Improving Culture – An OT Example

Culture represents the values, traditions and behaviors of a society, and though culture is improvable, it is not perfectible. And even where positive change occurs, it’s difficult to perpetuate, largely because the people needed to sustain the change are few, flawed and temporary. A society’s culture is no better or worse than its leaders and the citizenry who support them; and at the heart of every problem is the problem of the heart. Apart from regeneration and a transformed mind and will, people will default to selfishness and sin, and so social problems continue. Furthermore, if we did make great improvements, we cannot guarantee succeeding generations will follow the good pattern set for them. Below is an OT example from 2 Kings of how the nation of Judah was improved from the top down by King Josiah, a strong leader who obeyed the Lord and led his people to do the same.

Josiah Hears the LawThe historical account in 2 Kings informs us “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath” (2 Ki 22:1). The record of Josiah’s reign was that “He did right in the sight of the LORD and walked in all the way of his father David, nor did he turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Ki 22:1-2). When Josiah began his reign as a young boy, both he and his advisors were ignorant of God’s Word because it had been lost to the nation and no one knew its content. In his eighteenth year of reign (2 Ki 22:3), Josiah sent Shaphan the scribe to the temple, saying, “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest that he may count the money brought in to the house of the LORD which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people” (2 Ki 22:4). Apparently, there was money collected “from the people” of Judah to fund a renovation project at the temple (2 Ki 22:5-7). That there were citizens in Judah who did this thing would imply some positive volition toward God. It was during this renovation project that a copy of the Mosaic Law was found in the temple (2 Ki 22:8-9), and the book was brought to the king and read in his presence (2 Ki 22:10), and “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes” (2 Ki 22:11). The Word of God that he heard touched his sensitive heart and he responded properly. Then the king commanded some of his servants to inquire of the Lord (2 Ki 22:12), saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Ki 22:13). Josiah understood that Judah was experiencing God’s judgment because they had been unfaithful to abide by the terms of the Mosaic contract. Josiah’s servants consulted with Huldah the prophetess (2 Ki 22:14-15), who said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched’” (2 Ki 22:16-17). But then she had words for Josiah, the king, saying, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Regarding the words which you have heard, 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. ‘Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place’” (2 Ki 22:18-20). Here we observe the axiom that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

Josiah Reforms     As a good king, Josiah gathered the leaders and people of Judah at the temple (2 Ki 23:1-2a), and there, “read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD” (2 Ki 23:2b). This provided the divine viewpoint on their deplorable situation and why they were experience’s God’s judgment. A good leader hears God’s Word, responds positively to it, and leads others to know and walk with the Lord. Josiah acted publicly, as he “stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book” (2 Ki 23:3). This was likely a rededication to the Mosaic Covenant, to walk in obedience to the Mosaic Law. And the people responded to his leadership, “And all the people entered into the covenant” (2 Ki 23:3). The positive leadership of Josiah encouraged the people to follow him in his covenant renewal. Josiah then commanded the temple be purged of all the idols that had been placed in it and he removed the idolatrous priests who led pagan worship (2 Ki 23:4-9). Josiah destroyed the places of pagan worship which had been built by Solomon and Jeroboam, where Judahites had sacrificed their children (2 Ki 23:10-16; cf. Jer 7:31). But Josiah honored a monument that had been erected to a true prophet of the Lord (2 Ki 23:17-18). Josiah also destroyed the high places of pagan worship in the north region in Samaria and Bethel, killing the again priests who led the people into idolatry and child sacrifice (2 Ki 23:19-20). The king sought to restore the nation’s history to them by reinstating the Passover meal (2 Ki 23:21-23), which remembered God’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage at the time of the exodus under the leadership of Moses. Even people from Israel in the north came to participate in the holiday celebration (2 Chron 35:18). And so, “Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD” (2 Ki 23:24). God’s Word gives Josiah a praise report, saying, “Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Ki 23:25).

However, though Josiah was a good king and made many good reforms and led God’s people into His will; yet, “the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him” (2 Ki 23:26). For the Lord declared, “I will remove Judah also from My sight, as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the temple of which I said, ‘My name shall be there’” (2 Ki 23:27). Josiah was killed in battle in 608 BC and was buried in Jerusalem (2 Ki 23:28-30a). The four kings who came after Josiah wrecked all he had accomplished and led Judah toward destruction and Babylonian captivity.[1]

Summary:

Josiah was a good king who reigned for 31 years (2 Ki 22:1-2; 23:24-25), and he committed himself to serve the Lord and to remove the deep-seated idolatry that had been implemented under the previous leadership of King Manasseh (2 Ki 21:1-6). Josiah was positive to God after hearing the Word of God, and his positive volition was marked by a commitment to God, a clear communication of Scripture to those under his charge, and decisive leadership to lead others to do God’s will. Josiah removed the idols in Judah, their pagan places of devotion and those who promoted their worship. He also honored godly persons and their memorials. Sadly, though Josiah worked diligently to lead spiritual and national reforms, he could not dislodge the idolatry from the people’s hearts, and they quickly returned to their evil ways after his death in 608 BC.[2] The four kings who followed Josiah did not imitate his faith, and Judah declined spiritually and morally for the next twenty-two years, until Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC and brought God’s people into Babylonian captivity for seventy years.

As Christians in leadership positions we too can respond positively when we hear God’s Word, commit ourselves to serve the Lord, communicate Scripture to others, and lead those under our charge to walk with God. We can remove those pagan impediments from our homes, businesses, schools, or wherever we have authority to act. And, we can seek to lead others into God’s will, respect other godly persons, and honor the memorials of those who have gone before us. This might be as a pastor to his church, a husband to a wife, parents to children, business owner to employees, coach to team, or governmental official to citizenry. But we should be aware that our actions will be met with opposition, and though we can control our godly output, the decision to follow must be freely made by those under our supervision. Furthermore, the faith of one generation does not guarantee the faith of the next, as each generation must to choose to accept or reject what’s been handed to them.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Immediately after Josiah’s death, the people of Judah returned to their old ways and selected Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, to reign over them (2 Ki 23:30b). Jehoahaz was an evil king who reigned for three months (2 Ki 23:31), and “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Ki 23:32). But God brought Jehoahaz’ rule to an end in 608 BC, when God used Pharaoh Neco to imprison him in Riblah (2 Ki 23:33), before bringing him to Egypt where he died (2 Ki 23:34). Pharaoh Neco then appointed Jehoiakim as a vassal king in Judah, where he reigned for eleven years, until 597 BC. It is written about Jehoiakim, saying, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Ki 23:37). Toward the end of Jehoiakim’s reign, God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Judah (2 Ki 24:1-5), and Jehoiakim died (2 Ki 24:6a), “and Jehoiachin his son became king in his place” (2Ki 24:6b). Jehoiachin was eighteen when he became king and he reigned only three months (2 Ki 24:8). The record of his life was, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father had done” (2 Ki 24:9). Nebuchadnezzar eventually laid siege against Judah, and Jehoiachin surrendered himself and went into Babylonian captivity (2 Ki 24:10-15). Nebuchadnezzar then made Zedekiah king in Judah, where he reigned for eleven years (2 Ki 24:17-18). The record of Zedekiah was, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done (2 Ki 24:19). Zedekiah was deposed in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege against Jerusalem (2 Ki 25:1-6). After capturing Zedekiah, he was taken to Riblah, and there “They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon” (2 Ki 25:7).

[2] Judah’s national instability continued for several years as the Babylonians rose to power under the leadership of Nabopolassar, who defeated the Assyrians in 612 BC, and then his son, Nebuchadnezzar, who defeated the Egyptians in 605 BC at the Battle of Carchemish. Judah became a vassal state under the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, who took many captives to ensure their loyalty. Daniel was among the captives (Dan 1:1-6).

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, non-charismatic, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas.
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2 Responses to Improving Culture – An OT Example

  1. Pingback: Improving Culture – A NT Example | Thinking on Scripture

  2. Pingback: God Used Jonah to Change a Culture | Thinking on Scripture

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