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The Cycle of Sin

Josiah, 2nd Chronicles 34ff

Breaking the Cycle of Sin

My Bible School classes have always been marked by the fact that there is a wide spread of ages in them. I came within about six months of having five generations -- mothers and daughters -- in my class at one time. The first four of those generations showed how mother taught daughter to rebel against mother.

Many of us have seen the same thing: “like father, like son.” One generation is evil; the evil is passed on to the children. Many of us are convinced that there is no hope for such a situation -- because we are in it. Today we will see how the cycle of sin is broken. To see how this can be, we need to look first at the immediate ancestors of Josiah:

·         His great grandfather was one of the truly great kings of Judah - Hezekiah. This was a man whose reign was a high point in devotion to the things of God. Unfortunately, he was unable to pass on his devotion to his son.

·         Manasseh, his son, was a very evil man. It was not until the Assyrians had come, captured him and led him off with a hook in his nose and bronze shackles on his wrists. There, in prison, he humbled himself before God. God heard his prayer and restored him to Jerusalem. Perhaps his teaching was the influence that Josiah heeded.

·         His son, Amon, certainly wasn’t that influence. In a rarity for the kings of Judah, he was assassinated after only two years of rule, when Josiah was eight years old.

Let’s look, then, at how Josiah overcame his father’s example. This is easiest to see in chronological form:

·         At eight years of age, he becomes king. We can imagine that some of his grandfather’s advisers (remember, dad was assassinated) were influential here.

·         At 16, he begins to seek God in earnest.

·         At 20, showing that this was not an overnight conversion but a serious change of lifestyle, he begins to clean up the land. How bad were things? Here’s the account in Kings:

{4} The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel. {5} He did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem--those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. {6} He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the LORD to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. {7} He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the temple of the LORD and where women did weaving for Asherah. {8} Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the shrines at the gates--at the entrance to the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which is on the left of the city gate. {9} Although the priests of the high places did not serve at the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, they ate unleavened bread with their fellow priests. {10} He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech. {11} He removed from the entrance to the temple of the LORD the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melech. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun. {12} He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the LORD. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley. {13} The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption--the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the people of Ammon. {14} Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones. {15} Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin--even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also. {16} Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things. {17} The king asked, "What is that tombstone I see?" The men of the city said, "It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it." {18} "Leave it alone," he said. "Don't let anyone disturb his bones." So they spared his bones and those of the prophet who had come from Samaria. {19} Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed and defiled all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria that had provoked the LORD to anger. {20} Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem. -- 2 Kings 23:4-20 (NIV)

For reference, the prophecy in question was made about 641 BC - and Josiah’s reign started about 975 BC, more than 300 years later.

{13:1} By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. {2} He cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD: "O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: 'A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.'" {3} That same day the man of God gave a sign: "This is the sign the LORD has declared: The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out." {4} When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, "Seize him!" But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back. {5} Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD. {6} Then the king said to the man of God, "Intercede with the LORD your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored." So the man of God interceded with the LORD, and the king's hand was restored and became as it was before. -- 1 Kings 13:1-6 (NIV)

You must imagine it this way: picture what had happened to, say, the Eastside Christian Church building:

·         There’s a Hindu goddess sculpture right under the baptistery.

·         For those who are devotees of the local sex and fertility cult, we have male prostitutes on the premises (complete with priestesses for slow business nights).

·         We even have an abortion clinic available on the premises.

Do you see the picture? It’s one of a “tolerant” nation. We let you worship anybody, anywhere. Josiah sees it differently. Indeed, he comes across to us like one of those who burned witches in Salem -- rigidly intolerant. What’s the matter with the man?

Look at it this way: suppose a friend of yours, one well known from childhood, decided to sell you out. Times are tough; there are conquerors in the land; and for a sum of money he tells the invaders where you are hiding. How do you feel about that traitor?

That’s precisely what a witch is. Satan is out to devour you, heart and soul. He is the enemy of the human race. A witch is one who has sold herself out to our enemy. Josiah saw the priests of these strange gods as those who had sold themselves out, spitting contempt for the Living God. Is it any wonder he treated them as we would treat a Quisling?

Josiah’s next step is to clean up and rebuild the temple, at age 26. In doing this, he makes the most important discovery of his life: he finds the Law of Moses.

Finding the Law

Pre-eminence of Scripture

We must remember that written copies of the Scriptures were rare -- and probably kept “in a safe place.” No doubt the copy given to Josiah was from his great grandfather’s time. Its effect on Josiah is like a thunderbolt. It is yet another example of why we need to read the Scriptures. Men need not so much to be instructed as reminded -- and God has provided for our reminders.

Just reading the Scripture is not adequate, however. Josiah’s conduct here shows two things:

·         Josiah is a man of purity. Purity is not the same thing as innocence. Innocence is ignorant of sin; purity is opposite sin. When Josiah hears the law, he tears his robes in distress.

·         Josiah sees quickly that key concept: the covenant relationship. Indeed, he will lead the people in renewing that covenant. The covenant relationship includes within the curses which will fall on the people if the covenant is not kept. He therefore inquires of the Lord -- what shall I do?

Seeking God’s Will

Note first that Josiah actively seeks out the will of God. He doesn’t wait for God to open the heavens and get his attention; he goes to someone who speaks with God. The answer at first seems curious: judgment is coming -- but will be withheld during your lifetime, because of your humbleness. Two key points here come out:

·         Josiah is a man “standing in the gap.” It is not the nation that has repented, but Josiah. Yet for his sake (the phrase rings with Sodom and Gomorrah) God is willing to delay judgment.

·         Judgment must come, however. God is not a man (remember Balaam?) whose mind changes with the wind. The covenant represents the unchanging nature of God.

Renewal of the Covenant

It is not sufficient for Josiah to drive out the evil; it must be replaced with the best. Josiah understands the principle of Spiritual Displacement -- best expressed by our Lord in a parable:

{43} "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. {44} Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. {45} Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation." -- Matthew 12:43-45 (NIV)

Passover Restored

Finally, Josiah crowns his renewal of the covenant by celebrating the Passover. The Scripture says this was the greatest Passover since the time of Samuel the prophet. This might seem odd -- Hezekiah, Josiah’s grandfather, threw a Passover with a lot more animals to be sacrificed -- but I think not. Remember the principle of the widow’s mite. The kingdom is much poorer than in those days; these sacrifices came from the livelihood of the people, not from their excess.

It is interesting that his spiritual high point is in ritual. We, as modern Americans, oppose ritual -- since all ritual must, by definition, be empty. This is a view that most people of most times would have found very strange. The human animal has as its highest form of communication the symbolic. They would see this as the ultimate form of commitment. Why do people hold wedding ceremonies anyway?

Josiah’s End

Sadly, Josiah’s life ends on a note of sin. The sin in question is one which is not usually a temptation to the inexperienced Christian -- but is deadly to the mature believer. At the end of his life he may have felt complacent with God -- and trusted his own judgment instead of asking. Because he has been so close to God, he seems to feel that his own judgment is somehow automatically ratified by God. The political situation is murky; Egypt is on the way to help one of Israel’s enemies at Carcemish. By stabbing the Egyptians from behind, he can defeat one enemy and cause the defeat of another. It doesn’t work; it is not from God. There are some lessons here:

·         How often do we “retroactively” consult God? “God, I’ve decided to get a new job / wife / house / car / whatever. Please bless my decision.”

·         Sometimes God speaks through unbelievers. Sometimes he speaks through those who are not nearly so “wise” as we are. Sometimes he speaks through children. He is always speaking; are we listening?

·         How often we meddle in the things of God! Sometimes for expediency, as Josiah did here; more often for love. Have you ever prayed, “O Lord, please don’t punish so-and-so for their sin, please let them off the hook?”

It is a sobering lesson, but one which needs be learned. The life of the Christian is not a sprint but a marathon -- and can be lost in the last few miles.

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