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The king of repentance

Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king 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 perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

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 Kings 23:1-3, 25


Josiah cleaned house. Following generations of wicked king after wicked king, his discovery of the law and how far Judah had strayed broke him. He had the law read to the entire community, and under his leadership they repented. He spends the rest of the book destroying the host of idols, priests, and worship practices that had arisen as substitutes for living in the boundaries of God's covenant.

One of the surprising aspects of the story for me (though notsomuch when I consider present-day realities, internal and external) is that the substitutes for God were everywhere—in fact, a huge chunk of them were housed in the temple. Idols to multiple gods, male cult prostitutes, horses dedicated to the sun, altars—you name it, it was in there. That's a brutally honest picture: so many of us would never dare to outright depose God, but we are quite willing to raise up other substitutes alongside and above Him. As long as we make mention of Him, we imagine our worship and our substitutes can coexist.

Josiah didn't just tear things down, however. His repentence is rooted in remembering:
And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.

—2 Kings 23:21-23
One of the major truths our church has been learning to engage is that salvation precedes obedience. The Passover is God's reminder to His people that He chose them and He delivered them. It is a past which roots their faith and promises a future which gives great hope. Judah had not only disobeyed, they had forgotten their story, God's story. They had forgotten who they were.

I'm not just writing academically here. As I do, unfortunately, in other relationships, I repeatedly act like a jerk in my relationship with God, then wonder why I feel like garbage. The truth that changes me (and promises to change me over and over again) isn't that I need to do something (though it does call for a response and lead to action). The truth that changes me is who God has declared me to be—that He has chosen me and delivered me. Things just stop working when I try to live a story other than this one, and thank God for that grace. It's starting to sink in.

Comments

...the substitutes for God were everywhere—in fact, a huge chunk of them were housed in the temple.

This same thing came to my attention in Ezekiel this morning. Yikes. They were (as we are) so bold in their idolatry.