King Josiah’s Fate…a Lesson for Our Times?
For some time now I have pondered the ironically blessed fate that God reserved for King Josiah.
He was the king of Judah who led his people to restore their knowledge of, and respect for the Torah, after the High Priest Helkias found the scroll of the law in God’s Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Ascending to the throne as a child, Josiah “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.” Pursuant to the restoration of God’s worship, Josiah “commanded all the people, saying, ‘Keep the Passover unto the Lord your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant.’ ”
Apparently the observance of the Passover had been long neglected, for of this Passover it is written that “…no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah.
But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.” (2 Kings 23:21-23) In all other ways King Josiah strove mightily to restore his kingdom to God’s favor, so much so that it is said that “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.” (2 Kings 23:25)
Yet and still “the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.”
God was still determined to “remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’” (2 Kings 23:27)
We are told (2 Chronicles 34: 21-28) that, after the scroll of the law was first read to him, Josiah feared this very wrath of God. He sent the Helkias to seek God’s counsel from Olda, the prophetess.
Through Olda God made it known with respect to Judah that he would:
… bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants; all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands, therefore my wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.
Also through Olda God made known to King Josiah that:
… because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me and have torn your clothes and wept before me…
I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place and its inhabitants.
The way in which God fulfilled this promise should give pause, in our times, to all who profess to believe the Word of God.
For we are told (2 Chronicles 35:20-24) that King Josiah died in battle against Neco, king of Egypt after the Egyptian ruler sent messengers to him saying “I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.”
Yet and still, “Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the place of Megiddo.”
Doing so, Josiah died, and was “buried in the tombs of his fathers” even as God promised. King Neco was a pagan monarch, not bound by the covenant of the law. But he was also God’s instrument, chosen to fulfill God’s promise to Josiah.
Later another pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, would be the instrument of God’s wrath against the people of Judah, conquering the kingdom, destroying the Temple and carrying them away into captivity.
King Josiah seems to be an example of righteousness even more perfect than that of David, his forefather.
From his childhood until the untimely death he brought upon himself, he acted with that love of God which Christ recites as the first and greatest of the two commandments on which depends “the whole law and the prophets.” Unlike David, who himself was guilty of adultery, Josiah was wholly dedicated to purging the adulterous ways of his people.
Fearful of God’s wrath, Josiah sought in all ways to return them to the right worship of God, according to the law.
Yet he perished because he did not heed what the Scripture affirms to be God’s words, when they came from a source other than the Torah.
Was it because Neco was a pagan king that Josiah did not recognize that he was on an errand from God, not to be opposed?
Isn’t it ironic that the fulfillment of the mercy God promised to Josiah comes to pass because of this blindness? Or does the true irony lie in the fact that, Josiah’s zeal to do battle against the pagan hastens the day of God’s wrath against the people of Judah, in fear of which he strove to purge their sins?
For, in light of God’s promise, as long as Josiah lived to behold it, God’s promise to him postponed the visitation of His wrath upon the people of Judah. As long as Josiah lived.
Josiah received the highest possible praise for his devotion to God even though, in the end, the defect of his virtuous zeal against paganism fulfilled the promise of God that release His wrath against the people Josiah strove to save. Yet the scripture does not stint its praise on this account, but the lamentation of his death that in effect affirms his righteousness continued down through the ages.
Does it not continue still? For his fault was his mortality. Try as he might, he could never have kept his eyes open long enough to forestall God’s wrath forever.
God’s words from the prophetess Olda foretold that Josiah would die in peace, yet to our all too human eyes does not the Scripture portray his death in battle? Where is the peace in that? How does it represent God’s mercy in reward of Josiah’s righteousness?
Perhaps in no way at all until in Christ came to open our eyes; until there stands revealed in the history of all humankind one destined to fulfill Josiah’s righteous zeal for the salvation of God’s people, in a way Josiah never could.
For Josiah was a mortal man, his eyes destined to close in the sleep from which no mortal man could ever open his eyes. Except that God Himself took on our mortal form so that, by the power of His Word made flesh, the true promise of salvation could be made and fulfilled forever to all the people of God truly willing to be called by their right name, and so live deathlessly reborn in the body of Christ.
This is the work of mercy that God Himself must do, in which, for all our zeal, we participate only in and through the body of Christ. What sense does it make, then, to pretend to save people in the flesh by abandoning the dedication to that truth of the Spirit that makes us members of Christ’s body (as some call on us to do, professing his name)?
Thus we will not save the lives of others.
For if we close our eyes to God’s truth, we will rather, like Josiah, hasten the day of their destruction and our own. As Josiah lost the mortal life he lived so righteously before God, we will lose the life immortal already reclaimed in us by God through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
With our eyes by faith kept open, He sustains, and will sustain that life in us forever, so that through Him we may proclaim it always and everywhere, to all creation.
The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
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