Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HIS EARLY ACCESSION. "Josiah ['Whom Jehovah heals'] was eight years old when he began to reign" (ver. 1). Manasseh, Uzziah, and Joash had been twelve, sixteen, and seven respectively when they ascended the throne. Generally speaking, it is perilous to have greatness thrust upon one at too early an age; sometimes premature responsibility calls forth capacities that might otherwise have continued latent. Edward VI., who assumed the crown of England in his tenth year, Charles IX., who was of the same age when he was raised to the throne of France, and Kang Hi (A.D. 1661), who became Emperor of China in his seventh year, were examples of the truth here stated.
II. HIS FERVENT RELIGION. Josiah's piety was:
1. Ancestral. If his father Amen was not a good man, but the opposite - an insensate idolater and a hardened trangressor (2 Chronicles 33:22, 23) - his mother Jedidah, "Beloved," the daughter of Adaiah of Boscath (2 Kings 22:1), may have been a good woman, who, like Eunice of later times (2 Timothy 1:5), nurtured her son in the fear of Jehovah. Besides, as that son was six years of age before Manasseh died, he may have received from his aged grandfather such instructions as disposed him to the choice of the true religion of Jehovah. In any case, in him was reproduced the piety of the best sovereigns that had preceded him - in particular of Hezekiah, Jotham, Jehoshaphat, and David.
2. Early. "In the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father" (ver. 3). Youthful piety, of which Scripture furnishes numerous examples - Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26), Abijah (1 Kings 14:13), Obadiah (1 Kings 18:12), John (Luke 1:80), Jesus (Luke 2:52), Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5) - while beautiful in all, is specially attractive in princes. King Edward VI., besides being a good linguist, "had a particular regard for the Holy Scriptures" (Bishop Burnet). That religion which begins in youth is most likely to be permanent, and certain to be most useful. Christ commends religion to the young (Matthew 6:33).
(1) Earnest and active, not merely nominal and formal: "He began to seek after the God of David his father," which meant that he inquired after and practised the rites and commandments of the true religion.
(2) Humble and obedient, not proud and self-willed: "He did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father" (ver. 2), in so far, i.e., as he walked in the ways of Jehovah.
(3) Persevering and thorough, not intermittent and incomplete: "He turned not aside to the right hand or to the left" (ver. 2).
III. HIS ZEALOUS REFORMATION. I. The period of it. Beginning in his twelfth year of reign, i.e. the twentieth of his life, and terminating in his eighteenth year of reign, or the twenty-sixth of his life, it occupied six years in all (vers. 3, 8).
2. The scene of it.
(1) Jerusalem, the metropolis of the kingdom. Reformations, like charity, should begin at home. Many would reform others who have no heart to reform themselves (Song of Solomon 1:6).
(2) Judah, of which Jerusalem was the capital. Though "beginning at Jerusalem," Josiah's reformation should not end there. A good king will give his first thoughts to the improvement of himself; his second, to the improvement of his capital, where his court sits and whence his laws proceed; his third, to the improvement of his land and people; his fourth, to the improvement of cities, empires, nations beyond, as far as lies within his power.
(3) The cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, in their ruins round about. A good. king will extend his influence as widely as possible, and in particular strive to be helpful to those peoples in his vicinity that are less enlightened or more necessitous than himself.
3. The manner of it. With "The violence - probably hinted at in the phrase, with their axes" (ver. 6, margin). "The reformation executed by the king was earnestly intended; it was thorough, it was comprehensive; but it was above everything violent" (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' 4:237). This appears more distinctly from 2 Kings (2 Kings 23:4-20). But the extirpation of religious, no more than of political abuses, can be carried out without a degree of harshness. Privileged iniquity in Church or in state is always difficult to dislodge.
4. The extent of it. Judah, Jerusalem, and the Israelitish cities already mentioned were purged from high places, Asherim, images and altars (vers. 3-7). Particularly
(1) the altars of the Baalim were broken down in the young king's presence, the sun-images above them being hewn down at his command (ver. 4);
(2) the Asherim or "pillars and trees of Asherah" (Keil), with the graven and molten images connected with the impure worship of Astarte, were broken in pieces, and their dust (after burning) strewn upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them (ver. 4) - the Book of Kings speaking of the removal of the Asherah from the house of the Lord, and the destruction of the houses of the infamous women who wove tents for the idol (2 Kings 23:6, 7); and
(3) the bones of the priests who had sacrificed at the heathen shrines having first been exhumed from their graves, were burnt upon the altars at which the priests had ministered before these were destroyed.
1. The beauty of early piety.
2. The excellence of Christian zeal.
3. The difficulty of executing reformations. - W.
2 Chronicles 34:3 (first part)
I. HOW MUCH THERE IS TO COMMEND IT.
1. All life belongs to God, and therefore this part of it. Unto him who gave us our existence and all our powers, and in whom we live and move and have our being, surely the whole of our life belongs; it cannot be withheld without wrong, without keeping back the "glory due to his Name," the gratitude and the love and the service due to himself. Therefore does this part of it along with the rest. Audit is certain that when life is past and we come to have it in review we shall be most happy in the thought, if we can but cherish it, that our youth also was spent in the fear of God, in the love and service of Jesus Christ.
"'Twill please us to look back and see 2. Each period of life has its own peculiar offering to bring. If age has its patience and submissiveness, and if elderliness has its experience, and if prime has the fulness of its strength for service, and if young manhood has its hopefulness and its ardour, then has youth also its especial offering to bring to its Redeemer; it has its affectionateness, its trustfulness, its docility, its readiness to obey, its beauty. Truly, the "flower when offered in the bud:' is "no vain sacrifice." 3. It saves the growth of injurious weeds in the garden of the soul. When the sense of sacred obligation is absent, youth is apt to let various evil habits grow up - habits which choke much that is good, which constitute a serious drawback to Christian worth, and which require much effort and much time also for their extraction. But when the curly days are spent in the service and in the friendship of Christ, his holy will being the one rule of the heart and life, such evil habits are unformed, and all the after-days are stronger and better and more beautiful for their absence. 4. Each period in life is a stepping-stone to the next, is a preparation for the next. We sow in youth what we reap ill young manhood; as we go on our way we gather in the harvest of the thought and toil of the years that came before it. But this applies to our moral and spiritual character more perfectly than to anything else. How, then, can we afford to lose the great advantage of building up from the beginning? Our manhood will be much the weaker for an ill-spent youth, and much the stronger for a well-spent one. Our whole life will be greatly impoverished by the one, greatly enriched by the other. 5. Godly youth is a source of pure and deep joy to those whom the young should be most desirous of pleasing - to those that have loved them and served them with tenderest solicitude and unfailing devotion. II. OUR DUTY IN REGARD TO IT. 1. To abstain most carefully from forcing it. No deadlier injury can be done to the young than forcing a religious habit; constraining them to affect a language and to make a profession which is unreal, which will soon break down, and which will leave the heart far less open to all heavenly influences than it would have been. 2. To encourage it in every way that is in our power; more particularly by the exhibition of a consistent life and the manifestation of a loving spirit toward them. Whom we win for ourselves we may lead to our Lord. III. THE WISDOM AND THE DUTY OF THE YOUNG. This is to enter the service of Jesus Christ without delay. He does not require of them anything they cannot offer. He does not demand of them that they should use the language or do the work which is appropriate, to other conditions; he asks them to receive him as their Divine Teacher, as their Divine Friend, as their Divine Lord. He asks them to trust, to love, to serve him to the height of their present power. This they can do; this they should do; this they will be truly and deeply wise if they do. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." - C.
2. Each period of life has its own peculiar offering to bring. If age has its patience and submissiveness, and if elderliness has its experience, and if prime has the fulness of its strength for service, and if young manhood has its hopefulness and its ardour, then has youth also its especial offering to bring to its Redeemer; it has its affectionateness, its trustfulness, its docility, its readiness to obey, its beauty. Truly, the "flower when offered in the bud:' is "no vain sacrifice."
3. It saves the growth of injurious weeds in the garden of the soul. When the sense of sacred obligation is absent, youth is apt to let various evil habits grow up - habits which choke much that is good, which constitute a serious drawback to Christian worth, and which require much effort and much time also for their extraction. But when the curly days are spent in the service and in the friendship of Christ, his holy will being the one rule of the heart and life, such evil habits are unformed, and all the after-days are stronger and better and more beautiful for their absence.
4. Each period in life is a stepping-stone to the next, is a preparation for the next. We sow in youth what we reap ill young manhood; as we go on our way we gather in the harvest of the thought and toil of the years that came before it. But this applies to our moral and spiritual character more perfectly than to anything else. How, then, can we afford to lose the great advantage of building up from the beginning? Our manhood will be much the weaker for an ill-spent youth, and much the stronger for a well-spent one. Our whole life will be greatly impoverished by the one, greatly enriched by the other.
5. Godly youth is a source of pure and deep joy to those whom the young should be most desirous of pleasing - to those that have loved them and served them with tenderest solicitude and unfailing devotion.
II. OUR DUTY IN REGARD TO IT.
1. To abstain most carefully from forcing it. No deadlier injury can be done to the young than forcing a religious habit; constraining them to affect a language and to make a profession which is unreal, which will soon break down, and which will leave the heart far less open to all heavenly influences than it would have been.
2. To encourage it in every way that is in our power; more particularly by the exhibition of a consistent life and the manifestation of a loving spirit toward them. Whom we win for ourselves we may lead to our Lord.
III. THE WISDOM AND THE DUTY OF THE YOUNG. This is to enter the service of Jesus Christ without delay. He does not require of them anything they cannot offer. He does not demand of them that they should use the language or do the work which is appropriate, to other conditions; he asks them to receive him as their Divine Teacher, as their Divine Friend, as their Divine Lord. He asks them to trust, to love, to serve him to the height of their present power. This they can do; this they should do; this they will be truly and deeply wise if they do. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." - C.
I. THE COMMISSIONERS.
1. Their names. Shaphan the son of Azaliah, the king's secretary (ver. 15); Maaseiah the governor of the city; and Josh the son of Joahaz, the recorder or chronicler.
2. Their business. To repair the house of the Lord. This had been done two centuries before by Joash (2 Chronicles 24:12), and nearly one century before by Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:12-19). During the reigns of Manasseh and Amon it had fallen into such disorder that it a third time demanded renovation. In this respect the temple was a melancholy symbol of all human institutions - not excepting such as are religious - which constantly exhibit a tendency as they grow old to become degenerate, and, as a consequence stand in need of periodic reformation and rejuvenescence.
3. Their procedure. Along with Hilkiah the priest - as Joash had acted in concert with Jehoiada, and the king's scribe had co-operated with the high priest's officer (2 Chronicles 24:11, 12) - they received the money which the Levites that kept the temple doors had collected from the people of Manasseh and Ephraim, and of all the remnant of Israel, and from the inhabitants of all Judah and Benjamin, who, following the plan in vogue since the days of Joash and Jehoiada, cast in their free-will offerings into a box placed in the temple court for the purpose of receiving the voluntary contributions of the faithful towards the good end the king had in view, the repairing of the temple. Having received this money, the three commissioners, along with the high priest, paid it over to the superintendents who had the oversight of the house of the Lord.
II. THE OVERSEERS.
1. Their names.
(1) Jahath and Obadiah, two Levites of the family of Merari;
(2) Zechariah and Meshullam, two Levites of the house of Kohath: and
(3) others unnamed, but specified as "Levites, all that could skill of instruments of music" (ver. 12).
2. Their duties.
(1) To exercise supervision over the workmen, over the bearers of burdens, and all that wrought in any manner of service (ver. 13), over the carpenters, builders, and other artisans engaged in the undertaking (ver. 11).
(2) To set forward the work (ver. 12), or "to preside over it" (margin).
(3) Perhaps also to do both, i.e. incite and cheer the workmen, and so prosper the work, by music and song (Bertheau). "Orpheus and Amphion, by their music, moved the workmen to diligence and activity, and lessened and alleviated their toil. May we not suppose, then, that skilful musicians among the Levites did exercise their art among the workmen who were employed in the repairs of the house of the Lord? "(Adam Clarke).
(4) To distribute the moneys received from the commissioners to the different tradesmen that these might procure the necessary materials for the building (vers. 10, 11).
III. THE ARTISANS.
1. Carpenters, or workers in wood, whose business was to prepare timber for couplings and to make beams for the houses, i.e. for the temple and its courts, which the kings of Judah had permitted to fall into decay.
2. Masons, or workers in stone; not to hew, since the stones were already hewn when purchased, but to build - in this perhaps designedly following the example given in the building of the temple (1 Kings 6:7).
IV. THE ASSISTANTS.
1. Scribes, who kept a record of the progress of, as well as the necessary accounts connected with, the work.
2. Officers, who served in different capacities under superiors.
3. Porters, who watched at the several gates of the temple while the work was going on.
1. The beauty of order,
2. The efficiency secured by division of labour.
3. The value of co-operation. - W.
else. With us religious thought and spiritual earnestness are not thus localized; and though, after the manner as well as in the spirit of Josiah, we may concern ourselves much with the erection or the repair of some "house of the Lord," yet Christian zeal now shows itself in a hundred ways;. it branches and bears fruit in all directions. There is, however, a sense in which it is all building. We who are at work for our Lord and for our neighbour are building up the kingdom of Christ, and, at the same time, are building up a peaceful, happy, holy community. It is probable that we have all undertaken some specific work of this kind, some ministry; that we have committed ourselves to some office which makes certain demands on our intelligence, our strength, our time. That being so, it is well that we realize the importance of "doing the work faithfully" which we have in hand.
I. WHAT CONSTITUTES FAITHFULNESS. TO be faithful is clearly a very different thing from being successful. Some men are successful, as men count success, who are not faithful in the sight of God; others are faithful who are not "successful." To be faithful is to act with rightful, earnest, patient effort in the sphere in which our Lord has placed us.
1. Doing our work honestly, fairly, conscientiously, keeping in view the revealed will of God and the claims of men (see 2 Timothy 2:5).
2. Acting with earnestness; not languidly and listlessly, but devotedly and energetically.
3. With patient, persevering effort; not daunted by the first nor by the fiftieth difficulty that presents itself, not silenced by clamour, not forsaking the path of holy service because prosperity seems long in coming; but calmly, patiently, thoroughly proceeding with and completing our work; holding on and bearing up until we can say, thankfully and reverently, "It is finished."
II. WHAT INDUCEMENTS WE HAVE TO BE FAITHFUL IN OUR WORK.
1. Our Lord requires it. "It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2). "Be thou faithful unto death," says the ascended Lord with commanding voice. There were "overseers," our text says, to "set forward" the work in which these artificers were engaged. We have one great Divine Overseer, who is ever looking on and taking account, desiring of us that we "do the work faithfully," and it behoves us to do everything we undertake, both that which does and that which does not directly belong to the affairs of his kingdom, "as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye."
2. By so doing we take rank with the best of the sons of men. Of Moses we read that "he was faithful in all his house" (Hebrews 3:2). He did not seem to be remarkably successful; probably in the eyes of his contemporaries he appeared positively unsuccessful. But when he lay down to die on Nebo he could feel that he had done his work faithfully. And thus with Paul. And so with the best and worthiest of our race. To be faithful in our work is to stand with the best of men.
3. Thus only can we secure the approval of our own conscience. But thus we shall; and how great a victory it will be to be able to feel as Paul felt when his course was run, "I have fought a good fight,... I have kept the faith"!
4. We shall receive a large reward. If we arc but faithful in a few things here, we shall be rulers over many things hereafter (Matthew 25:21). If faithful unto death, Christ will give us "a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). Life in all its glorious fulness, in all its perfect blessedness, will be ours for ever. - C.
I. THE GUILTY NEGLIGENCE OF WHICH NATIONS AND MEN ARE CAPABLE. Judah had been concerning itself, had been "careful and troubled" about many things, but it had not thought it worth while to multiply copies of the "Law of the Lord," of its own sacred books; so negligent had it been that when one is accidentally discovered its warnings are read for the first time by its own sovereign in his manhood! Of what great and guilty negligence are we capable! We may be spending our time and strength, we may be exhausting ourselves and endangering our health and life in all kinds of unprofitable occupation, in fruitless labour or in amusement which begins and ends in itself, and all the time may be neglecting that one study or that one habit in the pursuit of which "standeth our eternal life." There are many men in Christian countries who expend their substance upon, and occupy their very life with, horses, or dogs, or guns, who do not afford even a few hours a year to the serious study of the will of God as revealed by his Son and recorded in his Word. The treasure which cannot be estimated in gold or silver lies untouched, as much buried from sight and use as if it had been hidden in some crypt of the temple. It may not be our deeds, but our negligences, that we shall most fear to face in the great day of account.
II. THE MELANCHOLY USE WE MAY MAKE OF DIVINE TRUTH. In that book of the Law of the Lord there were instructions and admonitions which, if duly heeded, would have ensured abiding peace and honour to the inhabitants of Judah. These had been waywardly and flagrantly disregarded. And now the time for employing them had well-nigh gone. What was left was the sad opportunity of verifying by bitter experience the truth of its threatenings. This was the alternative now open to Judah. Let us take care lest, by our disregard of the promises, we bring upon ourselves the warnings of the Word of God. "If we will not be ruled by the rudder, we must be ruled by the rock." If we will not take advantage of the beneficent laws and the gracious overtures of God, we must "show forth" the severity of those righteous laws which attach suffering and shame to vanity and guilt.
III. THE URGENT NEED OF KEEPING AN OPEN MIND AND A SENSITIVE SPIRIT. We are almost startled when we read of Josiah's vehemence (ver. 19). These solemn threats do not affect us in that degree. But we have to consider that he was hearing them read for the first time; to him they were new and fresh, and therefore striking and forcible. Here lies one of our great perils. Familiarity covers the truth of God with its own veil, so that we do not see what we are looking at. We want to read the words of Jesus Christ, to listen to the story of his great sacrifice, to hearken to his words of gracious invitation, as if we had never met with them before; we want to bring to them all the force of an unclouded intelligence, of an undulled interest. And so with the warnings as well as with the promises of Scripture.
IV. THE ATTENTION GOD PAYS TO INDIVIDUAL SOULS. (Vers. 26-28.) Wrath was to be poured out upon Judah, but Josiah was to be treated mercifully because he had acted rightly. Whatever penalties are due to our country, however we may be, as we are, suffering as the members of a guilty race, we may be quite sure that God has regard to the life we are living, to the choice we are making. If our heart is tender, and if our will is obedient and submissive, we also shall find mercy of the Lord. God has his dealings with communities and with Churches; but his most constant relation is with men, with individual souls. "The Lord looketh upon me; ... Christ died for me;" "What wilt thou have me to do?" And according to our individual choice will be our destiny. "Every man must bear his own burden." - C.
I. THE FINDING OF THE BOOK. (Vers. 14, 15.)
1. The finder. Hilkiah the priest (ver. 18), the high priest (ver. 9), the son of Shallum (1 Chronicles 6:13), the son of Zadok; not to be identified with either the father of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1) or the father of Gemariah (Jeremiah 29:3); and certainly to be distinguished from the father of Eliakim, Hezekiah's house-steward (Isaiah 22:20).
2. The place. The temple (ver. 15), though in what part is not stated (ver. 14); perhaps the treasure-chest out of which Hilkiah was fetching gold. to make cups and other vessels (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 10:4. 2), but more probably the vicinity of the ark in the holy of holies.
3. The time. The eighteenth year of Josiah's reign, when he was in the middle of his reformation work (ver. 8), and just before the celebration of the Passover (2 Chronicles 35:1) - a circumstance calculated to suggest the presence of God's finger in the opportune discovery of a book which exercised so powerful an influence upon the religious life of the nation at this critical juncture in its history; though the same circumstance has been used (Wellhausen, Kuenen, Ewald, Colenso, R. Smith, Cheyne) to support the theory that the book was now or shortly before for the first time written, by either Hilkiah himself, Jeremiah, or some other unknown prophet, as the legislative programme of the reforming party.
4. The book.
(1) Deuteronomy alone (De Wette, Bohlen, Kuenen, etc.), or the original kernel thereof (Cheyne); maintained chiefly on these grounds:
(a) The title of the book - "the book of the Law" (ver. 15), "a book of the Law of the Lord" (ver. 14) - a designation which appears to be reserved for the fifth alone of the so-called Mosaic books (Deuteronomy 28:61; Deuteronomy 30:10; Deuteronomy 31:26). But it is likewise styled "the book of the covenant" (ver. 30); and this phrase occurs only in the second of the Pentateuchal books (Exodus 24:7). Whence, by parity of reasoning, the book found must have been the Book of Exodus alone. The probability, however, is, that the volume contained both the second and the fifth books of Moses; in other words, that it was the whole Pentateuch.
(b) The size of the book. As Shaphan is said to have read it through at a sitting (ver. 18), it is hardly likely to have been the whole Pentateuch, but may have been Deuteronomy. But the revised translation, "therein" (ver. 8), has deprived this of the force it was formerly sup, posed to possess as an argument.
(c) The teaching of the book. The principle of Josiah's reformation, which it is argued was based upon the book - the principle, viz., of the abolition of local sanctuaries and the centralization of worship in the temple at Jerusalem - corresponds exactly with the legislation of the Deuteronomic code, which declares the law of one central altar, and forbids the erection of local sanctuaries (Deuteronomy 12:5-8). This, however, may be conceded without holding that Hilkiah's Law-book contained nothing but Deuteronomy or the original draft thereof - unless, indeed, it be assumed that Deuteronomy was only then for the first time written - against which stands the fact that the law of the king (Deuteronomy 17:18) appears to have been known and observed in the days of Jehoiada and Jonah (2 Chronicles 23:11; 2 Kings 11:12). Besides, it is too readily assumed that Josiah had no knowledge of the sinfulness of local sanctuaries and the imperative obligation of a central altar until he heard Hilkiah's book read, and that from the hearing of that book he derived his impulse to destroy the heathen altars in Jerusalem, Judah, and certain cities of Israel. As to the first, if Josiah had no acquaintance with the law of one altar, it would seem that Hezekiah had (2 Kings 18:4-6); while, with reference to the second, the Book of Kings indeed adopts the view here stated; but the Chronicler represents the finding of the book as having taken place after the purgation of the land (ver. 8).
(d) The style of the book. On the ground of certain linguistic resemblances between Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, it is argued that the former must have been Hilkiah's book, and composed about Josiah's time. But this reasoning is not good. As Hilkiah's book contained Deuteronomy, whatever else it contained, it would most likely make on Jeremiah, as on Josiah, a deep impression, which would reflect itself upon his own writings. Hence, from mere verbal correspondences, it cannot be inferred that Deuteronomy was not written till the age of Josiah; and if' this position be abandoned, it will not be necessary to maintain that Hilkiah's book was only the last of the (so-called) books of Moses.
(2) The entire Pentateuch (Keil, Bahr, Havernick, and others). Besides being borne out by the failure to establish the preceding alternative, this opinion is confirmed by the facts that the book was found in the temple by the high priest; that it is stated to have been "by Moses;" that it was recognized as such by Hilkiah, Shaphan, and Josiah; and that it made a profound impression on them all.
(a) The fact that "it was a common practice of Egyptian scribes to insert in their transcripts of great religious or scientific works a statement that the writing in question had been 'found' in a temple," hardly warrants the suggestion that Deuteronomy 31:6 was "an imitation of this custom," or that Hilkiah's book "was not lost by accident, nor yet placed in the sanctuary with the intention to deceive, but simply taken to the temple and formally placed there, and then communicated to Josiah with a view to its promulgation" (Cheyne, 'Jeremiah: his Life and Times,' p. 85).
(b) The phrase, "by Moses," is not sufficiently explained by saying that the author meant that Moses, had he been alive, would have so written (ibid., p. 78).
(c) It is difficult to perceive why Hilkiah, Shaphan, and Josiah should have given out that the work was by Moses, if they really knew that it was not, but was merely an "imitation" of the great lawgiver.
(d) It is too much to ask any but the credulous to believe that Josiah was not acting a part in pretending to be impressed by the contents of the book, if he knew it was not by the lawgiver, but by an unknown and recent author. That it was the autograph copy of the lawgiver's work (Kennicott) is an unverifiable surmise; that it was "the three middle books of the Pentateuch" (Bertheau) or only the second (Gramberg) does not seem likely.
II. THE READING OF THE BOOK. (Vers. 18, 19)
1. The reader. Shaphan the scribe, the son of Azaliah (ver. 8), the son of Meshullam (2 Kings 22:37, one of Josiah's commissioners for the repairing of the temple.
2. The auditor. Josiah (ver. 18), to whom Shaphan carried the book in obedience to Hilkiah's instructions.
3. The lesson. "It" or "in it" (Revised Version). Not necessarily the whole book, but only portions of it, as e.g. those containing the curses against disobedience (Deuteronomy 27-31.; Leviticus 26:14-46), warnings against idolatry (Leviticus 26:1-30; Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 27:15), and perhaps also the directions relating to the observance of the Passover (Exodus 12.7 and the making of a covenant (Exodus 24.).
4. The impression. Josiah rent his clothes (ver. 19).
(1) In astonishment (cf. Genesis 37:29; Genesis 44:13) at the teaching rather than at the finding of the book. Many persons still would be surprised at the contents of the Bible if they only read it. The Bible is often rejected by those who are entirely ignorant of it.
(2) In self-abasement (ver. 27), as an acknowledgment in outward action of the sense he had of his own and his people's shortcomings (cf. Numbers 14:6; 2 Samuel 3:31), in respect of both their idolatries and their continued maintenance of local sanctuaries - an acknowledgment the sincerity of which was attested by the tears with which it was accompanied (ver. 27). So does no reading of the Bible accomplish its highest aim or produce its best effect unless it humbles the hearer before God, and causes him to weep for his sins (Job 42:5, 6; Psalm 38:18; Jeremiah 31:18, 19; 2 Corinthians 7:9-11).
III. THE INQUIRING ABOUT THE BOOK. (Vers. 21-28.) Done at Josiah's instance.
1. The reason of this inquiry. The terror in which the king was about the wrath of Jehovah against himself and people on account of the failure of their fathers to do after all that was written in the book. Josiah recognized the solidarity of the race, according to which the proverb held good, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Ezekiel 18:2). Besides, Josiah must have known the reforming zeal of the people was at best but superficial (Jeremiah 3:10). Hence, though the land and the house had been purged, he was uncertain whether the curses denounced against idolatry might not still overtake them. It is good when"the terror of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:11) persuades men to inquire about escaping, from the wrath to come.
2. The quarter at which this inquiry was made.
(1) Jehovah. "Inquire of the Lord for me" (ver. 217. God is the only Being competent to direct how man may escape the infliction of Divine wrath on account of sin. Schemes of salvation only of man's devising are of no value. Salvation, in its conception, inception, conduction, and perfection, belongeth unto God (Psalm 3:8; Psalm 37:39; Isaiah 43:11; Jeremiah 3:23; 2 Corinthians 5:18; 1 Timothy 2:3). The soul that would be saved must apply to him (Isaiah 45:22; Amos 5:4; John 3:16; Romans 3:22-30; 1 John 5:11).
(2) Huldah the prophetess - a title given to Miriam (Exodus 15:20) and Deborah (Judges 4:4) - the wife of Shal-lum the sou of Tikvath, the son of Hasrath, keeper of the wardrobe, who dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter (ver. 22), i.e. of the city, probably the "other city" (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 15:11. 5), situated on the hill Acra. That the king sent not to Jeremiah may be explained by supposing Jeremiah was not then in Jerusalem, but at Anathoth (Kimchi); that he sent to Huldah shows he recognized the necessity as well as propriety of consulting God through his appointed media of communication, Not even under the gospel can God be approached directly (John 1:18), but only through Christ (John 14:6), the Prophet like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22), and yet greater than all prophets by so much as a son is greater than a servant (Hebrews 1:1; Hebrews 3:5, 6).
3. The persons through whom this inquiry was made. The deputation sent by the king consisted of five individuals, most likely all high officials connected with his court.
(1) Hilkiah the priest;
(2) Ahikam the son of Shaphan (not the scribe), afterwards the friend and patron of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24; Jeremiah 39:14), and father of Gedaliah, whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed deputy-governor of the land after the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:22; Jeremiah 40:5);
(4) Shaphan the scribe, or king's secretary; and
(5) Asaiah the king's servant. The centurion of Capernaum sent a deputation to entreat the help of Christ, whom he regarded as a Prophet (Luke 7:3). No intermediaries are required by such as would consult him whom the Father hath appointed the one Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).
4. The answer returned to this inquiry.
(1) Concerning the city and the temple a sentence of doom (ver. 24). The inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem had provoked Jehovah to anger by their senseless and shameful idolatries, had turned a deaf ear to the warnings of Jehovah's prophets, had not even profited by the judgment already fallen on the northern kingdom, and had terribly abused the privileges they had enjoyed and the patience that had been exercised towards them. Their day of grace was past. The night of doom was at hand (ver. 25). Had Josiah consulted Jeremiah, the reply would in all probability have been similar (Jeremiah 5.). Of corresponding severity is the sentence pronounced by Christ upon them who love the darkness rather than the light, who adhere to sinful ways in spite of his calls to repentance, who despise his offered mercy and trample on his laws (Matthew 21:41; Matthew 24:51; John 5:29; Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6; 1 Peter 3:12; Jude 1:13).
(2) Concerning the king, a message of grace (ver. 27). The ground of it, Josiah's repentance; the substance of it, Josiah's deliverance. In the gospel repentance and salvation are always conjoined. Repentance a condition of salvation (Matthew 4:17; Mark 6:12; Luke 24:37; Acts 2:38); salvation a consequent of repentance (Luke 15:7; Luke 18:13, 14; 1 John 1:9). Learn:
1. The inspiration of Scriptures.
2. The profitableness of Scripture-reading.
3. The testimony of conscience to the Word of God.
4. The certainty of God's anger against sin.
5. The blessedness of sincere mourning on account of sin.
6. The mercifulness of God in the providential preservation of his Word.
7. The certainty that God never loses sight of the Bible, though man often does. - W.
1. He summoned all the elders in particular and all the people who could meet together, and made known to them in its fulness the truth that had been revealed to himself (vers. 29, 30).
2. He pledged all those who were with him, and who represented the nation, to continuance in the service of Jehovah (vers. 31, 32).
3. He took away the standing temptation from the path of the people. He thus made obedience easier while he made the sense of obligation firmer.
I. OUR DUTY TO COMMUNICATE DIVINE TRUTH. When we consider:
1. How essential to life and all that life includes is the familiar knowledge of the will of God.
2. How possible and how practicable it is for all who know the will of God in Jesus Christ to pass it on to others.
3. How willingly men will listen if we give them the simplest and best guarantee of our sincerity - consistency of conduct and excellency of spirit; we shall see how right and how urgent it is upon us that we should all "hold forth the Word of life," make known the goodness and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. OUR DUTY TO SECURE IT SO FAR AS LIES IN OUR POWER. The text suggests three ways of doing this.
1. Pledge ourselves to abide in its light. Josiah covenanted for himself to "keep his commandments... with all his heart... to perform the words... written in this book." That was his first, plain duty. And that is ours also; to undertake, solemnly and openly before God and his people, to walk in righteousness and in holy service; to" take the vows of the Lord" upon us. By so doing we give the strongest possible and the greatest practical encouragement to all others to come and "do likewise."
2. Induce others to enter into the same solemn undertaking. As the king with his countrymen (ver. 32), so we with our kindred and friends, with our fellow-worshippers and neighbours, should do all in our power to pledge them to the service of God. "Join us," we should say, "in taking a solemn and sacred pledge to live consciously in the presence and continuously in the service of the Divine Saviour." In every considerable company of worshippers there are those who are unpledged, but who, for their own sake and for that of others related to them, ought to be the avowed disciples of Christ. It is our sacred duty, it is our high privilege, it will prove a service rich in the best reward, to speak the encouraging and inviting word which will lead them to take this important step.
3. Remove temptation from the path of those who might not be able to resist it. This is ground on which we must exhibit both understanding and earnestness, both sagacity and self-sacrifice. There are things which may be said. to be "abominations" (ver. 33) because they prove to be irresistible and ruinous temptations to some sincere disciples. In these cases, it is not enough to warn against them - we must go further than that; we must do anything and everything that is needful to get the temptation as much out of the path of our neighbours as the images which were ground to dust (ver. 4) were removed from the way of the people of Judah. We may add a fourth measure which may be suggested by the twenty-ninth verse:
4. Prevail upon our friends to come into the near presence and under the power of the truth of God; and this not (as in the text) on one particular occasion, but frequently and regularly. For much fellowship with Christ and much hearkening to his voice as he speaks to us in the sanctuary will give strength unto the soul. - C.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. The time.
(1) In the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign, or in Josiah's twenty-sixth year; not so early as the covenant made by Asa in the fifteenth year of his reign (2 Chronicles 15:10), or as that made by Jehoiada in the first year of Joash's reign (2 Chronicles 23:16), or as that projected by Hezekiah also in the first year of his reign (2 Chronicles 29:10). But better late than never.
(2) After the purgation of the land and the house. It is necessary as well as fitting that works of repentance and reformation should be followed up by resolutions after new obedience, that the casting out of false gods should be supplemented by the bringing in of the true God, that "ceasing to do evil" should be accompanied by "learning to do well" (Isaiah 1:16, 17).
(3) While Josiah was under the devout impressions produced by the reading of the book of the Law. Seasons when the heart is affected by a sense of God's nearness or a conviction of its own sinfulness should be improved by drawing closer its relations to God (2 Corinthians 7:11).
2. The place.
(1) The city of Jerusalem, which had been swept clean from its idolatries - an indispensable preliminary to meeting with God.
(2) The temple on Moriah, where Jehovah had set his Name. They who would have dealings with a God of grace must seek him at the times, in the places, and by the ways he himself has appointed.
II. THE PARTIES.
1. The king. As was most appropriate, Josiah led the way. Though sovereigns have no right under the gospel to enforce religion on their subjects, they may nevertheless, by means of personal example, persuade their subjects to embrace religion.
2. The elders. These were the heads of the houses, and therefore the representatives of the inhabitants both of Judah and Jerusalem. Unless the chiefs in a state and the fathers in a family precede, it is not likely the inferiors in the former or the children in the latter will follow after in the paths of piety.
3. The priests and Levites. Instead of "the Levites," 2 Kings (2 Kings 23:2) reads "prophets," which has been explained by supposing that the prophets, among whom probably were Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, and Urijah, belonged to priestly and Levitical families, or that they were Levites whose duty it was to preach and to interpret the Law (2 Chronicles 17:8, 9; cf. Deuteronomy 17:18; Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 33:10). Those who ascribe it to an error of the pen are uncertain whether that error should be charged against the author of the Kings (Keil) or against the Chronicler (Bertheau).
4. The people. Great and small - the people of distinction and the lower classes, perhaps also the grown-up persons and the children - were assembled as participants in this high transaction (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:13; Deuteronomy 1:17).
III. THE PRELIMINARIES.
1. The reading of the book of the covenant. The part read most likely included Exodus 24., the readers being, not the king himself (Adam Clarke), but others, presumably Shaphan, Hilkiah, Jeremiah, etc. The reading was "in their ears," from which may be inferred that it was audible and distinct.
2. The standing of the king in his place. This was the platform beside the brazen altar, upon which the sovereign was accustomed to stand in high religious and national ceremonies (2 Chronicles 6:13; 2 Chronicles 23:13).
IV. THE ENGAGEMENTS.
1. To walk after the Lord. The common phrase for observing the worship of Jehovah (2 Chronicles 11:17; 2 Kings 17:8; 2 Kings 21:22; Micah 4:5; Micah 6:16). Distinguish the similar phrases, "to walk before God" (2 Chronicles 6:14; Genesis 17:1), and "to walk with God" (Genesis 5:24). The ideas in the first are perhaps those of imitation and obedience; in the second, those of sincerity and purity; in the third, those of communion and concord.
2. To keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes. Explanatory of the foregoing; to walk after Jehovah, signifying to keep his commandments, etc. The three terms - commandments, testimonies, statutes - occasionally occur together or in contiguity (Psalm 19:7, 8; Psalm 119:21, 22, 23), and though etymologically distinguishable, are practically synonymous. They are employed here perhaps for variety, but chiefly for emphasis (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The obedience required by Jehovah and promised by the people was not formal and superficial, but earnest and sincere - "with all the heart, and with all the soul." God for Christ's sake may accept less, but for his own sake he never can demand less, while God's people and Christ's should strive never to present less.
3. To perform the words of the covenant written in the book of the Law. The ultimate standard of duty for king and people was to be the words of the book, and neither the opinions of others nor the imaginations of themselves. So for Christians the supreme rule of faith and practice is the Holy Scriptures.
V. THE RESULTS.
1. The people assented to the covenant. At the king's command - whether with perfect free-will (2 Kings 23:3) is not clear - they bound themselves to its observance (ver. 32). Without the concurrence of the will there can be no true religious service.
2. The king purged the land of Israel from abominations. He allowed no external observance of idolatry. To cleanse the hearts of his people from idol-worship was beyond his power. Human enactments, by whatever power promulgated, can only effect external reformation; the regeneration of the heart and renewal of the mind are competent to God alone.
3. The nation kept true to the covenant while Josiah lived. The practice of idolatry had been suppressed, but the spirit of idolatry had not been killed. After Josiah's death it again raised its head (2 Chronicles 36:5; 2 Kings 23:32), as it had frequently done before after periods of reformation.
1. The Word of God the supreme directory to a Christian both for faith and practice.
2. The prime duty of man to keep God's commandments and testimonies.
3. The highest evidence of piety in either individual or nation is holiness. - W.
I. THE BIBLE LOST. An unspeakable calamity.
1. To literature. Remark on the indebtedness of modern literature to the Bible.
2. To religion. Without the support and quickening derived from Scripture religion would speedily become languid.
3. To morality. Contrast in respect of morality countries possessing and countries lacking the Bible.
II. THE BIBLE FOUND. A great mercy. More to be prized than the discovery of gold-mines, which can only contribute to man's material wealth, or even of rare manuscripts by human authors, which enrich chiefly the intellect, the finding of the Bible by an individual or a nation for the first time, or the recovery of it after it has been for some time lost, is:
1. An occasion of great joy, and is usually felt to be such. Witness the gladness of Luther at finding the Bible in the convent at Erfurth. And ought to be:
2. A reason for special thankfulness, as it generally is to all who know its value as a revelation of Divine wisdom and love, and can appreciate its power to influence the hearts and lives of men.
III. THE BIBLE READ. A blessed privilege.
1. Many might read the Bible who do not have it. A sad deprivation. This the case of the heathen generally and of numbers at home. An argument for missions.
2. Many have the Bible, yet do not read it. A grievous sin. This the case with thousands in Christendom to whom God's Word is a strange book. An argument for preaching.
3. Many have the Bible, but cannot read it. A pitiful condition. This the case of those who through defective education or blindness are unable to read. An argument for Christian philanthropy.
4. Many have the Bible and read it. A happy experience. This the case of those who have learnt to recognize in the Bible God's Word, and to appreciate its suitability to their soul's needs. An argument for the inspiration of the Scriptures.
IV. THE BIBLE OBEYED. An indispensable duty.
1. Obedience the end and aim of the Bible. The Bible not written for information merely, but for direction also. Designed not simply for the construction of creeds, but likewise for the regulation of conduct (Matthew 6:24; James 1:22).
2. Obedience the only homage acceptable to the Bible. To read it, admire its literary beauty, study its theology, extol its excellences, circulate it, are good if these acts are accompanied by obedience, but if not they are comparatively worthless.
3. Obedience the best witness to the Divinity of the Bible. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God" (John 7:17). Those who know the Bible best, by giving practical obedience to its precepts are most fully convinced of its heavenly and supernatural origin.