- Love and Liberty
Living As Lights In The Darkness
2 Kings 22
What do we do when the society we live in is overtaken by ungodliness? What course of action should we take as followers of Christ when politicians, the media, and the sheep that follow them are hostile toward the Lord and his commandments?
This section of God’s Word shows us what Josiah did in dark and perilous times. Chapter 21 speaks of the sins of Josiah’s predecessors: Manasseh and Amon. Manasseh and Amon were the grandfather and father of King Josiah. Manasseh was considered to be one of the worst of the kings that we read about in the Bible. His father, Hezekiah, had sought to stop the growth of paganism, but Manasseh rebuilt the shrines Hezekiah had destroyed. He built altars for false gods, promoted occult practices, and even engaged in child sacrifice (2 Kings 21:6). He governed with a reign of terror, and he caused a lot of innocent blood to be shed. We learn from the Bible that he actually repented late in his reign (2 Chronicles 33:10-14), which is a remarkable witness to the influence and the mercy of God.
After being taken prisoner by the Assyrians, he prayed to the Lord, was restored to Jerusalem and tried to undo the damage that he had caused. God will forgive our sins, but he does not remove the consequences of our sinful choices. It is an undeniable truth that we will reap what we sow.
When Manasseh died, his son, Amon, who had grown up watching his father live in rebellion against God, led the people back into paganism. Even though Manasseh turned to the Lord late in his life, long after his death he was still remembered for his evil doings and his responsibility for the suffering of Jerusalem.
Today we are living in dark days. Most people don’t realize how bad it really is - the immoral wars, the disregard for human life, the attack on God’s design for the family, the injustice, the lack of honesty and good-will, and the promotion of the State as god - because many people don’t even care. They are too busy entertaining themselves with the world’s fare. When we read the Scriptures and see how churches should operate, how families ought to function, and how individuals are supposed to live, it is easy to see that the Lord’s ways don’t matter to most people. There is no fear of God in their eyes. They have no reverence for the Lord.
The cold, materialistic, sin excusing, mainstream fake Christianity of today is not of Christ. Tell people about the need to serve Christ in holiness and righteousness and they turn the message of salvation into a repeat-after-me prayer that takes care of everything. Tell people their favorite team won a ballgame or their favorite politician got elected and they get excited. Tell them that somebody just committed his life to the Lord and they shrug their shoulders. It should not be a surprise. What is surprising is that anyone would expect it to be different.
As the Word of God loses prominence in a society, the immorality worsens. Wicked lifestyles get politically endorsed and written into legislation. One can’t say: “I believe the Bible and I’m against behavior that God calls sin” without being blasted and ridiculed by the media and by politicians. One can call homosexuality a sin and he is branded as a bigot and a hate-filled person. Attack God’s design for marriage and the world is sympathetic to the cause. Stand for the truth and you become the target of the enemies of Christ. No wonder. The Lord Jesus said: “if you follow me, they are going to hate you just as they hated me.”
So what do we do?
First, we need to remember that even a Manasseh can turn to the Lord. We should be praying for the conversion of even those who oppose us and do wickedly. Praying for them will not cause God to override their free will, but it can increase God’s influence in their lives. It can lead to God intervening with a hardship and isolating them to where the distractions are limited. We must remember that God influences people with people. He does not speak audibly as he did in First Testament times. We are to be his hands and feet. We should stand firm on the truth, and preach the truth with compassionate boldness. None of us can ever say we have never contributed to the wickedness of the world, even if it has been on a smaller scale than some others. They need God’s influence and mercy just as we have needed it. This does not mean I hold to the bumper sticker theology that says Christians are not different than others “we are just forgiven”, no, far from it. That theology is a lie. I am saying that all have sinned, but some of us forsake sin to follow Christ. We should be influencing others to do the same. No doubt, most will continue to reject him, but where would we be today if Christians before us had a “hold the fort” mentality instead of a “rescue the perishing” mentality?
How do we truly make a difference in the lives of people around us?
We must hunger for righteousness (22:1-5)
Josiah was 8 years old when he became king. The reason why he became king at such a young age is that his father, Amon, was assassinated by members of his own court. There was something different about Josiah. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.
Josiah had stepped into a difficult situation. He didn’t step into a boat that was already headed in the right direction. He was living in perilous times caused largely by this own father and grandfather. The boat was sinking. But Josiah set his heart on what was right in the eyes of the LORD.
In the 18th year of his reign, he ordered the royal scribe Shaphan to oversee the repair of the Jerusalem temple. The silver that was brought by the people would be used for repairs. At one point Hilkiah came to Josiah and told him that workers had found “the book of the law in the house of the LORD.” When Shaphan the scribe took the book to the king and read from it, Josiah could see how badly Judah had sinned against God and he feared that judgment was about to come down on the nation.
“And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying, Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.”
They realized that judgment was indeed coming, but God had noticed Josiah’s hunger for righteousness, and his desire that the people should repent (14-20).
We look around us today and we realize that the priority of most people is money, possessions, power, or pleasures - not obedience to the commandments of the Lord. But what others do should have no impact on our decisions as followers of Christ. It is not our responsibility to make everything work out as far as Government policies go. We do not find that the Lord Jesus speant any time addressing the political issues of his day. They simply were not his concern. His concern was obeying the will of God, teaching others to obey the will of God, and overcoming the power of Satan, sin, and death. God knows we can’t make people do what is right in his eyes. But we are responsible for our own decisions and actions. Our duty is to obey the Lord, no matter what the people around us are doing. We must hate evil and pursue righteousness. We have to set our hearts on doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord, for our own sake, and also for the benefit of those around us. There is no other way. We must do justly, love mercy, and humbly acknowledge God in all of our ways.
We need to elevate the Word of God (23:2-3)
Josiah was determined that all the people should hear from the book that had been found in the LORD’s temple. The Word would bear witness against the people so they knew they were without excuse, but also, Josiah hoped the people would repent so judgment could be averted. Josiah did not propose anything new; he simply reaffirmed the commitment already made by Israel:
“And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8)
Josiah wanted the people to abide by what was written in the book.
This was a great opportunity for the people, but this incident alone was not enough. There was a danger that people would think that this ceremony itself was all that was required. A one time emotional moment with God was not enough. The people had to commit to the Lord, and make the daily decision to obey him. A moment with God in the past has given many a false sense of security. A son or daughter may be living in sin with no concern for the things of God, yet be told by a father or mother: “Well, I know you are saved because I was there when you prayed twenty years ago.” Examples of this are numerous. People are living in rebellion against God, yet they can remember a time when they walked down the aisle of a church building at the preacher’s behest, or they raised their hand during a youth conference, or they were baptized, or they said a prayer with a family member, and they think they are “saved.” Never mind that they are living wickedly. Never mind that the gratification of the flesh means more to them than obedience to God. They are saved because of a ritual, or event, or a moment they had with God. The bad part is there are hosts of preachers that will confirm their wayward thinking. What results is many who think they are “saved”, when in fact they are children of disobedience and they are headed for destruction. Josiah did what he could to point the people to God and his Word, but the required commitment was up to each individual. They must walk in obedience to the Word of the LORD.
We cannot overstate the importance of the Word of God. Many today speak of dreams they have had, and visions they have seen, and new practices they have started, and books are written, and all the while, their dreams, visions, and practices contradict the Word of God. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 says:
“If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.”
God said that false prophets will make claims, and some of what they say will indeed come to pass. God said he looks at these situations to see who will hearken unto the words of these imposters, and who will obey his Word. He tests us, he proves us, to see if we will love him and obey him, or if we will reject his Word for the words and experiences of others. The world doesn’t need a new message, it needs to obey the one that has already been given. We are called to obey the Gospel of Christ. We are to submit to Christ as King. We are to become his Kingdom servants. We are to take up our cross daily, love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. As it has been said, the problem is not that biblical Christianity has been tried and found wanting (lacking), it has rarely been tried.
It will never work for us to adopt the practices of the world, if we want to make a difference in the world. Political power is not the answer. A righteous State is not the answer. God doesn’t command us to be like the world so the world will like us, he commands us to “come out from among them, and be ye separate.” For that reason we need to elevate the Word today, no matter what everybody else is doing. We elevate it by obeying it as individuals, by having Christ ruled homes, and by joining together with others who make obedience to the Word of God their only priority. Churches are a mess. We hear so many complaints about the State, about the US Government, but the State is not the chosen vessel for the work of God, the churches are! People in local churches complain about the Government but the churches aren’t obeying the Word. They are hypocrites. They make excuses why they don’t obey certain commandments in the Word, or they attempt to explain them away, and then they have to nerve to criticize the world. What folly. Truly, judgment begins in the community of professing believers. We need to elevate the Word in our hearts and our homes and examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith.
We must proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and that yielding our lives to him is the only way of salvation. We must proclaim that following Christ is the only way to avoid the darkness of these wicked days. We must urge people to awake from their sleep and to prepare for the coming of the King. We must impress it upon the minds of people that the only life that is secure is the life that is being lived in submission to Christ. We must not be ashamed of Christ and his words, even if the world seeks to shame us for upholding them. We must not be ashamed of living under the Lordship of Christ. We must not be ashamed of telling people that unless they yield to Christ they will never be forgiven and they will perish. The Word of God needs to be elevated, not for the benefit of the world’s institutions, but for individuals and families and so that people will be added to the Body of Christ. Let the world elevate their idols and their celebrities – we must elevate Christ’s Kingdom truths.
We also need to work for change (23:4, 24)
Not through the world’s institutions, but by calling the people of the world to abandon worldly wisdom for God’s wisdom, and to refer people to God’s centers of authority and to the good that can be done through churches, families, and those in society that abide by natural law principles.
We do not have a free society, but we can try to make a difference in the context we find ourselves in. Not for the benefit of the worldly institutions that exist, but to make way for God’s centers of authority.
Josiah had the idols burned outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley. Josiah also removed the mediums, the spiritists, the household idols, images, and all the detestable things. It is a reminder of the prevalence of magic and superstition and how both are deceptive and dangerous. The practice of invoking evil powers against someone is satanic and should be opposed. The household idols were gods who supposedly watched over families. The terms images and detestable things refer to physical objects used for supposed protection or as representations of gods or objects of prayer. The modern counterparts to the things Josiah sought to eradicate include the objects of witchcraft and sorcery, trinkets that supposedly contain spiritual energy, and materials related to astrology. It is true, that the removal of wicked things is not of itself going to change the hearts of people, but it can remove sources of temptation.
We are not kings, and I do not believe it is God’s will for us to harness the power of the State as if that would change people’s hearts. But we can be Christ-like examples. We can speak out concerning the issues of the day, such as marriage, abortion, war, injustice, State control, and other matters of morality. We can refuse to ascribe legitimacy to the world’s centers of authority. This won’t guarantee that people will turn to Christ, but we can care enough about people’s souls to try to remove sources of temptation from society – not through strengthening the power of the ungodly State, but through moral persuasion. Each of us can impact society, right where we are, again, by seeking justice, loving mercy, and humbly obeying God.
We need to realize that judgment is still coming (23:26-27)
We could say that Josiah’s reformation didn’t accomplish what he wanted it to. God had issued a verdict against Judah (2 Kings 21:12). That verdict was not reversed, for the people did not repent. The reading of the law of God, the renewal of the covenant, and Josiah’s efforts to purge the land of idolatry had not changed the hearts of these men and women. Not long after Josiah died, Jerusalem was in ruins and the people were either dead or taken captive. But we cannot call Josiah a failure. If it had not been for his efforts, many would have never heard the words of God calling men to repentance. Even if no one repented then (perhaps some individuals did), his actions no doubt have led to the conversion of people that have looked back and read about him. Surely, some people have gotten right with God because of Josiah’s example and testimony. Of course, it went well for Josiah himself, for his heart was right with God.
When we find ourselves in a struggle against evil, we must never deceive ourselves with the idea that we are certain to win every battle. Josiah was a righteous man who courageously moved against the wickedness of his time, but who in the end didn’t seem to win many people for God. This example has been repeated many times in the Bible and in Church history. We are not going to win all battles and we are not going to convert everyone. But we must follow Christ, we must carry the cross of sacrifice, and we need to keep in mind that judgment is coming. We must live holy lives. We must build on the foundation laid by the apostles. Many will not heed our warnings, Many will reject Christ. Many will waste their lives. We may be killed for our faith in Christ. The Lord Jesus did not convince the majority of the Jews of his day to repent and follow him, and he wept as he considered the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughter of the people. Yet his sufferings brought about the redemption of the world. His sacrifice made salvation possible for all.
Similarly, our suffering as followers of Christ, our suffering in the way of the cross, is redemptive too. As we deny ourselves and lay our lives down in sacrifice for the Lord and for the good of others, we will cause people to take notice, and people will repent! There are many examples of this in history. Today, selfishness reigns in the lives of most people, including many professing Christians. Love is the fulfilling of the Law of God. Selfishness is the antithesis of love. When professing Christians attempt to make a difference by using the world’s weapons (bombs, political force, control of others, etc.), only harm ensues. We instead are instructed to unselfishly present our bodies as living sacrifices for God. It will cost us time, money, jobs, friends, security, and maybe even our lives. To this the Lord says:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
The evil in this world is not going to end until the Lord returns and puts an end to it. Until then we must pursue righteousness, we must elevate the Word of God, and we must be living sacrifices for Christ.