Josiah's courage, part 2

Sixth in the COURAGE series

To understand the courage of Josiah, we need only read about the evils that he reversed or destroyed, that were Manasseh's legacy. These are found in 2 Kings 23:

  1. All the vessels in the Temple made for Baal and his host of underlings were removed, along with the grove, that was a pagan platform for worshipping Baal. These were burned in Kidron and their ashes carried further away. The grove was stamped upon to reduce it to powder.
  2. The idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places and in Jerusalem, worshipping Baal, the sun, moon and planets, were "put down" (eliminated).
  3. He broke down the houses of the sodomites that were by the house of the Lord where the women wove hangings for the grove. (vs7)
  4. Gates to high places and other sites of pagan worship were broken down.
  5. And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. (vs10) Yes, even Judah had sacrificed her children to false gods!
  6. He took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun and burned the chariots of the sun.
  7. The altars made by Ahaz and Manasseh were broken to pieces and their dust cast in the Kidron brook.
  8. The high places that were before Jerusalem on the right hand of the mount of corruption that Solomon had built for Ashtoreth, Chemosh and Milcom, the abominable gods of the Zidonians, Moabites and Ammonites, were defiled by Josiah; he broke in pieces the images and cut down the groves and filled these places with the bones of men.
  9. He broke down the altar at Bethel that Jeroboam who made Israel sin had built, stamping it to powder, burning the grove, and then taking the bones from the sepulchers there and burning them on the altar, unwittingly fulfilling a prophecy. (1 Ki 13:2)
  10. He did the same to the houses of the high places that were in Samaria and killed all the priests of the high places that were at the altars.

Next, he ordered that repairs be made to the Temple, and the book of the law was discovered in that process. Upon hearing it read by Shaphan the scribe, he tore his clothes! (2 Ki 22:11) (See 2 Ch 34, 35 for the order in which Josiah carried out his plans.) He asked the priest, scribe and others in his circle to inquire of the Lord concerning the words of the book. He knew God's wrath must be very great since our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of the book (2 Ki 22:13).

These men went to a woman, Huldah the prophetess. Was Jeremiah too negative for them? (See previous post) By her the Lord said,

Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched. But to the king of Judah which sent you to enquire of the LORD, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, As touching the words which thou hast heard; 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 Ki 22:15-20)

Next, Josiah gathered all the elders, the prophets and priests of Judah and Jerusalem and all the people, into the temple and read to them all the words of the book of the covenant. He stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord on behalf of his subjects to walk in God's way and keep his commandments, testimonies and statutes with all their heart and all their soul, and all the people stood to the covenant (2 Ki 23:3). Was it not courageous to honor the Lord despite being assured that evil would surely fall on Judah, even after all his reforms?

And he continued with his reforms. He put away the workers with familiar spirits, the wizards and the images and idols that were seen in Judah and in Jerusalem.

He also commanded all the people, Keep the passover unto the LORD your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant. (2 Ki 23:21) This was the greatest passover ever celebrated; Josiah was now 26 years old. (vs 23) Nevertheless, despite his full obedience to the Word, the Lord turned not from his fierceness of his great wrath because of all of Manasseh's evil. (vs 26)

Under Manasseh, Judah had become a vassal of Assyria, so when Pharaoh Necho of Egypt attacked Carchemish, an Assyrian city, Josiah felt bound go to battle. Necho sent ambassadors to warn him not to (2 Ch 35:21), but Josiah made an error in judgment, and died from a battle wound. Jeremiah lamented for him, with all the singers. (2 Ch 35:25) Their mourning was so great that it became proverbial, as shown by Zechariah's prophecy about a later occasion for grief and lamenting (Zec 12:11) (See commentary note.)

What can protect or prevent a courageous man of action from missteps? When a man or woman is fully committed to obey and honor God, much self discipline, prayer and knowledge of God's Word are needed. At times, rapid-fire decisions must be made. Additionally, as we are in a posture of devotion, a reverie may prevent a unique prayer for guidance in EACH critical decision. Whatever our missteps, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This is the final reward of courage, even should we exercise it amiss.

Josiah's courage, part 1

Fifth in the COURAGE series

If you were asked to name the most courageous king of Israel, would King David come to mind? Probably so, but what if the challenge was to name the most courageous king of Judah? There were many good and brave kings of Judah, but none in Israel once the kingdom was divided.

Arbitrarily, I have chosen Josiah based on his many reforms in the face of sickening blasphemous and entrenched evil.

Josiah was the great grandson of good King Hezekiah and the grandson of Manasseh who seduced Judah to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel. (2 Ki 21:9) Manasseh reigned over Judah for 55 years, as a co-regent with Hezekiah for 10 according to scholars.

After Hezekiah made the mistake or sinned by showing the visiting Babylonians all the treasures of his house, he was warned by Isaiah that in the future …all that is in thine house…shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord (2 Ki 20:17). He was told that all of his sons would be taken away to be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. This did not seem to bother Hezekiah (2 Ki 20:19). Perhaps he knew what sort of man his son was?

Josiah's father, Amon, emulated Manasseh. After reigning two years his servants killed him, and the people made Josiah their king when he was only eight years old. He reigned in Jerusalem 31 years, (2 Ch 34:1) dying at midlife.

At 16 Josiah began to seek the Lord in a determined way (2 Chr 34:3). This was also the year his first son was born, the same age as Amon when he first became a father. Perhaps Josiah reflected upon the duties and affairs of men and the brevity of life.

At age 20 Josiah's reforms began (2 Chr 34:3) and at 21 his compatriot, Jeremiah, began to prophesy (Jer 1:2). Thus, he ran a little ahead of the weeping prophet who announced the destruction and fall of Jerusalem.

As Josiah built up the homeland and place of worship, Jeremiah foretold their demise, yet in these opposed roles the men had deep affinity because of their intense love of God. Each was obeying the Lord, and God was not at cross purposes. He was preparing the hearts of his own since they would be exiled in the not distant future, so they would need a deep faith that Josiah was assisting them to develop.

For example, Daniel was one who no doubt benefitted from Josiah's devotion. Had his parents not learned or been strengthened to worship and serve God thanks to Josiah's reforms, would he have become the seer of the kings of the East or had the spiritual reserve to pray through to the time of the return of the Jews to their land?

This is something to reflect upon: our courage is not always to the end nor purpose for which we exercise it. Yet the Lord may be glorified by it, though we seem to fail in our goals.

In small matters and large we should exercise courage. As we determinedly seek to follow Christ, victories in daily provocations and dilemmas increase the fitness of our emotions and spiritual life. There is physical fitness and there is also inner strength gained by choosing the right way in little things.

To understand the courage of Josiah, we will review the litany of evils facing him, that comprised Manasseh's legacy. We will look at these in our next post.

Don't assume the worst, no matter what

Fourth in the COURAGE series

We sometimes read of business people, pastors and politicians who stand up against evil and refuse to compromise their principles, but perhaps it took them some time to gather their resolve. Maybe they spent many days weighing one action against another, and praying to know what to do. Maybe they fasted and cried out for courage to stand against those who would belittle, rob, defame and silence them.

In days to come or even today, we might need to know how to proceed against an enemy. We may not be able to quickly figure out what to do, and our first response could be unwise.

The special story of Hezekiah and the Assyrian army told in 2 Kings 18, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 37 describes this type of personal crisis. Many stories are found in two books of the Bible, but how many in three? (I'll have to look into this.)

Hezekiah began to reign as Judah's king in 715 BC. This was in the third year of Hoshea, the king of Israel. (2 Ki 18:1) Hezekiah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, as David had done. He trusted God, excelling the other kings of Judah. The Lord was with him and he prospered. (2 Ki 18:3-6) He restored proper worship in the temple (2 Ch 29) and this brought great comfort and excitement to Judah and to many in Israel. (2 Ch 30:25)

In his fourth year as king, the seventh year of king Hoshea of Israel, the king of Assyria surrounded Samaria and in three years conquered her and "carried away Israel unto Assyria" (2 Ki18:11) because of their horrific disobedience.

A side note to this historic account is that when the Assyrian king removed Israel from her land he sent men from Babylon, Cutlah and other conquered cities to dwell there, but they did not fear the Lord so the Lord sent lions among them. Therefore, the king of Assyria sent one of the priests of Israel back to Samaria to "teach them the manner of the God of the land." (2 Ki 17: 24-27) After that, the new Samaritans feared the Lord but still served their own gods. The area had not changed much when Jesus visited there and asked the woman at the well for a drink. (John 4:7)

In Hezekiah's fourteenth year as king, the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, attacked and seized the fenced cities of Judah! (2 Ki 18:13) In his shock, Hezekiah sent a message to this king that he realized he had offended him and would bear whatever yoke necessary, sending him 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold. In fact, Hezekiah gave Sennacherib all the silver found in the Temple and in his own house, and even cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the pillars which he as king had overlaid with gold. (2 Ki 18:15, 16)

O unhappy day! Hezekiah had jumped to a conclusion because of fear and disillusionment, yet the Lord was working all things together for good. This affront would lead him to cry out to God and his prophet, Isaiah, for help.

Of course, the financial appeasement did not work but only whetted the appetite of the Assyrians, and a host with three terrifying leaders arrived to take over Jerusalem. They taunted the people, urging them to turn against Hezekiah and to make a truce with them, reminding them that no other nation had been successful in escaping the Assyrian conquerors. Nevertheless the people did not answer because Hezekiah had told them not to.

Meanwhile, after fortifying Jerusalem, Hezekiah rent his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, went to the temple, and sent his faithful men to Isaiah to ask for his prayers for the remnant. (2 Ki 19:1-5) They explained to Isaiah that the Assyrians had reproached the living God.

Isaiah told them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. (Is 37:6-7) ... I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake. (Is 37:33-35)

So it was that the aggression of the Assyrians was halted. The angel of the LORD "smote" 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, and any yet alive early that day, on waking saw all the corpses. Sennacherib departed, retiring to Nineveh, and not long after as he worshipped his god, his sons killed him by sword. (2 Ki 19:35-57)

Reflecting upon this story, we may wonder: Since Hezekiah was a good and obedient king, why did the Lord allow the Assyrians to invade and conquer the fenced cities of Judah?

Inevitably in life's trials, we will take some losses. Fear will grip us, squeezing the life from our hearts. Then, we will be led to reflect upon the ways of God, and to seek his direction and thoughts toward us.

The lesson here is that enemy attacks, disrespect, threats and even loss of property and security are not a reason to give up and assume the worst.

When Satan derides and condemns you, boasting that he will enslave you, do not believe him or try to appease his mockers. Remember how much MORE powerful the living God is, whose foundation... standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. (2 Tim 2:19) The Lord is well able to defend his church and people, yet, as Hezekiah did, we must obey God's commands and depart from evil.

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