Who was the greatest king in the Old Testament? David? Solomon? Nope, it was Josiah. It’s not my opinion; you can read the pronouncement for yourself:
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 23:25
He certainly seems to have earned the title. Crowned king as an eight year old boy (2 Kings 22:1), he repaired the temple which led to the rediscovery of the Book of the Law (22:8). Josiah is cut to the quick when he hears the words of the law. A prophetess is consulted who gives the message that Judah will be destroyed, but since Josiah was penitent, it won’t happen in his lifetime (22:19).
Most of chapter 23 tells of the aggressive reforms Josiah undertook, seeking to cleanse Judah from idolatry and heresy. They even kept the Passover for the first time since before Saul was made king (23:22). By almost any measure, it seems Josiah did all that a king could do in order to turn Judah around and avert God’s wrath. Yet, right on the heels of the pronouncement of how great he was that we read above, we find this:
Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah…
2 Kings 23:26
What are we to do with that? It certainly cuts against the grain of the way we like to think of God. It is not the way it is supposed to work.
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
It says slow to anger, not that he never will. The Lord tolerated lots of nonsense from Israel and Judah before allowing them to be overrun by the Gentiles. (Nearly 400 years of nonsense, in fact.)
There are a few lessons we can draw from Josiah. First, the Psalms tells us where to place our hope and where not to.
Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
Josiah was a great king. Oh that we would see such a leader today in our country—in any country. But leaders can only do so much. Leaders also need followers in order to be effective. We don’t have much evidence that Judah shared Josiah’s penitent heart.
Second, and more importantly, God is a God of justice and judgement. Yes, he is a God of love and mercy, but that is not the whole picture. He isn’t some apathetic homeroom teacher who will let us do whatever we want as long as we don’t burn the school down. We either forget or neglect that too often.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries….“Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hebrews 10:26-27, 30-31
Too often I find myself living like I have a blank check from Jesus to cover all my sins. The Scriptures tell us a different story. More penitence and less presumption are what I need.