Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears;" they did "always resist the Holy Ghost" (see Acts 7:51). No doubt there was always a true "Church of God" within the nation (1 Kings 19:18); but to call the whole nation "the Jewish Church" is a misnomer, and far from a harmless one. It has encouraged Christian nations to fashion their communities after the Jewish model instead of after the Christian one. The verses I have selected record and illustrate good aims and bad methods.
I. GOOD AIMS. Josiah's aims, as here presented, were confessedly high, noble, and good. I offer two remarks concerning his purposes as presented in these verses.
1. To reduce his people to a loyal obedience to Heaven. His aim was to sweep every vestige of religious error and moral crime from his dominion. Truly, what more laudable purpose could any man have than this, to crush all evil within his domain, to crush it not only in its form but in its essence? This was indeed the great end of Christ's mission to the world. He came "to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
2. Generated within him by the discovery of the Divine will. Somehow or other, as was seen in the last chapter, the book of the Law which was to regulate the lives of the Jewish people had been lost in the temple, lost probably for many years, but Hilkiah the high priest had just discovered it, and Josiah becomes acquainted with its contents. What is the result? He is seized with the burning conviction that the whole nation is gone wrong, and forthwith he seeks to flash the same conviction into the souls of his people. "And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant." Thus sprang his noble purpose. It was not a capricious whim or the outcome of a sudden and fitful impulse; it was rooted in an enlightened conviction. A noble purpose must be righteously founded.
II. BAD METHODS. Real good work requires not only a good purpose, but a good method also. Saul sought to honor the God of his fathers, and this was good; but his method, viz. that of persecuting the Christians, was bad. How did Josiah now seek to realize his purpose to sweep idolatry from the face of his country? Not by argument, suasion, and moral influence, but by brute force and violence (vers. 4-28). "All the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove" (ver. 4), that is, all the apparatus for idol-worship, these he ordered to be burnt outside Jerusalem, "in the fields of Kidron." He "stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people. And he brake down the houses of the sodomites" (vers. 6, 7). He also "brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men" (ver. 14). Moreover, "he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them" (ver. 20). In this way, the way of force and violence, he essayed to work out his grand purpose. I offer two remarks concerning his method.
1. It was unphilosophic. Moral evils cannot be put down by force; coercion cannot travel to a man's soul. The fiercest wind, the most vivid lightnings, cannot reach the moral Elijah in his cave. The "still small voice" alone can touch him, and bring him out to light and truth. After all this, were the people less idolatrous? Before Josiah was cold in his grave idolatry was as rife as ever. You may destroy to-day all heathen temples and priests on the face of the earth, but in doing this you have done nothing towards quenching the spirit of idolatry - that will remain as rampant as ever; phoenix-like, it will rise with new vitality and vigor from the ashes into which material fires have consumed its temples, its books, and its feasts. Ay, and you might destroy all the monastic orders and theological tomes of the Roman Catholic Church, and leave the spirit of popery as strong, nay, stronger than ever. Truth alone can conquer error, love alone can conquer wrath, right alone can conquer wrong.
2. It was mischievous. The evil was not extinguished; it burnt with fiercer flame. Persecution has always propagated the opinions it has sought to crush. The crucified Malefactor became the moral Conqueror and Commander of the people. Violence begets violence, anger begets anger, war begets war. "He that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword." - D.T.
I. SOLEMN COVENANTING. After the example of Jehoiada in the reign of Joash (2 Chronicles 23:16), and the still more ancient example of Moses (Deuteronomy 29.), Josiah convened the people together to renew the covenant made with them by God at Sinai (Exodus 24:1-8). The covenanting took place appropriately in the house of the Lord - another evidence that the worst abominations had by this time been removed from the temple. All classes were assembled, high and low, priests, prophets, and people. In proposing to them to enter on this solemn engagement, in which he set them the example:
1. The king asked them to do a right thing. It was Israel's distinction among the peoples of the earth that they stood in covenant with God. God had chosen them as a people for himself, that they should serve him alone in the land he had given them. If they had failed to do this, and, now relented of their disobedience, it was meet that they should acknowledge their transgressions, and anew pledge themselves to be the Lord's. This was what Josiah desired Judah and Jerusalem - "the remnant of God's inheritance" - to do. Standing on a raised platform, he set them the example of covenant. It is a good thing when nations have leaders who are themselves conspicuous examples of godliness, and who point the way in what is right to their people. The propriety of national covenants is a question to be settled by the circumstances of each particular age. The individual Christian, at least, is called to frequent renewal of his vows to God, and such an exercise is peculiarly suitable after seasons of backsliding.
2. He did it on a right basis. The covenant was based on the declarations of "the book of the covenant," the words of which were first read in the hearing of all the people. Then the people, following the example of their monarch, pledged themselves to walk after the Lord, to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and soul, and to perform the words that were written in the book. Their covenant thus rested on the right foundation, viz. God's Word. It is God who, in his Word, draws near to us, declares to us his will, holds out his promises, invites us to engagement with himself, and lays down the rule of our obedience. A covenant means nothing save as it springs from faith in, acceptance of, and submission to the revealed Word of God. Our covenanting is to be
(1) intelligent - based on the study of God's Word, and understanding of its requirements;
(2) cordial - with all the heart and soul; and
(3) dutiful - in the spirit of obedience, "to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book."
3. Yet the engagement was not sincere. It was so in the case of Josiah, but not in the case of the people generally, though it is written, "All the people stood to the covenant." In lip they honored God, but in heart they were far from him (Isaiah 29:13). This is evident from the descriptions in the prophets. The movement was not a spontaneous one originating in the hearts of the people themselves, but came down to them from above through the king's command. The formal ceremonies of covenanting were gone through, and some temporary, and perhaps genuine, enthusiasm was awakened. But there was no real heart-change of the people. Their goodness was like the morning cloud and the early dew (Hosea 6:4). This is too often the fats of movements originating with kings, princes, and those in high positions, and not springing from the people's own initiative. They are popular and fashionable, and draw many after them who have no real sympathy with their aims. But the effects do not endure. Rank, fashion, royalty, the adhesion of the great and mighty and noble of this world (1 Corinthians 1:26), do not of themselves make a movement religious, though they may secure for it eclat. The Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and if the essence of religion is wanting, imposing external forms count for little.
II. THE TEMPLE CLEANSED. In the covenant they had just made, the people bound themselves in the most solemn manner to rid the land of all visible traces of idolatry (Exodus 23:24; Deuteronomy 12:1-3). Josiah took this work in hand more systematically than any king who had gone before' him (ver. 25). He began with the temple, the thorough purification of which had probably been left over till the repairs above referred to (2 Kings 22.) could be overtaken. Similar zeal for the destruction of idols was manifested at the conclusion of the previous covenant under Joash (2 Chronicles 23:17).
1. A cleansing away of the traces of Baal-worship. In the first place, a careful clearing out was made of all the vessels and utensils that had been used in the service of Baal, or of the Asherah, or of the host of heaven. These were burned in the valley of Kidron, and the ashes of them carried to Bethel, as the appropriate source of this idolatry. The sacred tree itself - the Asherah - was then cut down, burned in the same valley, and its ashes sprinkled on the graves of the people, many of whom had shared in the guilt of its worship. Afterwards the altars erected to Baal in the temple courts were broken down, and the dust of them cast also into the valley of Kidron (ver. 12). Possibly the Asherah and these altars had been removed, and treated as described, at an earlier date.
2. A cleansing away of the traces of Venus-worship. The Asherah was devoted to the licentious Astarte, and rites the most shameless and abominable had been conducted in the temple courts in honor of this goddess. Houses, even, had been reared close to the sacred enclosure for the bands of depraved men and women who took part in these orgies. Doubtless the worship ere this had been stopped, and the filthy actors driven out, but the houses which remained as a reminder of its existence were now broken down.
3. A cleansing away of the traces of sun-worship. To the worship of the sun and of the host of heaven belonged the sacred horses and chariots (ver. 11), probably ere this removed, and the chariots burned; and the altars on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which successive kings had set up. These, like the altars of Manasseh, were broken down, and their dust scattered in the adjoining valley. Every vestige of idolatry was thus cleansed out of the house of which the Lord had said, "In Jerusalem will I put my Name" (2 Kings 21:4).
III. IDOLATRY PUT AWAY. Judgment began at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), but it spread thence throughout the whole land.
1. Degradation of the priests. The land apparently had been already "purged" of the idols, Asherahs, and sun-images, which were worshipped at the high places (2 Chronicles 34:3, 4). Measures were now taken to degrade the priests who had ministered at these forbidden altars, and through whom, perhaps, the worship was still in many places carried on. These priests were of different kinds.
(1) Some were "idolatrous priests" - chemarim - after the fashion of the priests of the northern kingdom. They do not appear to have been of Levitical descent at all, but were "ordained" of the kings of Judah to burn incense in the high places, and may have been drawn, like Jeroboam's chemarim, from "the lowest of the people" (1 Kings 12:31). Some of them were ostensibly priests of Jehovah, serving him, probably, with idolatrous symbols; others served Baal, and the sun, moon, and planets. The whole of this illegitimate class of priests Josiah put sternly down - suppressing their order as contrary to the Law of Moses.
(2) The second class of priests were true Levites, but they ministered at the high places. These were brought from their several cities to Jerusalem, and there provided for out of the temple revenues. They were not, however, permitted to minister at the altar of Jehovah, though, like the other priests, they received their support from the temple offerings. These stringent regulations effectually broke the power of this class throughout the country. God must be served by a pure ministry.
2. Defilement of the high places. The next part of Josiah's policy was to destroy and defile the high places themselves. One way in which this was done was by covering them with dead men's bones, or burning dead bones upon them. The high places were thus rendered unclean, and became hateful to the people. Two special acts of defilement are mentioned in addition to that of "the mount of corruption" next referred to, viz.
(1) the defilement of the high places at the entrance of the gate of Joshua; and
(2) the defilement of Topheth in the valley of Hinnom. The real defilement was in the idolatrous and murderous rites with which these places were associated, but Josiah put a special brand of pollution on them, and stamped them as spots to be held in abhorrence for their vileness.
3. The defilement of "the mount of corruption." Such was the appropriate name given to the hill on which Solomon, long before, had reared altars to the heathen gods worshipped by his wives - Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Moloch, etc. The high places of that mount, which directly overlooked Jerusalem, did Josiah now defile. Idolatry is none the less pernicious that it has the sanction of a great name, and flaunts itself under the guise of a spurious toleration. Any spot where God is not worshipped, but idols are set up in his place, soon becomes a mount of corruption. Heathenism is a mount of corruption. Godless civilization will become a mount of corruption. Our very hearts will turn to mounts of corruption if we allow God to be dethroned in them.
IV. LESSONS OF THE REFORMATION.
1. From what it did accomplish. Josiah's was a true "zeal for the Lord." He was actuated by a right motive, guided himself strictly by God's Word, and directed his efforts unswervingly to execute God's will. He wrought earnestly to purify his state from the evils that afflicted it, and to restore the influence of pure and undefiled religion. He deserves our highest admiration for the
(3) method, and
(4) thoroughness with which he did God's work.
Externally, his work was a success. He cleansed the land from idolatry, we, too, have a call to labor for the purification of society, the dethronement of idols, and the spread of true religion. The age of idolatry is not past. Church, state, literature, science, art, have all their idols. There is self-idolatry, nature-idolatry, wealth-idolatry, art-idolatry, the idolatry of genius, and many more worships besides. Our own hearts are abodes of idols. We do well to imitate Josiah in the energy and thoroughness with which he labored to uproot these false gods. We should be unsparing in our judgment Of whatever vice, error, evil lusts, or passions, or inclinations, or tendencies, we discover in ourselves. Let high thoughts be mercilessly brought low, and proud imaginations abased (2 Corinthians 10:5). Wherever sin is detected, let it be yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!"
2. From what it did not accomplish. This reformation of Josiah wrought, after all, only on the exterior of the nation's life. It lacked power to reach the heart. Therefore it failed to regenerate or save the nation. We are thus pointed to the need of a better covenant, that which Jeremiah predicts in 2 Kings 31:31-34 of his prophecies, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts," etc. - J.O.
I. AN ANCIENT PROPHECY FULFILLED.
1. Iconoclasm at Bethel. Bethel had been the chief scene of Israel's idolatry - the head and front of its offending (cf. Hosea 4:15; Hosea 10:4-9, etc.). On it Josiah's zeal first expended itself. Hosea had prophesied its desolation, the destruction of its high places, the carrying away of its calf, the cessation of its mirth and feasts, its abandonment to thorns and nettles (Hosea 2:11; Hosea 9:6; Hosea 10:8, etc.). But an older voice had foretold the end from the beginning. Scarcely had the schismatic altar, with its calf, been set up, when a prophet out of Judah denounced Jeroboam's sin to his face, and proclaimed that a future king would stain the altar-stones with the blood of the priests, and defile it by burning dead men's bones upon it. A sign had been given in confirmation of the truth of the prediction (1 Kings 13:1-10). That oracle stood at the head of the way of transgression, warning men away from it; but its voice had been unheeded. Now, centuries after, the prediction was fulfilled. Idolatry in some form still held its ground on the ancient spot, but Josiah put an end to it. The altar and high place he broke down, and burned the high place, and reduced it to powder, and burned the Asherah. The idolatry at Bethel had wrought out its effects in the ruin of the state. That evil was irremediable, but Josiah could show at least his detestation of the sin, and his determination that no more evil should be wrought, by totally demolishing the sanctuary. Special regard should be paid to the removal of centers of wickedness. It is useless to capture outworks, if strongholds are left standing. We should not rest content till the very name and memory of sin has perished in places that were conspicuous for it.
2. The sepulcher invaded. Josiah would have no half-measures. It was part of his settled policy, not simply to break down the high places, but to defile them, and unfit them for future use. In looking round him at Bethel for means to accomplish this end, he spied the sepulchers that were in the mount, and sent and took bones out of the sepulchers, and polluted the altar by burning them upon it. His immediate design was to defile the altar, but in taking the bones to burn, he dishonored also the ashes of the dead. In his consuming zeal against idolatry he felt that no respect was due to the bones of those who, by their sins, had brought death upon the nation. It is easy to blame the act, and to compare it with the ruthless violations of the sanctity of the grave of which persecutors have often been guilty. It seems a paltry and vindictive proceeding to wreak one's vengeance on the dead. To Josiah, however, no sanctity attached to these graves, but only a curse. His very object was to do deeds which would make men feel, as they had never felt before, the hateful nature of idolatry, and the certainty of a Nemesis attending it. In having their bones dragged out and burned upon the altar, the dead idolaters were, in a sense, making atonement to God's insulted majesty (cf. Jeremiah 8:1-3). The feeling, nevertheless, is one which might easily go too far, and be mixed up with mean and purely spiteful motives. However it might be under Jewish law, it can hardly be right now. None the less is it the case that a curse rests upon the very bones of the wicked dead. Death to them is the penal stroke of God's displeasure, and, when they rise, it is to the resurrection of damnation (John 5:29).
II. THE BONES OF THE PROPHET RESPECTED.
1. A monument in a wicked place to a good man. Among the tombs which Josiah beheld was one with a monument before it. He asked whose it was, and was told it was the monument of the man of God who prophesied of these things which had been done to the altar. That monument had, perhaps, been built by the hands of the very men whose sins 'the prophet had denounced, so great oftentimes is human inconsistency (cf. Matthew 23:28-30). In any case, it stood there for centuries a silent witness against the iniquities that were perpetrated in its presence. Monuments to prophets, martyrs, saints, still crowd our burial and public places; we pay external honor to their memories; but what God will ask of us is - Do we imitate their spirit? As great men recede into the distance, it becomes easy to pay them reverence. These idolatrous Israelites no doubt magnified their descent from Abraham, and boasted of their great lawgiver Moses, at the very time that they were breaking his commandments. When the prophets were among them, they sought to kill them; then they built monuments in their honor.
2. A solitary witness for truth justified by the event. This prophet in his day stood alone. Even among the dead he lay alone. The multitudes around him were not those who believed, but those who had disregarded his word. If ever man was in a minority, he was. Century after century rolled by, and still the word he had spoken remained unfulfilled. Did it not seem as if the oracle were about to fail? But Wisdom in the end is justified of her children (Matthew 11:19). The prophet's word came true at last, and it was seen and acknowledged of all that he was right. Thus is it with all God's true servants. We should not concern ourselves too much with man's gainsaying. We have but to bear our testimony and leave the issues with God. He will at length vindicate us.
3. Discrimination between good and bad. When Josiah learned whose the sepulcher was, he gave command that his bones should not be touched, nor yet the bones of the old prophet who was buried along with him (1 Kings 13:31). The righteous was discriminated from the sinners. So shall it be at the last day. No confusion will be made in the resurrection between good and bad. While the wicked come forth to the resurrection of judgment, the good shall come forth to the resurrection of life (John 5:29). A gracious Savior watches over their dust.
III. THE SLAUGHTER OF THE PRIESTS.
1. General demolition. The wave of destruction spread from Bethel over all the other high places in the cities of Samaria. Josiah's procession through the land was the signal for the overthrow of every species of idolatry. "So did he," we are told, "in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, in their ruins round about" (2 Chronicles 34:6).
2. Priests of the high places slain. In connection with this progress of Josiah through Israel is mentioned the fact that "he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars," If this stern policy had been confined to Israel, it would have been difficult to exculpate Josiah from partiality in his carrying out of the provisions of the Law; but the words in Chronicles imply that the like was, at least in some places, done in Judah also (2 Chronicles 34:5). In what he did he was no doubt strictly within the letter of the Law, which he and the people had sworn to obey, for that undeniably denounced death against idolaters (Deuteronomy 13., etc.). To equal his act, therefore, with Manasseh's shedding of innocent blood is to miss the essential fact of the situation. This was not innocent blood by the fundamental law of the constitution. It is probably with reference to this, as to ether parts of his conduct, that Josiah gets special praise for the fidelity of his obedience to the Law of Moses (ver. 25). It does not follow that his conduct is such as Christians, living under a milder and better dispensation, should now imitate. It does not even follow that every individual act which Josiah did was beyond blame. His human judgment may have erred at times on the side of severity. The holiest movements are not free from occasional excesses; but we should judge the movement by the soul which actuates it, and not by its superficial excrescences. - J.O.
I. THE GREAT PASSOVER.
1. A seal of the covenant. This great year of reformation began with a covenant, and ended with a Passover. The ceremonies of the occasion are fully described in 2 Chronicles 35. The Passover in the Old Testament was in some respects very much what the Lord's Supper is in the New, It took the people back to the origin of their history, revived vivid memories of the deliverance from Egypt, and ratified their engagement to be the Lord's. It reminded of the past, set a seal upon the present, and gave a pledge for the future. The Christian sacrament seals God's promises to the believer, and, at the same time, seals the believer's covenant with God. It establishes, nourishes, and strengthens the life received in the new birth.
2. An historic celebration. "Surely there was not holden such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel," etc. A true religious awakening shows itself
(1) in increased interest in God's ordinances;
(2) in stricter fidelity in observing them; and
(3) in joyful alacrity in taking advantage of them.
II. FIDELITY TO MOSES.
1. Cleansing away the concomitants of idolatry. Together with the idols, Josiah cleansed out of the land the tribes of wizards, necromancers, soothsayers, etc., who found their profit in the ignorance and superstition of the people. Where Bible religion returns, Sanity returns. The hideous specters begotten of fear and superstition vanish. Josiah further carefully eradicated any remaining traces of idol-worship that could be "spied."
2. Pre-eminent fidelity. In these deeds, and by his whole course as a reformer, Josiah earned for himself the distinction of being the most faithful king that had yet reigned. He and Hezekiah stand out pre-eminent the one for trust in God (2 Kings 18:5), the other for fidelity to the Law of Moses. "Like unto him was there no king before him," etc. Like gems, each of which has its special beauty and excels in its own kind, these two kings shine above all the rest. Only one character exhibits all spiritual excellences in perfection.
III. ISRAEL'S SIN YET UNPARDONED.
1. God's unappeased anger. "Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath," etc. The sole reason of this was that, notwithstanding the zealous Josiah's reforms, the people had not in heart turned from their great sins. The spirit of Manasseh still lived in them. They were unchanged in heart, and, with favoring circumstances, were as ready to break out into idolatry as ever. The outward face of things was improved as regards religion, but social injustice and private morals were as bad as ever. Hence the Lord could not, and would not, turn from his wrath. It is real, not lip, repentance that God requires to turn away his auger from us. We see:
(1) The posthumous influence of evil. "One sinner destroyeth much good" (Ecclesiastes 9:18). Manasseh's deeds lived after him. His repentance could not recall the mischief they had done to the nation. They went working on after his decease, propagating and multiplying their influence, till the nation was destroyed.
(2) The righteousness of individuals cannot save an unrighteous people. Not even though these righteous persons are high in rank, are deeply concerned for the revival of religion, and labor with all their hearts to stem the tide of corruption. Their piety and prayers may delay judgment, but if impenitence is persisted in, they cannot finally avert it (cf. Jeremiah 15:1, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people").
2. God's unshaken purpose. "I will remove Judah also out of my sight," etc. Terrible is the severity of God when his forbearance is exhausted. Moral laws are inexorable. If the spiritual conditions, by which only a change could be effected, are wanting, they work on till the sinner is utterly destroyed. - J.O.
I. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF UNWISELY DIRECTED EFFORTS TO BENEFIT MEN, HOWEVER WELL INTENDED. Josiah, it seems from the narrative, was one of the best of Israel's kings. "Like unto him was there no king before him." Most strenuous were his efforts to improve his country, to raise it from the worship of idols to the worship of the true God. He sacrifices his very life to his endeavors; and what was his success? Nil. "Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of 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. Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?" All the efforts of this noble king seemed to be abortive. But why? Because, as shown in our preceding homily, while his motive was good, his methods were bad. Instead of depending upon argument and suasion, moral influence, and the embodiment of moral goodness, he uses force. "He slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them," etc. Here is a principle in the Divine government of man. No man, however good, can accomplish a good thing unless he employs wise means. The Church of Rome is an example. Its aim, the bringing of the world into the one fold, is sublimely good, but the means it has employed not only neutralize the purpose, but drive large masses of the population away into the wilderness of infidelity and careless living. It is not enough for a Church to have good aims; it must have wise methods: not enough for preachers to desire the salvation of their people; they must use means in harmony with the laws of thought and feeling. Hence fanatical Churches and preachers have always done more harm than good. "If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct." Indeed, this man's unwise efforts not only failed to benefit his country, they brought ruin on himself. He lost his life. "In his days Pharaoh-Nechoh King of Egypt went up against the King of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and King Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him. And his servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo." No doubt Josiah was inspired with patriotic and religious purposes in going forth against Pharaoh-Nechoh, and in seeking to prevent the march of a bloody tyrant and a hostile force through his territory in order to attack the King of Assyria. But where was his wisdom? What chance had he to hurl back such a formidable invasion? None whatever. Single-handed, of course, he could do nothing. And what help could he obtain from his subjects, most of whom had fallen into that moral degradation which robs the soul of all true courage and skill?
II. THE AMAZING INCORRIGIBILITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. Do we find that the men of Israel were improved by the efforts of such kings as Hezekiah and Josiah? Nay. They seemed to grow worse. Scarcely was Josiah in his grave before his son Jehoahaz, who was twenty-three years old, ascended the throne, and during the three months of his reign he "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord;" and when he is struck down another son of Josiah, Eliakim, who was afterwards named Jehoiakim, received the throne, and, after a reign of twenty-five years, the record is, "He did that which is evil in the sight of the Lord. Here, then, is moral incorrigibility. In all history, ancient or modern, I know no people whose doings were of a baser type. With all the lofty advantages which they had, and with the interpositions of Heaven vouchsafed to them, they seemed to grow worse from age to age. The little spring of depravity that broke forth from their great ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, seemed to deepen, swell in volume, and widen as time rolled on. It was at last a kind of Stygian stream. You can scarcely point to one pellucid wave rising on its surface. It was foul from top to bottom. How sadly have many professed disciples of Christ misinterpreted Jewish history! So much so that they have Judaized the very gospel, and made Judaism a model after which they have shaped communities professedly Christian.
1. A word to those who desire to be useful. Unless you practically recognize the truly scientific adaptation of means to ends, and understand the eternal principles by which the human mind can be rightly influenced, you will "labor in vain, and spend your strength for naught." There is no way by which coercion can travel to a man's soul, no way by which cruelties and persecutions can enlighten, strengthen, and ennoble souls.
2. A word, next, to those who desire to be benefited. You may have seers from heaven working among you, endeavoring to improve you and elevate you. But unless you yield to the influences and attend to the counsels, you will grow worse and worse. Pharaoh's heart grew harder under the ministry of Moses on the banks of the Nile; the Jewish people became worse and worse under the forty years' ministry in the wilderness, and the contemporaries of Christ filled up their measure of iniquity under his benign and enlightening ministrations. The things that belong to your peace may become the elements of your ruin. - D.T.
I. THE DEATH OF JOSIAH.
1. Circumstances of his death. Taking advantage of the troubles in the East, Pharaoh-Nechoh was bent on securing his own supremacy over Syria and extending it as far as the river Euphrates. He disclaimed all intention of inter-feting with Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:21), but that monarch thought it his duty to oppose him. It was a perilous venture, and Josiah seems to have entered upon it somewhat rashly. He certainly had not prophetic sanction for the enterprise. The issue was as might have been anticipated. He encountered Pharaoh-Nechoh at Megiddo, and was disastrously defeated. Wounded by the archers, he bade his servants carry him away, and, placing him in another chariot, they drove him off. It is to be inferred from Zechariah 12:11 that he died at "Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddo," and that his dead body was afterwards brought to Jerusalem. By this defeat Judah was brought into subjection to Pharaoh-Nechoh, and the way prepared for its subjection to Nebuchadnezzar, when he, in turn, became master of the situation. It is wise not unduly to meddle with the quarrels of other nations.
2. Mourning for his death. The untimely death of Josiah was a cause of unexampled mourning throughout the whole land. The affection with which his people regarded him, and the confidence they placed in him, are strikingly shown by the sorrow felt at his loss. The mourning at Hadadrimmon is used by the prophet to illustrate the mourning which will take place at the national repentance of Israel in the times of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:9-14). It was as the mourning for a firstborn. Jeremiah composed an elegy for the good king departed, and the singing-men and singing, women kept up the practice of lamenting for him even unto the Captivity (2 Chronicles 35:24, 25). Well might Judah mourn. Josiah was the last great and good king they would see. But infinitely better would it have been if their sorrow had been the "godly sorrow" which "worketh repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:10). This unfortunately it was not, as the result showed. It is because it was not that, the mourning of Hadadrimmon will have to be done over again (Zechariah 12:10), next time in a very different spirit. We see that it is possible to lament good men, yet not profit by their example. The best tribute we can pay the just is to live like them.
3. Providential aspects of his death.
(1) An irreparable loss to the nation, Josiah's death was yet great gain to himself. It was God's way of taking him away from the evil to come, and so of fulfilling the promise given by Huldah (2 Kings 22:20). Josiah, perhaps, erred in taking the step he did, but while God punished him for his error, he providentially overruled the event for his good. Death is sometimes a blessing. It may hide things from our eyes we had rather not see; as, in the case of the good, it translates to scenes of bliss beyond human conception. "The dark things" of God's providence are these in which we may ultimately recognize the greatest mercy. "Judge not the Lord by feeble sense," etc.
(2) In regard to the nation, the providential aspects of this death were widely different. It took from them a gift which they had failed to prize, or at least to profit by. It was, moreover, a step in Providence towards the fulfillment of the threatenings of captivity. Pharaoh-Nechoh's conquest was the gate through which Nebuchadnezzar entered.
II. THE DEPOSITION OF JEHOAHAZ.
1. A brief reign. In virtue of the defeat of Josiah, Judah became ipso facto a dependency of Pharaoh-Nechoh. The people, however, were in no mood to acknowledge this subjection, and immediately set about making a king for themselves. They passed by Eliakim, Josiah's eldest son, and raised the next son, Shallum (Jeremiah 22:11), to the throne under the name of Jehoahaz. The younger son was probably the more spirited and warlike of the two. Ezekiel compares him to a young lion (Ezekiel 19:3). Under him the nation cast off the restraints of thee reign of Josiah, and reverted to its former sinful ways. It does not suffice to make a good king that he has -
(1) a good father - "the son of Josiah;"
(2) a good name - Jehoahaz, "he whom the Lord sustains;" or
(3) a solemn anointing - they "anointed him"
The people probably thought otherwise, for it was they, apparently, who gave him this name, and took the step of formally consecrating him with the anointing oil Anointing oil, without the grace which it symbolizes, of little use. Jehoahaz was permitted to possess his throne only for three brief months.
2. A hard captivity. By the end of the period named, Pharaoh-Nechoh was sufficiently free to attend to the proceedings at Jerusalem. The city had flouted his supremacy, and he did not let it escape. His own camp was at Riblah, but he sent to Jerusalem, required Jehoahaz to attend his court at Riblah, there put him in chains, and carried him with him into Egypt (Ezekiel 19:4). This was a worse fate than Josiah's. "Weep ye not for the dead," said Jeremiah, "neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country." (Jeremiah 22:10). This captivity of Jehoahaz was a prelude to the captivity of the nation - the first drop of the shower soon about to fall. Yet the people would not hearken.
3. A heavy tribute. In addition to removing the king, Pharaoh-Nechoh put the land under a tribute. He exacted a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. Again we see how sin works out bondage, misery, and disgrace. An oft-read lesson, but how impossible, apparently, for this people to learn!
III. JEHOIAKIM'S VASSALAGE.
1. Egypt dictates a king. Once again, as in the earliest period of their history, Israel was in bondage to Egypt. Pharaoh-Nechoh used his power unsparingly. The eldest son of Josiah, who seems not to have been a favorite with the people, was willing to accept the throne as a vassal, and him, accordingly, Nechoh made king, changing his name, in token of subjection, from Eliakim to Jehoiakim. How bitter the satire - Jehoiakim, "he whom Jehovah has set up!"
2. Jehoiakim becomes Egypt's tool. Jehoiakim had, perhaps, no alternative but to give "the silver and the gold to Pharaoh," but in his manner of exacting it he showed himself the willing tool of the oppressor. To obtain the money, he put heavy taxation on the people. His rule was a bitter, ignominious, and oppressive one for Judah. Jeremiah says of him, "But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it" (Jeremiah 22:17). But such are the kings men must submit to when they reject God for their Sovereign. In a moral respect Jehoiakim's reign was "evil," and in a temporal respect it was the stumbling on from one misfortune to another. - J.O.
I. THEY WERE BROTHERS IN WICKEDNESS. Of each of them it is said, "He did evil in the sight of the Lord." What the particular sins of Jehoahaz were we are not told. But the sins of Jehoiakim are fully and fearlessly stated and denounced by Jeremiah. "Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; that saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is celled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. Thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it (Jeremiah 22:13-17). Injustice, fraudulence, selfishness, covetousness, oppression, violence, murder, - such were the main characteristics of him who should have been an example of the people. Selfishness and covetousness were at the bottom of all the rest. And are they not common sins? In the rich they lead to injustice and oppression; in the poor they lead to discontent ant envy and violence. The spirit of the gospel, by promoting unselfishness, would lead to fair and upright dealing between man and man.
II. THEY WERE BOTH WICKED, THOUGH THE SONS OF A GOOD FATHER. Even a good man may have had sons. Perhaps the home training they received was defective. Josiah may have been so much engrossed with the cares of his kingdom, and the reformation of his people, that he neglected the state of his own household. But nevertheless, they had a good example, which they neglected to follow. Jeremiah reminds Jehoiakim of this. "Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment, and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 22:15, 16). The privileges and the example they had received increased their guilt. "To whom much is given, of him shall much be required." If we have great privileges, we have also great responsibilities. Those who have been brought up in a Christian land or in a godly home will be expected to know better than those who have been brought up in a heathen country or amid careless and godless surroundings.
III. THEY WERE BOTH WICKED, THOUGH THE ONE HAD THE OTHER'S FATE AS A. WARNING. Jehoahaz was sent into exile for his sins. Yet Jehoiakim, who succeeded him, did not profit by the warning. None of us are without many warnings against sin. We have the plain warnings of God's Word. We have the terrible warnings of his providence. How fearful, even in this life, are the consequences of many sins! We have warnings against putting off the offer of salvation to a more convenient season. "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh."
IV. THEY BOTH HAD A MISERABLE END. Jehoahaz died in exile. Pharaoh-Nechoh put him in prison at Rihlah, and he died in captivity. Speaking of him, Jeremiah says, "Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country" (Jeremiah 22:10). What a pathetic strain! The love of the Jews for their native land was most intense. "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" "Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion." But, after all, what a profitless kind of patriotism theirs was! They loved their native land, but they were blind to its best interests. They did not remember the secret of true prosperity and well-being. They did not remember that "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." They forsook him who was their nation's best Defender and unfailing Friend. A patriotism without righteousness will not benefit a nation much. Jehoiakim died at Jerusalem. But what an ignominious fate was his! Jeremiah had foretold it when he said, "They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister!... He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:18, 19). It was Jehoiakim who cut with his penknife the roll on which were written the words of the Lord, and cast the leaves into the fire (Jeremiah 36.). For this God said, regarding Jehoiakim, that he should have none to sit upon the throne of David; "and his dead body should be east out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost." Jehoiakim perished, but the Word of God, which he sought to destroy, was fulfilled. God's Word cannot be destroyed. Roman emperors sought to destroy it. The Church of Rome, for the exaltation of the priesthood, kept it from the people. "But the Word of God is not bound." Contrast the fate of Jehoiakim, who despised and dishonored the Word of God, with the universal lamentation that followed the death of his father Josiah, who honored God's Word and obeyed its teachings. - C.H.I.