What does revival look like? II: Returning to God’s Word—2 Kings 22:10-20. B: Finding the Book: Josiah’s Revival

It is said that Smith Wigglesworth, an early Pentecostal leader, grew disillusioned with the Pentecostal revival toward the end. He affirmed that God had poured out the Spirit, but lamented that the movement was not more grounded in the Bible. (Wigglesworth read only the Bible, so I need to make a caveat here: most of my many books are to help readers understand the Bible. I’m not against other books, including those that are not Bible study tools. But if you’ve got only so much reading time, the focus should be the Bible.) He longed for an end-time revival, and was looking for a revival that would bring together Word and Spirit.

As we noted in the previous post, God’s people had forgotten the law. Most people could not read, and during Manasseh’s long reign, priestly scribes had stopped public readings of the Bible. But because Josiah is serious about serving the Lord, and had orally heard stories about the past, he had priests restoring the temple. Some ancient temples had foundation documents deposited in their masonry, and in the process of repairing the temple’s priestly sanctuary, the priests uncovered the law. Hilkiah the high priest rightly recognized this as a special treasure, and handed it over to Shaphan the royal scribe. Reading from it, Shaphan realized how important it was. Along with his report to the king about the temple finances, therefore, he read the book to King Josiah.

Josiah really wanted to serve God, but, like many in our generation, he did not understand all that God required of him. But he was doing what he could (repairing God’s neglected house), and in this process the law came to light. (In 2 Chronicles, much of Josiah’s moral reformation is already underway, but 2 Kings emphasizes the extent to which much of this reformation depended on returning to God’s Word.)

When he heard the book of the law, he heard for the first time the fulness of what God required. He did not do with the Bible what some of us do (and have been able to do only in recent centuries, when literacy and printing have made possible private reading of the Bible). He did not congratulate himself on how long he spent on his devotions, listening to the book.

Nor did he say, “Wow, I’m glad I’m walking with God. Too bad for all these other people who aren’t paying attention to the book.” Nor did he say, “Okay, this is useful for tomorrow’s sermon, and then we can move on to some more timely subject likely to hold everybody’s interest.” He didn’t even say, I’m too young. After all, he was only eight when he became king (2 Kgs 22:1), and was just 26 now (2 Kgs 22:3).

He responded in a radical way to the book. He recognized that this was not just an antique of interest for his people’s heritage. It was not just something to be read but not taken seriously. It was God’s message, and it promised judgment to any generation that disobeyed it. Granted, they were doing much better now than in the days of his grandfather Manasseh or his father Amon. But the law showed that judgment for the sins of those prior generations had continued to build. He recognized that, according to God, his nation was at a crisis point, and in grief over corporate sin he tore his expensive royal robes (22:11). Finding the book was good news. But for the state of their nation, the book contained bad news.

Josiah didn’t do what we sometimes do with God’s Word today. He didn’t say, well, it can’t be that bad. Look, even the priests don’t seem that bothered. This must all be an exaggeration. Too often we shrug off radical teachings of Scripture (such as Jesus calling us to forsake all and follow him) by consoling ourselves that we’re surrounded by good Christians who don’t take it that way.

Well, who’s to say that all these good Christians are right? Maybe they’re doing the same thing we are. Maybe Jesus does want us to abandon everything to follow him. In most cases that will not mean giving up our jobs or becoming homeless (in Acts, only specific messengers of the kingdom do this), but it does mean that we should devote everything we are and have to Christ’s honor. You can serve Christ in most jobs (including flipping greasy hamburgers—so nobody misunderstands what I said in the previous post), if your lifestyle there helps your fellow workers to desire Christ and if your wages serve good purposes. But what does Christ’s Lordship say about our “leisure” time—the movies we watch, the things we read? Are there better ways to spend our time and resources for God’s kingdom than the way we spend them? Scripture invites us to evaluate our resources in light of eternity, to make the most difference we can for Christ.

Josiah heard what Scripture said. He had an idea what it meant for his generation. But he needed the voice of the Spirit to guide his application for his generation, and so he sent to the prophetess Huldah (22:14-20). She was the most prominent prophetic figure at this time (Jeremiah was still quite young). Thus Josiah sent to her for the word of the Lord just like, a century before, Hezekiah had sent to Isaiah (2 Kgs 19:2). Huldah gave Josiah’s messengers the bad news straight: the book meant what it said, and religion was not what “everybody” was saying.

Much public religion in North America is driven by shortcuts, sound bites, and even marketing hype (“God directly revealed this to somebody much more spiritual than you or your pastor!”) But the Spirit bears witness to the Word, just as the Spirit-inspired Word summons us to heed the Spirit. We have a privilege ordinary Israelites in Josiah’s day didn’t: we have Scripture available for ourselves (indeed, much more Scripture than yet existed in his day). If his generation could be liable for neglecting the whole counsel of God, how much more can we?

Next time: more about judgment—and mercy.

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