword, fire, and persecution failed, and always will. They are the instruments of a past and barbarous age. But if we are to have a revival in which the people shall flock to God’s house, God’s house itself must be revived. There must be live men in the Church, if it is to save men alive. A cold Church but seldom warms cold hearts.
II. In this revival men came back to the word of God. The long-lost book was found. The Word of the Lord hid, slighted, neglected, lost, was discovered and brought to the young king. What a discovery Hilkiah made when he found the Bible! What a treasure he dug up! What a mine of precious ore! What a valuable find! The young king was quick to see its importance, value, and worth. It was read; its warnings heeded, its promises believed. And it was read to all the people. What an effect that book produced. Even so. I have no faith in any revival without the Word of God. Read the history of the great revivals in the Church, and you will find the Word of God in it all. Beginning with the Bereans right down to our day you will find it so. John Wycliffe was a great power in his day. He is rightly called the Morning Star of the Reformation. He Sent his Lollard preachers through the lend to tell the story of God’s love. As he translated the Bible into the language of the people, his preachers went and read it and preached it to common folk. Read the history of the Reformation, and what will you find there? Martin Luther is its hero. That marvellous man, like his Lord and Master, was a son of the people, and began life in a poor and comfortless home. Reared in the faith and practice of the Romish Church, he came to know it well, and early saw its weakness. What was it made him take his reforming action? Have we not read that he found a copy of the Scriptures--the neglected, deserted, forsaken Bible? He read it. It did its work. It was the Bible made him the great reformer. It was the Bible which the reformers accepted as a sufficient rule of faith and life. We, too, need to pay more attention to the living Word of God. We are apt to look for and depend upon the word of man. If that is not eloquent, if that is not such as to tickle our fancy, we often return from God’s house displeased, dissatisfied, and unblessed. What a mistake! Let us look for the God-sent message; let us hearken for the voice of the living God; let us hear what He has to say to us.
III. A revived Church will make itself felt in the world. This assembling at the house of God, and the solemn and reverent reading of the Bible, made a deep impression upon the people. The king dedicated himself to God. And surely that is the right thing for a king to do. The king should lead in all good things. All the people felt the influence, and there was a national movement. Public life was affected, the power of God was felt, men pat away their idols, and came back to the faith of their fathers. The Church, the Temple, religion became a greater force in the national life. (C. Leach, D. D.)
2 Kings 23:2
And the King went up into the house of the Lord.
Why should there be such a gathering as this? why should all the mighty, all the good, and all the wise, all the great with all the small, make such a point of going into the house of the Lord on this occasion? Why should they make such a public display about an ordinary duty, such as assembling in the house of the Lord? For two reasons.
1. Because that duty had become an extraordinary one, through the long neglect of it.
2. And the other reason was, because they were desirous to hear the Word of the Lord. These were indeed two good reasons for this solemn assembly of all the people in the Lord’s house. But what a terrible lesson does it read to us! We read of a wonderful deliverance of His people by Almighty God out of the hands of their enemies, when to the eye of man their situation was utterly hopeless. We should expect that this would have awakened them, especially as God had performed it on their turning back, under the pious Hezekiah, from their false gods to the true and living God; yet here, in the third generation from that time, we find the altars and temples of the false gods up again, and the Word of God lost, not only out of the hearts, but of the very sight and ears of the people. Once again, however, and, alas! for the last, time, both the temple and that Word were restored under the care of the pious Josiah; and the people of God once again, and for the last time, showed themselves as the people of God. Such is the example before us; the example of a people, too, in whose place we are standing, being grafted in as a wild olive, in place of the branches which had been broken off because of unbelief. And their example is our example, as we have been told by St. Paul. Let us review, then, some of the plainest applications of this example.
(1) St. Paul warns us, saying, “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them” (1 Corinthians 10:7). But it may he said that we are not in the least danger of being idolaters. We are thoroughly convinced of its besotted folly and desperate wickedness. But then, there are always two things to all our dealings with God,--there is the spirit, and there is the deed; and the deed depends upon the spirit for its quality, as the fruit depends upon the nature of the tree for its kind. Although, therefore, we bow not down before the work of our own hands, putting it in the place of God, we may bow down before the work of our own hearts, and put that in the place of God. And this idolatry may go on while the other is scorned and mocked at. For what is the worship of God? Is it not in lifting up the thoughts and affections of the heart unto God on His throne in heaven, and acknowledging Him as our maker and continual keeper? Thus God is the first and last object of the heart; but an idol is a thing of this world, put in the place of God. Oh how is the heart in its devotion to the things of this world full of images, which it worships, in the place of the Maker of this world and all therein, with the kiss of affection, with the bowing of the spirit, with the adoration of the soul! But of one image only will God allow in the heart for worship, and not reckon it idolatry; in one image will He allow Himself to be honoured, and in one only; and what is that? It is the image of Himself. But how shall we possibly have the image of God, whom no man hath seen, neither can see, in our hearts? He hath given us this image of Himself in our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom St. Paul says, “that He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15); “the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3); and who says concerning Himself, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9); if, therefore He shall be dwelling in our hearts by faith, then we have there the image of God, and we are worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. And this, therefore, is necessary to our worship, the keeping His image there, not letting the things of this world to take its place, but looking upon Him crucified by crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts; looking upon Him dead, by our death urge sin; looking upon Him as risen again, by our new life unto righteousness; looking upon Him ascended into heaven, by setting the affections on things above; looking on Him as coming again, through the denial of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and in the blessed hope of His glorious appearing. To this worship we have all been called, and to this all must turn from the vain idols of worldly desires.
(2) That the Word of God should be lost out of the hands and hearts of idolaters, who can wonder? It expressly forbids idolatry of every kind, both within and without the heart: it says, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve”; and it is full from beginning to end of severe rebuke and awful threats against all that are holding the truth in unrighteousness, knowing that the Lord God is a jealous God, that will not share His honour with another, and yet preferring to his worship and service the devotion to the world, and the service of the flesh. And the first token of sincere repentance is now, as it was in the days of Josiah: men go up to the house of the Lord to hear the Word of God; they go to His house in the place of the public assembly of His people; they go to His house in the inner chamber of their hearts; for then being bent on amendment, they desire reproof, they wish to forsake the wrong way for the right, they long to understand the will of God that they may do it; to hear His sentence upon sin, that they may justly dread and abhor it; to listen to His promise of pardon, that they may lay fast hold of it; to hear the call to repentance, that they may instantly and sincerely obey it; thus the Word which was before full only of rebuke, now abounds to them wire consolation; that which smote their consciences now soothes them. (R. W. Evans, B. D.)
2 Kings 23:11
And Josiah took away the horses that the Kings of Judah had given to the sun.
The imagination in sin
Josiah sought to purify Israel from the idolatry that had been established by his predecessors, and in the course of this reformation occurs the incident recorded in the text. He “took away the horses that the Kings of Judah had given to the sun . . . and burned the chariots of the sun with fire.” You ask, What has this to do with the modern world and with modern men? This I wish to show. For it seems to me that there is in the text a twofold lesson which all generations ought to lay to heart. We are taught here--
I. The pretentiousness of sin. “The horses of the sun . . . the chariots of the sun.” Very large and magnificent indeed! There is wonderful exaggeration about all idolatry. The idol without eyes was known as the God of light; without breath, it was worshipped as the God of life; it could not stand unless it were nailed down or shored up, but it was proclaimed the Thunderer, or distinguished by some other august title. “We know that an idol is nothing in the world,” but these nothings have received the highest names and titles, and through the superstition of their worshippers have been invested with the grandest attributes. And as it was with the gods of the Pantheon, so it is with the rabble of the vices; they are full of pretentiousness, they steal supreme names, they make impossible promises. The world of iniquity is a world of dazzling colours, false magnitudes, lurid lights.
1. How brilliant is the world of diseased imagination when compared with the world of sober reality in which God has placed us to work out our life! To-day we are all readers. What are we reading? History, science, philosophy, theology? Are we bent on finding out the great meanings of sober life and real life? You know better. The main part of our leisure hours is taken up with tales of mystery and imagination. It is not well to live long with unthinkable people and impossible situations in an ideal and fantastic universe; it puts our eye out for the actual world in which our serious business lies. Multitudes who would not for a moment in actual life touch the vices gilded by literary art will spend their leisure hours in contemplating these lawless things projected into visionary realms. And what is the secret of this ambiguous conduct? The fact is; actual life seems narrow and prosaic, dull and dreary, and so we steal away in me solar phaeton. How dim and insipid is the world of sober virtue off the side of lawlessness, excused by Sophistry and glorified by imagination! In fiction me grey world becomes kaleidoscopic, and the evil world is etherealised into coloured vapours whose fantastic movements stir our curiosity and wonder. So, despising the modest vehicles which God appoints for the pilgrimage of human life, we seat ourselves in the flaming car of imagination, and, drawn by fiery steeds of passion, with Zola for a charioteer, make the dizzy, intoxicating, yet terribly dangerous circuit of the sun.
2. Again, the same truth comes out as we compare the victories of war with the victories of peace. War is sometimes inevitable, things being as they are. The scientist holds that in nature a lesser evil is permitted to prevent a greater. Just war is a lesser evil to prevent a greater. There is something better than life, and that is right, equality, liberty; and war is the desperate resort of men crushed by tyranny. Still, war is an evil, a terrible evil. We must never fail to remember that; we must ever pray and work for the golden year when men shall learn war no more. And yet what a glamour there is about the red spectre! The poet may well write of “the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war.” But no crowd turns out in the morning to greet the colliers going to their work, or in the evening to cheer the factory hands returning from the mill. There is no glittering romance about industry, no poetry about the toil which creates the wealth of nations. Industry is yoked to a coster’s barrow, whilst the powder-cart is the dazzling chariot of the sun.
3. We find another illustration of our point if we compare the career of unlawful speculation with the life of honest gain. How large, glowing, bewitching, is the former compared with the level course of the latter! Look at the titanic speculator. In a few years he emerges out of obscurity into national notoriety. It is all outside the legitimate, but it is dramatic, full of sensation and surprise. Squalid huckstering is transfigured into romance. How different the course of the little shopkeeper, with his “small profits and quick returns!” No song or story this time; no scent of poetry about the ledger, unless it sometimes reminds the shopkeeper of “Paradise Lost.” The daring adventurer shoots towards the golden goal in an electric car, whilst the humble trader is a wayfaring man.
4. And, finally, the same truth is evident when we compare the course of sensual pleasure with the simple pleasantness of a blameless life. How violent are the delights of sensualism! How tame the entertainments of the fireside! They are ridiculous compared with the fiery delights of the dram-shop. So it is throughout. The illegitimate and destructive, the things seriously wanting in reason and godliness, appeal most to the imagination; they have a glory and garishness which bewitch and lure into false ways.
II. The preposterousness of sin. “And Josiah burned the chariots of the sun with fire.” Throughout the whole of the reformation that he effected Josiah manifested his deep contempt of the idolatry that had wrought such mischief in Israel. With cutting irony he abolished first one evil thing and then another. “He burned the chariots of the sun with fire.” To cremate the chariots of the sun was the grimmest humour. The sun is said to be fifteen times hotter than the hottest thing upon the earth, so that if an incombustible car is wanted anywhere it is required for the insufferable solar majesty; and to cremate the car set apart for the fiery god was to convict it of fraud and to doom it to infinite contempt. To make a bonfire of the chariots of the sun was as ridiculous as if Noah’s ark had suffered shipwreck in a fish-pond. All Israel smiled scornfully as the pretentious things blazed in the flame and darkened into the ashes. Here is the truth that I wish to enforce--namely, that, despite all paint and spangles, all its exaggerations and splendours, sin is a miserable sham utterly unworthy of rational men. Wickedness is a screaming farce, as it is also the supreme tragedy. Notwithstanding its theatrical rhetoric, it is a hollow lie doomed to detection and contempt. Have nothing to do with things that cannot bear the test of thought. Thought strips away the cunning disguises of sin; it is the searchlight that makes clear the fact. In the hour of reflection our reason gives the lie to passion; our instincts rebuke our fancies; our conscience scorns the sophistries of imagination. Have nothing to do with that which will not bear the test of experience. Recall the principles and teachings which have been tried and attested by many generations. The devil has an arithmetic of his own which shows how large and splendid are the wages of unrighteousness; but in actual life his specious arithmetic works into bankruptcy and beggary of every kind. Fancy figures out the couriers and chariots of the sun as the dazzling and delightful equipages of the wicked, but a ray of daylight reduces them to the monstrous forms of the policeman’s stretcher, the workhouse omnibus, the prison van, the scaffold, the hearse that bears to the grave ere men have lived out half their days. Have nothing to do with that which will not bear the test of time. Things that are seductive in certain hours and moods of temptation look mean and deadly enough if you wait awhile. Time tries all things and detects the plausibleness which might deceive the elect. There is an illuminating power in time, and it shows up sin as vain, absurd, and contemptible. We wonder that we could ever thus have prayed the fool. Christ alone can strengthen us to live such a life. He knows what “the chariots of the sun” mean--He was tempted by the vision of the kingdoms and the glory of them. He saw and felt the power of the realm of illusion. The arch-sorcerer worked all his spells on the Son of Man--He refused “the chariot of the sun,” and followed the call of duty, the path of the Passion. In the strength of the Master take up your cross and follow Him, and you shall find the realities of power, greatness, and everlasting joy. (W. L. Watkinson.)
2 Kings 23:22
Surely there was not holden such a Passover.
Sincerity of repentance
There is something very striking and melancholy in these words. The children of Israel celebrated their last Passover, all being together, and in such a manner as had not been known since the earlier and better days of their possession of the promised land. It was, in fact, the last repentance of God’s people, and a lively repentance it seems to have been, to judge from outward tokens. But, alas! it did not continue. Three times already before this, God’s people had publicly repented, under the direction of pious princes, which were Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Hezekiah. But now the appointed punisher of their sins was openly manifested to their sight in the terrible King of Babylon. And like the sick man with death before his eyes, they made earnest protestations of repentance and amendment if God would spare them, and sealed them with the celebration of the Sacrament of the Paschal Supper. Here, then, is before us the example of a fourth publicly professed repentance, and as ineffectual as the three that went before. Should it not lead us to take very close and scrutinising views of repentance, and to conclude that there must be something in it besides the present feeling of shame and sorrow, however sharp and lively that may be? There must be some abiding feeling in it, which shame and sorrow naturally are not. For the very sense of them drives us to rid ourselves of them by all means. What then can that be? What does God demand beyond the broken heart? Nothing, if it be indeed broken in His name. But here lies the question. Which does the man think most of, his own personal danger, or God’s damaged glory? Which does he lament most, his own loss, or God’s rejected love? Has he renounced the sinful selfishness of his nature? A man may keep this, and yet be overwhelmed with shame and sorrow; he may retain this, and yet manifest the most lively outward marks of repentance. So did Israel; and was led by it into his sins again, and they led him to the final judgment which came upon his head. Here is the cause of so many apparent repentances in the course of a man’s life. Selfish sorrow, selfish shame have wrung his heart, and terrified his conscience. But he has not gone beyond self. He has seen, indeed, the miserable disorder which his sins have wrought in himself in body and in mind. But has he looked out and up to see the miserable disorder which they have also wrought in God’s work of love; how they have obscured the brightness of His glory, how they have shaken the faith of His Church, as far as His sphere extends; and who shall tell how far it extends? Here is the principle that is so commonly wanting; here is that which Israel lacked, the heavenly spirit, and not the earthly dregs only. When the heart has thus been lifted out of itself, divested of its earthliness and carnality, and has risen into heaven to see the majesty which it has affronted, the love which it has rejected, the glory which it has blasphemed, and thence also looks down again upon the scenes of its sin and mischief amongst God’s works and people, and sees them with a clear and sharp eye, and lively and enlightened conscience, as becomes a look from above--then, and not until then, a real repentance has taken place. Such repentance will abide in its effects. In such the heart of the man is changed, so that he has foregone his old appetites, and, therefore, is out of the way of temptation from his old sins. Even though it should force itself upon his sight, he will not allow it to gain his attention, but turn away from it with a stern watchfulness against its ensnaring deceitfulness. He sees in it the art of the enemy of the God whom he serves, of the Redeemer whom he loves, of the Holy Spirit whose guidance he follows. And such repentance, therefore, is both the first and the last. But Israel, we see, made at least four several professions of repentance; and so have many done since. The more frequent they have been, of course the less sincere they have been. And such repentances are more a proof of the folly and selfishness of the man, than of any right and spiritual feeling. They are but the sorrow for having come in for the penalty of his sin at last. And, as soon as the infliction shall have been removed, he is ready to sin again. And, indeed, after each successive fit, he is but the more ready, because he wishes to drown the voice of conscience, which exclaims against his yielding again to the old temptation; and it is drowned amid his shouts of enjoyment, until the hour of penalty comes round again; then the note is that of lamentation again. Why, what affronting of the majesty of God Almighty is here! So little can the penitent himself depend upon a repentance which does not begin until God’s judgment is at hand. How can a heart which he has taught to cheat him continually, and which, at all events, has never been diligently schooled in spiritual discernment; how shall this, at a moment, too, of such confusion, at a time, too, when it is so deeply interested in coming to the more joyful conclusion; how can it, with any certainty, distinguish the sorrow and fear which arose from the love of self, now that he is in Such danger, from the love of God, now that He is resorted to after long forgetfulness? Wilt it not be too glad to mistake the fear for the love? Will not, indeed, the fear most certainly be there? All this tells us, what a broken reed men lean upon who trust in a last sickness to any feeling of repentance which they have not felt and cherished in the time of their health. Then judgment was far off, and God was sought therefore from love rather than from fear. Health is the time of strength, for the spirit no less than for the body. Let health, then, be the season of true repentance, and sickness will be the season of comfort, and the hour of death the season of well-founded hope. (R. W. Evans, B. D.)
2 Kings 23:25-37
And like unto him there was no king before him.
This and the previous chapter show us the influence of a godly sovereign. This prince at the age of twenty-six begins to repair the house of God. This leads to the discovery of the long-lost book of the law. At once Josiah obeys its teaching. He consults Huldah, and receives the Lord’s message. Finding himself exempted from vengeance on account of his repentance, he endeavours to lead his people to obtain the same exemption, and for this purpose institutes a thorough national reformation. This, we read, consisted of
(1) purifying the temple of idolatrous vessels;
(2) putting down all idolatrous teachers;
(3) defiling all idol altars throughout the land;
(4) keeping the Passover in a solemn manner. From this we may learn--
I. That personal reformation springs from a knowledge of God’s word applied to the heart by faith. It was this that influenced Josiah (Psalms 119:130). “The entrance of Thy word giveth light” (Acts 17:11-12). “Therefore many believed.”
II. That true personal reformation consists of doing and undoing.
1. Undoing old associations, by--
(1) Looking sin in the face, and comparing ourselves with our pattern, by the light of God’s written Word (Philippians 2:5, etc.).
(2) Cleansing the temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16) of all that defiles.
(3) Giving up all people, practices, and places which tempt to sin; e.g. cards, novels, balls, etc.: let each conscience decide for itself.
2. Doing, by--
(1) Entering into a solemn covenant with God to obey Him, etc.; confirmation.
(2) Publicly, as well as privately, keeping His commandments and wishes; Holy Communion.
III. That personal reformation has results:
1. Comfort and peace to those who carry it out. For thirty years Josiah’s reign was a peaceful and happy one to himself. So soul-reformation brings peace to the believer.
2. A blessing, though it may be only a temporary one, to those who, even outwardly, take part in it. The punishment pronounced upon the land was deferred (2 Kings 22:20) till after Josiah’s death, and a believer brings blessings on those around him.
3. The fulfilment of God’s word (2 Kings 23:16 and Isaiah 5:11). The Christian rejoices in the fulfilment of Matthew 11:28-30. But notice two warnings:
1. No personal reformation can be effected without the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8, etc.; Zechariah 4:6).
2. Personal piety cannot stop national punishment (of. Zechariah 3:2). Josiah has a grand epitaph written over him (verse 25) by the finger of God. May much be ours! (J. W. Mills, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 23". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent