2 Kings 22:1-10, 14-20; 23:1-3
Last week’s reading was a pretty straightforward allegory about growing good grapes and God’s faithful people as it explained itself as to its meaning. You may have noticed, this week’s story is a bit different and not nearly so straightforward. It takes some digging into the history to pick up what’s going on.
Let’s start with the main character in the story, that’s Josiah. This is a story that starts about 350 years after King David and Josiah is in King David’s line of kings. Josiah turns out to have an interesting life, becoming king of Judah at the age of 8. That’d be a surprise, wouldn’t it? What were you doing when you were 8 years old? Most of what I remember about being 8 years old is centered around Tonka trucks and my St Bernard.
The other character of note is Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh. Just as a side note, Josiah’s dad was Amon but he was only king for two years and didn’t do or accomplish much so he doesn’t get much in the way of commentary here in the Bible. Manasseh, on the other hand, was the king for 55 years prior to Amon and he was a true piece of work.
A few weeks back on All Saints Sunday we talked a bit about people struggling with following false Gods, like Baal. Manasseh had no struggle with this as king. He welcomed any and all deities to join in worship in the big Temple that Solomon built. He didn’t care who wanted to worship or what they wanted to worship. I won’t get into the fine details but suffice to say, all manner of revelry was going on in the house of the Lord. What was supposed to be God’s house had become a house of ill repute.
For a contemporary take on this, it would be akin to having the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster joining in our worship and using our worship center. While we are here worshipping God like we are right now. If you’re not familiar with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster it’s a church that claims to be a true religion though much of it looks like satire. They worship a deity made out of spaghetti and meatballs that has two eyes and can fly around. Adherents to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster refer to themselves as Pastafarians and they’re known for wearing colanders on their heads. Oh, ordination costs $34 and you can get that by clicking a link on their website. Wish I’d known that when I was in seminary. Would have been cheaper and a whole lot simpler.
So imagine this half of the congregation was wearing colanders on their heads and worshiping a pasta based deity that’s flying around while this half is singing Who Am I here in just a few minutes. Throw in a couple more deities with very different affects and you have a pretty good idea what the temple is like under King Manasseh. Oh, there was partying and carrying on happening as well. Not only did King Manasseh allow it, he encouraged it. He was a very bad king.
Enter his grandson, Josiah. The spirit of the Lord was on Josiah and so he was a faithful kind of person. He didn’t enact any big ideas when he first became king as he was just 8 years old and more concerned with his toys and his pet dog. But as he became an adult, most scholars agree around age 26 or so, he began making some changes. He sent his people into the temple to find the money that had been given to the temple and cleared it out to start restoring it to its earlier purpose.
Even better, when they started restoring the temple they ran across a scroll they referred to as the book of the law. They’d found God’s word to and for them! We’d call it the Old Testament or more accurately, likely part of the book, an ancient edition, of Deuteronomy. One way or the other, they found God’s word, something they could hold on to and experience and thus began a tremendous faith reformation of the people in Josiah’s world.
There’s a new king in town and some changes are about to happen.
They stepped away from the worship of any and all God’s and they started anew living according to God’s word. It’s pretty amazing what can happen when God’s word shows up. Things are a mess for anyone of faith thanks to Manasseh but one person with the Spirit of the Lord gets things turned around.
That’s a good thing for the people. God has lined out in God’s word how we are to live together. Some of the specifics get a little complicated but there are some basic steps we can take as people of God to ensure each of us lives a good life. That’s what the prophetess Hulda was talking about. Follow God’s word and live well. Don’t follow God’s word and die. I don’t believe God created the rules so we could fail and a wrathful God can smite us but instead because living by God’s rules is a good way to live. Take the Ten Commandments, for example. Pretty simple and pretty straightforward. If we lived our lives by loving God, taking a Sabbath every week, and loving others without murder, lying, or stealing. It’d be a pretty good world, wouldn’t it?
Having God’s word to follow gives the people a path to follow out of their divided loyalties. Rather than following any and all gods who show up, they now can reform their faith and focus on the one, true God. The true God who has forgiven our sins and promises eternal life.