During my preparation for last Sunday’s sermon on the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, I read the fascinating story of the religious reform of Judaism under King Josiah in 622 BC. You can read it for yourself in 2 Kings 22. It was 300 years after the Temple had been built and nearly 600 years after the Law had been given through Moses,* and the spiritual state of Israel had deteriorated badly. Idol worship of all the local deities had become common, while the worship of Yahweh had practically disappeared. The Temple was in serious disrepair, and the rituals, sacrifices and observances were all being neglected.
Josiah had become “King” when he was eight years old, but the actual leadership and decision-making was done by adult bureaucrats around him. However, as he grew into a man, he emerged into actual royal rule. At the age of twenty-six, he decided to take some action about the sorry state of his nation’s unifying religion, which centered on the Creator God Yahweh. The logical place to begin was in repairing and restoring the Temple. Plans were drawn, and the workers started in. But how would this be paid for? King Josiah sent the high priest Hilkiah, to find the charity chest in the Temple court, then to count the money in it and distribute it to the workers.
Hilkiah found the money, but he also found something else:
The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.’ When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, ‘Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord.’ Shaphan the secretary informed the king, ‘The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.’ Shaphan then read it aloud to the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. (2 Kings 22:8-11)
The “Book of the Law” was probably a scroll of our Bible book Deuteronomy, which had been ignored and may not have been read in public worship for decades. As Josiah heard the holy words read aloud, he was overcome with remorse and emotion. He immediately began a series of reforms that led to a time of spiritual renewal throughout the land.
Some modern American churches and ministries go through a similar process. They think their destiny lies in creating an impressive institution, including elaborate building structures and layers of well-trained staff, equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Of course, in order to do all this, they have to go look for the money, just as Josiah did Sometimes (I wish I could say all the time) they stumble on the life-giving Book of the Law along the way, and as a result people find the Lord in spite of the misplaced priorities of the leaders. Praise Yahweh!
* It helps me understand the length of these time periods if I translate them into our time and place. 300 years ago, the US had not yet become a nation; 600 years ago, Columbus had not yet set foot on American soil.
— Pastor George Van Alstine