2 Kings 22:8-20
And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD…
The finding of the book of the Law by Hilkiah in the temple marks a distinct turning-point in Josiah's reformation It is admitted generally that this Law-book included, if it did not exclusively consist of, the Book of Deuteronomy. As it is further allowed that some of the main narrative documents of our present Pentateuch, and the book of the covenant (Exodus 21.-23.), if not also collections of priestly laws, were then in existence, and had long been, we see no reason to doubt that the "book of the Law" discovered by Hilkiah included the bulk of the writings which make up "the five books of Moses." Several legitimate inferences may be drawn from the narrative.
1. A "book of the Law" was known to have been once in existence. Hilkiah speaks of it as "the book of the Law" - a book long lost, now found, and at once recognized.
2. The copy found was the complete, standard, authoritative copy. It was this which gave it its peculiar value.
3. It would seem as if no other copies of the book were then known to exist, at any rate none were in possession of the parties named in this chapter. If they had been, we can hardly doubt that the contents would have been in some way communicated to the king. This last inference, however, must not be pushed too far. Complete copies of the Law would at all times be rare, and amidst the troubles and persecutions of Manasseh's long reign may well have been lost, especially as there do not seem to have been in Judah organized prophetic guilds such as existed in Israel, or at least the prophets we now, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Huldah, etc., did not belong to them (cf. the state of matters before the Reformation m Europe, and the finding of the Latin Bible by Luther in the convent at Erfurt). But it does not follow that in prophetic circles no parts or fragments of the Law were in existence. The narrative parts of the Law would be more frequently copied than the legislative, and abstracts or summaries of the book of the covenant, or of the laws in Deuteronomy, perhaps selected passages from these books, may have been in circulation. There was even an order of "scribes" whom Jeremiah accuses of using their false pens to falsify the Law. "How do ye say, We are wise, and the Law of the Lord is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes hath wrought falsely' (Jeremiah 8:8). The scribes may have falsified the Law itself, altering its text, expunging its denunciations against idolatry, or making unauthorized additions to it; or they may have falsified it by their comments and interpretations of its meaning. The only thing certain is that the portions of the Law which so affected the conscience of the king were not in any current summaries or copies.
I. FINDING GOD'S WORD. "And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord." This Law-book - "the book of the Law of Moses" (2 Kings 14:6) - had undergone strange vicissitudes. We see it:
1. Sinfully lost. What treasure, one would think, so precious as the words which God had spoken to this nation through their great law-giver Moses - the statutes and judgments and commandments he had ordered them to keep, and which constituted their great glory as a people (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)? "What advantage then hath the Jew?... Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:1, 2). Yet this Law of God had been so sinfully neglected that the very knowledge of it had well-nigh perished out of the land, and the book which contained it, from which this knowledge might be revived, had disappeared. The king had neglected it, he who should have been its chief defender; the official classes of the court had neglected it; the priests who had charge of God's house had neglected it, and allowed it to remain unused till it had got into some corner or room where it was covered up with rubbish and lost sight of; the scribes used what knowledge they retained of it only to falsify it. What sin! It was as if there were a deliberate conspiracy to hunt this first Bible out of existence. If to-day there is not the same danger of the knowledge of the Bible being lost as at some past periods of history, it is not because among many classes there is not as strong a hatred of it or as great neglect. With how many is the Bible an unopened book from one week's end to the other! Multitudes are as ignorant of its contents as the far-off heathen; multitudes more have lost whatever knowledge they once had of it through neglect and misuse; in the case of yet greater multitudes its truths are as inoperative as if the book were indeed lost.
2. Providentially found. God's providence is seen in nothing more remarkably than in the care he has exercised over the written Word. He has wonderfully protected it through all ages alike from the neglect and the fury of men. If for a time the knowledge of it seemed lost, it was again revived at the most favor-able juncture for the execution of his purposes. Thus at the Reformation we see a preparation for the new movement in the revival of learning, the invention of printing, the emergence into light of important manuscripts of the New Testament, etc. That was practically a finding of the Law-book of the Church, as marvelous and as providential as this discovery in the reign of Josiah. It was Josiah's zeal in the repairing of the temple which prepared the way for the discovery here; and the book was found just in time to give a new impetus to the reforming movement. In Divine providence, all things fit together in time and place.
3. Reverently examined. Hilkiah knew the book when he saw it, and he gave it to Shaphan the scribe, and he read it. It would be with trembling, eager hand that Shaphan turned over the pages, and, with his scribe's professional instinct, satisfied himself that this was the veritable lost copy of the Law. Taking it with him, he read it more leisurely, not completely, of course, but parts of it, those parts especially which were new to him. This was the right way to treat God's Word. Our chief anxiety, if we possess the sacred volume, should be to know what God the Lord will speak to us (Psalm 85:8). Cf. Edward Irving's lectures on "The Word of God" -
(1) the preparation for consulting the Word of God;
(2) the manner of consulting the Word of God;
(3 and 4) the obeying of the Word of God ('Lectures,' vol. 1.).
II. TREMBLING AT GOD'S WORD.
1. Shaphan's announcement. Having ascertained the contents of the book for himself, Shaphan lost no time in bringing it under the notice of the king. He seems to have felt the need of care in his manner of doing this. The book contained strong denunciations and terrible threatenings (cf. Deuteronomy 28.), and he was not sure how the king would receive the ancient message. He resolved, therefore, not to prejudice its reception by any statements of his own, but simply to make the announcement of the discovery, and leave the book to speak for itself. He begins, accordingly, by stating the fulfillment of his commission in regard to the monies of the temple. Then he showed the book to the king, saying merely, "Hilklah the priest hath delivered me a book." Critics have detected subtle meanings in the studiously simple way in which this announcement is made; but the above, probably, is the true explanation of it.
2. The book read. The king, whose interest was at once awakened, naturally asked to have part of the book read to him. Shaphan began to read, selecting apparently parts towards the close of the roll - Deuteronomy 28, 29, and the like. How much he read we are not informed, but the effect produced was instantaneous and profound. Our aim in reading the Scriptures should be to ascertain from it the whole counsel of God. We must not dwell on the promise to the exclusion of the threatening, or think that any part is without its use "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction," etc. (2 Timothy 3:16).
3. Conviction by the Word. "The Spirit of God," say the Westminster Divines, "maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners." Remarkable revivals of religion have often been produced by the reading of the Word alone. It was so in the case of Josiah. The book of the Law was the only preacher, but, as Shaphan read it aloud, its words went like sharp swords to the heart of the king. He knew previously that the nation had committed great sins, with which God was displeased, and he had done what he could to institute reforms. Now for the first time he learned what direful woes were predicted on those who should commit such sins, and he saw the enormity of the nation's evil as he had never before realized it. In deepest emotion he rent his clothes, and sent at once an honorable deputation "to inquire of the Lord concerning the words of the book" of the Prophetess Huldah. We see.
(1) The power of the Word to convince men of sin. This power belongs to the words of Scripture as to those of no other book. "The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul," etc. (Psalm 19:7). "The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," etc. (Hebrews 4:12). The fact that it is so is an evidence of the divineness of Scripture. The power of the Bible is derived from the nature of the truths it declares, from the inspired grandeur of its utterances, from the "thus saith the Lord" which stands behind them and drives them home with authority, and from the inward attestation which its words find in the conscience (2 Corinthians 4:2). Great reformations have always been accompanied with an extended circulation of the Bible (Wickliffe, Tyndale, Luther, etc.).
(2) An example of the right reception of the Word. Josiah did not act like the profane Jehoiakim, who, when God's threatenings were read to him, took his penknife and cut the prophet's roll to pieces, casting it into the fire (Jeremiah 36:20-24). He trembled at God's Word (Isaiah 66:2). He was, like Noah, "moved with fear," when he heard of the dreadful evils God would bring upon the nation. He did not dispute the justice of God's threatenings, but acknowledged that he was righteous, and the people wicked. He included himself in the general condemnation: "Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened," etc. This is how God's Word ought always to be received - with humility, with faith, with trembling of heart at his threatenings, if also with joy and hope at his promises.
III. LIGHT SOUGHT ON GOD'S WORD.
1. A holy woman. The king, as above stated, sent "to inquire of the Lord" at the hands of an accredited prophet, with the view of ascertaining what means should be adopted to reverse, if possible, the curse which the sins of long generations had brought upon the nation. The persons sent were five - Hilkiah the priest, Shaphan the scribe, and his son Ahikam, Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, - an honorable deputation. The person to whom they went was a prophetess named Huldah, who dwelt in Jerusalem. This holy woman was no recluse, but the wife of Shallum, the keeper of the royal (or priestly) wardrobe. In the distribution of God's gifts, woman is not less honored than man. We learn from Huldah that religion and the duties of common life do not stand apart.
2. The Word confirmed. On the general question the prophetess had little to give them in the way of comfort. Probably she had already learned the tenor of the threatenings in the sacred book, or its words were now read to her; but she could only speak to give the threatenings emphatic confirmation. "Tell the man that sent you, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place," etc. The words of the Law would be fulfilled, because the people had committed the sins which the Law denounced: "They have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods," etc. This is not contrary to Jeremiah's word, "If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them" (Jeremiah 18:8; cf. 2 Kings 26:3). It was the knowledge and foresight that Judah would not truly repent which gave the absoluteness to the prophecy. Jeremiah, while exhorting to repentance, also gives expression to the other side of the truth, that the nation's condition is hopeless (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 15:1, etc.).
3. Mercy to the king. To the "man" Huldah had no message of comfort; but to "the King of Judah" she had a word of mercy to send. Because Josiah's heart was tender, and he had humbled himself when he had heard of the desolation and the curse that would come upon the land, therefore God had heard him, and would spare him the experience of the evil that was to come. He would be taken away "from the evil to come" (Isaiah 57:1). Had the nation as a whole repented in like manner, we cannot doubt that it would have been similarly spared. God never rejects the humble and contrite heart (Isaiah 66:2). It is noteworthy that this prediction was fulfilled in a way which externally was a great calamity to the nation, viz. Josiah's defeat and death at Megiddo, in battle with Pharaoh-Nechoh (2 Kings 23:29, 30). God's mercy veils itself under strange disguises. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.