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Josiah -- the Last Good King of the Jews (a study of 2 Kings 22:8-20)

Hear the Word -and- do it.

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for 2 Kings 22:8-20

In our final lesson in 1/2 Kings, we focus on the last good thing the last good king did -- Josiah hearing the Word of God (for the first time) and immediately committing himself and all of Jerusalem to obeying it. It's the reaction we should all have to God's Word. Unfortunately, this obedience didn't prevent Josiah from a later fatal lapse in judgment.

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. (22:11)

Getting Started: Things to Think About

Unexpected Discoveries That Changed Your Life (ish)

Lifeway suggests a perfectly fine "when you found something that you lost" discussion. I propose a variation that focuses on the result -- when the thing you found actually changed something you did or thought.

For example, I had a friend who found her grandmother's recipe book in a box. Reading it, she discovered that she had been using a wrong ingredient for a family recipe, and she immediately changed it (and I guess it made everything taste better?).

I know someone who found an old book of proprietary chemical properties in the company library, and they were slightly different from the values used in their modeling software. They tested some of the differences and found out that some of the old values produced more accurate results than what they had been working with.

A fun one is discovering that you're related to different people than you thought. I had a friend who found an entire family tree branch he didn't know about until he read through an old family Bible. Another friend did that DNA testing thing and found out that he had ancestors in a completely different part of the world than he knew about.

How about you? What's an unexpected discovery you made that changed the way you viewed or did something?

-Or - Important Archeological/Historical Discoveries

If you don't have any personal stories you can think of, here's your cheater way out: discoveries that have changed the way we look at things. Some of these discoveries have been truly revolutionary.

The first one that comes to mind is the Rosetta Stone. This discovery (which included Greek and Egyptian writing) allowed people to translate hieroglyphics. Machu Pichu showed us a level of technological advancement many Westerners didn't think possible in South America. Your leader guide mentions the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is certainly a monumental discovery. For our purposes, the DSS didn't teach us something new but rather confirmed our copies of the Bible. (It did reveal some Jewish beliefs and practices that we didn't know about.)

What discoveries have you learned about that struck you as incredibly important?

-Or- Something You Learned in School That Changed Your Life?

One last idea is a lot more open-ended: what's something you learned in school (preferably in college, or later in life) that totally changed the way you look at things? This topic is admittedly easy for me because I went to seminary as a fairly new Christian, so pretty much everything I learned in seminary essentially changed my life.

But there are plenty of things I learned in college -- the way things are built, the ways materials behave -- that gave me a new way of looking at the world.

How about you?


This Week's Big Idea: The Power of the Spoken Word

This has a loose connection with the college topic. Many college classes are lecture-based because (1) you can have larger classes, and (2) many people do learn well by listening to someone else explaining. This is also true of many Bible study groups -- we tend to be lecture and discussion based because (1) we only have so much time, (2) we only have so much space, and (3) our primary focus is learning the Word of God which, as we will soon see, was designed to be taught verbally.

[Aside on learning styles. Not everybody learns best by listening. I have a post about this where you can get more information where I talk about 8 common learning styles and ways those styles can be engaged.

It's a challenge to integrate multiple learning styles in a single session, plus most teachers tend to teach in the style that they best learn. So, if you're not the teacher of your small group, here's my challenge to you: when you study each week's lesson, identify something that helped you learn that week's truth and bring it with you to group time. If it helped you learn, it will probably help someone else, too.]

Anyway, back to the "Big Idea". God designed the Bible to be taught verbally. There's just something about hearing the Bible read aloud. Now, that's not surprising! God gave the Bible to a culture that didn't have books like today. You remember that God gave the Law on stone tablets (Ex 31:18). The oldest existing copies we have of the Bible are on parchment (animal skins) and papyrus (plant stems), writing surfaces that were very labor-intensive to create and that required special inks.

[Aside: I mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls above -- many websites about them also give a good overview how the ancient Hebrews did their writing, like:

People learned the Bible by hearing it read out loud (or recited from memory). And God, who made us, made sure that the Bible would connect with its hearers. Some of that is in the brilliance of the use of language. (And we've lost some of that in translation.) But it's also (mainly) in the fact that God works through the reading of His Word by His Spirit.

Consider this passage in Romans 10:

14 How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. 16 But not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.

The Gideons have lots of stories about people being saved by reading the Bible (copies of which they didn't have in Paul's day), but the fact remains that God's Word is meant to be shared verbally.

Paul doubles down on this later in 1 Timothy 4:

13 Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.

Early worship services were characterized by reading a portion of the Bible out loud and then someone explaining what was read.

And of course that was also the practice in the Old Testament:

Deut 31:10 Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of debt cancellation, during the Festival of Shelters, 11 when all Israel assembles in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he chooses, you are to read this law aloud before all Israel. 12 Gather the people—men, women, dependents, and the resident aliens within your city gates—so that they may listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and be careful to follow all the words of this law. 13 Then their children who do not know the law will listen and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

The most famous of these experiences happened after the exile:

Neh 8:7 [The Levites] explained the law to the people as they stood in their places. 8 They read out of the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read. 9 Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all of them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law.

If it was the practice of God's people (at God's inspiration) in the Old Testament and New Testament, we can safely conclude that God wants it to be our practice today.

But why? Why do you think God wants the Bible to be read out loud?

In addition to the answers you're already thinking of, let me add these two:

  • Listening to the Bible slows you down. (Wayne Stiles)

  • It lets someone else pronounce the hard words. (Emily Ryan)

Those answers were given on websites promoting audio Bibles. And I am all in favor of audio Bibles for all of the reasons given! But John Piper gives a warning to those who think they can just listen to the Bible in the car -- "distracted listening" isn't what God wants. He suggests reading along while you listen.

At some point during this week's lesson (probably in part 2), you'll have a chance to talk about the importance of reading God's Word out loud. I propose that you demonstrate it by reading some of your favorite passages in group time. Or, if you have a favorite audio Bible, bring it with you and play a chapter. There are some amazing audio Bibles behind paywalls, and there are still plenty of freely available audio Bibles on YouTube.

You'll notice a lot of audio Bibles are King James Version -- that's because it's in the public domain and you don't have to fight the copyright.

Main point: God wants us to read the Bible out loud.


Where We Are in 2 Kings

This is our last lesson in 1/2 Kings! I warned you when we covered the fall of Samaria that we weren't going to cover the fall of Jerusalem. I guess they wanted to let us end on a positive note? Last week, I mentioned how disastrous Manasseh (Hezekiah's son) was as king. Because of his evil deeds, God announced that Jerusalem would suffer the same fate as Samaria. Josiah was Manasseh's grandson, and somehow, he turned out to be good. This week's passage about the discovery of the law and Josiah's actions to renew the covenant led God to postpone the coming destruction (but not cancel it -- 2 Ki 23:26-27).

BUT (and there's always a "but" with the kings), he did something stupid that got him killed. We learn more about this in 2 Chronicles 35. King Neco (Necho) of Egypt marched up the coast to help Assyria (his ally) fight against the rapidly growing Babylonian army. He even told Josiah, "We have no quarrel with you -- we're marching north." But Josiah, against advice, decided to march out and fight the Egyptians. Not only was Josiah killed, but the Egyptians wiped out their army and turned Judah into their vassal. Josiah's oldest son became king, but Pharaoh didn't like him and appointed the next son king. Soon enough, Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) came to town and conquered Jerusalem, making Josiah's grandson king, but he soon changed his mind and appointed Josiah's final son king. That son eventually rebelled against Babylon, causing Nebuchadnezzar to come back and burn Jerusalem to the ground.

And that was that.


Part 1: 2 Kings 22:8-10

8 The high priest Hilkiah told the court secretary Shaphan, “I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,” and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it. 9 Then the court secretary Shaphan went to the king and reported, “Your servants have emptied out the silver that was found in the temple and have given it to those doing the work—those who oversee the Lord’s temple.” 10 Then the court secretary Shaphan told the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book,” and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king.

Here's the situation: Josiah has been king for 18 years, and he's now 26 years old. Why it took 18 years to get to this point, I don't know (remember that Joash had been king for 23 years before he started his temple repair project). But he decided, in Joash fashion, that it's time to repair the temple (this is roughly 200 years after Joash). This time, when they are doing the work, someone discovers a copy of the law of Moses. (There's debate whether this is just Deuteronomy or the entire Torah, but that doesn't affect our discussion.)

Don't bury the lead. They've been operating for who knows how long without a copy of their Bible. (At the very least, we can trace this to Josiah's grandfather Manasseh, who committed all kinds of evil deeds in Jerusalem and may have attempted to destroy any copies of the law he could find.) Think about that. If we lost every copy of the Bible, what do you think people would do in our church services? Or more to the point, how long would people keep coming to "Sunday church" in the first place? This is truly a bizarre situation.

You have to go back to verse 3 to get the whole scenario. Hilkiah is the high priest; he has been keeping the money given for temple repairs (cf. Joash). Shaphan is Josiah's secretary; Josiah sent him to tell Hilkiah to get the repairs going. 2 Chronicles 34 explains that when Hilkiah went to gather all of the money that had been collected, he found a scroll of the law.

Remember that there were all kinds of storerooms in the temple, and many of those rooms probably had cupboards and cabinets and whatever else. Somebody (perhaps a priest concerned about Manasseh's purge?) had hidden a copy of the law in one of those rooms.

Shaphan, I'm sure, knew what this book (technically a scroll) was, but perhaps he had a flair for the dramatic, treating this as an "oh by the way". Here's your fun thought exercise: if you were reading to somebody part of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), what would you choose to read? For certain, make sure you pick a passage out of Deuteronomy, because we are fairly certain that Hilkiah's discovery included at the least Deuteronomy.

And then, read that passage out loud in your group. What kind of a reaction does it get from the other group members?


Aside: Josiah Bible Controversy

Some of you might know that there are skeptics of the Bible. No, really! One group of skeptics claims that the Old Testament wasn't written by Moses but rather by a group of priests much, much later ... like, say, during Josiah's reign.

In a nutshell, these skeptics say that Josiah and his priests wanted to reform the nation, and so they invented the Torah in order to bring about their preferred vision. 2 Chronicles 34 mentions that Josiah had started with reforms years before. Some skeptics say that they collected oral traditions that were floating around and put them all together. Other skeptics say that they made it all up, even Abraham and Moses. Their argument is basically, "How convenient for these priests that they found a lost book of law right at the time that the king was wanting to reform the nation."

It's not a very strong argument. But when you start with the hypothesis "the Bible is fake", you'll find all kinds of ways to support it.


Part 2: Response (2 Kings 22:11-13)

11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12 Then he commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, the court secretary Shaphan, and the king’s servant Asaiah, 13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah about the words in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us.”

If you haven't yet talked about the power of the spoken word, this is the time to do it. Essentially, paint two different scenarios:

  • You read something in the Bible

  • Someone reads (or recites) the Bible to you

Which one has the bigger impact on you? A moment ago, I suggested reading your favorite passages out loud. Now, let's get directed. Take a heavy-hitting passage from Deuteronomy, like chapter 28 or chapter 30 (chapter 30 isn't very long). Does it make a difference if you read it for yourself or hear it out loud?

Note: I'm not suggesting that reading the Bible out loud is some kind of magic formula. Josiah certainly could have had the same reaction if Shaphan had just left the scroll in his mailbox with a sticky note saying "check out this passage I highlighted 👀". And people can hear the Bible and ignore it. In fact, Josiah's son Jehoiakim was in a very similar situation! Here's how he responded to it in Jeremiah 36:

21 The king [Jehoiakim] sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the scribe. Jehudi then read it in the hearing of the king and all the officials who were standing by the king. 22 Since it was the ninth month, the king was sitting in his winter quarters with a fire burning in front of him. 23 As soon as Jehudi would read three or four columns, Jehoiakim would cut the scroll with a scribe’s knife and throw the columns into the fire in the hearth until the entire scroll was consumed by the fire in the hearth. 24 As they heard all these words, the king and all his servants did not become terrified or tear their clothes.

But for Josiah, I think there was something powerful about hearing God's blessings and curses read out loud. Perhaps it was a shared experience with Shaphan. Perhaps it felt like a prophet speaking to him. Regardless, Josiah heard God's Word and was terrified.

His next command is interesting. They had been so ignorant of God's law that Josiah wanted confirmation -- "find a holy person and ask them if this is for real". Again, Shaphan probably included a strong curse in his reading, something like:

  • Deut 30:17 But if your heart turns away and you do not listen and you are led astray to bow in worship to other gods and serve them, 18 I tell you today that you will certainly perish and will not prolong your days in the land you are entering to possess across the Jordan.

  • Deut 28:20 The Lord will send against you curses, confusion, and rebuke in everything you do until you are destroyed and quickly perish, because of the wickedness of your actions in abandoning me.

Josiah wisely took whatever curse he heard seriously. And, he had firsthand knowledge that the Jews living in Jerusalem weren't doing what God had asked.

Discussion. So it's time to put all of this together. In Sunday School lessons and in sermons, we routinely get hit with statements that seem a little personal. How do you tend to respond to lessons/sermons that "step on our toes"? In my experience, that feeling is a manifestation of conviction -- the Holy Spirit telling us that we're not living the way God's Word is instructing us to live. We can respond in one of two ways:

  • Like Josiah, or

  • Like Jehoiakim (Josiah's son)

To make this useful, I encourage you to be specific. What is a recent specific truth you remember learning that caused you to make a noticeable change in how you lived?


Part 3: Proven (2 Kings 22:14-20)

14 So the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the prophetess Huldah, wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem in the Second District. They spoke with her. 15 She said to them, “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: Say to the man who sent you to me, 16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitants, fulfilling all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read, 17 because they have abandoned me and burned incense to other gods in order to anger me with all the work of their hands. My wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.’ 18 Say this to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the Lord: ‘This is what the Lord God of Israel says: As for the words that you heard, 19 because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I myself have heard’—this is the Lord’s declaration. 20 ‘Therefore, I will indeed gather you to your ancestors, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster that I am bringing on this place.’” Then they reported to the king.

Josiah sent them to inquire of the Lord, and they went to a prophet. Your leader guide makes it seem that Josiah sent them directly to Huldah, but the Bible doesn't say that. The point is that the priests knew who God's prophet was at that moment.

Readers might get distracted by the fact that God's appointed prophet was a woman. And yes, she's the only female prophet mentioned in Kings/Chronicles, but she's not the only female prophet mentioned in the Bible. No, what I find interesting is that they went to her and not to the prophet Zephaniah, who we know was active during Josiah's reign (Zeph 1:1).

[Aside on Zephaniah: it's a quick read; you might want to read it.]

Perhaps this means that

  • Zephaniah prophesied before this event in order to spur the king to action when the law was found and was since dead/had left, or

  • Zephaniah had not yet been called, and God would later call him when Josiah needed some backup to keep the reforms moving.

But it's also another cool reminder: not all of God's prophets wrote books. God knew that Josiah would need a word, and He had a prophet prepared (someone the priests knew was a prophet). (This begs all sorts of questions to me: how do you know you're a prophet? and what do you do with that if you're not making pronouncements and writing books about them?) As far as I can tell, Huldah was just as much a prophet as Zephaniah, though her prophetic activity spans one paragraph. She should be celebrated just as much as any other prophet in the Bible.

Anyway, Huldah lived in the "Mishneh" district, which could mean "second" or "new". In Jesus' day, this referred to a northwest expansion. Most scholars believe that it meant the same thing in Josiah's day. The point is that the priests knew what she lived. Incidentally, her husband apparently was responsible for the royal outfits. Nice.

And of course, she was ready for them. Her words are ... bittersweet. God's judgment is coming. It could not be stopped. Huldah knew what Josiah had read (this was a prophecy from God, after all) and confirmed that those curses were going to be fulfilled. That's tough.

But she had a specific word for Josiah (v. 18): because of his humility and zeal, God would postpone this destruction until after his death. Unfortunately, as I said above, Josiah needlessly hastened his own death at the hands of the Egyptians and brought the disaster more quickly than it had to be. And true to this prophecy, Josiah's death immediately kicked off a chain of events that led to complete destruction.

But for our purposes, it's important to know what happened next. In 2 Kings 23, we learn that Josiah gathered all of the Jews who were left in Judah and went through a full covenant renewal ceremony. He destroyed all evidence of paganism in Judah, going so far as digging up the bones of the people associated with that paganism. He reinstated the Passover feast and brought back the proper sacrifices.

Those things were good. It lasted about 13 years before Josiah threw it all away. The point that the Bible clearly makes is that it will take a much greater king to bring about lasting covenant faithfulness.

The discussion is quite simple: God doesn't want us simply to hear His Word -- He wants us to live by it. By divine serendipity, David (our FBC pastor) will be preaching from James 2 this Sunday:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe—and they shudder.

Sure, there's plenty of debate about exactly what those words means (and how convenient that I can just let David explain it all to you!), but there's no debate about this: being a Christian changes you from the inside. It's not enough to "say" you're a Christian -- you have to live it out.

Josiah had the right response. He heard God's Word and he immediately changed the way he lived to align with God's Word. Have you? With those sermons that stepped on your toes, have you done something about them? If you haven't, it's time to start. What changes do you need to make today, and what can your Bible study group do to support you in that change?


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