Josiah was a Good King 2 Chronicles 34 and 35

The history of God’s chosen people the nation of Israel is full of wonderful examples of faith to inspire us as Christians. But at the same time there are as many examples of sins to avoid which serve as warnings for us. As has been said, “Those who are ignorant of the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.” So we look at the history of Israel in the eighth and centuries BC chiefly to discover where they went wrong.

I know relatively little about history. I owe my understanding of Church history to the legendary Harry Rowdon. At the end of our degree course in theology he sent us out to serve as ministers and missionaries with these encouraging words – I have taught you everything I know, and you know absolutely nothing.” My understanding of world history is down to the wonderful book by W.C.Sellar, “1066 and all that.” I know one or two important dates and I have a vague idea that kings were either good kings or bad kings. I can remember that Henry the Eighth was a king – but I can’t remember whether he was good or bad. And I am sad to say that my knowledge of Old Testament History is no better. Although I studied Old Testament Theology in great depth, my knowledge of hundreds of years of Old Testament History can be summed up in just a few words. King David was a Good King. Most of the later Kings of Israel were Bad Kings. But of them there was one shining exception –King Josiah was a Good King.

God’s chosen people the nation of Israel appointed their first King, Saul, around 1047 BC. Saul was a Bad King and he was followed in around 1003BC by David – who was a Good King. In 970 BC David was succeeded by his son Solomon who because he was the wisest man who ever lived and because he built the first great Temple in Jerusalem we can probably say that “Solomon was a Good King”. But then around 930 BC the one nation of Israel split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. And for three hundred years in each of the Kingdoms there was a succession of Good Kings and Bad Kings. Before the summer we looked at the prophets Elijah and Elisha who delivered God’s messages to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th Century BC to some particularly Bad Kings. And so it continued.

Josiah was one of the last Kings of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and he reigned between 649 and 609 BC. Let me tell you his story tonight and I am sure you will agree that Josiah was a Good King.

2 Chronicles 34 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for thirty-one years. 2 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
3 In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David. In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images. 4 Under his direction the altars of the Baals were torn down; he cut to pieces the incense altars that were above them, and smashed the Asherah poles, the idols and the images. These he broke to pieces and scattered over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. 5 He burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and so he purged Judah and Jerusalem. 6 In the towns of Manasseh, Ephraim and Simeon, as far as Naphtali, and in the ruins around them, 7 he tore down the altars and the Asherah poles and crushed the idols to powder and cut to pieces all the incense altars throughout Israel. Then he went back to Jerusalem.
8 In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, to purify the land and the temple, he sent Shaphan son of Azaliah and Maaseiah the ruler of the city, with Joah son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the temple of the LORD his God.

God chose Israel to become a Holy nation set apart, belonging to God alone. He rescued them led by Moses from Egypt through the parting of the Red Sea. He gave them the 10 commandments and all the Law of Moses. He protected them through 40 years in the wilderness with manna and quail to eat and water from the rock. He led them by the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. And then God enables his chosen people led by Joshua to take possession of the promised land, giving them victory over their enemies. All so that they might be a people for his possession – they would be his people and He would be their God.

The first warning for us of a sin to avoid is that the people of Israel failed God. They did not put their trust in the one True God. Instead they worshipped other gods, the false gods of the Canaanites, the Baals and the Asherah. And all this worshipping false gods made God angry.

God wants to be the most important thing in our lives. We know what is most important to people by what they devote their time to. What they spend their money on. What gets them excited. And by any of those measures, God is certainly not the most important thing in the lives of most people in Britain today. In fact by any measure, God seems completely irrelevant to most people today. They are too busy chasing money, wealth and possessions to lay up treasures in heaven. They are too busy worshipping at the temples of Lakeside and Bluewater to worship Almighty God the creator of heaven and earth.

It has been said that we are a nation of “People who worship their work, work at their play and play at their worship.” But as the people of God we must make sure that we do not fall into the same traps as all the people around us! God’s chosen people should have been set apart for him alone. But Israel were led into the temptation of worshipping false gods, we must make sure we do not do the same!

There is a second characteristic of the people of God where Israel fell short. They should have been a nation distinguished by their Obedience to the word of God

34:14 While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD that had been given through Moses. ….
That book of the Law is generally understood to be the Book of Deuteronomy as we read it today. God gave His chosen people His precious word to show them how to live – how to worship – how to serve God. But over the centuries they had drifted so far away from God that the people of Israel had actually LOST the Book of Deuteronomy – they had mislaid it somewhere in the Temple. So it was that Josiah led the people back to serving God and renewed the Covenant with God once again.

15 Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.” He gave it to Shaphan.
16 Then Shaphan took the book to the king and reported to him: … “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
19 When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. 20 He gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 21 “Go and enquire of the LORD for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”
34:29 Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 30 He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. 31 The king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD—to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book.
32 Then he made everyone in Jerusalem and Benjamin pledge themselves to it; the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.
33 Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he made all who were present in Israel serve the LORD their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the LORD, the God of their fathers.

Centrality of Bible – we should always be the people of the Book – people whose lives are shaped and led by God’s word the Bible.

The Word of God was always intended to be at the heart of the life of the people of God.

Deut 4:5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? …. 40 Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.

Decline in importance of word of God in church today
Decline in respect for authority
Decline in reading compared to audio visual and multisensory experiences
Anti-intellectualism in some prominent churches

Closing Christian bookshops

Christian “celebrity” means everybody reads just a few famous authors

We must be sure to keep the Law of the Lord, the Holy Scriptures, at the heart of our Christian faith and the heart of our life as a church. We need to read the Bible for ourselves, study it, meditate on in, memorise it. We need a first hand faith – not a second hand faith!

God’s chosen people were meant to be set apart belonging to him. They were supposed to live in obedience to God’s word. And they were supposed to be

Offering worship acceptable to God

35 Josiah celebrated the Passover to the LORD in Jerusalem, and the Passover lamb was slaughtered on the fourteenth day of the first month. 2 He appointed the priests to their duties and encouraged them in the service of the LORD’s temple. 3 He said to the Levites, who instructed all Israel and who had been consecrated to the LORD: …. 5 “Stand in the holy place with a group of Levites for each sub-division of the families of your fellow countrymen, the lay people. 6 Slaughter the Passover lambs, consecrate yourselves and prepare the lambs for your fellow countrymen, doing what the LORD commanded through Moses.”
7 Josiah provided for all the lay people who were there a total of thirty thousand sheep and goats for the Passover offerings, and also three thousand cattle—all from the king’s own possessions. ….
16 So at that time the entire service of the LORD was carried out for the celebration of the Passover and the offering of burnt offerings on the altar of the LORD, as King Josiah had ordered. 17 The Israelites who were present celebrated the Passover at that time and observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. 18 The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem. 19 This Passover was celebrated in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign.

Worship focused on God – taking time, energy, money!
SEVEN DAYS – 30,000 sheep and goats for the offerings!

For three and a half thousand years the people of Israel have worshipped God by keeping the Sabbath Special, by the great feasts and the weekly meals.
For two thousand years Christians have worshipped by keeping the Lord’s day special, by gathering for worship and especially celebrating communion together.

Today we see a trend which I personally find disturbing. We work so hard to make faith accessible to seekers and new Christians – so we don’t demand that they come to Sunday worship. We stress so much the importance of personal faith that we play down the importance of corporate worship and fellowship and learning together. Josiah had to remind the people of Israel of the centrality of their festivals and especially the Passover. We must be sure that as Christians we don’t devalue the centrality of worshipping God together. We must never give the impression that church is an optional extra for Christians!

16 So at that time the entire service of the LORD was carried out for the celebration of the Passover and the offering of burnt offerings on the altar of the LORD, as King Josiah had ordered. 17 The Israelites who were present celebrated the Passover at that time and observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. 18 The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem. 19 This Passover was celebrated in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign.

A nation set apart for God alone
Shaped by the Book of the Law
Offering worship acceptable to God

The story of Josiah the Good King has a very sad ending.
Judgment on Israel for disobeying God

Last sermon in series on Deuteronomy 30: The Offer of Life or Death – now choose life

Deut 30:15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

It had been almost a thousand years since Moses spoke those words to the people of Israel as they were about to take possession of the Promised Land.

God had warned Moses at the end of his life what was going to happen to his chosen people when they got settled in the promised land.

Deut 31: 15 Then the LORD appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the Tent. 16 And the LORD said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’ 18 And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.

And so God’s warning to Moses in the book of Deuteronomy was fulfilled at the time of King Josiah of Judah.

34: 24 ‘This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. 25 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ 26 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 27 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. 28 Now I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.’ ”

Josiah was a Good King. He did his best to bring God’s chosen people back to their God and Saviour. But he failed. And so God’s Judgment would burn on the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They would be overrun and crushed and taken into exile in Babylon – for ignoring God’s warnings and turning their backs on God. But that story is for next week.

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