Introduction: At times God brings two messages at the same time. They are not contradictory, but complementary. One is not full without the other. Josiah and Jeremiah may be just such a synergy in OT History.
I. Josiah, the Good King: In our recent studies in the Minor Prophets we have referenced the reign of King Josiah in Judah. He was quite unique among Judah’s kings. He was one of the good guys.
A. Josiah is first mentioned in a profound prophecy recorded in 1 Kings 13. A young prophet from Judah came to King Jeroboam, Israel’s innovative idolater, just as he was about to offer a sacrifice (although he was not a priest) on an altar that God did not authorize on the first day of a feast that God did not sanction. The prophet spoke directly to the altar itself and said… “O altar, altar! Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones shall be burned on you.’“(1 Kings 13:2) Jeroboam’s sin was the start of a far-reaching apostasy. In a startling, and minutely specific prophecy the prophet foretells the coming of Josiah 360 years later as God’s judgment against this apostasy. And so he came just as God predicted.
B. Josiah’s dark background: Even though this prophecy predated Josiah’s arrival by 360 years, it would have been difficult to predict Josiah’s righteous rule in his own generation. His background did not make his spiritual journey easy.
1. Josiah’s grandfather was the wicked Manasseh. Though the son of the godly Hezekiah, Manasseh attempted to undo all the good his father had accomplished. And although he repented of his transgressions later in life, the nation would never recover from the 55 years he led Israel astray. Josiah’s father, Amon reverted to the evil practices of his father Manasseh. With role models like these it is remarkable that Josiah should serve God at all!
2. Josiah was only eight years old when he began to reign. What chance would you give this young man of doing right? Yet in spite of his background, he emerges as one who sought God’s ways. “And he did right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign while he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; (2 Chronicles 34:2-3) Pulpit Commentary noted, “Josiah is the most astonishing instance that is contained in Scripture of goodness springing up, and attaining high perfection under the most extraordinarily unfavorable circumstances” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol 5, 440).
II. The Reforms of Josiah: Read 2 Chron. 34:3-7 – …and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images. 4 They broke down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars which were above them he cut down; and the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images he broke in pieces, and made dust of them and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. 5 He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. 6 And so he did in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali and all around, with axes. 7 When he had broken down the altars and the wooden images, had beaten the carved images into powder, and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.
A. Overcoming the obstacles of the past… It took enormous courage to reverse his family legacy and seek to do what God wanted. Surely he met opposition, as these conditions had existed for a long time. He went on a campaign against idolatry, physically destroying all the altars and images he could find. Some might suggest he went a little overboard.
B. Restoring what is right… In addition to eradicating the vestiges of false worship in the land, he also began restoring the place of true worship – the Temple. (2 Chron. 34 8-10) He put the best workers on the job, and spent money on the project.
1. Wanting to hear God’s word… In the process of repairing the Temple, Hilkiah, the priest, found a copy of “the book of law of the Lord” and brought it to Josiah. (How did it get lost?)
a. It is important to notice Josiah’s reaction to the words of the Law. 2 Chron 34:19 – “Thus it happened, when the king heard the words of the Law, that he tore his clothes.” He was overcome with sorrow over the disobedience of himself and the people toward the law. He could have dismissed it; “We are doing the best we can”, “I didn’t know what God wanted”, He could have simply blamed it on his ancestors, with the belief that he at least, was much better than them.
b. He desired to know more (2 Chron 34:21 – “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for those who are left in Israel and Judah..”) He saw the direct implication to his own life, and his own accountability. (“because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book.”) It was not enough to just have positive thoughts about what good he was doing. He wanted the truth.
2. Making efforts to save His nation: The prophetess, Huldah, reveals to Josiah that God will execute His wrath against Judah for the sins of his ancestors. 2 Chron. 34:24-25 – “Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah, 25 because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place, and not be quenched.'”‘ In an effort to bring about a full-scale return to God, Josiah assembles the people and has the words of the covenant of Moses read to them. 2 Chron 34:29-33 – Then the king sent and gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 30 The king went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem — the priests and the Levites, and all the people, great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord. 31 Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. 32 And he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin take a stand. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. 33 Thus Josiah removed all the abominations from all the country that belonged to the children of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel diligently serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not depart from following the Lord God of their fathers. This was the path to repentance and recovery – listen carefully to God’s words and keep the covenant. Josiah begins with himself, and publicly makes a covenant with God (v. 31) Notice the extent of his personal commitment to obey God’s word… “with all his heart, and all his soul..” Josiah was fully committed to the reformation of the nation.
a. In the next chapter it accounts Josiah’s restoration of the Passover feast. He carefully arranged for the priests to prepare the sacrifices and the singers to be in their place and the gatekeepers to be in their place so that… “the children of Israel who were present kept the Passover at that time, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. 18 There had been no Passover kept in Israel like that since the days of Samuel the prophet; and none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as Josiah kept, with the priests and the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” 2 Chron 35:17-18.
b. Notice 2 Chron. 34:32 – “And then it says he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin take a stand…” ; v. 33 – “ all who were present in Israel diligently serve the Lord their God.” Have you ever wanted to make someone else stop doing the wrong thing and start doing the right thing? How does one do that? Josiah made them give up their idols by removing all the altars and abominations from the land. It was truly a national reformation that lasted throughout his lifetime. What was the final outcome of his restorative efforts?
III. The Response of Jeremiah to Josiah’s Reforms: Jeremiah began to prophecy during the 13th year of Josiah’s reign. He began to speak about the same time Josiah began his efforts (12th year). He may have been a positive influence on Josiah. If he looked around he had to be pleased with the direction things were moving. So, what did Jeremiah say about Josiah’s reforms? NOTHING!!
A. Why did Jeremiah say nothing about Josiah? It may be difficult for us to know for sure. But consider this. The reformation of Josiah was not all that God was seeking. Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament makes this observation on 2 Chron 34:33 – “By the abolition of idolatry he compelled them to worship Jehovah. The last words of the verse are accordingly to be interpreted as signifying that Josiah, so long as he lived, allowed no open idolatry, but externally maintained the worship of Jehovah. These measures could not effect a real, heartfelt conversion to God, and so the people fell again into open idolatry immediately after Josiah’s death; and Jeremiah continually complains of the defection and corruption of Judah and Israel: ..”
1. What did Jeremiah say? Many may have changed their object of worship and participated in the Passover because the King commanded it. Consider what Jeremiah himself says… Jer 3:6-10 – 6 The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. 7 And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. 9 So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. 10 And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,” says the Lord. He called Judah’s actions a pretense. The O.T. word translated as pretense here means, “a sham, that which is without a cause”.
2. Jeremiah warned Judah against concluding that because they are willing to come and worship in the temple of Jehovah that he will not hold them accountable for how they live their daily lives. Jer 7:1-11 – The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the Lord!'” 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:”Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’ 5 “For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, 6 if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, 7 then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. 8 “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, 10 and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord.
a. In 7:16 God told them that their pious prayers would not help. And in 7:21 He told them they might as well eat the animals they were bringing to sacrifice, because that is the only profit they would be to them.
B. Despite the courageous and righteous efforts of Josiah, their king, God was seeking more than just outward conformity. He was seeking the inward change of each individual heart toward God. Let me close by making some applications of what we have studied:
1) God is not satisfied with less than my heart. This principle is applicable to everything that God commands, and every act of honor or worship that we would offer. Mark 12:29 – “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. It is easy for us to be satisfied with less, and to think that God is as well. I can say certain words, kneel, rub some beads, drink some grape juice, etc. Is that all God wants?
2) God is not satisfied with less than a changed heart. Acceptable repentance is a change of the individual heart and nothing less. Repentance is not coming to the front of a building. It is an inward change that is evidenced by sincere efforts to do what is right. Joel 2:13 – So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.
3) In doing God’s work we cannot be satisfied with anything less than changing hearts. True reform is not a change of government policy, political leadership, or the installment of institutional worship. We must seek to change individual hearts. That is not done through simple outward conformity. Converting the sinner is more than getting him to go under the water and quit using an instrument in worship. We teach them the necessity of submitting their hearts to God in everything. 2 Cor 10:3-5 – 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
Conclusion: God recognizes the tender heart of Josiah… 2 Chron 34:27-28 – because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and you humbled yourself before Me, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the Lord. 28 “Surely I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place and its inhabitants.”‘”
- Josiah was a true reformer. His reformation began in his own heart. And so the message of Jeremiah completes the picture. True reformation does not stop short. 2 Kings 23:25-27 – Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him. 26 Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. 27 And the Lord said, “I will also remove Judah from My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.'”
Have you turned your heart to God? Break down the idols and seek His ways.