Until those gates of Jerusalem were eventually crashed open by the invading army of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., we need to go back a few years to witness one of God’s last efforts to preserve a remnant of His people. Solomon began to build the temple 480 years after the children of Israel came out of Egyptian captivity (1 Kg 6:1). He built the temple in Jerusalem in the first part of his forty-year reign. Since he died in 930 B.C., we can calculate that the temple was completed around 963 B.C., since it took him seven years to complete (1 Kg 6:38).
One can read all the construction matters concerning both the house of Solomon and the temple in 1 Kings 6 & 7. But one thing that is not said in all the description of the construction is what some dedicated priest, or priests, did in reference to written copies of the law of God. We might assume that the deed of these priests was not made known to others. However, it could have been made known to others, but after all those who had built the temple eventually died, the deed of these dedicated priests was long forgotten.
The priests of Solomon’s era knew the Israelites. They knew how stubborn and stiffnecked they were in reference to their beliefs. What inspired these priests was that they believed all that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 27 over five centuries before. Moses had written concerning the curses that God would bring on Israel if the people forgot His word. In the construction of the temple, therefore, these priests buried a “time capsule” somewhere in the structure of the temple.
A time capsule is made up of documents and artifacts that are placed in a container. The container is then buried for future generations to discover. In this case, the unknown priest, or priests, put a copy of the law of Moses in a time capsule for future generations to discover. They then buried the capsule somewhere in the structure of the temple where it could possibly be discovered by someone far in the future. In this case, it was discovered over 300 years later during the reign of King Josiah (See 2 Kg 22).
It occurred in the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah that the king commissioned that repairs should be made to the house of the Lord (2 Kg 22:3-7). But during these repairs, Hilkiah, the high priest at the time, said, “I have found the book [scroll] of the law in the house of the Lord” (2 Kg 22:8). The discovered book was subsequently delivered to King Josiah. Shaphan the scribe then read the curses of the book that would come upon Israel if they turned from the law of the Lord—he surely read the text of Deuteronomy 27. What happened next reveals the sincerity of a young king who sought to be obedient to the word of the Lord: “Now it came to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the law that he tore his clothes” (2 Kg 22:11). And from that time, Josiah initiated a great restoration throughout all Judah. Josiah immediately commanded,
“Go. Inquire of the Lord for Me and for the people and for all Judah concerning the words of this book that is found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us because our fathers have not harkened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kg 22:13).
When people who truly fear God discover that which is the revealed truth of God, they will respond with fear and repentance. Those religionists who are satisfied with their man-made religiosity will offer excuses, or simply dismiss what they learn through Bible study by exalting their religious heritage above the word of God. Some will even do as Jehudi who cut the “Bible” in pieces once it was read to him (Jr 36:23). He even threw the “Bible” in a fire and burned it.
For the sincere heart of Josiah, however, what the book said was a terrifying message. Though Josiah was a good king, and tried to do the best he could with what he knew, it was not good enough when he read the book. Though he was doing the best he could with what he believed, he still realized that he had fallen far short of what God intended for him and all Israel to be. What they were doing religiously was not authorized by “the words of this book.” They were religiously performing and living outside the authority of the word of God.
The problem with their faith was that they had first lost the “Bible,” and then their fathers had not “harkened [obeyed] to the words of this book.” And since the fathers lived outside the authority of the word of God, they passed on to their children a religious heritage that found no validation in the law of God. The same is true of millions today. Many have a form of “Christianity,” but if they are functioning outside the authority of the written word of God, then they are doomed.
One may feel good about his or her religion. One may come away from inspiring assemblies with a feeling of contentment because one has meritoriously fulfilled his or her desires and poured out one’s heart. But we must be honest with ourselves. If in the worship of our hearts we do not bow down to God according to His word, then our worship is vain. We are reminded of what Jesus said in John 4:23: “But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.”
We are also reminded of the vanity of ceremonial worship acts that are performed by some in order to manifest a presumed true worship. In reference to these meritorious acts of worship, Paul warned, “Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and vain deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, but not according to Christ” (Cl 2:8). “All these concern things that perish with the using,” Paul continued, “after the commandments an doctrines of men” (Cl 2:22). What is so common today is that people often worship God according their own worship performances, but not according to what God desires from a repentant and thankful heart (See 2 Co 4:15). Instead of worshiping God in gratitude for the gospel of His Son, they come together to see what they can get out of worship.
The problem with the generation in which Josiah lived was that the people were worshiping Baal according to their own self-righteous inventions of worship. Paul explained precisely what their problem was: “For they [Israel] being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rm 10:3). This is about as clear as it can be stated.
When religious people become ignorant of the word of God, they will continue to worship, but they will worship according to their own inventions. They will consider themselves righteous because they have meritoriously obeyed their own religious rites, rituals and ceremonies. Some will consider themselves self-righteous because they have faithfully performed certain acts of worship on Sunday morning that they have supposedly proved to be “truth worship” by proof text of Scritpure. But such legal worship is self-righteous because the performer has led himself to believe that once all the acts of worship have been meritoriously performed, then one has worshiped God. The problem is that such worship is meritorious, and thus self-righteous. It is not worship that is caused by the grace of God (See 2 Co 4:15).
Self-righteous people usually do not worship God according to His righteousness. They usually do not worship in response to what God has done for them through the cross, but what they meritoriously perform for Him according to His supposed legal acts of worship. And then, those who are ignorant of the word of God never know if their worship is acceptable to God. Most religious people can be found in the following statement that Jesus made to some very religious people: “In vain they worship Me, teaching as [religious] doctrines the commandments of men” (Mk 7:7).
So we would link Hosea 4:6 with Romans 10:2, and thus define where Josiah was religiously before the discovery of the “book,” as well as our generation of many religionists today. Paul wrote, “For I testify to them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rm 10:2). When a religious person discards his or her study of the Scriptures, it is then that they are in trouble. They may display a zeal for the Lord on Sunday morning, or doing many wonderful works (Mt 7:22), but in their ignorance of the word of God, their worship service is not according to knowledge. Their worship is not a response to what God seeks because it is a self-righteous worship that often focuses more on the needs of the worshiper than what God desires.
We might add what Paul said to some religious people in the city of Athens: “The times of this ignorance God has overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent” (At 17:30). Those who were mandated to repent in this statement were religious people. They were idolaters, but they were religious, just as the idolatrous Israelites whom God sent into captivity. Simply because one is religious does not assume that that person is in a covenant relationship with God. When Paul made the preceding statement to the religionists in Athens, there were other religious people throughout the world. But because they had not obeyed the gospel, they were not in a covenant relationship with God.
There is something inspiring about the religious nature of Josiah that should encourage us. Josiah was only eight years old when he was anointed king of Judah (2 Kg 22:1). It is recorded of him, “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kg 22:2). Keep in mind that by the time of Josiah’s reign, there was no copy of the law throughout Judah for him to study and obey. But the text of this account continues to explain, “And he walked in all the ways of David his father and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kg 22:2). That which he did was considered right in the sight of God because he walked according to “all the ways of David,” not according to a written law that he had in his hands. He assumed that David followed the commandments of God, and thus he walked according to the religious heritage of David. The striking lesson that we learn from this is the fact that if the fathers leave no religious heritage for their descendants to follow, then civilization in the long term is doomed (See Gn 6:5).
What is interesting to note is that “King David his father” lived over 300 years before Josiah was born. When David was alive, the nation of Israel still had a copy of the law of God, which law David obediently followed. After David died, a copy of this law was made and hidden in a time capsule in the construction of the temple that was built by Solomon, David’s son. Those righteous kings who lived three centuries before Josiah had enough respect for the word of God that they took measures during the reign of Solomon to preserve a copy of the law for future generations. According to what God revealed in Deuteronomy, they knew that the kings of Israel would eventually become evil in the years to come.
And then one day some men in the reconstruction of the temple reaped the reward of those who had enough foresight to make sure that the “Bible” was preserved for their descendants. Respect for the law was the legacy of David, and this was the reason why the 2 Kings report speaks of the young King Josiah doing that which was right. Without a copy of the law, Josiah at least followed in the obedient relationship that David had with God. If religious leaders want to do that which is right today, they too need to find a copy of the Bible, tear their clothes in repentance as did Josiah, and then get to work preaching the word of God to those who would hear them and respond as Josiah.
Nevertheless, the story of Josiah and his restoration did not have a happy ending. Fortunately, because Josiah torn his clothes in repentance and cried out before God because of the sins of the people, God promised that personally he would have a happy ending: “I will gather you to your fathers and you will be gathered into your grave in peace. And your eyes will not see all the calamity that I will bring on this place” (2 Kg 22:20; see 23:25).
Unfortunately, Josiah was killed in a battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. The people then took Jehoahaz, a son of Josiah, who was not God-anointed, and made him the king of Judah. But Jehoahaz “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kg 23:32). Jehoahaz was subsequently taken captive by Pharaoh Neco into Egypt. The Pharaoh then anointed as king of Judah, Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah. But Jehoiakim “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kg 23:37). And then came Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to take the remaining Israelites in Palestine into captivity (2 Kg 24). This was the end of Israel’s existence as an independent people in Palestine. From this time on, Palestine would always be controlled by foreign powers.
Unfortunately, the zealous efforts to restore Israel to the authority of the word of God by Josiah did not last. His efforts were futile because the sins of the fathers had already been embedded in the social behavior of the people. Once the influence of Josiah was gone, the people reverted back to the religious heritage that was handed down to them by their backslidden fathers who did not know the law of God. Their wayward fathers had no fear of the word of God. They were as Jeremiah wrote of them: “Yet the king [Jehoiakim] and all his servants who heard all these words were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (Jr 36:24).
It is incumbent on those who love the word of God to make a judgment concerning the people among whom they minister the word. They must determine if the people have gone too far away from a fear of God that they are unable to tear their clothes in repentance, and return to the authority of the word of God. God does not bind on His people futile efforts to preach to those who have hardened their hearts against Him.
Nowhere in the New Testament is it bound on the people of God to keep preaching the gospel to those who have no inclination to be responsive to the gospel. Jesus forewarned His disciples of this matter before He sent them forth with the message of the gospel: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces” (Mt 7:6).
It seems that this method of evangelism is exactly what Paul practiced on different occasions on his mission to preach the gospel to the world. For example, when Paul and Barnabas came to the synagogue of the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, there were Jews in the city who “were filled with envy. And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed those things that were spoken by Paul” (At 13:25). But then Paul and Barnabas perceived those who were hardened against the message of the gospel, they said to the hardened, “It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (At 13:46). On another occasion when some Jews in Corinth “resisted and blasphemed,” Paul also said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads. I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (At 18:6).
The preceding reveals the efforts of God to at least give Israel one last chance to save themselves from death and captivity. In the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, Jeremiah was called to preach repentance to the last two remaining tribes in Judah (Jr 1:1,2). At the time, the end of national Israel was only a few years away. When the time of termination eventually came in 586 B.C., and while the Babylonians surrounded the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was called to preach repentance to the enclosed Israelites in order to give them one last chance to repent. He encouraged the remaining Israelites to turn themselves over to the Babylonians because God had destined the termination of independent national Israel. If they turned themselves over to captivity, many of them would escape death. They would continue to exist as a culture of people in order that the promises to Abraham be fulfilled concerning the Blessing (Branch) that would come out of Israel for the salvation of the world (Jr 23). But as an independent nation of people in Palestine, such would be terminated.
In his call, God said to Jeremiah, “They [the resistant Jews] will fight against you. But they will not prevail against you, for I am with you” (Jr 1:19). Because of his message to the people, the people eventually threw Jeremiah in a pit (Jr 18:19,20,22,23). They slandered Jeremiah, calling him a traitor to Israel (Jr 18:18). Diotrephes likewise slandered the early evangelists (3 Jn 10). The hardened Jews stirred up animosity against Paul (At 13:50). On one occasion, they cast him out of a city and stoned him (At 14:19). Because the Jews of Paul’s day reject the gospel, God rejected them (See Rm 10:19-21). They too were consigned to being shut up in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Romans. The ensuing war of Rome against the insurrectionist Jews led to about one million being killed in the fall of Jerusalem. A similar fate awaits all those who reject the gospel (See 2 Th 1:6-9).
When swine reject the pearl of the gospel, it is time to move on. If the religious heritage of self-righteous religionists are set in stone to the point that even a “Josiah restoration” cannot turn them from their destiny of doom, then it is time for the disciples of Jesus to remain faithful, but they too must move on. We must always remember that only eight people made it out alive during the flood of Noah’s day. Only a small remnant of the people of Israel eventually return to Palestine after being scattered throughout the world in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Only a few Jews escaped death in Jerusalem during the A.D. 70 judgment of Israel. Only a few faithful disciples will likewise escape the destruction of the world when Jesus comes again (Mt 25:41; 2 Th 1:6-9). What will determine our destiny is our reaction to the reading of the law of God. If there is no repentant “tearing of clothes,” then we know that we will not have a happy ending when our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.
[Next in series: Sept. 4]