We hear no more of the repairing of the temple: no doubt that good work went on well; but the book of the law that was found in it occupies us now, and well it may. It is not laid up in the king’s cabinet as a piece of antiquity, a rarity to be admired, but it is read before the king. Those put the truest honour upon their Bibles that study them and converse with them daily, feed on that bread and walk by that light. Men of honour and business must look upon an acquaintance with God’s word to be their best business and honour. Now here we have,
I. The impressions which the reading of the law made upon Josiah. He rent his clothes, as one ashamed of the sin of his people and afraid of the wrath of God; he had long thought the case of his kingdom bad, by reason of the idolatries and impieties that had been found among them, but he never thought it so bad as he perceived it to be by the book of the law now read to him. The rending of his clothes signified the rending of his heart for the dishonour done to God, and the ruin he saw coming upon his people.
II. The application he made to God hereupon: Go, enquire of the Lord for me, 2 Kgs. 22:13.
1. Two things we may suppose he desired to know:—“Enquire, (1.) What we shall do; what course we shall take to turn away God’s wrath and prevent the judgments which our sins have deserved.” Convictions of sin and wrath should put us upon this enquiry, What shall we do to be saved? Wherewithal shall we come before the Lord? If you will thus enquire, enquire quickly, before it be too late. (2.) “What we may expect and must provide for.” He acknowledges, “Our fathers have not hearkened to the words of this book; if this be the rule of right, certainly our fathers have been much in the wrong.” Now that the commandment came sin revived, and appeared sin; in the glass of the law, he saw the sins of his people more numerous and more heinous than he had before seen them, and more exceedingly sinful. He infers hence, “Certainly great is the wrath that is kindled against us; if this be the word of God, as no doubt it is, and he will be true to his word, as no doubt he will be, we are all undone. I never thought the threatenings of the law so severe, and the curses of the covenant so terrible, as now I find them to be; it is time to look about us if these be in force against us.” Note, Those who are truly apprehensive of the weight of God’s wrath cannot but be very solicitous to obtain his favour, and inquisitive how they may make their peace with him. Magistrates should enquire for their people, and study how to prevent the judgments of God that they see hanging over them.
2. This enquiry Josiah sent, (1.) By some of his great men, who are named 2 Kgs. 22:12; and again 2 Kgs. 22:14. Thus he put an honour upon the oracle, by employing those of the first rank to attend it. (2.) To Huldah the prophetess, 2 Kgs. 22:14. The spirit of prophecy, that inestimable treasure, was sometimes put not only into earthen vessels, but into the weaker vessels, that the excellency of the power might be of God. Miriam helped to lead Israel out of Egypt (Mic. 6:4), Deborah judged them, and now Huldah instructed them in the mind of God, and her being a wife was no prejudice at all to her being a prophetess; marriage is honourable in all. It was a mercy to Jerusalem that when Bibles were scarce they had prophets, as afterwards, when prophecy ceased, that they had more Bibles; for God never leaves himself without witness, because he will leave sinners without excuse. Jeremiah and Zephaniah prophesied at this time, yet the king’s messengers made Huldah their oracle, probably because her husband having a place at court (for he was keeper of the wardrobe) they had had more and longer acquaintance with her and greater assurances of her commission than of any other; they had, it is likely, consulted her upon other occasions, and had found that the word of God in her mouth was truth. She was near, for she dwelt at Jerusalem, in a place called Mishneh, the second rank of buildings from the royal palace. The Jews say that she prophesied among the women, the court ladies, being herself one of them, who it is probable had their apartments in that place. Happy the court that had a prophetess within the verge of it, and knew how to value her.
III. The answer he received from God to his enquiry. Huldah returned it not in the language of a courtier—“Pray give my humble service to his Majesty, and let him know that this is the message I have for him from the God of Israel;” but in the dialect of a prophetess, speaking from him before whom all stand upon the same level—Tell the man that sent you to me, 2 Kgs. 22:15. Even kings, though gods to us, are men to God, and shall so be dealt with; for with him there is no respect of persons.
1. She let him know what judgments God had in store for Judah and Jerusalem (2 Kgs. 22:16, 17): My wrath shall be kindled against this place; and what is hell itself but the fire of God’s wrath kindled against sinners? Observe, (1.) The degree and duration of it. It is so kindled that it shall not be quenched; the decree has gone forth; it is too late now to think of preventing it; the iniquity of Jerusalem shall not be purged with sacrifice or offering. Hell is unquenchable fire. (2.) The reference it has, [1.] To their sins: “They have committed them, as it were, with design, and on purpose to provoke me to anger. It is a fire of their own kindling; they would provoke me, and at length I am provoked.” [2.] To God’s threatenings: “The evil I bring is according to the words of the book which the king of Judah has read; the scripture is fulfilled in it. Those that would not be bound by the precept shall be bound by the penalty.” God will be found no less terrible to impenitent sinners than his word makes him to be.
2. She let him know what mercy God had in store for him. (1.) Notice is taken of his great tenderness and concern for the glory of God and the welfare of his kingdom (2 Kgs. 22:19): Thy heart was tender. Note, God will distinguish those that distinguish themselves. The generality of the people were hardened and their hearts unhumbled, so were the wicked kings his predecessors, but Josiah’s heart was tender. He received the impressions of God’s word, trembled at it and yielded to it; he was exceedingly grieved for the dishonour done to God by the sins of his fathers and of his people; he was afraid of the judgments of God, which he saw coming upon Jerusalem, and earnestly deprecated them. This is tenderness of heart, and thus he humbled himself before the Lord, and expressed these pious affections by rending his clothes and weeping before God, probably in his closet; but he that sees in secret says it was before him, and he heard it, and put every tear of tenderness into his bottle. Note, Those that most fear God’s wrath are least likely to feel it. It should seem that those words (Lev. 26:32) much affected Josiah, I will bring the land into desolation; for when he heard of the desolation and of the curse, that is, that God would forsake them and separate them to evil (for till it came to that they were neither desolate nor accursed), then he rent his clothes: the threatening went to his heart. (2.) A reprieve is granted till after his death (2 Kgs. 22:20): I will gather thee to thy fathers. The saints then, no doubt, had a comfortable prospect of happiness on the other side death, else being gathered to their fathers would not have been so often made the matter of a promise as we find it was. Josiah could not prevail to prevent the judgment itself, but God promised him he should not live to see it, which (especially considering that he died in the midst of his days, before he was forty years old) would have been but a small reward for his eminent piety if there had not been another world in which he should be abundantly recompensed, Heb. 11:16. When the righteous is taken away from the evil to come he enters into peace, Isa. 57:1, 2. This is promised to Josiah here: Thou shalt go to thy grave in peace, which refers not to the manner of his death (for he was killed in a battle), but to the time of it; it was a little before the captivity in Babylon, that great trouble, in comparison with which the rest were as nothing, so that he might be truly said to die in peace that did not live to share in that. He died in the love and favour of God, which secure such a peace as no circumstances of dying, no, not dying in the field of war, could alter the nature of, or break in upon.