Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
3 In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the LORD, saying, 4 “Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the LORD, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; 5 let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the LORD; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the LORD, repairing the house, 6 that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. 7 But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”
8 The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD.” When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. 9 Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the LORD.” 10 Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.” Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.
11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12 Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
14 So the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the prophetess Huldah the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; she resided in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, where they consulted her. 15 She declared to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the LORD, I will indeed bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have abandoned me and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But as to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the LORD. 20 Therefore, I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place.” They took the message back to the king. (II Kings 22:3-20, NRSV)
When Griffin McCurry was 8 years old his parents took him to the Gold City Gem Mine in Franklin, North Carolina. 100 years ago the mine was a prime source for sapphires and rubies for the Tiffany Company but has since been turned into road-side attraction. For $6, visitors buy a bucket of dirt from a local farmer’s field then pan the dirt into a flume. Sometimes they find small gems – mostly trinkets – which they are allowed to keep as souvenirs.
Griffin’s bucket contained a rock that caught his eye. He kept it, not because he thought it was valuable but because he liked the shape of it. It took a visit later to a jeweler to discover exactly what he had found – a 1,104 carat sapphire worth upwards of $45,000. When asked afterwards what he wanted to do with the treasure, Griffin said, “I want to have sapphire bracelet made for my mom.” I love my mom, but I’m not sure I would have given the same answer as an eight-year-old boy in his shoes. I’m just being honest.
What were you doing when you were 8 years old? I was carrying around baseball cards and bubblegum, not a $45,000 rock. Can you imagine such a treasure coming to one so young?
When Josiah was 8 years old he became king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the middle of the 7th century B.C. His father, Amon, had been assassinated and so Josiah was forced onto the throne at a very early age. This was a time in Old Testament history when nearly all the Jewish kings where wretchedly corrupt. Josiah, in spite of his youth, was a strikingly notable exception.
In those days the kingdom of Judah was a mess. The places of worship had become infested with idols as the people neglected the God who had saved and delivered them and turned their devotion instead to trinkets of stone and wood. Influenced by the fertility rites of nearby pagan nations, temple prostitution had become ramped as people mixed sex and money and worship. If you can believe it, the people were even practicing child sacrifice, heating up an idol named Molech with fire until it was glowing, then taking their newborn babies, placing them on the arms of the idol, and watching them burn to death. Needless to say, this was a period of great evil and sin in the history of God’s people.
From a very young age Josiah set out to reform his nation. As we just read, his first action was to renovate the long-neglected temple by making sure that the offerings of the people were rightly allocated to the repair and maintenance of the temple. One day, as a part of this effort, as the high priest Hilkiah is going through the mess at the temple trying to sort things out he comes across an unexpected treasure. Like a $45,000 sapphire in a bucket of dirt, Hilkiah finds a long-lost copy of the book of the law in amongst the clutter. Immediately, he recognizes its value and has it delivered to the king.
Scholars disagree on exactly what portion of the Old Testament Hilkiah found, but it likely included at least a large section of the book of Deuteronomy and perhaps even the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Either way, he had recovered a portion of God’s revelation to his people, God’s Word to them about who he was and about how they were to live as his people.
And now things begin to make sense. You see, whenever people neglect God’s Word, ignore God’s commands and instructions for living the life he has established in this world, life then becomes corrupt and twisted. And what was true then is just as true today. Many of the hardships and challenges we face in our culture today are a direct result of people neglecting, even completely ignoring, God’s revealed Word to us. You see, God is the author of life and knows, infinitely better than we know, how life is to be lived in all its fullness. So when we ignore God’s guidance as given to us in his Word, turn away from God himself, we turn away from life itself.
It’s worth noting that whenever people in the Bible speak about God’s Word, or God’s Law, they speak with great affection. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the whole Bible, goes on and on about the benefits of God’s law. At one point the Psalmist gushes, “Truly, [Lord], I love your commandments more than gold, more than fine gold.” I say this is worth noting because many people I meet these days don’t see things quite this way. For them, the Bible, with all its commandments and restrictions, is more like a set of handcuffs that restrains us from experiencing the best in life. IN truth, however, the Bible is actually more like the key that opens up the handcuffs, with which we’ve allowed ourselves to be shackled, so that we can begin to experience the best in life. If you have come to know God, and come to know God’s Word, you know this to be true. There is actually great freedom in living life God’s way and God’s Word is the clearest picture we’ve been given of that life.
Josiah was somebody who recognized that the people of his day had been shackled by the evil desires and forces of this world. And so when he is handed the book of the law that day, a book he apparently never before knew existed, he holds the key to life in his hands. When he then opens the book and reads the message it contains, we’re told that immediately he tore his clothes.
In the old King James Version it reads, “And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.” This does not mean, by the way, that he went down to Men’s Warehouse and picked out a tuxedo for the prom. That’s how a young man rents his clothes these days. In those days, however, to rent your clothes meant to tear your garments, and this was a common reaction in that time when somebody experienced profound grief or loss. When Jacob, for instance, believed his beloved son, Joseph, was dead, we’re told that he tore his clothes. When Job loses all of his children in a terrible accident he sits on a trash heap and rents his garments. In other words, you didn’t just tear your clothes after having a bad day at the office. This was something you did in response to a terrible tragedy.
This tells us something very important. Josiah reads God’s Word, discovers for the first time the sort of life God has laid out for his people, recognizes immediately that his entire nation has completely neglected this life and traded the abundant life of God for a cheap and hollow substitute, and it causes him, in response, tremendous sorrow, not only for himself but for his people.
Now, I’ve never torn my clothes because of it, but I know this feeling. Maybe you do as well. In the past it has usually come over me late at night as I lay in bed. Those times in the still darkness have been some of the saddest moments of my life as I lay there thinking over the day gone by and remembering the gracious opportunities I was given to live into the life God has for me but which, in selfishness or distraction, I completely missed. You see, I have a very clear picture in my mind of the sort of husband, and dad, and friend, and pastor, and son, and human being God made me to be. Very clear. And when I lay that picture down next to the picture of the actual husband, dad, friend, pastor and son that I was on a given day, the stark contrast between the two pictures can, at times, leave me laying there at the end of the day with a great deal sorrow and regret. And maybe there are some of you here who know exactly what I’m talking about. When you realize that the life you know God has for you on the one hand and the life you have chosen instead to live on the other hand are so far apart from one another, it’s enough to want to make you tear your clothes.
This is the place in which Josiah finds himself. But notice what he does in response. He has several options, you know, which I’ll talk about in a minute, but the option he chooses here is humility. Let me read his response to you again.
Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.
He offers no excuses. He doesn’t cast blame. He doesn’t plead ignorance. Josiah simply turns to the Lord and acknowledges that if God has kindled his wrath against him and his fellow Judeans, God has every right for doing so. He’s telling God, “Whatever you choose to do in response to our great sin I will accept.” Josiah sees his sin and, without hesitation, throws himself on God’s mercy.
And how does God respond? What we read here makes clear a stark reality that has two parts.
First God responds to those who continue to do evil in his sight. “Because they have abandoned me,” God says, “[and] provoked me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place and it will not be quenched.”
Here is the first part of that stark reality. Those who perpetually turn their backs on God, never acknowledging or confessing their sin against God, will inherit a destiny of destruction. This is a hard word, and one we may not want to come to church to hear on a beautiful Sunday morning, but we ignore it at our own peril. For you see, God is the author of life, the source of all that is good and right. If a person then chooses to ultimately reject God all through life, even to death, then that person chooses to reject life itself. Call it wrath, call it natural consequences of a freely-made choice, call it what you want, but you can’t have life without God because God is life.
Think of it like this. You and I need to breathe oxygen to live, there’s no way around it. Now, you might insist that you prefer to breath helium or carbon dioxide instead or oxygen, and then go and try to live in a room where there is no oxygen, but it will never be possible for you to do so. The choice to go without oxygen is a choice to go without life. In the same way, the choice to go without God is also the choice to ultimately go without life.
This is a hard word, but lest you think that when Jesus came he came to do away with all this Old Testament talk of destruction for those who reject God’s Word, let me remind you of the words Jesus spoke in conclusion of the most important message he ever gave. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find. Those who knock, it is opened.”
Which leads us to the flip side of this reality. Those who seek, even though they seek from a place of sin and brokenness, will find. Those who knock in expectant humility will find a door opened to them. In contrast to many people of his day, Josiah sought God in this way. Let’s be clear, he was not innocent. He’d abandoned and neglected God and God’s Word just like the rest. But when he read God’s Word and was shown how far short he had fallen from the life God had for him, he repented and humbled himself before God. And God, as read earlier, restored Josiah. “Because your heart was penitent,” God says, “and [because] you humbled yourself before the Lord…and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you…and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace.” Which was God’s way of saying to Josiah that in the end of his life he would find that God’s peace, not God’s wrath, would mark his life.
It’s very important that you notice where the distinction is here. God lays out before us two contrasting destinies, one ending in destruction and the other in peace. The distinction, however, is not in the guilt. Josiah, just like his people, was guilty and he knew it. The distinction, rather, was in the response. The response of humility before our sin does not make God gracious and forgiving. God is already full of grace and mercy. Our response of humility merely makes it possible for us to live into, to receive that grace which otherwise we would forsake.
Imagine you go to the doctor for an examination and afterwards she sits you down and tells you that your body is full of cancer. To make her case she shows you pictures of healthy cells next to pictures of your unhealthy cells. When you see those contrasting pictures, that is the moment at which your response is going to make all the difference. As I see it, you have three possible responses.
In pride you can reject what you have just been shown and ignore the doctor’s diagnosis telling yourself, “What does she know? I feel fine. I’ll be on my way, thank you.” Second, in fatalistic despair you can go home defeated and resign yourself to death, so discouraged that you’re not even willing to listen to any of the options the doctor wants to lay out for treatment. Finally, you can do what most of us here would probably do. In humility you can submit yourself to the doctor by admitting, “I see that I’m very sick and so I will trust you and do whatever you tell me to do that might help me to get well again.”
In the spiritual life these are our same three possible responses when we come face to face with the reality that the picture God shows us of the life he has made us for is very different from the lives we have chosen instead to live. Pride, despair or humility? Only one of these three responses is full of hope.
One day early on in his ministry Jesus was standing beside the Sea of Galilee sharing the Word of God with a crowd of people who had gathered around to listen. A man named Simon was there, a fisherman who was listening to Jesus as he cleaned his nets after a long night of fishing. When Jesus finished speaking, he walked over and got in Simon’s boat and asked him to put out a bit from the shore so that they could throw down the nets for a catch. Simon, who we come to know later as Peter, does not think this is such a good idea. What does a carpenter-turned-rabbi know about fishing anyway? Besides, he’s been out all night and caught nothing and now it’s the middle of the morning, the worst possible time to catch fish.
For some reason Simon obliges anyway, and some of you know what happens next. As soon as the nets hit the water they are immediately filled with so many fish that the nets begin to break and Simon has to call for his fishing buddies to bring their boats out to help with the catch before his boat sinks under the weight.
And it is in that moment that Simon sees what Josiah saw long before him. He sees the intended life that God has for him, a life where he trusts God no matter what God says, and he holds that life up to his actual life where he doesn’t trust God and even when he does what God says he does so resentfully and with great doubt. He holds these two sharply contrasting pictures before him and what is his response? The scriptures tell us that immediately he falls to his knees before Jesus right there in the boat and pleads with him, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Who knows, maybe he even tore his clothes.
You see, just as Josiah was exposed to the written Word of God in the book of the law, Simon was exposed to the incarnated Word of God in the person of Jesus. What Josiah saw in black and white, Peter saw in living color, in the flesh, a life standing right before him that was being lived in every sense the way God had intended humanity to live, full of faith, and love, and peace, and power. And the contrast was too much for him to take. All at once he knew that he was so far from worthy and it drove him to his knees.
And Jesus’ response? Well, he wasn’t shocked by Simon’s admission. This isn’t news to him. Jesus knew Simon’s sin, just as he knows our sin. Even so, Jesus doesn’t scold and he doesn’t shame. Instead, gently Jesus says to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And in that moment, and in response to this gift of grace Simon never could have expected to receive, Simon responds by bringing his boat to shore and, along with a few of his friends, leaving everything behind and following after Jesus.
Listen to me. This is what happens when a person encounters the Word of God and then, in response, humbles themselves before God. First, the Word is like a picture, showing us the life God has always intended us to live, a life of trust, and faith, and compassion and love. Then, however, the Word becomes a mirror as we compare our own life to this life God has for us and immediately see how sadly we have ruined things. If at that point, however, our response is one of humility, the Word of God suddenly becomes a window through which we see what God, by his grace, can do with us nonetheless.
Once Simon recognized that he did not have it in him to live the sort of life God expected, then Simon was able to recognize that God’s response to his sin was not wrath but grace. Better than that, God, by the power of grace, was going to transform Simon’s life, eventually even changing his name to Peter, and use him to in turn transform the world around him.
Once Josiah recognized that he also did not have it in him to live the sort of life God expected, he discovered God’s similar response of grace. If you read the rest of his story you know that God used him to do great good in his time, reforming the nation of Judah in powerful ways.
What God did with Peter and with Josiah is what God is wanting and waiting to do with each of us. There are still some nights when I reach the end of the day and find myself lying in bed, unable to sleep, full of regret after a day when my life has failed to reflect the life I know from God’s Word that He intends for me. These days, however, as I am increasingly embracing the grace of God in my life, the regret is having less and less staying power. And in its place I am hearing the voice of Christ. When he speaks to me, Jesus doesn’t excuse my sin. In fact, he sees it even more clearly than I do. But neither does he shame me or scold me for it. Instead, Christ continuously reminds me that I am forgiven, long before I even asked for forgiveness, and that in spite of my continued struggles he still has great plans to use me in this world as a messenger of his healing and hope to people who do not yet know how much they are already loved and forgiven.
My prayer for you this morning is that as you are confronted with God’s Word, in scripture and in Christ himself, that the sharp contrast between God’s intended life and your actual life will humble you to tear your clothes or drop to your knees. When it does, everything hangs on your response. It’s all in the response! And I pray that you will respond as Josiah responded, as Peter responded, as I am trying to respond, with humility and, in doing so, discover that you are loved more than you ever thought possible, forgiven more than you ever thought necessary, and in possession of a future and a calling in this life you never imagined could belong to you.
Let me close with words that a priest named Brennan Manning once wrote, “We never lay hold of our nothingness before God, and consequently, we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with Him. But when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God’s mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us.”
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Re-read the passage from II Kings 22:3-20. What sticks out to you from this story?
Josiah tears his clothes after he reads the book of the law (i.e. scriptures), which was a sign of overwhelming grief in those days. Why do you think he was so grieved?
Have you ever had a similar response in your life when you have come to realize the sort of life God has intended for you?
What do you make of God’s response in this story towards the people of Judah? Justified? Too harsh? Keep in mind what the people were doing in those days, including sacrificing their children to false gods.
Read Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27. What is Jesus telling us here and how might it relate to this discussion?
Jeff stated that there are three possible responses when we are confronted with our sin: pride, despair, humility. Has your response been one of these? Something else?
Have you ever had an experience like Peter had in the boat that day with Jesus? (Read it in Luke 5:1-11)
Are you experiencing the grace of God in your life these days in ways that overcomes all regret, fear and despair? If not, would you like to?
 Read about these practices in II Kings 23.
 Psalm 119:127 (NRSV)
 II Kings 22:11 (KJV)
 Genesis 37:34
 Job 1:20
 II Kings 22:13 (NRSV)
 Matthew 7:24-27. Italics mine.
 Read this story in Luke 5:1-11.
 Luke 5:8 (NRSV)
 Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 1999), 78.