3 After Josiah had been king for eighteen years, he told Shaphan, one of his highest officials:
Go to the Lord’s temple 4 and ask Hilkiah the high priest to collect from the guards all the money that the people have donated. 5 Have Hilkiah give it to the men supervising the repairs to the temple. They can use some of the money to pay 6 the workers, and with the rest of it they can buy wood and stone for the repair work. 7 They are honest, so we won’t ask them to keep track of the money.
8 While Shaphan was at the temple, Hilkiah handed him a book and said, “Look what I found here in the temple—The Book of God’s Law.”
We’ve made it to the end of the book of Kings. One of the things we haven’t talked about yet is just how messed up the Israelites’ history has become. First the Israelites kept forgetting who God was. Then they wanted kings instead of God. Then the kings forgot that they were supposed to be leading the people towards God. Instead they set up shrines and altars to other gods. When God sent them prophets to remind them how to live, the kings sometimes responded positively. Unfortunately over the generations these ‘positive’ responses became fewer and fewer. More and more the kings decide to ignore or even punish the prophets.
Eventually Israel is split into two halves: the Northern Kingdom (called Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (called Judah). By the time of our story Israel has been carted away by the Syrians, and only Judah remains.
A new king comes to power in Judah. His name is Josiah, and he is just eight years old. His father was murdered by his officials – which is usually a pretty good sign that he wasn’t a great leader. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, if his son followed in his footsteps. But whether it was Josiah’s mother – Jedidah – or some other positive role model, Josiah seems to be cut from a very different cloth than his father.
Clean Up Begins
Among other things, Josiah eventually decides as a young man to do the work of repairing and cleaning up the temple. The building has fallen into disrepair under his father and other kings over the years, and a lot of work is necessary to restore it.
At one point, Josiah sends a high official over to see how the work is going and make sure that the money is getting to the workers and the craftsman and suppliers that they need. While he’s there he speaks to the high priest, Hilkiah, who has made an unexpected discovery.
Buried somewhere in the temple, Hilkiah’s workers have discovered an ancient scroll. It’s ‘God’s Book of the Law’ – forgotten for who knows how many generations. It contains the rules for how the Israelites are meant to live.
How long has it been since this scroll was read? How many years have gone by since a king had heard its contents? We don’t know, but we do know that Hilkiah takes a risk and sends it off to the king. And we know that Josiah’s immediate response is for his high official read it out to him.
We’re told that when Josiah hears the words of God’s Book of the Law he tears his clothes in grief and starts to cry. Here is a man who is trying to live according to God’s ways, and all of a sudden realizes just how far off he is. So he calls in the high priest and his top officials and sends them off to ‘find out from God’ what is left for them to do.
The officials go and find a woman named Huldah who is a prophet. Before they even open their mouths to ask their question, they get their response. Judah is also destined to be captured and destroyed. However, Josiah’s response has been seen. Huldah tells the officials that the destruction won’t happen until after Josiah has died.
Speaking Truth to Power
I can’t help but be struck as I read this story that it could have all gone very differently. Hilkiah’s position as high priest in Judah at the time is still on fairly unstable ground. Let’s face it – Josiah follows a long line of kings that have shown very little respect or interest in following God.
I notice that Hilkiah didn’t bring the scroll over to the palace when it was first found. I wonder whether he had even meant to send it over to begin with? Had he taken time to read what it said? Had he sat and wondered what his chances were if he gave the document over to the king? Did he wonder whether or not the king would even read it? Did he worry that his own life would be at risk for revealing it? Was there a moment in his office where Josiah’s servant saw the old scroll and asked about it, forcing his hand?
I don’t know, but I do know this: because of Hilkiah’s bravery, God’s promises and God’s ways of living are rediscovered by Josiah and by the people. I know that because of it we are told that “no other king before or after Josiah tried as hard as he did to obey the Law of Moses.” (2 Kings 23:25)
In other words, Hilkiah’s courage gives Josiah the opportunity to serve God to the best of his ability.
- Who do you most relate to in this story? The official sent on an errand, hoping not to get hurt in the cross-fire? The high priest with a truth to tell? Or the king who has to decide how to respond to a newly discovered truth?
- Are you feeling brave, uncertain or determined?
- What decision will give you and those around you the best chance at serving God to the best of your/their abilities?
This summer we are looking at ‘stories you missed’ in the Bible. Feel free to check out the other stories in the series here.