As of late I have been struck by the reality of just how much the Word of God speaks to the state of humanity today. Now, do not get me wrong, I am very much aware that the Bible and its principles are applicable to life and have been applicable throughout the course of human history. However, it is eerie to read a passage and study the principles of that passage and know that the cultural context behind biblical books reflects so clearly the cultural situations of today; thus, the application of biblical principles becomes incredibly important. Recently I stumbled upon one of these passages while preparing to teach a Bible study group.
I enjoy studying and learning about King Hezekiah and King Josiah because they were leaders who allowed the Word of God to hold importance upon their actions and their leadership of the nation of Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel during its historical period of division). Specifically, 2 Kings 22:1-23:30 describes some of the life and reign of King Josiah. Most people know of Josiah as the individual who became king at the young age of eight because his father Amon died. At about the age of twenty-six, Josiah ordered repairs to the Temple of God located in Jerusalem. During this repair time, the High Priest Hilkiah found the Law of God within the Temple. Hilkiah passed this finding on to Shaphan who read the Law of God to King Josiah. Upon hearing the words of the Law, probably for the first time, Josiah tore his clothes in distress and agony (2 Kings 22:11). One must ask, “Why?” Why did Josiah fall under such grief and distress and tear his clothing? To answer that question, one must understand at least some of what Josiah heard from Law of God.
If you were to turn to Deuteronomy and read the words Moses gave to the people of Israel as they were gathered on the eastern side of the Jordan River, before they would cross over into the Promised Land, you would gain a better understanding of Josiah’s state of mind. Because I cannot paste all of Deuteronomy here, I will give you three excerpts from the book with references so you can read them more in-depth, and gain some insight and context that will make the Word of God more vivid in your mind. Let us start in Deuteronomy 12:1-7. In these seven verses, Moses dictated some of God’s guidelines the Israelites were to follow during their worship of God. Specifically, vv2-4 outline how God’s people were not to worship God the way the current people in Canaan worshiped their false gods. The Israelites were to tear down pagan altars and were forbidden to imitate pagan worship practices in their worship of God Almighty. Moreover, verses vv5-7 inform the Israelites that God expected them to worship Him in one place that He would choose, not in many places like the pagans worshiped. Now move to Deuteronomy 16:21-17:7. These verses are harsh but they prescribe pure worship God expected from His people. Specifically the nation of Israel was not to build pagan altars and they were not to offer impure sacrifices; and if someone was found guilty of worshiping false gods, then they were to be killed in order to maintain holy worship before God. Finally, take a look at Deuteronomy 18:9-13. Here Moses reminded the people of God not to replicate the worship practices of pagan peoples. Specifically, the Israelites were not to offer human child sacrifices or engage with demonic forces (i.e. witchcraft, consulting the dead, and the like). Among other laws from God, Josiah would have heard these decrees and known instantly that the nation of Israel was guilty of committing all of these acts before God. Thus, under realization and conviction of sin, Josiah tore his robes.
Now, to show you just the depravity in Judah (remember these are the people of God), take a look at 2 Kings 23, specifically focus in on vv4, 6-7, 10. Notice Josiah began with the Temple of God and had items used in the worship of Baal and Asherah removed from the storage rooms. Baal and Asherah were worshiped throughout Mesopotamia; their worship included sacrifices and sexual perversion, and the tools used to perform these practices were housed in God’s Temple. Also, Josiah cleansed the Temple of God by removing from it the living quarters of male prostitutes (v7). The Temple, the worship center of God Almighty, the Holy Creator of the heavens and the earth and the One who brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, was used to provide housing for prostitutes—how quickly the people forgot God’s order to not worship God the way the pagans worshiped their gods (Deut. 12:4). If these actions were not enough for Josiah, he also went out from the Temple and destroyed a worship center in Ben Hinnom where people would offer human child sacrifices (v10).