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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
2 Kings 22

 

 

Verses 1-20

2 Kings 22:1-20

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign.

A monarch of rare virtue, and a God of retributive justice

I. A monarch of rare virtue. Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign.” In this monarch we discover four distinguished merits.

1. Religiousness of action. “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” We discover in Josiah--

2. Docility of mind. “It came to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.” In Josiah we see--

3. Tenderness of heart. See how the discovery of the book affected him. “He rent his clothes.”

4. Actualisation of conviction. When this discovered document came under Josiah’s attention, and its import was realised, he was seized with a conviction that he, his fathers, and his people, had disregarded, and even outraged, the written precepts of heaven.

II. A God of retributive justice. Such a God the prophetess here reveals. “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to Me, thus saith the Lord, Behold I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read.” The government over us, and to which we are bound with chains stronger than adamant, is retributive, it never allows evil to go unpunished. It links in indissoluble bonds sufferings to sin. Sorrows follow sin by a law as immutable and resistless as the waves follow the moon. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” In this retribution

Josiah and the Book of the Law

This lesson gives us the account of a remarkable revival of religion which took place something over six hundred years before the Christian era, under the good reign of the boy-king Josiah. The history of the progress of the kingdom of God on earth is the history of revivals. Like the ebb and flow of the tides has his kingdom apparently advanced and receded, but with this difference, that each spiritual flood-tide has marked a substantial advance upon any previous flood-tide. Every revival has left the Church mightier than it ever was before, and has been a prophecy to the world of the time when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” In matters of religion it had been a period of ebb-tide for many years before our lesson opens.

I. We learn that the agency God uses in a revival of religion is the agency of men, and often of a single man. Some one torch must first be kindled. Some one soul must be quickened. In some one closet the voice of prevailing prayer must be heard. There was but one voice crying in the wilderness, but it inaugurated the first Christian revival. There was but one Jonathan Edwards in America, and one John Wesley in England, when the great revivals in which they were instrumental began; but thousands were warmed at their fires, and lighted by their torches. Nor is it always a great man intellectually, or one who wields a wide influence, whom God uses to inaugurate the revival: it may be some praying mother, some unknown Christian, some uninfluential brother. As the majestic river rolls onward to the sea, we do not think much of its source, but only of the broad meadows which it waters, and the whirring factories which it has set in motion, and the bustling cities to which it bears the white wings of commerce; but, after all, away back in the hills is a little rivulet which is its source, and back of the rivulet perhaps a hidden spring on the mountain-side, which no eye has ever seen. Back of every revival is some hidden spring which has made it possible; and that spring, as likely as not, is in the chamber of some very humble Christian. That God uses such instrumentalities, our lesson plainly tells us, for Josiah was but a boy of sixteen when this revival began. He might well have objected that he was too young and inexperienced to be the leader in such a reformation. Very likely he had many struggles and misgivings which are not recorded, but it was God’s way to revive his work under the leadership of a boy. What, now, let us ask, are the characteristics of a true revival? We must take the parallel account of this revival which is given in Second Chronicles, as well as the one given in Kings, into consideration.

1. Taking the two stories together, we learn that one remarkable characteristic was the destruction of idolatry. When the king was twenty years old, four years after he “began to seek after God,” we read that “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.” Idols of all descriptions were cut down and ground to dust, and strewn upon the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. This work of destruction must be well done before the work of construction can be begun. So, very often, is it in the Church and the individual heart, before the reviving work of the Holy Spirit can be accomplished. There are false gods which must be deposed; there are sins of long standing, with deep roots and wide-spreading branches, which must be cut down. There we have a suggestion of the reason why in many a heart and many a church the revival work is only partial and incomplete. The uglier idols are cut down, the grosser sins are abandoned, nevertheless there is some high place especially dear which is not removed--nevertheless there is a pet sin of envy, jealousy or ill-will, or self-indulgence, which is spared; and because no thorough work of reform is accomplished, because the account must needs be qualified by a “nevertheless,” the soul remains unsaved, the revival fails to come.

2. Another characteristic of this ancient revival and of every true revival was liberality on the part of the people. There was evidently a large sum of silver collected for the repair of the temple, for large repairs were needed. True liberality is both a cause and an effect of a true revival. The beginning of this century was a time of dearth and languishing in the churches. Infidelity was rampant, and threatened to sweep everything before it. But, at the same time, the cause of missions, home and foreign, began to assume proportions they had never known before; the purse-strings of Christian people were loosened; a revival of charity and money-giving spread over the land, and revivals of religion, pure and undefiled, followed in quick and glorious succession. “Is his purse converted?” was frequently a question of one of John Wesley’s co-labourers when he heard of a rich man who had become a Christian. It is a question which might be appropriately asked in every revival season--“Have the purses been converted?”

3. Another characteristic of this ancient revival in Judah seems to have been the honesty and faithfulness of the people, which extended even to the small details of life. Money was given, we are told, to the carpenters and builders and masons; “howbeit there was no reckoning made with them of the money that was put into their hand, because they dealt faithfully.” That is the legitimate effect, always and everywhere, of a revival of religion; and every revival is spurious that does not tend to produce this result. The merchant feels it as he measures every yard of cloth, and weighs every pound of sugar. The carpenter feels its influence as he drives his plane, the housewife as she wields her broom, the banker as he counts his money, the schoolboy as he studies his lesson. “Is such and such a man a Christian?”--“I don’t know; go home and ask his wife,” used to be the answer of a famous religious teacher.

4. Another characteristic of this old revival about which we are studying to-day was honour for the house of God. Every true revival has just this characteristic--reverence, honour for the house of God.

5. Once more: the most striking characteristic of this revival of Josiah’s reign was honour for the word of God. It hardly seems possible that the “Book of the Law” could have been utterly lost for years, and that the very remembrance of it should have become a dim tradition. Then the king gathers together all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and reads in their ears all the words which have so awakened him. He renews his covenant with God; he carries out more completely the work of reformation which he had begun, destroying every idol, and restoring the worship of the true God in every part of his domain. It was a wonderful revival; and no characteristic is so striking as the king’s reverence for, and ready obedience to, the word of God. But King Josiah is not the only one who has lost the word of God, not the only one from whom it is buried out of sight, under the dust of years. Though copies of the law are dropping from the printing press by the million every year, though it lies in all our houses and is read in all our churches, it is a lost book to-day to thousands, as it was in Josiah’s time, Our very familiarity with it hides it from our eyes as effectually as the rubbish of the temple hid it from the Jews; and only a powerful revival of religion can bring it from its hiding-place, and put it in our hands and in our hearts. (Monday Club Sermons.)

Josiah’s reformation

Josiah was only twenty years of age when he set about a national reformation of religion as radical and as complete as anything that Martin Luther or John Knox themselves ever undertook. But with this immense difference. Both Luther and Knox had the whole Word of God in their hands both to inspire them and to guide them and to sustain them and to support ‘them in their tremendous task. But Josiah had not one single book or chapter or verse even of the Word of God in his heathen day. The five Books of Moses were as completely lost out of the whole land long before Josiah’s day as much so as if Moses had never lifted a pen. And thus it was that Josiah’s reformation had a creativeness about it: an originality, an enterprise, and a boldness about it, such that in all these respects it has completely eclipsed all subsequent reformations and revivals--the greatest and the best. The truth is, the whole of that immense movement that resulted in the religious regeneration of Jerusalem and Judah in Josiah day, it all sprang originally and immediately out of nothing else but Josiah’s extraordinary tenderness of heart. The Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world shone with extraordinary clearness in Josiah’s tender heart and open mind. And Josiah walked in that light and obeyed it, till it became within him an overmastering sense of Divine duty and an irresistible direction and drawing of the Divine hand. And till he performed a work for God and for Israel second to no work that has ever been performed under the greatest and the best of the prophets and kings of Israel combined. It is a very noble spectacle. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)


Verses 1-20

2 Kings 22:1-20

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign.

A monarch of rare virtue, and a God of retributive justice

I. A monarch of rare virtue. Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign.” In this monarch we discover four distinguished merits.

1. Religiousness of action. “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” We discover in Josiah--

2. Docility of mind. “It came to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.” In Josiah we see--

3. Tenderness of heart. See how the discovery of the book affected him. “He rent his clothes.”

4. Actualisation of conviction. When this discovered document came under Josiah’s attention, and its import was realised, he was seized with a conviction that he, his fathers, and his people, had disregarded, and even outraged, the written precepts of heaven.

II. A God of retributive justice. Such a God the prophetess here reveals. “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to Me, thus saith the Lord, Behold I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read.” The government over us, and to which we are bound with chains stronger than adamant, is retributive, it never allows evil to go unpunished. It links in indissoluble bonds sufferings to sin. Sorrows follow sin by a law as immutable and resistless as the waves follow the moon. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” In this retribution

Josiah and the Book of the Law

This lesson gives us the account of a remarkable revival of religion which took place something over six hundred years before the Christian era, under the good reign of the boy-king Josiah. The history of the progress of the kingdom of God on earth is the history of revivals. Like the ebb and flow of the tides has his kingdom apparently advanced and receded, but with this difference, that each spiritual flood-tide has marked a substantial advance upon any previous flood-tide. Every revival has left the Church mightier than it ever was before, and has been a prophecy to the world of the time when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” In matters of religion it had been a period of ebb-tide for many years before our lesson opens.

I. We learn that the agency God uses in a revival of religion is the agency of men, and often of a single man. Some one torch must first be kindled. Some one soul must be quickened. In some one closet the voice of prevailing prayer must be heard. There was but one voice crying in the wilderness, but it inaugurated the first Christian revival. There was but one Jonathan Edwards in America, and one John Wesley in England, when the great revivals in which they were instrumental began; but thousands were warmed at their fires, and lighted by their torches. Nor is it always a great man intellectually, or one who wields a wide influence, whom God uses to inaugurate the revival: it may be some praying mother, some unknown Christian, some uninfluential brother. As the majestic river rolls onward to the sea, we do not think much of its source, but only of the broad meadows which it waters, and the whirring factories which it has set in motion, and the bustling cities to which it bears the white wings of commerce; but, after all, away back in the hills is a little rivulet which is its source, and back of the rivulet perhaps a hidden spring on the mountain-side, which no eye has ever seen. Back of every revival is some hidden spring which has made it possible; and that spring, as likely as not, is in the chamber of some very humble Christian. That God uses such instrumentalities, our lesson plainly tells us, for Josiah was but a boy of sixteen when this revival began. He might well have objected that he was too young and inexperienced to be the leader in such a reformation. Very likely he had many struggles and misgivings which are not recorded, but it was God’s way to revive his work under the leadership of a boy. What, now, let us ask, are the characteristics of a true revival? We must take the parallel account of this revival which is given in Second Chronicles, as well as the one given in Kings, into consideration.

1. Taking the two stories together, we learn that one remarkable characteristic was the destruction of idolatry. When the king was twenty years old, four years after he “began to seek after God,” we read that “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.” Idols of all descriptions were cut down and ground to dust, and strewn upon the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. This work of destruction must be well done before the work of construction can be begun. So, very often, is it in the Church and the individual heart, before the reviving work of the Holy Spirit can be accomplished. There are false gods which must be deposed; there are sins of long standing, with deep roots and wide-spreading branches, which must be cut down. There we have a suggestion of the reason why in many a heart and many a church the revival work is only partial and incomplete. The uglier idols are cut down, the grosser sins are abandoned, nevertheless there is some high place especially dear which is not removed--nevertheless there is a pet sin of envy, jealousy or ill-will, or self-indulgence, which is spared; and because no thorough work of reform is accomplished, because the account must needs be qualified by a “nevertheless,” the soul remains unsaved, the revival fails to come.

2. Another characteristic of this ancient revival and of every true revival was liberality on the part of the people. There was evidently a large sum of silver collected for the repair of the temple, for large repairs were needed. True liberality is both a cause and an effect of a true revival. The beginning of this century was a time of dearth and languishing in the churches. Infidelity was rampant, and threatened to sweep everything before it. But, at the same time, the cause of missions, home and foreign, began to assume proportions they had never known before; the purse-strings of Christian people were loosened; a revival of charity and money-giving spread over the land, and revivals of religion, pure and undefiled, followed in quick and glorious succession. “Is his purse converted?” was frequently a question of one of John Wesley’s co-labourers when he heard of a rich man who had become a Christian. It is a question which might be appropriately asked in every revival season--“Have the purses been converted?”

3. Another characteristic of this ancient revival in Judah seems to have been the honesty and faithfulness of the people, which extended even to the small details of life. Money was given, we are told, to the carpenters and builders and masons; “howbeit there was no reckoning made with them of the money that was put into their hand, because they dealt faithfully.” That is the legitimate effect, always and everywhere, of a revival of religion; and every revival is spurious that does not tend to produce this result. The merchant feels it as he measures every yard of cloth, and weighs every pound of sugar. The carpenter feels its influence as he drives his plane, the housewife as she wields her broom, the banker as he counts his money, the schoolboy as he studies his lesson. “Is such and such a man a Christian?”--“I don’t know; go home and ask his wife,” used to be the answer of a famous religious teacher.

4. Another characteristic of this old revival about which we are studying to-day was honour for the house of God. Every true revival has just this characteristic--reverence, honour for the house of God.

5. Once more: the most striking characteristic of this revival of Josiah’s reign was honour for the word of God. It hardly seems possible that the “Book of the Law” could have been utterly lost for years, and that the very remembrance of it should have become a dim tradition. Then the king gathers together all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and reads in their ears all the words which have so awakened him. He renews his covenant with God; he carries out more completely the work of reformation which he had begun, destroying every idol, and restoring the worship of the true God in every part of his domain. It was a wonderful revival; and no characteristic is so striking as the king’s reverence for, and ready obedience to, the word of God. But King Josiah is not the only one who has lost the word of God, not the only one from whom it is buried out of sight, under the dust of years. Though copies of the law are dropping from the printing press by the million every year, though it lies in all our houses and is read in all our churches, it is a lost book to-day to thousands, as it was in Josiah’s time, Our very familiarity with it hides it from our eyes as effectually as the rubbish of the temple hid it from the Jews; and only a powerful revival of religion can bring it from its hiding-place, and put it in our hands and in our hearts. (Monday Club Sermons.)

Josiah’s reformation

Josiah was only twenty years of age when he set about a national reformation of religion as radical and as complete as anything that Martin Luther or John Knox themselves ever undertook. But with this immense difference. Both Luther and Knox had the whole Word of God in their hands both to inspire them and to guide them and to sustain them and to support ‘them in their tremendous task. But Josiah had not one single book or chapter or verse even of the Word of God in his heathen day. The five Books of Moses were as completely lost out of the whole land long before Josiah’s day as much so as if Moses had never lifted a pen. And thus it was that Josiah’s reformation had a creativeness about it: an originality, an enterprise, and a boldness about it, such that in all these respects it has completely eclipsed all subsequent reformations and revivals--the greatest and the best. The truth is, the whole of that immense movement that resulted in the religious regeneration of Jerusalem and Judah in Josiah day, it all sprang originally and immediately out of nothing else but Josiah’s extraordinary tenderness of heart. The Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world shone with extraordinary clearness in Josiah’s tender heart and open mind. And Josiah walked in that light and obeyed it, till it became within him an overmastering sense of Divine duty and an irresistible direction and drawing of the Divine hand. And till he performed a work for God and for Israel second to no work that has ever been performed under the greatest and the best of the prophets and kings of Israel combined. It is a very noble spectacle. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)


Verse 2

2 Kings 22:2

And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.

Josiah an example for young men

Of the young king, whose piety is thus described, it is also said in another place (2 Kings 23:25), “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might” according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.

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 schoolboy his classmate; the youth his playfellows; and so on 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.

2. His love to the. Word of God. Turn to the narrative in 2 Chronicles 34:14-21. David said of the man who is blessed, that “his delight is in the law of the Lord.” There is no book more valuable to the young,

3. His reverence for godly men (2 Kings 23:15-18). We know enough of David’s life to recognise 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 works’ 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 integrity 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.

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.

III. The piety of Josiah illustrates the course of life that ensures Divine approval. “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” 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 coo. 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 to gain.

3. They only are godlike who do and love that which is holy and true; who live not for themselves, but for others and for God. Application--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. (Frederic Walstaff.)

Example for Royalty

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 that concerning Josiah: “Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, 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.)

Traits of youthful religion

1. Josiah began to reign when he was eight years old, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. He ascended the throne when vice had taken deep root in the people, and national faults had become stereotyped in the Jewish character. His character and his conduct are exactly those which, judging from reason or historical experience, we should expect from the freshness and energy of a religious boy. That character is thus briefly summed, up by Huldah the prophetess: His heart was tender, his humility was great, he had given a quick and childlike credit to God’s threats against the sins of the people, and had yielded a ready sympathy with penitential acts for sins in which he had taken no part, for under God’s threats he had shed tears, and rent his garments and done his utmost to avert Divine anger. The acts which illustrate this character are seven in number, and inasmuch as they have a natural coherence and agreement with each other, I will sum them up. His first work was to repair the temple, his second to read attentively the newly discovered Scriptures, till alarmed at the threats against sin, he, thirdly, abased himself openly. He then commanded the destruction of the idols and priests of Baal, and the professed profligates of the land. He, fifthly, ordered the public reading of the Scriptures, he brought out to public notice the remains of God’s saints, and lastly, proclaimed a public celebration of the Passover. Now these are just the acts of a fresh and rumple mind, and while many of them are the features of the early days of religion, which we would fain frequently copy, they are at the same time marks of the earlier stages of religion, and cannot be expected to exist in its later day. But while this is the case with regard to the individual character, these will be signs of the early days of a great religious revival, and will speak as much of the zeal of the social body as they do of the individual.

2. To reduce these reflections to some practical bearing, the following character is not uncommon amongst us. A child, a boy, a youth at home, at school, or the university is under the influence of religious principles; he studies attentively the Scriptures of God as they are presented to him through the received translations and interpretations of his day; he follows with earnestness and alacrity a pathway which he strikes out himself in which he has received his impetus from the wonderful coincidences of prophecy or the theological questions raised on the subject of faith and works; he is startled by the mention of the Judgment, and is so keenly sensitive to the subject, that the sublime awfulness of a thunderstorm, or the congregational singing of a hymn about the “day of wonders” will awaken the most sensible alarm in his mind, doter him from a fault, or drive him to an act of devotion and holiness; he will be so anxious lest he should be guilty of mixing too indiscriminately with the wicked and those that know not God that he will be inclined to draw far too rigidly the limits between good and evil, and will be inclined to decide on certain shibboleths of the world and the worldly minded, which will neither stand the tests of reason, scripture, or experience. Certain modes of amusement will be rapidly denounced as sinful which are merely made so by the unguarded or ungracious mind of him who uses them; and certain places and people are placed under bar and ban, which have in them no essential evil whatever. In proportion as the mind of such a youth is fresh in his religious career, he will be painfully conscious of the weight of a committed sin, and will find the flow of penitential tears spontaneous and natural Such will be the features of youthful religion, and such wore the features of the religion of Josiah. There are points in the earlier religion of the child which are ever to be kept in view through after life; lovely echoes of the sweet voice associated with the first can of God still sounding round us; as fresh water drops sprinkled with the kindly hand over the dim and dusty picture of the past; dreams of fresh and happy childhood rousing us to renewed vigour when we wake to the daily strife of life.

Early piety

King Josiah, it is said, at eight years feared the Lord. Polycarp, martyred at the age of ninety-five, declared that he had served God eighty-six years, showing that he was converted at nine years. It is commonly held that Jeremiah and John the Baptist, who are spoken of in Scripture as sanctified from their birth, were early children of grace. Coming down to more modern times it is easy to name many eminent servants of God who began to serve him in childhood, as Baxter, for instance, who said he did not remember the time when he did not love God and all that was good. Matthew Henry was converted before eleven. Mrs. Isabel Graham at ten. President Edwards probably at seven. Dr. Watts at nine. Bishop Hall and Robert Hall at eleven or twelve. (H. C. Fish)


Verse 8

2 Kings 22:8

I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.

The finding of the book

Following two of the most notoriously wicked rulers, Josiah, the boy king of Judah, was a remarkable instance of independence of character and the differentiating influence of the grace of God. His individuality made a deep and lasting impress upon the history of the nation. One of the chief tasks he set himself was the repair of the temple--not done since the time of Joash, two hundred and fifty years before. It was during the progress of this work that the Book of the Law was discovered, a circumstance which was so powerfully to affect the action of the king and the future of his people.

I. The finding of the book constituted in itself a literary resurrection of the most remarkable description. There has been no lack of dogmatic opinions as to what the book was which was thus found. In the passages referred to above it is simply styled “a book” and “the book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses”; language perfectly consistent with the theory that it was the survivor of several, it may be many, previously existing copies but one doughty champion of the Reformation does not hesitate to identify it with the copy of the law that was preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, and others, as, for instance, the Fathers, and Wellhausen and his Scottish disciple, Robertson Smith, hold that it was none other than the Book of Deuteronomy. How significant the circumstances of this discovery! Are we to pronounce it a “happy accident”? or to refer it to some “Intelligent Cause”? We can recall similar incidents in the history of non-religious or (so-called) profane literature. The Nicomachean Ethics are said to have lain in the cellars of Scepsis, the king of Pergamos, for nearly two centuries after Aristotle had ceased to teach, when, rediscovered by men who loved philosophy, they were conveyed to Athens and then to Rome in the days of Cicero. Their publication stirred afresh the dormant spirit of the schools, and broke like a new morning upon the intellectual life of Europe. I have read, too, an even more romantic tale concerning a book of modern poetry familiar to most of us. Its author had occasionally quoted stanzas in the hearing of his friends, which he said belonged to poems he once had written, but never intended to publish. At last they prevailed upon him to divulge their secret. Years before he had lost the wife of-his youth, in whose praise they had been written, and he had vowed that they should be buried with her. Searching in her coffin they found the MS. pillowing her head, the golden tresses of which were so intertwined with its leaves that it was with the greatest difficulty they were separated and restored to a condition that admitted of their being printed. Instances of a similar character might be multiplied, and it may be asserted that the problem is essentially the same in any case; that the intrinsic character of the writings can have no bearing upon the interpretation to be put upon their rescue from oblivion. But surely the respective circumstances must be taken into account, and the relation of the writings to the spiritual life of mankind? The loss of the “Ethics” would have been a great loss, in some respects an irretrievable one; and had Rosetti’s House of Life still lain beneath the cerements of the tomb, English literature to-day would have been distinctly poorer, and the development of our poetry less perfect than it has been. But who will say that such works as these are essential to the higher life, the spiritual progress of humanity? Apart from its own solemn claim to immortality, the Word of the Lord is too closely and causatively associated with the future of the race, and it has outlived too many antagonistic influences, too many ages of unbelief and indifference, for us to conclude hastily that its presence amongst us now is but a lucky survival, to be accounted for by a theory of chances.

II. The discovery was connected with a great awakening of religious life. The story of its reception by the young king and his subjects, simply as it is told, thrills us as we read it. The great high-priestly penitence of the one for the general sin and the heroic resolution of the others as they “stood by the covenant” have in them not a little of the “moral sublime.” But we must not fail to lay to heart the enduring lessons it teaches us.

1. Look at the light which it throws upon the question of a “book-religion.” The history of that age illustrated the difference there is between being with a Bible and being without one. Of course it is allowed that the sense the expression “book-religion” often bears is false and mischievous enough. When Chillingworth shouted that “the Bible, and the Bible alone, was the religion of Protestants,” he probably attached a very different signification to “religion” than the term generally conveys; if he did not his error was not much less than that which he sought to overturn. Religion is of the heart--an inward and spiritual influence--a communion with God. But it is not independent of external standards, nor does it spring into existence unprovoked or unassisted. This, at any rate, is the teaching of history and of individual experience. Without the authoritative medium of Scripture Judah failed to advance upon the religion of the Fathers, in fact, fell further and further behind it. The beliefs of the people wanted fixity; their pious emotions were without definiteness or moral force; and they became a prey to the plausible falsehoods of heathenism. With the reappearance of the Book of the Law the religious spirit of the nation recovered itself, and the forward movement towards the great fulfilment was resumed. But it would be a mistake to suppose that a truth, even an important truth, is as such immortal. As John Stuart Mill has remarked, there are too many instances to the contrary for us to entertain such a comfortable belief. Not once only, but many times, have great religious or moral movements perished untimely for lack of a Scripture that could give their principles authoritative expression and permanence. On the other hand, the “book-religions” of the world have been the only persistent or widely influential ones, as witness the faiths of China, India, Persia, or Palestine. Once fixed in literary form, the creed of a people is open to general reference, becomes a public standard of opinion and of conduct, and in conjunction with the spiritual experience to which it is related, it of necessity advances and refines upon itself. In Fetichism alone have we a religion (if religion it can be called) without a book, which at the same time continues and reproduces itself! Proteus, like it springs up, a rank but stunted growth of diseased imaginations, wild vagaries, and sexual excesses. Yes, in the superstition that haunts the dark places of the earth, that either opposes morality or lies wholly outside of it, and that brands with such unmistakable inferiority its devotees, we have, par excellence, the religion without a book!

2. How independent Divine revelation is of the moral and intellectual conditions amidst which it appears. It is impossible for any candid inquirer to suppose that the dust-covered MS. so seasonably brought forth from its age-long rest was the product of forgery. Apart from the transparent self-contradiction of such a conception, there was no man of that day who could have achieved such a tour de force in literature or morals. How is the problem to be explained, that in an epoch of decadence and apostasy, there should have appeared at once so marvellous a transformation in public and private conduct? Evolution, however it may be manipulated, cannot solve the difficulty. Revelation, that glorious “anticipation of reason,” as Lessing conceived it to be, was in that instance, at any rate, no child of the Zeit-geist. The truth that could so regenerate a people must have had its origin in the supernatural and Divine.

3. Vital contact with Holy Scripture is essential to the enjoyment of its advantages. So commonplace are our notions of God’s ways that we are startled at the thought of His permitting such an utter and appalling ignorance of Divine things. It is a great mystery; yet we can see certain disciplinary reasons for it. To have a Bible is of little use if we do not read it; to read it, if it be not laid to heart. Of how many might it still be said, “The word of hearing did not profit them, because they were not united by faith with them that heard.” Only when in penitence and faith we “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the teachings of the Bible, can it become a means of grace, a source of spiritual life and power. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

The book that finds me

The striking fact in the incident is the reversal of the statement, is the deeper truth: the book found them. This stamped it as Divine. This is always the great fact concerning the Bible--it finds me.

I. In my deepest thought--to know God. The questions of sin and destiny and immortality, &c. The greatest minds have here found the answer. The ordinary man can know for himself. Every man can know for himself whether the Bible is the revelation of God. Give it his best thought.

II. In my deepest desire--to serve God, to do His will. “If any man wills to do my will he shall know truth”--must be lived to be realised. It costs something to live it. Obedience is the pathway to knowledge.

III. In my deepest need--to have God--my God--my Father. His love and mercy and care. Experience is the great teacher. Sorrows test. So personal--every line for each man. Reality of promises. (C. Meyers, D. D.)

Preservation of the Word of God

Wondrously has the Spirit of God watched over and preserved the Scriptures. The original copy of Magna Charta, on which hung all the greatest liberties of the British people, was once nearly destroyed. Sir Richard Cotton was in a tailor’s shop, and the great scissors were opened to cut it in pieces. The man into whose hands it had fallen knew nothing either of its nature or value. But it was rescued and remains to-day in the nation’s keeping as the priceless charter of its liberty. The Bible is the charter of the soul’s freedom, and many and many a time its enemies have sought to exterminate it, but God has watched over it, preserved it by many a miracle, and to-day it is declaring liberty to spiritual captives all over the world. (H. O. Mackey.)

The reviving word

John Stuart Mill tells how that at one time he had lost all interest in life, every blossom of joy and hope withered, but the charm and thrill of life were restored to him by the reading of Wordsworth’s poems. The gifted singer revived the weary, despondent philosopher. How much more shall the words of God which are “spirit and life” revive and gladden our souls! (Helps for Speakers.)

Discovery of truth

To take an old diamond out of the casket in which it has lain forgotten, is as good as to find a new diamond. So with truth. To strike men’s eyes with an old maxim, is as good as to think out a fresh one--nay, better; for the best truths are old. (Charles Buxton.)

Preservation of the Book

Just as Dr. Judson had finished translating the New Testament into Burmese he was cast into prison. His wife took the precious manuscript and buried it in the ground. But if left there it would soon decay, while to reveal its existence to its foes would surely lead to its destruction. So it was arranged that she should put it within a roll of cotton and bring it to him in the form of a pillow, so hard and poor that even the keeper of the prison did not discover it. After seven months this pillow, so uninviting externally, so precious to him, was taken away, and then his wife redeemed it by giving a better one in exchange. Some time after that he was hurried off to another prison, leaving everything behind him, and his old pillow was thrown into the prison yard, to be trodden underfoot as worthless cotton; but after a few hours one of the native Christians discovered the roll and took it home as a relic of the prisoner, and there, long afterwards, the manuscript was found within the cotton, complete and uninjured. Surely the hand of the Lord was interposed to save from destruction the fruit of years of toil, so important for those who were to read the Burmese Bible.

Chance literature

Many of the greatest discoveries in the era of the revival of learning were characterised by the merest chance. Cicero’s important treatise, De Republica, was discovered concealed beneath some monastic writing. Part of Livy was found between the leaves of a Bible, and a missing page in a battledore. Quintilian was picked out of an old coffer full of rubbish. The one copy of Tacitus which survived the general destruction of Roman libraries was found in a Westphalian monastery. An original Magna Charts, with all its seals and signatures was found by Cotton about to be cut up by a tailor into measures. Thurloe’s State papers fell out of a ceiling in Lincoln’s Inn. Many of Lady Montague’s letters were discovered by Disraeli in the office of an attorney, where they might have remained till this day but for the chance visit of the great bibliophile. And undoubtedly many hundreds of rare books and manuscripts and papers lie hidden away in the presses and cupboards of old manor houses, whence gradually they may be dragged into the light of day, to be destroyed, or to awaken universal interest.

Finding the Sinaitic manuscript

Dr. Tischendorf describes as follows the finding of the remarkable manuscript on Mount Sinai: “On the afternoon of the 4th February 1859, I was taking a walk with the steward of the convent in the neighbourhood, and as we returned, towards sunset, he begged me to take some refreshment with him in his cell. Scarcely had we entered the room, when he said: ‘And I, too, have read a Septuagint’--that is, a copy of the Greek translation made by the Seventy. And so saying, he took down from the corner of the room a bulky kind of volume, wrapped up in red cloth, and laid it before me. I unrolled the cover, and discovered, to my great surprise, not only those very fragments which fifteen years before I had taken out of the basket, but also other parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament complete, and, in addition, the Epistle of Barnabas, and a part of the Pastor of Hermas. Full of joy which this time I had the self-command to conceal from the steward, I asked, as if in a careless way, for permission to taker the manuscript into my sleeping-chamber, to look over it more at leisure. There by myself I could give way to the transport of joy which I felt. I knew that I held in my hand the most precious Biblical treasure in existence, a document whose age and importance exceeded that of all the manuscripts which I had ever examined during twenty years’ study of the subject. I cannot now, I confess, recall all the emotions which I felt in that exciting moment with such a diamond in my possession. Though my lamp was dim, and the night was cold, I sat down at once to transcribe the Epistle of Barnabas.”


Verses 8-20

Verse 19

2 Kings 22:19

Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord.

The tender heart

I. The circumstances in which such a character may be placed and tried.

1. It may often have to contend with great difficulties. Observe the illustration of this in the history before us.

2. It may sometimes be surrounded by external difficulties.

3. A tender heart may sometimes misunderstand, and therefore misinterpret, the follies and frailties of other Christians. There must be the knowledge of evil as well as of good in the Christian as in the common life. Stumbling-blocks will be found, though deeply to be deplored, in every section of the Christian Church.

II. Some of the indications of a tender heart. All life reveals itself. The tiniest herb or flower that drinks the morning dew reveals itself. Life cannot be hid, and that because it is life. Not always in the same manner, but always in some manner; for as external life is full of variety, from the “cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that groweth on the wall,” so inward religious life has its manifold phases, full of variety, full of beauty, and all significant of their Divine origin. Let us notice some--

1. There will be thoughtful interest in religious truth. We cannot conceive of the commencement, much less of the continuation, of a religious life in connection with thoughtlessness.

2. There will be practical co-operation in works of religious activity. Religious life has ever holy work to do, as holy words to say. The commencement of this new life starts with the question, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”

3. There will be devout interest in religious assemblies. The object of Christian assemblies is one--the worship of God and the edification of the Church. In proportion as our heart is penetrated with the ideas proper to, and regulated by the principles of, the Christian life, there will not only be the desire but the determination to avail ourselves of seasons of religious worship for purposes of spiritual improvement.

4. There will be also personal determination to secure religious progress. First the blade, but afterwards, if the blade is healthy, there will be the ear: lovely is the blade in all its tenderness and vigour, so in its season is the maturing ear, that gives promise of the fully ripened and perfectly developed corn in the ear.

III. The blessedness of having a tender heart. Because,

1. It is the disposition produced by the influences of God’s Spirit. It is God” who worketh in us both to will and to do.” “Every good and perfect gift cometh down from above”

2. Because it will prevent great irregularity if not sinfulness of life. Religion subtracts nothing from the real enjoyment of life. The happiest transaction of life is the hour of consecration to God.

3. Because a tender heart is the sure sign of a regenerate one. “And whom He did,” etc. (Romans 8:29.) (W. G. Barrett.)

Humility the grace of graces

“I was always exceedingly pleased with that saying of Chrysostom,” says Calvin, “‘The foundation of our philosophy is humility.’ And yet more pleased with that of Augustine. ‘As,’ says he, ‘the rhetorican being asked was what the first thing in the rules of eloquence, he answered, Pronunciation. What was the second, Pronunciation. What was the third, still he answered, Pronunciation So if you ask me concerning the graces of the Christian character, I would answer, firstly, secondly, and thirdly, and for ever, humility.’” And thus it is that God sets open His school for teaching us humility every day. Humility is the grace of graces for us sinners to learn. There is nothing again like it, and we must have a continual training and exercise in it. You learn to pronounce by your clients complaining that they cannot hear you, and that they must carry their cases to another advocate unless you learn to speak better. And, as you must either please your patrons or die of starvation, you put pebbles in your month and you go out to recite by yourself by the riverside till your rhetoric is fit for a Greek judge and jury to sit and hear. And so with humility, which is harder to learn than the best Greek accent. You must go to all the schools, and put yourself under all the disciplines that the great experts practise, if you would put on this humility. And the schools of God to which He puts His great saints are such as these. You will be set second to other men every day. Other men will be put over your head everyday. Rude men will ride roughshod over your head every day. God will set His rudest men, of whom He has whole armies, upon you every day to judge you, and to find fault with you, and to correct you, and to blame you, and to take their business away from you to a better--to a better than you can ever be with all the pebbles that ever river rolled. Ay, He will take you in hand Himself, and He will set you and will keep you in a low place. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)

Humbleness the work of true Christian

John Newton wrote a book about grace in the blade, and grace in the ear, and grace in the full corn in the ear. A very talkative body said to him, “I have been reading your valuable book, Mr. Newton; it is a splendid work; and when I came to that part, ‘the full corn in the ear’ I thought how wonderfully you had described me.” “Oh,” replied Mr. Newton, “but you could not have read the book rightly, for it is one of the marks of the full corn in the ear, that it hangs its head very low.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 22:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/2-kings-22.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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