Josiah and the Re-Discovery of God’s Law

King Josiah hears the Law. (Artist unknown.)

Are you familiar with the story of Josiah and the rediscovery of the Law? Josiah became king at a spiritually and politically bleak point in Judah’s history—a succession of (with a few exceptions) wicked kings had led the nation steadily away from Yahweh, while defeat and exile loomed on the horizon.

Yet in the midst of this gloom, God introduced a ray of light. While repairing the temple in Jerusalem, the people made an unexpected discovery:

While they were bringing out the money collected at the Lord’s Temple, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that was written by Moses. Hilkiah said to Shaphan the court secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!”

This “Book of the Law of the Lord” was presumably one or all of the Books of Moses, and its preservation through the reigns of evil rulers like Manasseh and Amon, Josiah’s predecessors, was miraculous in itself. But even more miraculous is the way that Josiah reacted when God’s law was read to him:

When the king heard what was written in the Law, he tore his clothes in despair. Then he gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser: “Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for all the remnant of Israel and Judah. Inquire about the words written in the scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger has been poured out on us because our ancestors have not obeyed the word of the Lord. We have not been doing everything this scroll says we must do.”

After endless accounts of wicked kings and disobedient people in the books of Kings and Chronicles, Josiah’s humble and chastened response to the Law is remarkable. How many of us, when confronted with evidence that we have sinned or erred, are so quick to respond with honesty and repentance? God’s law is often misunderstood as a list of judgmental “thou shalt not’s,” but here we see it serving as a lamp illuminating the areas in which God’s people had fallen short and needed forgiveness. And in fact, God honored Josiah’s repentance by postponing the imminent judgment He had decreed for Judah.

Although this is a relatively short account, there are many details and questions lurking between the lines. The Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth blog, reflecting on this story, identifies some of those questions and turns them to us today:

I began to ask myself just what the priests and Levites had been doing for all these years without the Law of the LORD. How had they ministered in the temple of God without God’s standards in place? And how had they gone all this time in the temple without discovering the book of the Law of the LORD? What parts of the temple were they inhabiting? What kind of service had they been offering? How corrupt was the priesthood at this time?

I applied this text to our modern situation by asking if God’s standards are in place in our service to him. Have we been ministering according to God’s standards or our own? Are the things that are important to God important to us? Is our preaching based on the text of Scripture or do we just use the Scriptures the legitimize whatever it is we already think or feel? These are important questions and if the history of Israel and Judah can teach us anything, it’s how detrimental abandoning God’s standards can be.

See also his follow-up post on what the story of Josiah’s discovery tells us about accountability.

If you haven’t read the story of Josiah, take a few minutes to do so—it’s one of many fascinating accounts located in a section of the Bible too often relegated to Sunday School lessons.

Related posts:

  1. Tour of the Bible, part 2: the Historical Books

Posted by Andy

Filed under Bible Study