Fires burning. Plumes of ash rising up through the air. The sound of hammers on stone, axes on wood. Every civic rhythm changed. A whole nation shaken to its bones, literally. All this by the hand of Josiah, King of Judah.
Josiah took the throne of his father Amon at the age of eight. He inherited from Amon and his grandfather, Manasseh, a land full of idolatry and desecration. But from these humble, decadent beginnings, Josiah would rise to be one of the greatest Kings in Israel. He would turn Israel upside down to make it right side up.
- Brought out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. And he burned them outside Jerusalem.
- Deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens.
- Broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the LORD.
- Defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba.
- Removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun.
- Pulled down and broke in pieces the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron.
- Broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim.
- Commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”
What sparked this massive overhaul? What ignited this fire of reformation? The Bible.
The Bible brings true reform.
Early in his reign, Josiah commissioned the repair of the temple. When the work began, Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law (the Pentateuch) and brought it to Josiah. Here’s what happened next:
“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and 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 fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
All true reformation seems to start in this way, with a return to the Word of the Lord. Israel formed and reformed around the Ten Commandments. Josiah here resets Israel around the Law. Ezra rekindles God’s people with a reading of the Word. The Book of Acts often describes the spread of Christianity as a spreading of the Word of the Lord. And of course, the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century began with a rediscovery and unchaining of the Scriptures.
The application seems clear: If you want progress, go back to the Word of the Lord. If you want reformation, return to the unchanging Word of the Lord. The way forward is the way back. Remember His Word.