Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Treasuring the Truth

What is your most treasured possession? A family heirloom passed down for generations? Is it your favorite tool, digital device, toy (some of these are expensive and by no means limited to children), an annual vacation? What do you value more than anything else? This morning from 2 Kings 22 we will learn what King Josiah considered to be, not only his, but his nation’s most treasured possession. Let’s read verses 1-2; 8-13.

Can you imagine not having even one copy of the scriptures, not only in your home but in your nation? That had been the situation in Judah for at least three generations. Generally, a generation is considered twenty-five years. The evil reigns of Manasseh and Amon combined were fifty-seven years. Josiah reigned ten years before the monumental discovery we are about to discuss was made. We have at least sixty-seven years – some scholars say almost one hundred years – where the Word of God was not only disregarded but physically purged from the land. That is the context of what we just read. The Word of God had not been read or fully followed for three generations! The scriptures had been neglected, forgotten, and lost!

Losing God’s Word in God’s House

The people of God lost the Word of God in the House of God. How could this have happened?

  1. Scarcity of the scriptures – we have so many copies of the Bible available in so many formats that this idea is unfathomable to us. But there simply would not have been many copies of God’s Word available. A quick and practical observation about this. We are richly blessed to have an abundant supply of God’s Word, but we behave as ignorantly of it as those generations who did not have it. Who do you think will receive the greater condemnation?
  2. Delicacy of the scriptures – what copies did exist were written on fragile materials that easily disintegrated over the years, and needed to be preserved with the utmost care. What a treasure we have when ancient scrolls of God’s Word are unearthed. And what a testimony to God’s promise to preserve His Word that so many manuscripts have survived the ravages of time.
  3. Contemptibility of leadership – fragile material, the chaos of the divided – and thus weakened – kingdom, plus natural disasters made preserving copies of God’s Word difficult enough. Add into that equation wicked rulers who would have been all too happy to destroy the Word they disregarded and detested. (Just a quick thought. Not every leader’s contempt for scripture is as blatant as Manasseh or Amon.)

God’s Word was Judah’s greatest treasure. Lost for generations; nobody was looking for it when they found it. But that all changed when the sacred scroll was found and brought with great excitement to young King Josiah.

Lamenting and Committing to God’s Word

According to 2 Kings 22:11 (and 2 Chronicles 34:18-19) Shaphan the scribe did not just bring the book to the King. He read the Law to Josiah. It would seem that Shaphan read the entire Law – the Pentateuch – and it must have been simultaneously exhilarating yet excruciating for the young king to finally hear God’s Word. Imagine how the blessings and cursings from Deuteronomy 28-30 undoubtedly hammered on Josiah’s heart. This was God’s standard. This was for God’s glory and the blessing of God’s people. The king realized afresh and fully the disaster of disregarding God’s Word. He heard for the first time God’s commands and promises, the victories won by God for His people, the faithfulness and the failures of the patriarchs, the miraculous calling of his people out of Ur, the preserving of his people in Egypt, and the settling of his people in the Promised Land. He heard all of this from the actual scroll – not just oral stories – for the first time in his life, and it caused him to lament and repent.

But it also caused him to commit himself to God’s way. Once Josiah possessed the Word of God, he realized that the Word of God must now possess him. He set out to change his entire world, starting with himself. 2 Kings 23:3:

“And the king stood by a 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 their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.”

We live in a time much like Josiah’s. Funny how we can say that about so many historical periods covered in the Bible. People and their struggles, their attitudes toward God, and His toward them are unchanging. We have plenty of Bibles, and they are available in all kinds of formats, even for free. Still, the Word of God has been virtually lost to our society, and this is even true in many of our churches. The sad irony of this period in Biblical history is being repeated today – God’s Word lost in God’s house.

This story does not leave us without hope, however. Yes, God’s Word was lost, and it was lost in God’s house. But it was found there too! Like Josiah we must come face to face with God’s Word. It must have its rightful place in our hearts, homes, and churches. That’s what it means to treasure God’s Word.

Leading of God’s Sovereignty

We do not often realize how God is working and leading in our lives until we get to where He was leading us. Then we are able to look back and say, “So that’s what God was doing!” Look at the lives of godly people in the scriptures, and in your own life, and you will witness how the various events and stages of their lives slowly shaped their character. Looking back at the entirety of a person’s life allows us to see the full picture of God’s providential handiwork, working out all things for His glory and the believer’s good (Romans 8:28).

We certainly see that with King Josiah. Initially, he was ignorant of God’s Law. Of course he had never read it. That ignorance was a weakness in his understanding of how to live for and please God. Even though he was ignorant he desired to know and do the truth. God blessed that, as He always does. Because Josiah desired to find God’s Word, he did.

That desire, coupled with the discovery of the Word of God, blossomed into a deep devotion to the God of the Word. That devotion sparked a revival in the land. From desire to discovery to devotion, Josiah’s example teaches us an important lesson: the people of God should treasure the Word of God!

Here are three aspects of what that means.

#1 – Desire God’s Word

Josiah’s legacy is supreme. 2 Kings 23:25, “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.” That is high praise. No king was more like the biblical ideal of Deuteronomy 17:14-20 than Josiah. He lived and led by the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37).

God used him as the catalyst for one of the greatest revivals in history. He restored the scriptures, at least for a time, to their rightful place. But none of that would have happened if Josiah did not desire to obey God’s Word!

Josiah came to the throne as an eight year old. Obviously, a regent led in his place for a period of time, but it was a brief period. 2 Chronicles 34 describes how Josiah, during a time of great spiritual darkness, nevertheless had a growing desire as a young man to follow after God (see vv. 3ff). He did not know exactly how to go about with his reforms or direct change or how worship was to be led, but he knew that what was happening was wrong. The best he could do was direct his efforts toward the necessary changes. He had no biblical blueprint and counsel to follow. He did not possess the sacred scrolls, but he clearly possessed a desire to know and obey God.

If we are to treasure the Truth we must first desire it. If we do not desire it then we do not treasure it. Remember the words of 1 Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:” if we hope to grow in godliness and spiritual maturity, our longing must precede our living.

#2 Discover God’s Word

Churches today are full of people who have placed their faith in Christ yet base their daily decisions on something or someone other than the Word of Christ. They want to know the Word of God but they fail to look to the Word of God for themselves. We must follow Josiah’s example and blow the dust off our unopened Bibles and discover its life-giving and life-sustaining truth all over again. As soon as Josiah found the Law, he responded with repentance and resolve. He was determined to lead his people in keeping with God’s Word.

Deuteronomy 31:26 tells us that the original copy of the Law, the one penned by Moses, was to be placed by the Ark of the Covenant and kept there. That particular copy was to be read in its entirety before the people every seven years during the Feast of Tabernacles.

But Deuteronomy 17:18-20 says,

“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.”

It was the responsibility of the king to make a copy of the scriptures for himself. If the king was to rightly lead God’s people, he could only do so by obediently following God’s Word. He would need to study it, bury it in his heart, meditate on its beauty, memorize it, and teach it by example as much by proclamation. But since the time of Hezekiah, Josiah’s great-grandfather, no such copies had been made. Indeed, what copies existed had been lost or destroyed. The result was spiritual and physical disaster for Judah.

Josiah wanted to do the right thing, but he did not have the instruction manual. Once he found the Book, he realized that his best intentions – as zealously accomplished as they had been – were insufficient because they had not been guided by truth. (Real quickly, while Josiah had a “zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” similar to the Israelites Paul mentions in Romans 10, do you believe that Josiah’s ignorant zeal was different from the Pharisees? Why or why not?) The same is true of us. Unless we are living by the Book, our best efforts are vain. Like Josiah, we must discover God’s Word for ourselves.

#3 Devour God’s Word

Josiah devoured the scrolls (Jeremiah 15:16, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” Devoured, digested, and delighted in God’s Word) Josiah paid attention to every detail. He shared his finding with everyone. 2 Chronicles 34:30,

“And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, great and small: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the LORD.”

He personally tasted of God’s rich truth. He applied it to his own life; no hesitation to obey. Then he publicly proclaimed it to the people. (Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.”) 2 Chronicles 35 recounts how Josiah reinstituted the Passover celebration, which had been long-neglected. He personally contributed 30,000 lambs and 3,000 bulls from his own flocks as sacrifices for the people to offer unto the Lord. Verse 18 says,

“And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

Josiah devoured God’s Word. He applied it to his own life, and that prepared him and enabled him to lead others to do likewise. This kindled and fanned flames of revival across his nation. The same is true for us. Once we discover the Truth for ourselves, devoting our hearts and minds to it, we must respond in obedient action, and trust God with the consequences and results.

Remember the legacy left by Josiah (2 Kings 23:25). In all Judah’s history – including David – no king had displayed a greater devotion to turning away from error and submitting to God’s Word than Josiah. He is the model of the revival that inevitably comes when the Truth is desired, discovered, and devoured. The question is will we share in Josiah’s legacy, influencing our friends, families, church, and nation toward godliness and leaving behind a blessed heritage for the generations to follow?

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