Huldah’s prophecy for Josiah included some bad news, not unlike bad news many other times in history.
When northern barbarians sacked Rome in A.D. 410, pagans insisted that the gods had judged Rome for turning to Christianity. The north African bishop Augustine had direct contact with many refugees fleeing Italy for Africa at that time, and wrote The City of God as a response. No, Rome did not fall because most of its residents turned to Christianity. Rome fell because its centuries of sins were piled as high as heaven, and because the Christianity of most Christians was too shallow to stay God’s just judgment against these sins.
In God’s purposes, God may delay judgments on some nations for the sake of helping believers in other nations, but if biblical principles apply, judgments are sure to come on sinful nations. Judgment was due for the innocent blood of Manasseh’s generation, which included burning newborn babies as sacrifices or good luck charms (2 Kgs 21:6; 23:10; cf. 16:3; 17:17, 31):
“Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the LORD”—2 Kgs 21:16 (NIV)
“The LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, bands of the Arameans, bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites; he sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed; for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to pardon.”—2 Kgs 24:2-4 (NRSV)
A bit of homiletical application for my fellow U.S. Christians (others will have to judge for their own settings): we are also polluted with innocent blood. For those of us who believe that life is sacred already in the womb, we as a nation bear the guilt for more than 50 million preborn lives since abortion’s legalization in 1973. Those who don’t see preborn babies as live human beings still ought to recognize massive innocent bloodshed. The civil war may have been judgment for some of the sin of the slave trade; between marches in Africa and the infamous Middle Passage across the Atlantic, some estimate the death of four to six million, not including those who died in slavery itself. Had the civil war purged the spirit of racism, we might suppose that the judgment due the United States stopped there, but anyone who knows anything about U.S. history (not least the Jim Crow era and thousands of lynchings after Reconstruction) knows that the spirit of racism continued to flourish. One thinks also of the slaughter of Native Americans—often women and children noncombatants. Air power reduces U.S. casualties in war but in some (especially urban) settings increases “collateral damage” (much as many have tried to prevent these). Etc.
Those who do not believe that any of the above examples might count as the shedding of innocent blood still need to reckon with an estimated 17,284 cases of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in 2017 alone (which has varied in recent decades from a high of 24,700 in 1991 to a low of 14,164 in 2014). Very few of these would have been government-sanctioned actions, but they do reflect a culture of violence. In 2010, over 10,000 people died and over 300,000 were injured from drunk driving. Etc. However you slice it, our nation is stained with innocent blood.
Are there many nations much worse, especially in current government-sanctioned violence? Of course. And entire movements such as ISIS and Boko Haram, which have killed indiscriminantly and often even targeted those who bear Christ’s name surely will face judgment. But as mentioned earlier, we don’t have the right to judge ourselves charitably by simply comparing ourselves with others. We live in a nation with a heritage of knowing biblical morality. So it seems that if the biblical pattern holds in this case (though even throughout the Bible there are variables known only to God), our nation stands under divine judgment.
But Huldah also had some good news for the king. Yes, judgment was coming. But because Josiah responded in a radical way to the Book—because he took it seriously—the judgment would not come in his generation. Josiah’s generation would be short-lived (sadly, he died young), and he was not able to turn the following generation fully from the legacy of past idolatry and good-luck bloodshed. But Josiah did make a difference for his generation.
One person who takes the Bible seriously and lives according to the message one finds there can make a big difference. Granted, none of us is a king who can dictate a top-down moral reformation, so this model of national revival is not so easy to imitate. (If I do have any royal readers in some other countries, though, you can apply some of these passages much more directly than some of the rest of us.) But we are also a partly bottom-up culture, and there are believers also among some of our cultural elites.
We can have an influence by showing how much better God’s design for living is—by living that way ourselves, and sharing with those willing to hear us. “This is how everyone will know that you’re My disciples,” Jesus said: “if you love one another: (John 13:34-35). “And I’ve given them the glory You’ve given Me, so they may be one, just as We are one: I being in them, and You in Me, so that they may be brought to full unity—so the world may know that You sent Me, and that You have loved them just as You have loved Me” (17:22-23). Three thousand were converted through Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:41), but Jesus’s movement in Jerusalem grew daily (2:47) as outsiders witnessed Christians sharing meals, prayer and apostolic teaching from house to house, and even possessions (2:42-47).
When a British preacher told D. L. Moody, “the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him,” it changed Moody’s life. When a friend of a friend of German immigrant George Mueller began living completely by dependence on God, it so touched Mueller that he decided to begin the same adventure. Over the course of his life in Britain, he and his associates cared for over 10,000 orphans, and provided education for more than 120,000. Mueller was moved by compassion for the orphans, and also to show the world that God’s Word was really true, and could really be lived by in their own time. The friend of a friend had a huge impact on Mueller, who impacted Christians around the world, including Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, with a living, active faith in God in the present life.
You as a reader may be just one person. But like Josiah, God can use you in your sphere of influence. What will it look like, if you are fully consecrated to God? If you take God’s Word seriously? The world may have yet to see.
(For the first installment of Part II, see http://craigkeener.com/what-does-revival-look-like-ii-returning-to-gods-word-2-kings-2210-20-a-setting-the-stage/)