Hello, dear Reader, I would like to discuss two passages in the Bible that detail the account of two kings, a father and a son, who heard the words of God. It is remarkable to observe each of their responses to hearing the words of God and their actions that followed. From these examples we might examine ourselves as to how we individually respond to the Word of God in our possession–are we more like King Josiah, or King Jehoiakim. We shall begin with the former of the two kings:
Relevant passages: Jeremiah 35, 2 Kings 22
2 Kings 22:1-20: King Josiah
King Josiah took the throne when he was only eight years old. It is said of Josiah that “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” It was in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign that the king sent Shaphan the scribe to the house of the Lord in order that Hilkiah the high priest might determine the sum of silver that was given of the people for the purpose of repairing the house of the Lord which was in disarray. During the process, Hilkiah finds the book of the law in the house of the Lord. One cannot help but note a sense of irony that this book could be lost in a place where it should be most prominently displayed and diligently adhered to. Nevertheless, found it was and delivered to Shaphan for to read. Upon reading the words of the book, apparently unaffected, Shaphan the scribe brings news to the king of the tally of money collected, the workers to whom the money was delivered, and then mentions (almost as an after-thought) that Hilkiah had discovered “a book.” Now, for the second time, Shaphan reads the book of the law of the Lord, this time in the ears of our young king, Josiah, now twenty-six years of age. Upon hearing the words of God, the king tears his clothes, overwhelmed by the judgments of God due to this nation for the many years their forefathers neglected to obey the commandments of God which He delivered unto them. God had brought deliverance from bondage, provision, protection, and a promised land for his people and desired them to be a special people to Himself. “For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?” (Deut. 4:7). In response to God’s goodness, the people forget the wonders of God and forsake his commands turning to the surrounding nations for to serve and burn incense to their false gods of wood, silver and gold thus provoking the true God to anger. Years of apathy and defiance led up to this moment in time, and Josiah is humbled at the reading of the resulting and imminent judgment. King Josiah seeks the counsel of Huldah, the prophetess who declares to him the words of the Lord:
“Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD. Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again. (2 Kings 22:19-20)
Here we see that Josiah is told by the prophetess from the Lord that the judgment that was to come would not occur during his lifetime. Because:
- His heart was tender
- He humbled himself
- He tore his clothes
- He wept
Josiah was a king who was approached with the law of the Lord, the words of God. As Josiah heard these words, they made a tremendous impact on him resulting in an attitude of brokenness, humility, and repentance. This resulted in a kingdom wide covenant to “walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.” Notice that small phrase, “And all the people stood to the covenant.” It is worth noting that the actions of leaders very often influence the behaviors of those whom they are leading. This fact will again become evident in the following story. King Josiah’s life is summed up in the following verse:
“Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. And like unto him was there no king before him, that 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; neither after him arose there any like him.” (2 Kings 23:24-25)
There is no better epitaph that could be written nor eulogy spoken than the words written here. There is no greater legacy to leave than a life of following the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. It is a shame, however, that Josiah’s sons did not follow in his steps. This godly king produced several sons who did not do those things that were right in the sight of God. We will look only at Josiah’s son, King Jehoikam:
Jeremiah 36:1-32: King Jehoiakim
King Jehoiakim reigned as king of Judah after his father died. To read the account in 2 Kings 23 we would see he was made king by Pharaoh-nechoh, ruler of Egypt, in the place of his brother, Jehoahaz. Jehoiakim did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. It came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign, that Jeremiah the prophet received a word from God to be delivered to the people of Judah over which Jehoiakim was king. This was a message of judgment for their sin of forsaking the true God and serving the false gods of the land. God indicates that the intent of this message was that “the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.” (Jer. 36:3) And so, this message from God was so much more than a message of judgment, it was a message of hope, for if the people would turn from their wicked ways and return to the living God, He would forgive their sin–such longsuffering demonstrated by a holy God to a corrupt and rebellious people.
The message was delivered to Jeremiah and penned by Baruch, who served as Jeremiah’s scribe and messenger. God’s message of repentance or judgment was read by Baruch in the ears of the people of Judah in the house of the Lord. This message was to be read throughout all the land and the cities of Judah with the hopes to elicit repentance and supplication from the people in order that the wrath of God which they had provoked might be quelled. Months passed, and Baruch kept up with this task of reading the words of the Lord to as many as would listen. At one point, all the princes of the land sent for Baruch and asked that they might hear the words of Jeremiah from God themselves. Thus, Baruch took the roll and read all the words of God. Initially the response was fear, and rightly so, for the wrath of God had been kindled against all of the people for their sin. The princes tell the king of this message, but had before instructed Baruch and Jeremiah to hide, suspecting that the king’s response to these words would be less than favorable for its messengers. The king called for the roll with the message from God to be read before him and once again, in the ears of the princes who once were moved to fear by these words. Now the king sat before a fire in his house, and when he heard but only a fragment of the message, he proceeded to cut the roll in pieces and throw them into the fire. It appears the portion that moved the king to anger was a portion which indicated that the king of Babylon would enter the land and kill man and beast, foretelling coming judgment at the hands of the neighboring nation (Jer.36:29). Rather than heed the warning, the king burned it. There were precious few who tried to stop the king of the madness, but to no avail. And where were the princes who once were moved to fear because of these words? It is said of them, and the king’s servants, “Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words.” (Jer. 36:24). Once again, we see the actions of leaders setting the pace for the actions of those led (in the first case with King Josiah, individual repentance led to national repentance; a personal covenant yielded support at a corporate level). Now, this is not the first time that the written words of God were destroyed. You will remember a copy of the ten commandments written in two tablets of stone cast from the mount by Moses upon discovering that the people of Israel were worshiping a false god, a calf of gold fashioned at the hand of Aaron, Moses’ brother. This breaking of the tablets by Moses signifies the people had broken God’s law, but King Jehoiakim’s burning of the roll suggests not only had they broken God’s law, but that he had no interest in repentance. A second copy of the roll was made by Jeremiah and Baruch, just as Moses received a second copy of the law from God. The judgments of God would, in fact, fall upon the land; Judah would fall prey to the Babylonian empire.
How is it that the words of God could provoke humility, repentance and a change of heart in one man, and yet, only one generation later, the words of God could elicit such strong disdain as to be thrown in the fire by an impenitent king? I have not the answer. What we have before us, however, is the contrast between two men both faced with a warning from a loving, longsuffering, but holy God. Warnings heeded lead to forgiveness; warnings ignored lead to judgment. We also have before us the Word of God, as they did. In this Word, we may read of many wonderful things, but make no mistake this is a book about judgment. The same loving, longsuffering, and holy God presents before us life and death as always. We, by nature, have turned our hearts from Him and are made vile with the filthiness of sin that pollutes our hearts and characterizes our behavior. His offer is really quite simple: you can be forgiven, for free, forever. He has paid the price at the cross, the offer only waits for us to accept it, and should we choose to reject it and continue on in our sin, there is no place for an unholy people before a holy God in heaven. If we should stand in a place of rebellion against the loving God as did Satan and his angels, then there is no place for us but the place made for them in hell (Matt. 25:41). And for those of us who have accepted the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, what effect does the Word of God have on our hearts when we hear it? Do we respond with brokenness, a contrite heart of repentance, and use it to fuel our actions to obedience, or do we respond with stubbornness, rage, and simply use it as fuel for our fires of rebellion against Him?
The question we must ask ourselves is this: Is it worth “casting the roll in the fire” today and then ourselves be cast into the fire tomorrow? The choice is ours in either case, but the consequences are eternal. Which do you choose?
“ …behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Cor. 6:2