Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Ruthless, Radical Christianity

By Dennis Pollock


In this study, we are going to take a look at one of the greatest kings of Israel. His name was Josiah, and strangely, even though he was very high on God's list of great kings, he doesn't seem to get the press that he should. Everybody knows about King David and King Solomon, and many have heard of King Hezekiah, but King Josiah is not so well known. So today we will give credit where credit is due and observe the zeal and greatness of King Josiah.


Josiah got an early start as a king. His father, Amon, served as king of Israel for a short two years. The Bible declares: "He did evil in the sight of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. So he walked in all the ways that his father had walked; and he served the idols that his father had served, and worshiped them." (2 Kings 21:20-21).


Two years after being inaugurated as king, two of his servants conspired against him and killed him, attempting a coup. It didn't work out well for them as they were captured by some of the king's friends and put to death. Josiah was the son and heir to the throne, and he was established as king of Israel, even though he was only eight years old.


At the age of eighteen Josiah began to exercise his royal authority, and one of the first things he did was to organize a cleanup campaign for the neglected and disheveled temple that Solomon had built.


Changed by the Scriptures


Even though King Josiah was only eighteen, somehow in his few short years, he had become a devoted follower of YHWH, the God of Israel. This fervor for the LORD became more intense when one of the workers found a copy of the writings of Moses. Josiah started reading and the more he read, the more alarmed he became. He sent messengers to a well-known prophetess, to find out her perspective on Israel's condition. She told the king that Israel would indeed be punished for her sins, but because his heart was humble and repentant, this punishment would not come during his lifetime. Josiah was encouraged by this and set out to rectify the sins of Israel. He gathered an assembly of the Jews from Jerusalem, the leaders, and the priests, and made a solemn covenant to serve the LORD only and forsake their idolatrous practices.


Throughout the land, there were idolatrous shrines and places of pagan worship. The zealous king determined that the land must be cleansed of all of these, and he set out to do just that. His first step was to cleanse the temple. By this point, the temple which had been created as a worship center for YHWH, the God of Israel, had become a repository for various articles and instruments connected with idol worship. He ordered that everything related to idolatry must be removed from the temple and burned. And then King Josiah set his eyes on every remaining vestige of idolatry throughout the length and the breadth of the nation of Israel.


Radical Change


The Bible tells us that the young king was very thorough, and we read:


  1. Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and crushed it to powder, and burned the wooden image… (2 Kings 23:15)
  2. Now Josiah also took away all the shrines of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the LORD to anger… (2 Kings 23:19)
  3. He executed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them… (2 Kings 23:20)
  4. Moreover Josiah put away those who consulted mediums and spiritists, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem… (2 Kings 23:24)

When you read of King Josiah and all that he did to end idolatry and reinstate worship of the one true God, most of what you read would be actions many would consider negative. The focus in the Biblical account of Josiah's life and reign deals more with what he put a stop to than what he added to Israel. There was a lot of evil that must be put away, and Josiah took this responsibility seriously. He did reinstate the Passover celebration and encourage the Israelites to worship their God, but the Biblical account of his life focuses more on what he stopped and destroyed than what he started or built.


No King Like Josiah


And yet Josiah gets major credit for his reforms. The Bible gives him a fantastic commendation, declaring: "Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him." (2 Kings 23:25). God thought King Josiah was doing exactly what needed to be done. Israel didn't need lectures on improving their self-esteem or learning to love themselves more – they desperately needed a king like Josiah who would demolish their idolatrous shrines, crush their many idols, and execute the priests who oversaw idol worship in Israel.


Sometimes we suppose that the religion of the Bible should be a mild, always positive, never negative, program of self-improvement and positive reinforcement. Our attitude seems to be that Jesus came to this earth to show us how wonderful we are, how valuable, and to encourage us to love ourselves more and more, because, according to some, if we cannot love ourselves, how can we love anyone else?


But God encourages us toward both positive and "negative" changes when we come into His family, calling us to both plant the good and uproot the evil, to turn away from selfishness, lust, anger, and greed, and to turn to righteousness, gentleness, love, honesty, and kindness. But make no mistake – there will be habits and patterns in our lives that will need to be ruthlessly demolished, just as Josiah smashed those idol shrines.


Positive & Negative


Going all the way back to the 10 Commandments, there are commands which are both positive and negative. But the negative commands outweigh the positive ones. On the positive side, we are told to remember the Sabbath day and to honor our parents. But on the negative side, we are told NOT to have any other gods before the true God, NOT to make idols, NOT to take God's name in vain, NOT to murder, NOT to steal, NOT to commit adultery, and so forth.


And when we first put our faith in Jesus and become children of God, we find that in the New Testament, we are given many different exhortations about how to live. We are to love, forgive, and bear with people who offend us. But we are also told that sexual immorality will keep us out of heaven, as will drunkenness, stealing, and other blatant sins, and we must not engage in them.


As Josiah did with Israel, we must go through the length and breadth of our own lives and demolish those habits and patterns of sins which offend our Heavenly Father. The Bible tells us that King Josiah "turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might" and this is what we must do when we trust in Jesus as our Savior. We turn TO the LORD, and we turn AWAY from our wicked lifestyles and practices.


Imagine if Josiah had reasoned: "There is no need to be so negative. I will not tear down the idol shrines; I will not destroy the idols or attempt to stop the practice of prostitution. I will just build shrines to YHWH throughout the country and then the YHWH shrines will surely outshine the idol shrines, and eventually idolatry will die out on its own." That might be a nice theory, but it would be foolish. Josiah's program of quick, ruthless destruction of everything connected with idolatry was much more efficient and effective. And in our lives, we must adopt a radical attitude toward our sinful, lustful, ungodly practices. There is a new Sheriff in town. Jesus is now Lord of our lives and everything that displeases our Lord must go. And so, we make the necessary changes. We start doing right and stop doing wrong in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is at the heart of true and genuine faith.




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