Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services. Unfortunately, there is no audio recording of this sermon.
Reading: 2 Kings 23; WCF 23
Text: 2 Kings 23
Sermon: Josiah’s Reforms
2 Kings 23 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
23 Then the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. 2 The king went up to 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 hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. 3 The king stood by the 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 his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people [a]entered into the covenant.
Reforms under Josiah
4 Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the [b]doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, for [c]Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5 He did away with the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, also those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and to the moon and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven. 6 He brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord outside Jerusalem to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and ground it to dust, and threw its dust on the graves of the [d]common people. 7 He also broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes which were in the house of the Lord, where the women were weaving [e]hangings for the Asherah. 8 Then he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba; and he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the city gate. 9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not go up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 He also defiled [f]Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech. 11 He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 The altars which were on the roof, the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, the king broke down; and he [g]smashed them there and threw their dust into the brook Kidron. 13 The high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right of the mount of destruction which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the sons of Ammon, the king defiled. 14 He broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones.
15 Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he [h]demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah. 16 Now when Josiah turned, he saw the graves that were there on the mountain, and he sent and took the bones from the graves and burned them on the altar and defiled it according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. 17 Then he said, “What is this monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the grave of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” 18 He said, “Let him alone; let no one disturb his bones.” So they [i]left his bones undisturbed with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria. 19 Josiah also removed all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made provoking [j]the Lord; and he did to them [k]just as he had done in Bethel. 20 All the priests of the high places who were there he slaughtered on the altars and burned human bones on them; then he returned to Jerusalem.
21 Then the king commanded all the people saying, “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.” 22 Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was observed to the Lord in Jerusalem.
24 Moreover, Josiah [l]removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might [m]confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. 25 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.
26 However, the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. 27 The Lord said, “I will remove Judah also from My sight, as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the [n]temple of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’”
Jehoahaz Succeeds Josiah
28 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? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. And King Josiah went to meet him, and when Pharaoh Neco saw him he killed him at Megiddo. 30 His servants drove [o]his body in a chariot from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah and anointed him and made him king in place of his father.
31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 Pharaoh Neco imprisoned him at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem; and he imposed on the land a fine of one hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold.
Jehoiakim Made King by Pharaoh
34 Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away and [p]brought him to Egypt, and he died there. 35 So Jehoiakim gave the silver and gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land in order to give the money at the [q]command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and gold from the people of the land, each according to his valuation, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.
36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done.
Sermon : Josiah’s Reforms
2 Kings 23, WCF 23
In this chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith we are looking at the powers and rights of the civil magistrate and we notice especially that that civil rulers are obliged to give a high level of support to the church according paragraph 3 of the confession including the freedom of religion, and the ability to worship without fear of interference or disturbance.
So its really partly thanks to the Westminster divines that many countries especially in western societies provide for the freedom of religion in their constitutions. However for a nation’s constitution to actively promote the Christians church as the Westminster confession does may have been is a rare thing indeed in this day and age.
Indeed some say that the age we live in is becoming more like conditions in the first century where the church was very much a minority, often persecuted and pushed to the margins of society as though the church was irrelevant. Governments are instituted by God to rule over their subjects for the glory of God and also for the public good and what could serve the public good better than the gospel proclaimed through the word and sacraments by the church?
Yet today many of the leaders of this nation and many others like it are atheistic and agnostic and have little regard for the gospel, the law of God or the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact leaders in many western countries reveal their disregard of the gospel by making laws which contradict God’s law, promote idolatry and vice.
So now we have legislation which sanctions homosexual marriage, and prostitution, and legislation which undermines the sanctity of human life. We have legislation which makes it difficult for parents to fulfil their God given responsibilities such as parental notification laws and so on.
Yet God’s law has been around for 1,000s of years providing the ethical basis for a safe and caring society. So a question our text poses is who will be a Hilkiah and bring the law of God to the attention of the nation leaders? Who will be a Josiah today and enforce God’s law in the state. Yes what is needed is a Reformation but what kind of reformation?
To help answer that question. Let’s examine this reformation under King Josiah and see what lessons can be learned for us as a church today. We’ll discuss this in two parts; 1. Josiah’s Reforms. 2. Implications for the church.
1. Josiah’s reforms. Josiah succeeded his father Amon as king of Judah who in turn succeeded Manasseh. Of Manasseh it was said that he had shed much innocent blood and filled Jerusalem from one end to the other with bloodshed. He practiced infanticide, dabbled in the occult, led the nation into and provoked God to anger.
Manasseh’s son Ammon was no better. He walked in the way of his father, worshipped and served idols and “did evil in the sight of God” according to chapter 21:20. Furthermore idolatry was well entrenched throughout the land by the time Amon passed away and his son Josiah gained the throne in Judah.
The prophet Jeremiah who was a contemporary of Josiah had this to say about the entrenched idolatry in Judah and Israel in Jeremiah 2:11. “Has a nation ever changed its God’s when they were no Gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. My people have forsaken me the fountain of living waters to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jeremiah was prophesying about the folly of idolatry which had persisted for 300 years. For that reason God had decided that Judah was ripe for judgment.
Well as it turned out Josiah perhaps through the influence of his godly mother and advisers decided from the age of 16 to serve the Lord according to 2 Chronicles 34:3.
By the time he was 20 Josiah began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of idolatry. The Chronicler records that he tore down altars of the Baals, chopped down carved images and ground stone images into dust. He even burned the bones of the priests who used to sacrifice on these idol altars that’s how filled with righteous indignation Josiah was and that’s how strong his commitment to the Lord was.
Well Josiah was among other things a fine example to young people today to fully commit themselves to the Lord at a young age. He is also an example to us all to deal decisively with sin the way he dealt with idolatry. And he is an example of love for and commitment to the church.
Because a little later in his 18th year when Josiah would have been 26 he began with the restoration of the temple. Apparently the temple had been left in a state of neglect and disrepair for many years. This was no doubt due to the wide spread idolatry and neglect of the true worship of God and an indication of the Spiritual state of Judah.
Today that would translate into empty church buildings and dwindling congregations. Why? Basically for the same reason as it was in Josiah’s day. People are turning away from the Lord and following the idols of their hearts, such as; their own feelings, peer pressure, evolutionists lies, money, self, whatever. As Calvin once said the unregenerate head is a veritable idol factory.
In any case the godly king Josiah was concerned that God’s house be maintained. So he made arrangement for it and the work began. According to the record it was during the renovations that the book of the law was found by Hilkiah the priest. He handed it to Shaphan the scribe who read it in the presence of the king.
It says that when King Josiah heard the words of the law he tore his clothes. The words which threatened judgment for apostasy were read and Josiah suddenly understood that Judah was under God’s judgment on account of their idolatry. He made enquiries through the prophetess Huldah who confirmed that nothing would avert God’s judgment. It was too late. However because Josiah tore his clothes and humbled himself God would postpone that judgment for a few years so that it wouldn’t come in Josiah’s lifetime.
Well you know judgment is an inevitable consequence for unbelievers and apostates. Those who reject Jesus, reject the gospel have in the end to face God’s judgment. It says in Revelation 18 that Babylon representing all who are in opposition to Christ and his church will fall.
So what should a believing king do under such circumstances; knowing that judgment is inevitable?
Warn the people!
So the king called all the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem both great and small, and had the law of God read to them. How he did that logistically it doesn’t say but he did, probably with the help of scribes and it says that all the people entered into a covenant to carry out all the words of the law.
But did they? It is one thing to say as they did in Josiah’s day we will obey the Lord. It is another thing to do it and live faithfully day in day out week in week out year in year out. When Joshua put the same question to the people some 6 or 700 years earlier they also said yes we will obey the Lord but then Joshua said to them you will not be able to serve the Lord. Apart from some notable exceptions where the Lord raised up deliverers for Israel, as a nation Israel was not able to faithfully serve the Lord. The history of the judges and kings bears this out.
Well Josiah was one of the exceptions and he had the people’s vote to press on with a reformation of the state of Judah and so Josiah systematically went around Jerusalem and Judah and destroyed every idol he could find. He put the priests of Baal and cult prostitutes to the sword and cleansed the temple of all its idol images. It also says that Josiah destroyed the idols Solomon allowed his wives to erect. Those idols had been in place more than 300 years. Then the zealous Josiah went north into Samaria (which was under Assyrian rule at the time) destroyed more idols, Finally Josiah and gathered all the priests who worshipped the Lord into Jerusalem and had them learn the law of God so they could teach it to the people. This was truly a reformation in Judah and Jerusalem. The law of God was brought back into the land.
But what was the long term effect? Well the kings who succeeded Josiah were recorded as once again having done evil in the sight of God. Jeremiah who was a contemporary of Josiah scarcely mentions him in his prophecy. So evidently the hearts of many people didn’t return fully to the Lord. So though judgment was postponed it did eventually come about 23 years after Josiah’s death in fact.
Nevertheless Josiah was commended in the Bible as a faithful king. Verse 25 says 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.
As such Josiah foreshadowed Christ and beyond that the Christian. He feared the Lord. He loved the law. He loved the Lord’s people. He achieved his reformation and like Christ he revealed, to some extent God’s righteousness.
Lets think about some implications for the church today
There is a need for reformation in countries like ours which have a Christian heritage but where idolatry is an increasing sin. There is a need to return to the law of God here in New Zealand too. I’m not taking about the kind of adherence to all the civil laws of Israel but to the moral law which is reiterated in the New Testament and is normative for the church and society today, basically the Ten Commandments. What might that look like? Well, we could see many businesses close on Sundays, prostitution recriminalized, same sex marriages prohibited and greater measures to promote righteousness in society.
However as we’ve seen in the case of Josiah’s reforms, the law of God as an external restraining force is not enough. The human race cannot be saved by the law.
Why? Because unless there is a heart change brought about by the indwelling to the Holy Spirit any reformation of a nations laws will be short lived
Only Christ can bring about that necessary heart change.
When Christ came he did what Josiah could not do. He changed hearts. He did what Jeremiah said was needed; write God’s law on the people’s hearts.
So when Peter preached Christ during his Pentecost sermon many listeners were cut to the heart, believed and were saved. They in turn became a force for change in the ensuing years. Followers of Christ with regenerated hearts have in fact become greatest force for change that the world has ever seen.
That phenomenon marks the difference between the Old and New Covenants
The covenant in which Israel lived was the covenant of grace but lacking the fullness of the covenant of grace after Christ and Pentecost. In Galatians 3:24 Paul called it a tutor to lead people to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 3: 3 Paul compared the Old Covenant to a letter written on stone while he describes himself as servant of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. And then in Hebrews 8 the writer quoting Jeremiah 31 calls Christ the mediator of a better covenant having obtained a more excellent ministry, enacted on better promises.
And so while a reformation of law in the land would be good. What would be better and what is really needed for lasting change is a reformation of hearts, a turning back to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Where should we find such faith? In the church. This is why the Westminster divines called on the government to protect the church and ensure that unity and peace are preserved in the church. They could see what was needed.
Meanwhile we who belong to the church and especially the elders of the church have a solemn responsibility to ensure that our church faithfully preaches the whole counsel of God and especially that the good news about Jesus; that it is faithfully preached from our churches and through our outreach programs.
To be sure this is not something which we can do in our own strength. We rely on the Holy Spirit for the results but let’s just make sure that as a church we remain faithful to the Gospel and the commands of Christ such as the Great Commission.
And as we strive to do that lets also remember that while the Jews in Josiah’ day had yet to face the judgment of God because of apostasy we do not. When Josiah renewed the law he celebrated the Passover the first time since the days of the judges. Evidently along with the true worship of God the Passover was something which the apostate church in Josiah’s day had forgotten as well.
The Passover was meant to be a remembrance of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt on the night when the angel of death passed over the houses of Israelites whose doorposts were smeared with the blood of the lamb. They were ‘passed over’ that is spared from the judgment of God by faith in the word of God.
But the Passover celebrated a-new in Josiah’s day didn’t prevent the judgment of God. Pharaoh Neco came marching with his army out of the Egypt; the same country from which God once delivered Israel. Josiah decided to meet Neco in a battle at Meggido but Judah was defeated and Josiah was killed. What a shock. Not even the good king Josiah was spared and for the next few years Egypt ruled over Judah! It was as if the people had been sent back into slavery under Egypt. So the Passover they celebrated didn’t preserve them from disaster. The blood of lambs was unable to cleanse Judah from their sin.
Well thank God that in our New Covenant situation the Passover has become the Lord’s Supper. The Passover Lamb is Jesus Christ whose blood cleanses us from our sin. Whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper by faith we are assured that we have been cleansed from sin and therefore need not fear the judgment yet to come.
So now, as those who have been delivered from judgment by Christ a further 2 Samuel 23 presents us with a challenge to live by the word of God. When Josiah discovered the law it was God’s word to his people and therefore authoritative and normative. It is still that for us today Josiah was challenged by it and it cut deeply to the core of his being so that he did what it said. It shaped his faith and his behaviour.
This is a challenge for us. Christians have over the centuries made changes for good, not by being complacent and living indifferently to the word of God; not with, as one author put it ‘ethical paralysis’. Christians make a difference in the word by teaching and living Christ; and by living with love and with reforming faith. And by living in obedience to God authoritative word. May we also like Josiah rise to that challenge.