Josiah was eight years old when he became king of Judah. He was one of the few good kings that reigned following the division of the kingdom of Israel. It was during the eighteenth year of his reign that Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord. Giving the book to Shaphan the scribe, the book was brought before King Josiah and Shaphan read the Book of the Law to the king. "When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes" (2 Kings 22:11). Later the Lord would say of Josiah, "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 should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you, declares the Lord" (2 Kings 22:19).
Matthew Henry said of Josiah rending his clothes: "The rending of his clothes signified the rending of his heart for the dishonor done to God, and the ruin he saw coming upon his people" (Commentary 2 Kings 22:11-20). The word of God impacted the life of a twenty-six year old king. The Book of the Law had a profound meaning upon the young king and it humbled him. Remarkable were the tears that flowed from his broken spirit. These were not mere words Shaphan was reading. Josiah was hearing the precious words of his God. The Psalmist declares in Psalm 119:20, "My soul breaks with longing for your judgments at all times."
Many years later when the people of God returned from Babylonian captivity, Ezra the scribe brought the Book of the Law of Moses before the people to read. "He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law" (Nehemiah 8:3). Not only did the people listen to the reading of the Law from early morning until midday; they were attentive; they stood up when Ezra opened the book (v5); answered "Amen, Amen" at the reading of the book (v6); stood in their place (v7); "all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law" (v9); and the people rejoiced greatly "because they understood the words that were declared to them" (v12) that day.
The days of Josiah and Ezra have long passed from the people of God. The blessing of the Bible being in plentiful supply has seemingly dulled the senses of the Lord's people. We have the Bible in every form imaginable. Yet the feelings of joy and sorrow do not permeate the spirits of our hearts as it did Josiah and the people of Ezra's day. They did not have power-point lessons or orators speaking the words in colorful tones nor media directed crowd pleasing presentations of the Book of the Law. They only had the Book of the Law - and people wept at its reading.
We would do well to heed the lessons of Josiah and the hearts of the people in Nehemiah 8. Until the heart is broken by the spirit of God's word the feelings of joy and sorrow will never move the lives of God's people. We must regain the respect, honor, diligence, fervency and love for the word of God that will move our hearts to move our lives in His image. Psalm 119 declares the emotions of God's Book of Law. Our task is to take to heart the message of the cross and preach Christ crucified from lives that are broken by the message of our risen Lord. Paul declared that he wanted to "gain Christ" and to "know Him" (Philippians 3:8-11). We need to know the Lord and His word!
By Kent Heaton
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