Josiah and His Days

or, "after all this."

"Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is." Jeremiah 17:7.

Faith alone can so go on with God as to prove His sufficiency, an absolute sufficiency for the need of His people. Hence is it that the Christian, with the record of Israel's sin spread open before him, is emphatically admonished in the words "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." (Heb. 3:12.) And again, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor. 10:12.)

As we are by nature, God is not in all our thoughts; and though we turned to God, on belief of the gospel, yet are there a thousand ways in which "the sin that doth so easily beset" waits but the occasion to evidence itself afresh. There is, however, one form of this so subtle as to be all the more dangerous, to which I desire to direct attention; I mean the tendency, under the profession of acknowledging God in His gifts, to allow instruments and means to get between the soul and Himself.

When God has separated a people unto Himself, not only will He have that people to be for Himself - His people; but He is their God, and He will be reckoned on by them in all circumstances and for all exigencies; in other words, the God of Israel will be God to Israel. "Blessed is the people that is in such a case; yea, blessed is the people whose God is the Lord." As an illustration of this relationship, see Caleb, that man of faith in the midst of a nation of no faith. (Joshua 14) He is just about to enter on the long-waited-for inheritance, with strength unabated by the tear and wear of the way. "Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee." Forty-five years ago he came up with eleven others of the rulers of Israel; to search out the land of promise; he then took back a good report, and made his boast in the God of Israel, as able to give it to His people, all adversaries and evil occurrent hitherto or to come, notwithstanding.

Listen now to his big-hearted profession, as he turns to Joshua and says: "Behold the Lord hath kept me alive, as He said, these forty and five years, ever since the Lord spake this word unto Moses, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness: and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old. And yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me; as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in." What a fine testimony to the all-sufficiency and the faithfulness of the Holy One whom Israel have limited.

The carcasses of a whole unbelieving generation strew the way that Caleb has trodden and attest the severity of Jehovah's "breach of promise;" yet just and upright is He, and wilderness tribulations have but wrought patience; and patience, experience; and experience, a hope that hath not made ashamed, in the case of the man in whom there was "another spirit," who, counting on the Promiser, embraced the promise. It has been happily observed that Canaan in the heart carries through the wilderness; and to this we may add, that, when God fills the eye, though nought but an untried and trackless waste, a place of no resources, with its terribleness be around us, it is God and not the desert we prove. "He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live."

Though thy way be long and dreary,

Eagle strength He'll still renew:

Garments fresh and foot unweary

Tell how God hath brought thee through.

When to Canaan's long-loved dwelling

Love divine thy foot shall bring,

There, with shouts of triumph swelling,

Zion's songs in rest to sing;

There no stranger God shall meet thee

(Stranger thou in courts above);

He who to His rest shall greet thee,

Greets thee with a well-known love.

But let us examine somewhat more closely into the special form of the evil heart of unbelief I have indicated. To this end we will look at Israel, first in the wilderness, then under one of the judges, and again as reigned over by one of the best of the kings.

For a brief moment, at the first, we see them standing in the attitude of faith. They are on the wilderness side of the Red Sea. Its waters, opened just now for their salvation, but closed again for the destruction of the Egyptian taskmaster, roll between a delivered people and the house of their hard bondage. They are celebrating in that song the triumphs of the right-hand of the Lord. Not only has His hand already done valiantly for them, but it shall yet deliver. They measure every thing by it: Pharaoh and his host are cast into the sea; sorrow takes hold on the inhabitants of Palestina; the dukes of Edom are amazed; the mighty men of Moab tremble; the inhabitants of Canaan melt away. Led forth of Him and guided in His strength, the redeemed of Jehovah are brought in and planted in the mountain of His inheritance, in the place which He has made for Him to dwell in. Not one thing remains to be done. All is accomplished. A faith that is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, bridges over all between and fills already its basket of the first-fruits of the land, to set it down before the Lord. And now Moses and the children of Israel are silent, and Miriam and the women are taking up the strain, with timbrels and dances; but still their burden is the same, "Sing ye to the LORD, for HE hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath HE thrown into the sea."

Alas! this goodness is but as the morning cloud and the early dew. The Psalmist tells us: "They sang His praise - They soon forgat His works; they waited not for His counsel!" (Ps. 106) Quickly does the song of boastfulness in the God of Israel become changed into loud, long murmurings! Is then the Lord's arm shortened, that it can no longer save? Is the ear, that bent down to their wail in Egypt, grown heavy, that it cannot hear? No; but the instrument of deliverance has been leaned on by them, instead of the Deliverer; and this so really, that so soon as Moses is out of sight (gone up for them into the mount to the Lord, before whose terrible glory they were trembling but just now) they run in wild haste to Aaron, with the cry, 'Up, make us gods which shall go before us, for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land, of Egypt, we wot not what has become of him!' "They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the golden image. Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass. They forgot God their Saviour." Such is the way of man. He must have a something visible and tangible to look to, if faith in an unseen God be either wanting or on the wane.

But the scene shifts. It is the days of the judges. Israel have gone into open idolatry, and are bowing down to the gods of the uncircumcised. And the Lord whom they have provoked has sold them into the hands of the uncircumcised. Repenting Himself because of their groanings, by reason of the oppressor, He has once and again raised up for them "saviours." Yet "it came to pass, when the Judge was dead, that they returned and corrupted themselves worse than their fathers." Just now they are greatly impoverished, the hand of Midian prevails against Israel, and the Midianites, as grasshoppers for multitude, spread themselves over the land, and eat it up. Israel have betaken themselves to mountains, and to dens, and to eaves. The highways are unoccupied; travellers walk through bye-ways. The harvest is reaped by others. The increase of the earth is destroyed, and there is no sustenance left to Israel; neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. Mark that man of Manasseh threshing wheat under an oak in secret, to hide it from the Midianites. An angel approaches him, and salutes him thus: 'The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour, … go deliver Israel, thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.' And now, through faith, the trembler is made strong, and after having first purged out idolatry from his home, is led forth to put to flight the armies of the aliens. It is the arm of the Lord's strength that has awaked for His people; and again, as in ancient days, when it broke Rahab (Egypt), it triumphs gloriously. Israel is delivered with a great deliverance. Yet they discern not aright the lighting down of that arm; but as their fathers did, so do they; the instrument fills their eye, and they importune him - 'Rule thou over us, thou and thy son, and thy son's son also; for thou hast delivered us from the hands of Midian!' But Gideon cannot allow this; he sets them in their proper relation to the Lord: neither will he rule over them, nor his son, that belongs to the Lord. But then, alas! we have to take the eye off the exploits and the self-denial of faith, to see him immediately afterwards preparing a stumbling-block for this very people. He may have reasoned with himself that there could be nothing wrong in commemorating the victory just gained; this were not to usurp the Lord's place, but, on the contrary, a fitting acknowledgment that His servant has been valiant in fight for Israel. He asks for the golden earrings of the prey, makes of them an ephod, and puts it in his city; "which thing became a snare to Gideon and to his house;" moreover "all Israel went thither a whoring after it."

And now we turn from times of the wilderness and of the judges to "the days of Josiah the king," and it is still to find the same adulterous generation. They have backslidden with a continual backsliding. The kingly history is a dreary recital of provokings of the Holy One to anger, so that the reigns of a Jehoshaphat, a Jotham, and a Hezekiah stand out brightly as lights in the midst of a dark waste. The spirit of idolatry, dispossessed for a while by repentant Manasseh, has returned in sevenfold power; for "Amon sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made," and "did worse and worse;" so that now, according to the number of the cities of Judah, are her gods, and according to the number of the streets in Jerusalem, they have set up altars to burn incense unto Baal. The horses which the kings of Judah have given to the sun are stabled at the entering in of the house of the Lord (2 Kings 13:11), whilst the ark of the Lord has been cast out of the sanctuary. (2 Chron. 35:3.) It is at this juncture, an hour of all but total apostacy, that the son of Amon, a child eight years old, comes to the throne. But how wondrous are the ways of God! He has reserved unto Himself, in the midst of these abominations, a remnant who, like Simeon and Anna of after days, sigh and cry before Him; and the boy king, suckled at the breasts of idolatry, finds grace in His eyes. The history of His work in and through Josiah is given with much minuteness in 2 Chron. 34, 35.

In the eighth year of his reign, "while he was yet young," Josiah begins to seek after the God of David his father. Four years after, at the age of twenty, he sets about purging Judah and Jerusalem of high places, groves, and carved images; breaks down the altars of Baal; makes dust of the idols, strews it upon the graves of their worshippers, and burns the bones of their priests on the altars. Nor does he stop here. As a consequence of the idolatry of the latter years of the reign of Solomon, ten tribes have been rent from the throne of David; but the faith in the energy of which Josiah acts has respect to the claims of Jehovah in regard of the land, and he will not cleanse Judah and Jerusalem only, but "so he did in the cities of Manasseh and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali" And here we must not fail to notice an incident which, though unmentioned in these chapters, is given at some length in 2 Kings 23. Standing by the altar at Bethel (the seat of the false worship devised by Jeroboam, the first king of the separate kingdom of Israel), whilst engaged in the act of breaking it down and defiling it with the bones of its idolatrous priests, Josiah turns and notices an inscription at a short distance from him. He enquires what it is, and is told by the men of the city, "It is the sepulchre of the man of God which came from Judah and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Bethel." More than three hundred years have elapsed since the man of God cried in the word of the Lord against the altar, and declared that a child should be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name, who should do such and such things; and though signal indeed was the failure of the instrument, directly after speaking in the word of the Lord, that word has been brought to pass; so that as Josiah stands between the altar and the sepulchre, and listens to the prophecy, he has both a wondrous confirmation of his being the special servant of the Lord for the work he is engaged in, and a solemn admonition to hearken attentively to the Lord.

Again: six years after, he sends to the temple to repair and amend that which former kings of Judah have destroyed, and proceeds to restore, according to its prescribed form, the worship of the true God. In the midst of these labours a book is discovered by the high priest, a long neglected and forgotten book - what is it? "A book of the law of the Lord by Moses." It is taken and read before the king. "And it came to pass when the king heard the word of the law, that he rent his clothes." "Go," he says, "enquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book." Scripture may be neglected, but it cannot be broken; the Lord answers Josiah that, whilst he personally, on account of his tender-heartedness in trembling at the word, shall be gathered to his fathers in peace, so as not to see the evil, the curses read out of the book shall assuredly take hold. Having gathered together all the people, both great and small, into the house of the Lord, he reads before them all the words of the book of the covenant that has been found there; makes a covenant,, "with all his heart and all his soul," to perform that which is written in the book; causes all present to stand to it;. takes away all the abominations out of all the, countries that, pertain to Israel, and brings back the people to the service of Jehovah. "And all his days they departed not from following the Lord, the God of their fathers."

And now comes the crowning, as it were, of this zeal for the Lord. The passover is kept after a most godly sort. The Levites prepare themselves by the houses of their fathers, after their courses, "according to the writing of David king of Israel, and according to the writing of Solomon his son. They kill the passover, sanctify themselves, prepare their brethren, and the priests sprinkle the blood from their hand, remove the burnt-offering, that they may give according to the division of the families of the people, to offer unto the Lord, "as it is written in the book of Moses." The passover is roasted, "according to the ordinance." The singers, the sons of Asaph stand in their places, "according to the commandment of David." Josiah has a "Thus saith the Lord" for all he does. What a wondrously lovely picture! "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" It was reserved for a backslidden people, on their return to God and His word, to keep such a commemoration of the night much to be remembered, when the blood of the "lamb" was under His holy eye for His Israel, as even Solomon in all his glory never kept.

The hour is one of light and gladness in Zion. As they speak together we can hear them exclaim, 'Behold, what, hath the Lord wrought, it is marvellous in our eyes!' Yet there is rottenness at the core: "Judah hath not turned unto ME with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord."' (Jer. 3:6, 10.) And thick darkness is gathering ahead, and he that letteth the bursting of the storm shall soon be taken out of the way.

Nor does the sun of Josiah go down in an altogether cloudless horizon. The emphatic words which stand at the head of this paper are found here, and form a hinge, on which the Bible narrative of Josiah and his times turns to a shaded side. "AFTER ALL THIS" (we read), "when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him." (v. 20.) The potsherds of the earth are at strife amongst themselves; wherefore is it that the Lord's anointed is found mixing himself up with their strife, unless indeed he have a word from the Lord bidding him to do so? Has he such a word? No; but the very opposite. Listen to Necho's remonstrance: "What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not." And mark what the Scripture says, "Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo." (v. 22.)

How solemnly instructive is this. Whence comes it, that the ear but just now so attentive is deaf to the voice of God? We are told concerning another godly king, Uzziah, that "he was marvellously helped till he was strong; but when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction," and we may regard the case of Josiah as somewhat parallel. The flesh in a saint, through unwatchfulness, will fatten on the very prosperings of God; and a lifted-up heart both deafens and blinds. But though we may refuse to listen to the voice of God, there is no disguise by which we can get from under His eye, and no shelter that will avail us. Feigning himself, like ungodly Ahab, to be another than himself, like Ahab he is struck down by an arrow commissioned of Him who sees through all disguises.

So fell Josiah - taken away in loving-kindness from the evil to come; yet sad and humbling is it to see a saint of God falling by the hand of the uncircumcised in an hour of self-will.

Great lamentation is made over him: "All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah; and Jeremiah lamented for Josiah; and all the singing-men and the singing-women spake of Josiah in their lamentations unto this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and behold they are written in the Lamentations." (v. 25.) Let us draw near to the mourners, and see if they have not some word of admonition for ourselves.

In the book of "The Lamentations of Jeremiah" (Lam. 4:20), there are these significant words: "The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen."

It was with his whole heart and soul that Josiah set himself to work to bring back worshippers of graven images to the living and true God. He was a bright and a shining light, and the people were willing for a season to walk in his light. "All his days" (as we have seen) "they departed not from following the Lord." Yet were they, at heart, according to the Lord's declaration, idolaters still. In the light of Josiah they walked, not in the light of the Lord. Upon the breath of Josiah they lived, not upon the words that proceeded out of the mouth of God. Under the shadow of Josiah they thought to dwell, not under the shadow of the Almighty.

These things happened of old. They "are written for our admonition." Like the bell swinging to and fro above the sunken rock, giving warning to the mariner that hard by where he is passing others have made wreck, they sound in our ears, even whilst we are being borne along by wind and tide, 'Take heed, Take heed, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God!'

No man is really a Christian but he who has so received the Gospel in power, that he has turned to God, and is entitled to know, that through the blood of the cross (which has purged his every sin), and in Him who is now at the right hand of God, he has been brought nigh, and that he may be in the presence of a God of absolute righteousness, not only without fear, but with exceeding joy. And then the Christian life, in its development down here, is not merely a fresh direction given to the religious instincts and activities of man, or the holding of certain dogmas and the shaping the conduct after a certain course; it is an habitual, continuous having to do with God through Christ - a believing God, an obeying God, a trusting in God, a fearing God, a joying in God, a walking with God, a worshipping God, a serving God - in short, a setting of Him ever before us, and of ourselves in heart and conscience ever before Him, according to that which He is and has revealed Himself to be. All true ministry is subservient to this, and ministry is healthful only as it does subserve it. In a certain sense, the thankful recognition of those through whom He works, is a recognizing of Himself, a holy and a happy thing - "We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake." "As my beloved sons I warn you … for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Most assuredly it is not a high degree of spirituality (whatever the pretension with which it clothe itself), but real dissonance with the mind of Him, who has given to the Church the evangelist, the pastor, and the teacher - at bottom the wretched pride and self-will of the flesh - that would ignore these and similar Scriptures. But then the special danger of the hour would not seem to lie so much in this as in an opposite direction - a thinking of man above that which is written. No age of the Church has been wanting in noticeable instances of this way of departure from the living God, at once both the evidence and the means of spiritual decline. Nor are the days in which we live less markedly characterised by that which (however offensively, yet with truth) has been termed minister-worship, than by the hero-worship and idolatry of intellect for which they are proverbial. The divine purport of the ministry of the Word is - to set and keep the conscience and the heart in immediate connection with God. Where this is effected in grace and holy power, the instrument will be comparatively out of sight. When man intervenes between God and the soul, God is displaced. What godly jealousy was manifested by that good servant of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul, when already, in the very infancy of the Church, a carnal glorying in teachers was at work jealousy for his Master, jealousy over his brethren, jealousy against self. He would no more allow the Christians at Corinth to be putting man (even though it were himself and Apollos) in a wrong place, than he would accept for himself and Barnabas, at Lystra, garlands and sacrifices from the priest of Jupiter. To these he said, "Sirs, why do ye these things? we also are men of like passions with you." To those he wrote, "Let no man glory in men." "These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of man above that which is written." "Who then is Paul, and who Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase; so then neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."

Moreover, not only is it of the very essence of idolatry so to lean upon the instrument as to relieve ourselves of that which is ever irksome to the flesh, the sense of the most direct, continuous, and absolute dependence upon God; but however devoted, however much and long-used and honoured of the Lord the instrument may have been, yet is he, after all, but a man of like passions with ourselves, and a carnal glorying in him may prove a dreadful snare to his own soul. Many an one of whom it might be said, "His praise was in all the churches," has here made shipwreck; and where a like catastrophe has been graciously averted, in how very many cases more it has been at the cost of much painful discipline of soul! When the stripling David returned from the unequal fight he had waged on behalf of Israel, in the name of the God of Israel, the giant's head and sword in his hands, the women sang his praises. They were no daughters of Miriam; their song was not, "THE LORD hath triumphed gloriously;" but, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." "And Saul," we read, "eyed David from that day and forward." Can we not trace in Saul's bitter and unrelenting persecution of David, consequent on this ill-judged comparison, something far deeper than the envy and wounded pride of man, even a divine antidote, a "messenger of Satan, sent to buffet him," by the same prescient love that dispensed to Paul his "thorn in the flesh"?

There is but ONE - "a nail in a sure place" - on whom we may safely depend; there is but ONE under whose shadow we may dare to dwell. Of that ONE the voice from the excellent glory has testified, as the cloud hid a Moses and an Elias out of sight, "Hear HIM." In the Song of Songs we find the Beloved saying of the Spouse, "As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters;" and the Spouse responding, "As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the sons. I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me into the banqueting-house, and His banner over me was love." What do you know, dear reader, of a like reciprocity of love between Christ and the soul? of a present, living fellowship in the power of the Holy Ghost with Himself? In the measure that we are dwelling under His shadow, we shall be occupied with Him; not with instruments, and organization, and doctrines, and things about Christ, but with CHRIST HIMSELF. And what a banqueting-house is that into which He bringeth, and where, with the banner of His love spread over us, a deep adoring delight is found in looking from the cross to the glory, and from the glory to the cross, and in proving in that love stronger than death a living love ever occupied with and about ourselves! Oh, let us jealously see to it, lest, through a trusting in man, and making flesh our arm, it be with us as with the dry and stunted heath in the desert! (Jer. 17:6.) Let us ponder these histories of Moses and the golden calf, Gideon and the golden ephod, Josiah and the sin of Judah, graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of their altars.