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166 - A Faithful Influence with Few Results

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 2 Kings 23; 2 Chronicles 34:29–33; 35; 36:1–5

Young King Josiah had a heart that followed after God. In our last study, as Josiah was reforming his nation and cleaning out the temple, a long-lost copy of the Word of God was discovered. After it was read to him, Josiah was profoundly moved. And now we find him here in 2 Kings chapter 23 determined to lead the kingdom of Judah to repentance and renewal.

Josiah is going to lead by example. He gathers all the people of Judah together, and verse 3 tells us:

The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

Josiah follows up this ceremony with widespread reforms that go beyond what he has already instituted. Verses 4-5 give us the basic idea of what his reforms involved:

The king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem . . . and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places.

Verse 7 adds:

He broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah.

Imagine sexual immorality inside the temple, along with devotion to Asherah, the supposed mistress of Baal.

Then we read in verse 10:

He defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.

Again, it’s hard to imagine the Jewish people stooping to such a wicked place in their idolatry as to sacrifice their children to pagan gods. But they did.

In the midst of all this, we see a remarkable fulfillment of biblical prophecy in verse 16. Josiah goes to Bethel and tears down the high place of idolatrous worship that had been built earlier by Israel’s King Jeroboam. The bones of the false priests of Bethel are literally dug up and then burned on this altar to desecrate it. And we are reminded here that this was done “according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things.”

This takes us back to 1 Kings 13, where a man of God confronted Jeroboam at Bethel. Here is what happened:

And the man cried against the altar . . . and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” (verse 2)

Now understand that this prophecy was given 300 years earlier and not only foretold what the king would do but also gave the very name of the king—King Josiah. It took 300 years before God was ready to fulfill His word in this regard.

Following Josiah’s reforms throughout the land, he now reinstates the Passover observance, which had been long neglected by the nation. Josiah says to the people here in 2 Kings 23:21: “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” Passover, of course, was a time of remembering God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage.

Over in the parallel account in 2 Chronicles 35, we are given details about this particular Passover celebration. An enormous number of animals were personally contributed by King Josiah and his officials as offerings. These were not required but were appropriate expressions of worship and thanksgiving, especially since this was the first Passover observance in many years.

Josiah did everything he could to remind the people that God had chosen them, delivered them, provided for them, and protected them. The sad news is given to us by the prophet Jeremiah, who quotes the Lord as saying, “Judah did not return to me with her whole heart” (Jeremiah 3:10).

Some thirteen years later, Josiah’s godly influence is cut short when he is killed in battle. Pharaoh Neco of Egypt moves north to help the Assyrians hold off the Babylonian army. Josiah sees this as an opportunity to end the threat of Judah’s enemy, the Assyrians. So, Josiah leads his army out to confront the Egyptians in an attempt to prevent them from aiding the Assyrians.

Now something surprising and quite fascinating happens. The pharaoh sends a message to Josiah, and it’s recorded for us in 2 Chronicles 35:21. He says to Josiah, “God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.”

Josiah didn’t believe Pharaoh Neco was speaking for God, but he actually was. In verse 22, the Chronicles account tells us, “[Josiah] did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God.” Amazingly, God truly was using an unbelieving king to warn Josiah to stay out of this fight. It was a warning Josiah failed to believe and heed.

You see, God actually wanted the Egyptians to reinforce the Assyrians, not so they could defeat the Babylonians, but so they could be defeated by the Babylonians. This was all setting up God’s ultimate judgment against Judah. We’re told, sadly, that Josiah was mortally wounded in battle at Megiddo.

Beside this rather strange turn of events, Josiah was a godly example. The tragic news is that his example did not rub off on his people. In fact, we discover back in 2 Kings 23 that his example did not rub off on his own sons. When Josiah dies, at the age of thirty-nine, his son Jehoahaz replaces him. Verse 32 says of him, “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Jehoahaz reigns only three months, for when Pharaoh Neco returns through Judah after being defeated by the Babylonians, he deposes Jehoahaz and takes him captive to Egypt. The pharaoh replaces Jehoahaz with his older brother Eliakim, whom he renames Jehoiakim. We will meet up with him again, but let me tell you ahead of time that like his brother, verse 37 tells us, “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”

When I think of the godly example of Josiah, it reminds me of the simple fact that leaders can influence others but they can’t change people’s hearts—only God can do that. You might be leading a family, a congregation, or a business. PQYes, live for God—set the example—but leave with God what God alone can do; only God’s Spirit can open the eyes and the hearts of your children, your coworkers, your congregation, to follow after God. If they don’t follow the Lord, you don’t take the blame; and if they do follow God, you don’t take the credit either.