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And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem.
HEARKENING TO THE MESSAGE
Josiah’s fears were deeply stirred by the evils which the Law of the Lord clearly indicated as imminent, and he immediately sent for advice to the prophetess Huldah, who was held in great veneration. Her answer was full of gentle kindness. Though the king’s punishment could not be averted, it should nevertheless be postponed. How quick is God to notice the tears of genuine contrition and to meet the soul that seeks to do His will! If only the whole nation had been equally repentant, its fate would have doubtless been altered.
It is remarkable, however, that even in Josiah’s case the prediction of the prophetess was not realized. He died in battle, and his dead body was brought to Jerusalem amid mourning that became proverbial, 2Ki_23:30; Zec_12:2. Why this apparent breach of promise? The answer is suggested by our Lord’s temptation. He refused to make bread of stones, because of His absolute faith in God, and when Satan tempted him still further to manifest that faith by casting Himself from the beetling Temple crag, he again refused because such an act was not in the scope of the Father’s plan. On the other hand, Josiah, disregarding all counsels to the contrary, needlessly flung himself into the fray between Egypt and Babylon and there lost his life. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God!”
And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.
DESTROYING INDUCEMENTS TO EVIL
Encouraged by the prophets Zephaniah, Urijah, and perhaps Jeremiah, Josiah set himself to the work of thorough reform, in which he endeavored to carry his people. The various items mentioned here prove how deeply the heart of the nation had become corrupted. In the very Temple itself were altars and vessels for the unholy rites of Baal and Ashtaroth. Multitudes of black-hooded priests filled the streets. At the Temple gates were the horses and chariots of the sun-worship. Around the hills glittered idol shrines. These were all swept away.
In all our lives there are times when we should carefully examine ourselves-not by our own conceptions of what may be right or wrong, nor by the conventional standards which are accepted by our neighbors, but by the high and holy standards of the New Testament-the example and precepts of our Lord. We are too prone to suit our conceptions of what He requires to the fancies or choices of our own desires, instead of testing ourselves by “the pattern given in the Mount.” If hand or foot or eye cause us to offend, we must show ourselves no mercy.
Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he brake down, and burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove.
PROVING HIS WHOLE-HEARTEDNESS
Josiah carried his drastic reforms even to Samaria, thus fulfilling a prophecy uttered 350 years before. See 1Ki_13:2-3. The old leaven having now been cleared out, the Passover could be celebrated. We cannot keep the feast of joy and worship till the work of self-purgation has been undertaken. See 1Co_5:7. In that great feast some of the ten tribes also joined. There was therefore an affirmation of the spiritual unity of the entire nation, though, like the professing Church of today, it was outwardly in fragments. We must never let go of our belief in the Holy Universal Church, however distracted and divided to outward seeming it may be.
Though these reforms were carried through by the king’s strong hand, the generality of the nation remained idolatrous and corrupt, and yielded a feigned rather than a felt repentance. See Jer_3:10; Jer_4:3-4; Jer_4:14; Jer_5:1-3, etc. Therefore judgment could not be averted. External reformation is not enough to secure the permanence of national life. We must rend our hearts rather than our garments, Joe_2:13. There is a sorrow that needs not to be repented of, and a sorrow which “worketh death,” 2Co_7:10.
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.
IN THE HANDS OF HEATHEN FOES
Josiah’s life ended in terrible disaster. He persisted in measuring himself in battle against the king of Egypt in a quarrel which was none of his, and thus met his death. The events of this paragraph are fully narrated in 2Ch_35:1-27, and are corroborated by the Greek historian, Herodotus, and by the sculptures on this Pharaoh’s tomb. The story of Jehoiakim should also be studied in the pages of Jeremiah- Jer_22:1-30; Jer_26:1-24; Jer_36:1-32 -which cast a flood of light on these last days, when the sands in the time-glass of repentance were running out.
It is extraordinary that, notwithstanding the earnest expostulations of Jeremiah and others, and the awful example furnished by the fate of the ten tribes, the kings of Judah and their people should be so persistent in wrong-doing. But their hearts were fully set upon evil. In our own time the history of the drink traffic furnishes a parallel. Its evils stand confessed, as they touch individuals and nations, and yet neither individuals nor nations seem able to cast off the coils of this serpent. The Hebrew race had to pass through terrible fixes to become fitted for their mission to the world, and surely the present anguish of conflict is our parallel!