The alternate title I had for this lesson is, “How To Live on a Sinking Ship.” But the title I went with for this message is “Light In Total Darkness.” The focus of our study is to consider how you are supposed to live as God’s people when the nation is doomed. What should God’s people do when you are watching a culture fall so far from God that judgment is eminent? Our text begins in 2 Kings 21 where Hezekiah’s son takes the throne. We saw in 2 Kings 18-20 that Hezekiah is compared favorable to King David because he reversed the worship patterns of the nation. He torn down the high places, ripped out the idolatry, and served the Lord with all his heart.
When Hezekiah dies, his son, Manasseh, takes the throne at 12 years old and reigns for 55 years. But he does evil in the sight of the Lord (21:2). He reverses every good thing that his father had done. He rebuilds the high places and altars. He restores idol worship. He puts altars to pagan gods in the very temple of the Lord. He sacrifices his own son, practiced divination, looked for omens, and consulted mediums. Verse 6 says that he did much evil is the eyes of the Lord. Manasseh led the people astray to do more evil than the nations around them that the Lord destroyed for their wickedness (21:9). He did more evil than the Amorites (21:11) and is compared to the wickedness of Ahab (21:3). In fact, God will now send his prophets telling the nation that judgment is coming on Jerusalem like that of Samaria and like that regarding Ahab’s house (21:13). They are going to be brought into judgment because of all the evil that the people have done. Verse 16 underlines the situation fully. Manasseh shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from one end to the other, never mind all the other sins he committed. The Kings account records nothing good from the life of Manasseh. He is described as the worst king Judah ever had, especially because he active worked to undo all the good that his father had done. So spiritual darkness has gripped the nation. When his son, Amon, takes the throne next, he does not do any better. He did evil like his father (21:20-21). He also abandoned the Lord and did not walk in God’s ways. The dye is cast against Judah. They are sentenced to judgment and nothing is going to change the coming wrath of God. I think it is important to underscore this darkness because the Kings account does not want to tell you about Manasseh’s repentance. He has a purpose because he wants to lead us to the life of Josiah after the dark days of Manasseh and Amon.
Repairing the Damage (22:1-20)
Josiah takes the throne and he sounds like Hezekiah, his great grandfather. He does what is right in the sight of the Lord and walked in the ways of the Lord like David. In the 18th year of Josiah’s reign, he gives instructions to repair the temple of the Lord. We have read about many of the prior kings raiding the temple and stripping the wealth from it. But we can also consider the need for improvements as time has gone by. It is has been 75 years since Hezekiah died, the last righteous king of Judah. If nothing has been done to the temple to keep it up after 75 years, it would certainly be in bad shape. But the last time we read about a king taking in money from the people to fix the temple was in the reign of Joash, which was 217 years ago. But we get a sense of how neglected the temple is when we read 2 Kings 22:8. As the workers are repairing the temple, the high priest finds the Book of the Law in the temple. The law of God has been lost and ignored. The book was not in some strange place. It was in the temple. But the priests and the people have stopped worshiping the Lord so that the book was lost and no one cared to look for it.
The secretary reads the law to King Josiah. When he heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes (22:11). Josiah does not ignore the reading but shows he truly has a heart of the Lord. He tears his clothes, a symbol distress, mourning, and humility. He then calls for the priest to inquire of the Lord on his own behalf and on behalf of the people. Notice in verse 13 that he understands the problem. Josiah wants to inquire of the Lord because he knows the wrath of the Lord is kindled against them because they have not obeyed the words in the book. Josiah understands that great wrath is coming and he wants to see what they can do now.
So the priest goes to Huldah the prophetess and she gives the word of the Lord to them in verse 16. God is bringing disaster on this place and these people. All of the curses and wrath of God that you read in the Book of the Law is coming. The people have forsaken the Lord and worshiped other gods so that his wrath will not be quenched (22:17). There is only one positive statement from the Lord. In verse 18 the message is directed to King Josiah. Because Josiah humbled himself when he heard the Book of the Law, tearing his clothes and weeping before the Lord, this disaster will not come during Josiah’s reign but after he dies in peace. There is no stopping this wrath. There is no stopping this judgment. This judgment will be delayed until after Josiah because of his response to the word of the Lord.
Enacting Reforms (23:1-30)
But I want you to consider what Josiah does when this message comes to him. He does not say that it is too late so I guess we are doomed. He does not say like Hezekiah, “At least we will have peace and security during my days.” Josiah does not think that it is hopeless or pointless. Even though judgment is coming no matter what, Josiah goes up to the temple before all the people and read the words of the Book of the Covenant before them (23:2). He then makes a covenant with them to walk after the Lord and keep the law with all his heart and soul. Further, the people joined in the covenant (23:2). The rest of the description of Josiah’s reign is about him cleansing the temple of all the idols that were in it. He tears down the high places and altars in the land. I want us to see how intense Josiah’s reforms are. Look at verse 13 where we see Josiah defiling the high places that date all the way back to Solomon’s idolatrous worship. Look at verse 15 where Josiah tears down the high places that Jeroboam had set up in Bethel to turn the people of Israel away from the Lord. Josiah goes outside his own territory to tear out the idolatry. Look at verse 21. Josiah commands the people to keep the Passover as written in the Book of the Covenant. Look at verse 22. No such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges. The last recorded Passover in the scriptures is found in Joshua 5.
Verse 25 records that no one turned to the Lord with all his heart like Josiah did. No one was as intense with his repentance than Josiah. But the Lord did not turn away from his anger that had been provoked (23:26). Remember that is what the prophetess said. Judgment is not going to be averted. It will only be delayed until after Josiah’s reign.
So here is what I want us to think about. Why did Josiah go about doing all of these reforms when he knew that it was not going to change the outcome of God’s wrath on his nation? Why did he so intensely return to the Lord when the outcome was not going to change? Why make a covenant with God? Why tear down the idols? Why call for the people to make a covenant with the Lord when it is not going to matter? The answer is that he cared about God so much. He did not serve God because of the outcome. He served God with all his heart, soul, and strength regardless of the outcome. He did not serve God to try to get God to do something for him. He served God because of who God is.
Friends, this is what we are to do when living on a sinking ship. This is how we live as light in the darkness. We can look at our culture and society and draw the conclusion that the nation is too dark and judgment is certain. So what are you to do when a nation is doomed? We continue to do right and influence people to do right. We do not give up on doing the will of God. We shine as lights even if it looks like doing so is hopeless and pointless. Listen to what the apostle Paul said:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14–16 ESV)
When the generation is crooked and twisted, we do not stop and say, “This generation is too crooked and twisted. There is no point!” Rather, we shine as lights and hold fast to the word of life. Shine, shine, shine, even when it seems like it will not do any good. Even if it does not do any good, it is what we are called to do as God’s people because he loved us and saved us. We do this for him, not because we are concerned by the outcome. Keep doing right. Keep influencing people to do right and seek God. The prophet Jeremiah did this, chasing the people all the way to Egypt, telling them to turn back to God. Keep shining when it does not seem like it will do any good.
So we must hold fast to the word of life like Josiah did. Did you hear what God said about him in 2 Kings 22:19? When he heard the word of the Lord, he humbled himself before the Lord, tore his clothes, and wept. The word of God hit his heart and moved him to act. We cannot change other people’s hearts. Zephaniah was prophesying at this time and we read about their hearts being complacent. The only heart you can change is your own. Let God’s word hit your heart and hold fast to it so that you will shine like God wants you to shine in our culture.