This is an adapted transcript of a sermon I preached back in June. To listen to the recording, go to https://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/sermons/2-kings-22-josiahs-reformation/
This evening we’re going to be looking at king Josiah. When I was first asked to preach on Josiah, I was really excited. The kings of Judah were a mixed bag of great, godly men and horrible villains, and Josiah is a great example of godliness. He’s one of the kings that make you think, “Yes, here’s a good one!”
Last week Henry preached about king Hezekiah, who was one of the better kings of Judah, but between him and Josiah were two awful ones, Manasseh and Amon. Manasseh filled the nation with idols and was so evil and bloodthirsty that God said that He would wipe Jerusalem out and give the people over to their enemies. Amon was just as bad as Manasseh was. So Josiah is a great relief!
Tonight we’ll see that yes, Josiah was a great king. But we’ll also see that he was a king who couldn’t save his people. But he points to a King who can. The full story is in 2 Kings 22 and 23.
Josiah: the king who could not save
Josiah’s story starts fairly quietly. There was some repair work going on at the temple. The workmen needed to be paid, so Josiah ordered Shaphan the secretary to ask Hilkiah the high priest to open the temple coffers and pay the men. But while he was getting the money together, Hilkiah found a book. You can imagine him digging around in the temple store-rooms and stumbling across this big, old, dusty scroll. What is it? Hilkiah passed it on to Shaphan, who read it. And Shaphan read it to the king.
When Josiah heard what the book said, he tore his clothes in alarm and anguish and grief. What on earth was in this book?
This book wasn’t just any book that that you get because it looks nice and leave it on the shelf, or you forget about it and put it away, where it gathers dust. It was the Book of the Law – what we have in our Bibles now as the book of Deuteronomy. It contained all of the covenant that God had made with His people; commands to live by, instructions on how to worship Him, and what would happen if they broke it. It was supposed to be available to every king of God’s people so he could lead them faithfully. But it had been lost or hidden away in the temple, and this is the first time Josiah had read it.
And when it was read to him, his blood ran cold. Because he read things like this:
“You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you… lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.”
“…if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”
“When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you are not ensnared to follow them… for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.”
Josiah realised that his kingdom was doing exactly what God had told them not to do.
The nation was full of the idols that the LORD commanded them not to worship. Baal, Asherah, the ‘host of heaven’ and the sun in the temple. Altars on the palace roof. Shrines on hills up and down the country, for the Ashtoreth of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the god of the Moabites, for Milcom the god of the Ammonites. A valley outside Jerusalem where children were sacrificed to Molech!
God explicitly said that if His people worshipped these gods, He would wipe them off the face of the earth. We saw earlier in our series in Kings that God always keeps His word, and Josiah knew this. He knew God is perfectly just, and would keep His promise to avenge the broken covenant.
He knew his kingdom stood on the edge of destruction.
He knew what that would look like, because the northern kingdom of Israel had already been conquered and destroyed as God had promised.
But Josiah also knew God well enough to seek Him.
He sent Hilkiah, Shaphan and three others to have an emergency conference with God. Through Huldah the prophetess God said that He would carry out the destruction that Josiah had read about, because the nation had forsaken Him and followed other gods.
His unquenchable wrath, His furious anger, was burning against Judah because they had provoked and provoked Him with their idolatry and evil. He said there would be a point of no return, where they became so evil and had broken the covenant so much that He had to punish them because He is a perfectly just God, and justice had to be satisfied.
He gave them years of chances to not get to that point. He warned them and warned them not to go there.
But they didn’t listen. Manasseh crossed that line. And God couldn’t let it slide.
The end was coming, and there was no escape.
But have a look at God’s message to Josiah in 22:18-20: “Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore, behold, 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.”
Josiah believed that God was merciful as well as just, so turned to Him in his distress. God heard his cry and responded with mercy. He postponed the nations’ destruction for Josiah’s sake.
God never lies, and God always keeps His promises. The promises about judgement and wrath as well as the promises about blessing. He could not break His word by ignoring what His people had done. His wrath would fall on them. But God isn’t cruel. He showed mercy to Josiah by postponing His wrath so that Josiah wouldn’t have to live through the horrors that were to come. All because Josiah’s heart was penitent. Because he grieved over how he and the nation had broken their covenant relationship with God.
And we see more of Josiah’s heart towards God in what he did next.
If I told you that you were going to die this time next week, how would you use your last days on earth? Would you quit work? Would you go to see your family? Would you throw caution to the wind and do everything you had ever wanted to do, because you might as well, right? What does it matter?
Although it was certain that his nation’s days were numbered, Josiah didn’t do any of that. If you read on into chapter 23, you’ll see that he obeyed God. He led the whole nation in repentance, starting with himself. At the beginning of chapter 23 we see that he gathered the whole country together to read the Book of the Law to them and re-commit to the covenant that they had broken. He was the first to make a public commitment to walk after God and keep God’s commands with all his heart and soul.
He then ruthlessly destroyed all the idols he could find; burning, pulverising or desecrating them so that nobody could use them again.
He got rid of all his father’s mediums and necromancers, and all of the self-appointed priests of other gods; and ordered that the Passover, the festival of God’s saving relationship with His people, would be celebrated like never before.
This scale of repentance was so unprecedented in history that the Bible calls Josiah unique out of all the kings of Israel and Judah. Chapter 23:25 says 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…” Not Solomon. Or Hezekiah. Or even David, who God called “a man after his own heart”! (1 Samuel 13:14)
This sounds like it should have been the kingdom’s ‘happily ever after’. Surely now God would say that He wouldn’t destroy the kingdom after all, like how we saw last week that He healed Hezekiah after He said he would die? Surely now things would be ok?
Well, no. Verses 26 and 27 say, “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. And the LORD said, ‘I will 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.’”
You see, for all of his godliness, Josiah couldn’t quench God’s wrath. God is perfect. He would keep His word about the judgement coming on Judah, and nothing would stop Him from doing it. It was only a matter of time.
Josiah couldn’t change the people’s hearts, either – his heart turned to God, but he couldn’t turn the heart of the nation. After him, all the kings of Judah did evil, including his sons.
There’s an important thing to remember here: our leaders cannot save us. Because what matters is your own personal response to God, not the faith of your friends or your family or your pastor.
No human can save us from the wrath of God. Ever.
So what hope do we have?
Because nobody can save us from the wrath of God… except God Himself. As much as Josiah was a human king who couldn’t save, Jesus is God, and He is the King who saves His people.
Jesus, the King who saves
Jesus is the King who saves. He’s the King who quenches God’s wrath, and the King who changes our hearts.
We’re in a similar situation to Josiah. In Romans 1 the Bible says that “…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (v18) It says that humans should be able to see enough about who God is in the world around us to worship Him, but instead we refuse to worship Him and worship other things instead.
So God is revealing His wrath. Against us.
For Josiah and his people, God’s wrath looked like having a foreign nation conquer them, destroy their home, and take them far away as slaves.
For everyone, God’s wrath ultimately comes after death. All of us, after we’ve died, will come before God and He will judge whether we have done right or wrong. And those found guilty of unrighteousness will be condemned to eternal, horrific pain and destruction. The Bible calls it hell.
Not many of us would naturally think of ourselves as being bad enough to deserve that. It’s horrible! But righteousness is about living in a way that’s completely perfect, living in God’s way.
Have you ever not had God as the most important person in your life?
Has something else ever been more important to you than doing what He says?
Have you ever talked about God as if He doesn’t matter?
Have you ever not taken a day off each week to spend resting and enjoying God?
Have you ever yelled, “I hate you!” at your parents? Or thought it? Or thought it about someone else?
Have you ever craved something that someone else has and wanted it for yourself? Or taken something that isn’t yours? Or daydreamed about taking something that’s not yours to have?
Have you ever not quite told the truth?
God says all of these things are unrighteousness. Another word for it is sin. By doing any of them we are exposing that we suppress the truth that God exists. We declare that don’t want God to be here. We declare that we want God dead so that we can be god instead and obey our own rules. So even if you’ve only done one of these things, you’ve shown that you want God dead. And it counts as deserving His wrath.
We all stand on the brink of destruction.
But we don’t have to be here. Because our God, who is perfectly holy and can’t stand injustice, is the very God who jumps at the chance to forgive.
One of the things that Josiah did was to get the people to keep the Passover like never before. Passover was a celebration of how God rescued His people out of slavery in Egypt. He did it by making His wrath for sin fall on the whole country, killing every firstborn child. But His people were protected by killing a lamb and putting its blood on the doors of their houses, to show that something else had died instead of them.
Later on we’re going to be sharing Communion together. When Jesus first taught His disciples to share Communion He wasn’t just celebrating Passover, He was totally transforming it. Because the Passover, and Communion, were all pointing to His far greater rescue.
They were pointing to how Jesus quenches God’s wrath.
When Jesus died, the full fury of God’s wrath that was hanging over our heads for every unrighteous thing that we have done fell on Him instead. The unquenchable fire was quenched by the blood of Jesus as it ran down the cross. He swapped His righteousness for our sin and, like that Passover lamb, He was killed for our sin in our place.
He did it so that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved from God’s wrath. From destruction.
If you have Jesus as your Saviour, every time you mess up, even now, His blood on the cross says, ‘that has already been paid for.’
If you’re here and you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, please hear this: All of us have God’s wrath hanging over us – me, you, and everyone else here. I know it’s not nice to hear, but I’d be lying to you if I pretended it wasn’t true. But please, please also hear this: you don’t have to be in danger. Come to Jesus – you’ll find that He is far more kind, more loving, more understanding than you could ever dream. And He is the only one who can save you from destruction. Because He is the only one who has taken God’s wrath in our place.
In chapter 22:19, God tells Josiah that because his heart was penitent, He wouldn’t have to face His wrath. The Hebrew word that’s translated as “penitent” here could also be translated as “tender.” Josiah’s heart was soft towards God.
When God spoke, he listened.
When God spoke, he responded.
And that’s all that God asks of us. To respond when He speaks. So please listen to what God is saying here.
Listen to His warning.
Listen to His promise to rescue you.
And respond by asking Him to save you.
God showed Josiah mercy when he repented, and He’ll do the same for you, too. All you need to do is say to Him, “I’m sinful. I’m sorry. Please save me.” And God will stop you from every having to see hell.
If you’re here and you are a Christian, remember what Jesus has saved you from. Be humbled by the lengths God has gone to save you. That Jesus died to make you right with Him.
Fear His awesome holiness that meant that cost.
Know that because Jesus has made you righteous, you are precious and perfect in God’s sight, even though you still get stuff wrong now.
As you eat the bread and drink the wine when we share Communion together, remember that Jesus’ body was broken, His blood ran down that cross, for you. And it shields you from God’s wrath and makes you clean.
But also don’t keep the news to yourself!
When he found the book of the Law, Josiah gathered all the people to hear it. We aren’t kings with that kind of power now, but we can still take what opportunities we can to share what we’ve found. The reason that as a church we are praying for 100 people to become Christians in the next few years is because we want to see God saving more and more people from His wrath. The reason that we’ve said that we want to equip the church family to proclaim the Gospel is because we long to see God use us to bring more people to saving faith in Jesus.
It’s not something we can just sit on our hands about and wait for someone else to do! It won’t look the same for everyone, but we all have a part to play in sharing the news that Jesus saves us from God’s wrath.
We’ve seen that Josiah couldn’t save his people, but that Jesus does. And Jesus saves us from God’s wrath by absorbing it for us and making us righteous. And then He starts an inner revolution to change us.
Jesus, the King who changes our hearts.
Josiah had no power to change the hearts of his people, but that’s exactly what Jesus does for those who come to Him. Ephesians 5:25-27 says that Jesus gave Himself up for us to make us clean and present us to Himself in splendour, without any kind of imperfection, that we might be holy. If you want a long word for it, that’s called sanctification.
We are born with hearts that are against God and turn away from Him. Jesus died to give us the status of being righteous, and to work in us to change us into people who actually deserve to be called righteous.
It’s something that we need to work hard at ourselves. When Josiah realised just how bad the nation’s sin was, he literally smashed up their temptations. And we need to do the same. We need to have the same soft-heartedness that asks God for forgiveness, and the same resolve to destroy the idols in our hearts.
What tempts you away from God?
What idols are in your bedroom? On your dining table? At your desk?
What gods do you worship on your smartphone? With your credit card? In your diary?
What do you think and feel that you believe is more true than what God says?
Get rid of them! We must repent of all these! Because they are what turn us away from God.
Sin is not a pet to be tamed, it’s a monster that wants you dead. It drags you away from God so that you stop believing in Him and fall under His wrath. As theologian John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” And this is what God by His Spirit wants to do in you. He wants to kill your sin. But He wants to do it with you.
Keep fighting. Remember, it’s not wrong to be tempted. But it is wrong to give in.
Sin inflamed the wrath that Jesus died to quench, so why would we go back to it?
Sin is what God promises to give us the power to fight, so why would we play into temptation’s hands?
Keep fighting. Keep working hard not just at killing sin, but growing in godliness. Join the revolution of God in your heart!
You aren’t alone. As a church family we’re committed to building each other up so that we’re growing in faith and godliness. So let’s be honest with each other about our struggles. Let’s help each other bear the burdens of the temptations we have to fight. Let’s fight with and for each other, praying for each other, being accountable to each other. Let’s be spiritual comrades in arms together.
Josiah was a king who loved God like no other. But he couldn’t save his people.
Jesus is a King like no other. And He’s the only King who can save us. He quenched God’s wrath when He died on the cross, and He changes our hearts to make us people who truly worship God and delight Him.
So come to Jesus. Come to the God of peace who will save you and make you completely perfect. Come to the God who will make your whole being blameless and holy and without blemish.
God is calling us. He is faithful, and He will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
A couple of things that heavily influenced me while I was writing this were:
- Nick Tucker’s seminar series on sin during Word Alive 2018 – you can find the recordings here: https://wordaliveevent.org/word-alive-media/src/series/561/title/seven-deadly-things-about-sin-or-what-you-need-to-know-if-you-are-really-going-to-revel-in-the-gospel
- This article about sin on desiringgod.org: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-train-your-dragons