The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years.King Josiah
2 Chronicles 34
WE have been accustomed to the play of light and shade in these historic studies; we have had a good deal of shade in the last two reigns. Now comes light. Josiah was next made king.
"And he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years" (2Chronicles 34:1).
"And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left" (2Chronicles 34:2).
Then he had more fathers than one. That is the explanation. You are not the son of the man that went immediately before you; you are his son only in a very incidental manner. Josiah was the son of "David his father,"—the larger father, the deeper root, the elect of God; a sun fouled by many a black spot, but a shining orb notwithstanding.
We must enlarge our view if we would come to right conclusions regarding many mysteries. Amon was but a link in the chain. The bad man here, or the good man there, taken in his solitariness, is but a comparatively trivial incident in life's tragedy. Heredity is not from one to two; it is from one to the last; from the beginning to the ending. In every man there lives all the humanity that ever lived. We are fearfully and wonderfully made—not physically only, but morally, religiously, temperamentally. All the kings live in the last king or the reigning monarch. We are one humanity. Solidarity has its lessons as well as individuality. We know not which of our ancestors comes up in us at this moment or that—now the tiger, now the eagle; now the praying mother, now the daring sire; now some mean soul that got into the current by a mystery never to be explained; now the cunning, watchful, patient deceiver, who can wait for nights at a time and never complain of the dark or the cold; and now the hero that never had a fear; the philanthropist that loved the world; the mother that never looked otherwise than God himself would have her look. We can never tell which of our ancestors is really thinking in us, speaking through us; we cannot tell the accent of the immediate consciousness;—these are mysteries, and when the judgment comes it will be based upon all the ground, and not upon incidental points here and there, which by their very solitariness may be easily misjudged. Blessed be God for some men who take us back into ancient history. Josiah, like some other of the kings of Judah, is traced immediately, as it were, to David. There are men who seem to come up from centuries: how quaint they are! what unique views they take of life, education, discipline, and destiny! how curiously, with what a sub-consciousness, they think and pray and work! They are mysteries, they are called eccentricities, they are never denominated commonplaces; they speak in the nineteenth century the language of four thousand years ago; and let the news of the day be what it may, when they relate it it has about it all the flavour of an Old Testament story. We cannot tell, let us repeat, who may be uppermost in us at any particular moment.
Beautiful is the picture of Josiah's reign—
"While he was yet young he began to seek after the God of David his father" (2Chronicles 34:3).
What are these home instincts? What are these filial inspirations? What is this mysterious spirit of groping that is in some men? They move as if they were blind, yet as if they saw with their finger tips, for they seem to know in what direction to move; they say, The right God is not here; it is another God we want—larger, the living and true God; all these wooden images, all these carved figures, have no look of recognition in their faces; there is no "speculation in their eyes," there is no flush of blood-colour in their cheeks; it is another God—O that we knew where we might find him! Put the two pictures together: Amon was young, Josiah was younger still in years; the one was trespassing more and more, and the other whilst yet young "began to seek." Sweet words are these!—to "begin "; not only to begin, but to "begin to seek." What suggestions of modesty, lowliness, and insignificance of effort! What determination expressed in simple patience! There is no violence, no demonstrativeness, nothing of the nature of ostentation, but inquiry, waiting, expectancy, a look at the heavens that has a moral telescope to aid its searching; a look that means: I know not from what part of the heavens the Lord God may come, but from some point he will presently descend, and it is for me to be seeking after him, to be prepared to receive him, come whence he may. We can surely begin to seek God; we can at least ask very serious questions; we can at least express dissatisfaction with the gods that are ruling the modern age; we must never rest until we have seen, in the highest sense of vision, the God of eternity. Let "David" here stand, not for a mere personality, but as a sign, pointing to a still remoter antiquity, and that antiquity referring us to eternity itself. Beware of the gods of speculation, the little idols of conjecture, invented gods, dressed and decorated for a plain sum in the current money of the day. The God whom we worship must come up from eternity, and must absorb the present time and glorify it by his condescension. There will be mystery. Certainly there will be mystery, and mystery is no small part of true religion. Mystery may be a cloud in which things are done which could not be done in the glare of white light. It is impossible to have religion without mystery, and without mystery it is impossible to have any great life. We are so made that we must look up. The constitution of man is such that merely looking round does not satisfy him. Call it an ambition, if you are afraid of real names. Yet there it is—a spirit that makes man look up and mutely ask questions of the highest point he can see. Does the ox gaze upon the stars? Does the beast of the field look for the whitening of the east, and revel when the sun sinks on his couch of glory like a dying king? What is this in man that says, There is something more than we see: the dawn is but the indication of a dawn behind it; what is seen is but a door, not yet open, covering that which is unseen and eternal? Along this line of inquiry let us find encouragement, illumination, comfort, hope.
In the time of Josiah a great discovery was made. When the house of the Lord was being repaired, a great prize was found: "Hilkiah the priest found a book" (2Chronicles 34:14). That is the greatest finding in all history, so far as the education of the race is concerned. He found a book: what book was it? "A book of the law of the Lord given by Moses." Hilkiah communicated with Shaphan the scribe, and said, "I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and brought the king word back again," and when the law was read by Huldah the prophetess, she uttered words that made the king and the people pale. There was judgment yet to be poured out; wrath had only been slumbering, and it was to express itself upon all the people. But Josiah was to be saved from the storm. Said that motherly voice: "Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again."
"And the king stood in his place, 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 his heart, and with all his soul.... And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it"(2Chronicles 34:31-32).
There must be times of consecration; there must be solemn hours in life in which the universal consciousness is touched with a sense of penitence and obligation, and when the whole people pray, in silence if not in speech. This is always the result of finding the "book of the law of the Lord." There are different ways of finding that book; we come upon it in Nature; we see it page by page in Providence; we read some of its more solemn lessons in penalties, in issues that indicate that life is watched and not unwatched; that life will be judged and not allowed to go for want of criticism; we find it in a written form in what is called the Bible, the Book; a most wondrous composition, written by men who never saw one another, written in different ages of the world's history, written in different languages, yet with a marvellous consensus of moral opinion and moral demand; verily a book of righteousness, hating all sin, never hesitating to dig hell for unrepented guilt. We have not to invent a Bible; we have not to invent a morality; we are not called upon to refer to one another, saying deferentially, What is your view of moral goodness moral purity, social righteousness? Blessed be God, no man is consulted about this; it is ours to obey. Practice soon goes wrong when there is no spiritual revelation. Let the Bible be withdrawn from society, and morality will soon withdraw along with it. Morality will then become a subject of speculation and controversy, and will be so cobwebbed by different opinions and contradictory criticisms, that men will say, Seeing there is so much discussion about what is right and what is wrong, let us do what is good in our own eyes.
We need the Book—stern, definite, authoritative book—saying, "Thou shalt—thou shalt not." Spiritual revelation can only be rightly interpreted by spiritual minds. That is the priestly authority which we need—namely, spirituality, moral sympathy. The man whose heart is purest will read the Bible with the most perfect comprehension of its meaning, and in the long run he will be the reigning critic. The time will come when letters will be divine as to their presence, when literary criticism will be valued at its proper price, and set down in its proper sphere, a very high and important sphere; but the time will also come when he will be pre-eminently consulted who has the genius of a pure heart; who has the inspiration of grace; who, mayhap not knowing so much as many others about the letter, can see the meaning, feel it, touch it, take it out, and show it; and all men shall say when looking upon it, This is none other than the beauty of the Lord; this is the very vision of God. When we find the book of the law, let us not shrink from finding its judgments as well as its gospels. The prophecies must all be fulfilled, when they indicate that the wicked shall be destroyed: shall be driven away in the wrath of God. The Bible is not all gospel; or where it is all gospel it involves the element of judgment and the certainty of doom. It is all gospel in that it never allows one good man to die, to perish, to be punished. It searches, criticises, distinguishes, discriminates, takes away the jewel from the common pebble, and loses nothing, and allows nothing to be lost but "the son of perdition," and when he sinks into his destiny there is no soul but says Amen.