Ordinary Heroes: Josiah

September 18, 2016
by Rev. Melanie Homan

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(Ordinary Heroes Sermon Series)

“Ordinary Heroes: Josiah”

Rev. Melanie Homan

September 18, 2016

2 Kings 22:1-13 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

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, “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; 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, 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. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

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. 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.”

Sermon

What would you do if you were king? That’s the question that I asked our 8 year olds, and I asked our 8 year olds this because that is how old Josiah was when he became King of Judah.  I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be King,

leader of an entire people, when you are only 8 years old. So, to help put it in perspective, these were some of the answers I received from some 7 going on 8, and 8 year olds:

Henry said:  “I dunno… Read all day?” (shrug)

Lukas said (age 8 in January): “I would get my servants to bring me food, but a king’s job is boring. Maybe I’d take a nap.”

Trevor said: 7 (but 8 in April) “I would adventure to places!” Oh, the places you could go!

Sam (8 in December) said: “I would make it so kids only had 4 days of school and then I would resign because being a kid is way better than being a king.” I’d agree!

Marian said: “I would do anything I wanted.” Wouldn’t that be great?!?

Eme said: “I would make school days shorter.” “Then I would try to invent unicorns.”

Nathan said: “I would change the laws so anyone could play pro baseball if they wanted to. It would be more fun for everyone.” It might even help the Minnesota Twins out, right?!?

Another 8 year old said – “I would make it ok for dinosaurs to be pets.”

Alex said: “I’d probably divide my money with the people in my kingdom into an equal and fair pay. You know, if I could, a king only has so much money. I wouldn’t want to be one of the greedy kings. I’d let everybody off from their jobs on holidays.” I think Alex has been listening to his parents conversations a bit and soaking it up!

Alejandro said:  “I would make a rule that if you find somebody who’s poor – give them some of your food. I would make a rule that school goes until the middle of summer and you would get back to school at the beginning of winter.  (He must really like fall!) I would give kids toys when they came to see me. That they could keep. I would have pet contests.”

Rylee said: “I would be king of all the colors because I really want to be an artist, not a king.”

Andrew said: “I would make a law that no one has to answer this question.”

So, that gives us a glimpse into the minds of 8 year olds and what it would be like to be ruled and governed by an 8 year old! I suspect that most 8 year olds would NOT want to be king.  There’s a sense that being king would be boring, compared to the fun of being a KID, where you can read, play sports, and color. I kind of feel for Josiah, who probably also just wanted to eat, play, and run around with his friends.

But, instead he is made king.

He’s made king after his dad is assassinated (because that’s one of the down sides to being king). Sure, you could probably get whatever you want (although even being king won’t get you unicorns and dinosaur pets), you also have to spend a lot of time trying to stay alive.

The way things worked with Israel’s kings is that when one dies, the authority was passed on to a son, and when they died, it was passed on to their son, and so on and so on. Israel had David as their king, and after David they had Solomon, and after Solomon…. well, the kingdom split in two – into Israel and Judah. In the Hebrew scriptures, the books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings tell the stories of all of the kings that came after Solomon.

One after another, the writer of 1st and 2nd Kings makes clear that each and every one of them was terrible. They may have been great at doing any number of things, but as kings – they were awful. They may have been really good at going to war and fighting other groups of people, but the one thing that God wanted them to do more than anything else, was to make sure the people worshipped only God. The ONE God. But, they just couldn’t do it. They worshipped lots of gods, and they worshipped idols, and they forgot all about the special relationship that God had with them and the laws they were supposed to live by.

The writer of 1st and 2nd Kings goes out of his way to let us know how BAD these kings were at leading their people in the ways that counted to God. They were all awful, until we get to Josiah. Josiah – he was the best. He was the most righteous king Judah ever had. How is it that an 8 year old becomes the best leader a people have ever had?

I don’t think Josiah was really leading the people when he was 8. I suspect there were advisors and such for that, and that he hopefully got to spend his growing up years learning and playing and staying alive. We have no idea, really. The action really starts to heat up when Josiah has been king for 10 years – when he was 18.

When he’s 18, that’s when he starts owning his role as king. That’s also when he discovered the “Book of the Law”.

The “Book of the Law” was Deuteronomy. It was all of the laws that the people of God were supposed to follow to honor God with faithful living. It had been lost and forgotten over the generations of bad kings. But, then it was found. Josiah reads it, and he tears his clothes in grief and repentance when he reads it because he sees how far the people have gone astray.

Not only have they not been following the book of the law, but Deuteronomy ends with “a collection of vivid and fearful curses for those who forget God and are disobedient to the law.”

The problem is, no amount of repentance, weeping, or tearing his clothes will change the impending doom that is coming for all of Judah. Josiah is told, right off the bat by the prophet Huldah, that it doesn’t matter what he does. God’s judgment will come on the people.

So, Josiah knows up front that it’s a lost cause. The people that he is leading will perish because of their actions and the actions of all the generations before them who did not heed God’s call. Even so, Josiah still sets about reforming the ways of the people. Josiah reinstitutes the book of the law and leads the people away from worshipping idols. He leads the people back into faithful living.

But, here’s the hard thing for us to wrap our minds around (or, at least it is hard for me, because through Jesus, I know God as a loving and gracious and pardoning God),

God does not pardon the people. Josiah was loyal to God, but it was too little, too late.   “There is nothing Josiah can do to ‘undo’ the curses of Deuteronomy, but his people’s disobedience can still be reversed.”

“No repentance, no reform, will stop the impending doom for Judah.” But, Josiah led them in reform anyway, because it was the right thing to do. The reforms were right in and of themselves. And, for doing the right thing, even when there is no reward for doing the right thing, God assures Josiah that he will be allowed to die in peace.

By die in peace, God means, “killed by Pharoah Neco”….which shows you just how bad it was for everyone else.

“Josiah faithfully obeys God, even though he can do nothing about the wrath of God.

Genuine faith transcends any desire for gain. The covenant relationship with the God of the Bible is no commercial arrangement, no religious transaction entered into with the hope of personal benefit. It is a matter of fidelity and trust, irrespective of any desire for reward or fear of punishment.” (Richard Nelson, 1st and 2nd Kings, Interpretation, 1987). Obey God’s law and keep the faith, even if you can see no hope of reward. That’s what made Josiah the best King of Judah, the one most in line with David. Eighteen year old Josiah understood that faith should not be tied to what benefit we might receive from it.

It sort of reminds me of the debates I had in philosophy of religion classes surrounding Pascal’s Wager. Did you ever debate that in school? “Pascal’s wager is an attempt to justify belief in God, not with an appeal to evidence for God’s existence, but rather with an appeal to self-interest. It is in our best interests to believe in God and it is therefore rational for us to do so.”

A textbook definition of Pascal’s Wager is that it “seeks to justify faith by considering the various possible consequences of belief and disbelief in the God of Christianity.

If we believe in God and, if God exists, the argument runs, then we will receive an infinitely great reward in heaven. But, if God does not exist, then we will have lost little or nothing. If we do not believe in God and God does exist, the argument continues, then we will receive an infinitely great punishment, while if God does not exist, then we will have gained little or nothing. The possible outcomes of belief in God, then, are on balance better than the possible outcomes of disbelief in God.” (www.philosophyofreligion.info)

It’s a belief system based on self-interest. It’s a rationale for belief that preys on selfishness. What Josiah does is almost the exact opposite of Pascal’s Wager. Through his actions, Josiah says, “We are going to live faithfully, even though we know there is no reward for us in it. We are going to live faithfully because it is the right way to live.”

That’s what makes him heroic – he leads the people in doing what’s right, with no hope of reward. When all seems lost, Josiah does not throw in the towel and give up.

Rather, he renews his efforts at reform and tries all the harder.

Josiah does what is right, and not because of the reward and benefit it will bring him and his people. He knows that it is too little, too late. He lays aside his own self-interest. Josiah does what is right because it is the right thing to do, and he leads his people in doing the same. This is part of what makes it so amazing. The person who leads the people in faithful living does so at the ripe old age of 18!

May we, too, listen to the young who seek to lead us in doing the right thing.May we, too, think beyond ourselves and our own self-interests. May we, too, remain faithful to God in our worship and in our daily living. Who among us, could live according to the book of the law? May we give thanks, that through Christ, we live – not under God’s judgment and condemnation, but under God’s overarching grace.

Amen.