“Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal,” 2 Kings 23:26.
There are many Christians who today believe that the consequences of the tide of iniquity that is swamping the nations can be averted if we seek for revival and reformation.
Such a notion flies in the face of the warnings and prophecies of God’s Word that clearly predicts that terrible times, ‘perilous times” (2 Timothy 3:1) will come upon the earth, particularly our part of it, at the end of this age. This truth is illustrated by the text which I read this morning as part of today’s scheduled daily readings, set forth in McCheyne’s Bible Reading Calendar.
Clearly it is taught in this text that:
I. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN NO DEGREE OF REFORMATION WILL AVERT JUDGMENT
“Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath . . .” In other words, despite what Josiah had accomplished in Judah by way of reforms, the judgment of God was not turned away from the kingdom.
1. It must be understood that the reforms of Josiah were likely unparalleled in the history of the kingdom. We have God’s Word for that. The whole chapter endorses this truth. The verse just prior to our text says: “And like unto him was there no king before him, that 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; neither after him arose there any like him.”
Yet such accomplishments did not deflect God from His purpose in Judgment.
There are lessons here for the people of God today, unpalatably lessons as far as many are concerned.
2. Josiah was most earnest in his reforms. “And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. And the king stood by a 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 their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant,” verses 2-3. He made sure to involve the people in the reformation.
3. Josiah spared nothing that was offensive to God. Note the repeated phrase, “whom the kings of Judah”, verses 5, 11, 12. He did not spare that which his own father, Manasseh, had instigated, verse 12. Nor did his regard for the greatness of king Solomon deter him from destroying that which he had made in defiance of God’s truth. “And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile,” verse 13.
No position occupied by those who have done wrong or the loving regard we may have for them, should dissuade us from obeying the Lord.
4. Josiah carried out his reforms to the fullest degree. The word employed by God to describe His actions are most expressive. “Burned”, “put down the idolatrous priests”, “stamped it small to powder”, “brake down”, “defiled”, “beat down and brake”, “he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars”. These expressions are a clear indication of the extent and the depths of Josiah’s reformation.
5. Josiah’s reformation spread beyond his borders. This is a measure of his zeal for the
Lord. Note the reference to “Bethel”, verse 15 and “Samaria” verse 19. These are locations in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel but such was Josiah’s zeal that he observed no borders or conventions of men as he sought to obey the Lord.
II. GREAT REFORMS ARE POSSIBLE, EVEN IN DAYS OF GREAT WICKEDNESS
This is something we would emphasise. Nothing of the circumstances that surround us should hinder us from doing right and obey God Word. As Paul said to Timothy: “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them,” 2 Timothy 3:13-14. Yes, not even the threat of persecution by wicked men should stop us. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” 2 Timothy 3:12.
The Lord has ever delighted to manifest His mercy and His grace amidst the wickedness of men. It happened at the cross with the conversion of the crucified repentant thief and the Roman centurion, Luke 23:42-43, 47.
Paul underscores this truth in (Romans 5:20. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
It abounded in the Garden of Eden following the immeasurable wickedness of Adam and Eve. That pattern has featured throughout the Lord’s dealings with men.
III. NO MATTER WHAT WE CAN SAY ABOUT THE LOFTINESS OF JOSIAH’S REFORMATION, IT DID NOT PREVENT GOD’S JUDGMENT ON JUDAH
Without a doubt, the obedience of Josiah impacted his life. “Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD. Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again,” 2 Kings 22:19-20. But it must be noted that God’s sparing mercy went no further than Josiah. It was about BC 631 when Josiah repented upon hearing God’s Word read to him, 2 Kings 22:3, 11-13. He was killed when he foolishly went to battle against the king of Egypt, 29:29. That was about BC 610. In BC 588, Jerusalem was defeated and destroyed by the armies of Nebuchaddnezzar, king of Babylon, just a generation after the great reformation Josiah had instituted and to a large degree had carried forward.
IV. THE OVERRIDING FACTOR IN THIS WHOLE SAGA WAS THE FACT THAT JUDAH HAD CROSSED A LINE IN ITS DEFIANCE OF GOD
I think we may say that the nation, under Manasseh, had committed the ‘unpardonable sin’!
The wonderful thing is that Manasseh as an individual obtained salvation and deliverance from the consequences of his awful sins for he repented before God.
“And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken. Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God,” 2 Chronicles 33:10-13.
The genuineness of Manasseh’s conversion may be seen in the actions he engaged in immediately after his profession of faith.
“Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah. And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel,” 2 Chronicles 33:14-16.
However, his example and commands had little impact upon Judah. “Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the LORD their God only,” verse 17.
Even in the midst of the days of blessing which attended Josiah’s godly actions, there was, in truth, little genuine obedience amongst the people. “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD,” Jeremiah 3:10. Jeremiah was the chief prophet during the days of reform under Josiah. This is clear from Jeremiah 1:2. He declares God’s denunciation of the sham repentance of the people in the days of Josiah’s reformation. Herein is the reason for the judgment that fell upon the land shortly after Josiah’s death.
An example of the shallowness of the impact upon the general public was seen in the sons of Josiah. They were most wicked indeed. They showed none of their father’s grace.
“And his servants carried him (Josiah) in a chariot dead from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulchre. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s stead. Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign; and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done,” 2 Kings 23:30-32. The same is said of his bother, Eliakim, also known as Jehoiakim. “And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done,” verse 36. The grandson of Josiah, Jehoiachin, was the last king of Judah before its captivity. He too was wicked.
“Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. And his mother’s name was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father had done,” 2 Kings 24:8-9.
Despite what the land had enjoyed for a season under Josiah there was no real departure from rebellion and it soon returned to full apostasy from the Lord.
It is sadly tragic that a similar parallel pattern may be seen in recent events in our land.
Another chapter I read today was Joel chapter 2. I can recall, at this time of the year in 1964, Dr Paisley preaching on this chapter. The message had a powerful impact upon my life. Indeed, a week or so later, I resigned from Ulster Television and applied to the Presbytery to become a student for the gospel ministry. I began my studies in January 1965. I recall still the joy that filled my heart as I heard Dr Paisley expound the verses 17-20.
“Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people. Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen: but I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.”
He went on to apply the verses 23-29 as promises of an approaching season of blessing.
“Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”
Any who lived through those days will agree with me, I believe, that there did indeed come a wonderful visitation by God upon His people. There was for a time a great driving back of the dark influences of modernism and ecumenism, which had spread out from the churches given over to apostasy. The season of blessing was marked by the conversion of many hundreds and the separation from the dead churches of a like number. Many new Free Presbyterian congregations were formed in those days.
BUT IT DID NOT LAST!
We have gone back as a people from the stand and witness of those blessed days!
Today, the Free Presbyterian Church has within its ranks ministers and elders who defy God and stubbornly cling to that organisation, the Democratic Unionist Party, which increasingly embraces and promotes the vilest of today’s sins – SODOMY!
They have refused to obey God and condemn as the Lord would have them condemn, that which He hates! Condemnation which does not utterly repudiate and separate from all that is contaminated by such sin is no condemnation.
Every member of the DUP condones the party’s position on sodomy, position which is seen in its administration of funds to sodomite organisations in the past, its endorsing of a sodomite as a councillor on the Newtownabbey Council and it open support for the perversions of the that group that operates under the heading of LGBT+.
It is little wonder that the party is in utter disarray and facing political ruin as it stumbles from one failure to another.
All too many Free Presbyterians have been all too ready to ignore this situation and to meekly acquiesce in this evil thing.
It is for this reason that the blessed events of the 60s and 70s will have no lasting impact upon the fate of Ulster. We can say, as was said in the wake of Josiah’s reformation: “Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal.”
What opportunities of mercy and visitations of mercy men squander because of pride, unbelief and disobedience!
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
10th November 2022