Redemption, Not Reform.
2 Kings 23-24, Ephesians 2
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV
Josiah made a herculean effort to restore and reform the nation of Judah to a right relationship with God. Convicted by what he had read in the book of the Law, he began a series of sweeping reforms, all based on a renewed covenant with God pledging 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” (2 Kings 23:3 ESV). And all the people vowed to join him in keeping the covenant. Josiah then began an aggressive and sweeping purging campaign, removing all the vestiges of idol worship from the land. And he had his work cut out for him. The kings of Judah had left a staggering number of idols, high places, altars and shrines to their false gods. Many of them were in the temple itself. There were cult prostitutes actually living in the temple. There were mediums, necromancers and household gods everywhere. There were altars and high places dedicated to a wide range of gods, including Baal, Molech, Ashtoreth, and more. It seems that everywhere he turned, there were shrines, altars, and idols erected to just about every false god imaginable. He even went so far as to remove the false gods erected by Jeroboam in Bethel. In other words, Josiah took pains to enter the land of Israel, which had already fallen to the Assyrians, and he removed the vestiges of idol worship that had led to their downfall. Josiah was thorough in his efforts. He even reinstituted the Passover, which had not been practiced since the time of the Judges. But all his efforts at reform did nothing to assuage the anger of God. It was too little, too late. “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 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
God knew the hearts of His people. He knew that these reforms, in spite of all of Josiah’s efforts, were merely external changes. Not long after Josiah’s death, the wickedness would resurface and the idolatry would continue as before. Josiah’s own son, Jehoahaz, “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:32 ESV). God knew that all the external reforms in the world would not change their hearts. They were addicted to sin and incapable of changing their behavior. The reading of the book of the Law may have convicted them, but it could not transform them. They could remove all the idols, altars, high places, and shrines from the land, but they couldn’t remove the idolatry from their own hearts. The fall of Jerusalem and the coming captivity of the people of Judah was necessary. It was all part of God’s divine plan. “Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done … and the Lord would not pardon” (2 KIngs 24:3-4 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about man?
Man is incapable of truly reforming himself. Any efforts we make at change are always limited and short-lived. Any attempts we make at transforming our behavior in order to comply with God’s righteous standards will always fall short, because we can’t change our hearts. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the condition of man’s heart and he didn’t paint a very pretty picture. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). Jesus Himself echoed these same thoughts when He said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23 ESV). Josiah meant well. He had every intention of reforming and restoring the land of Judah to faithfulness to God. He sincerely wanted to see every last idol removed and the people of God restored to a right relationship with Him. But God knew that nothing was really going to change. Their hearts were wicked. They didn’t truly love Him. He had warned them and pleaded with them to return to Him. He had sent His prophets over and over again, calling them to repentance, but they would not listen. They refused to change. Because they couldn’t. And God was not surprised.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Rather than stand back and criticize the Israelites for their stubbornness and stupidity, I must constantly remind myself that I am no different than they were. I would have done the same thing if I had been in their sandals. I would have proven to be just as unfaithful and disobedient. The Bible makes it clear that all men stand guilty before God. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good” (Psalm 53:1 ESV). “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV). Paul reminds me that even I was once “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is not at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2 ESV). Even those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, used to live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV). But here is the good news! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV). God showed us mercy and grace. He didn’t ask us to reform ourselves or correct our behavior before He would love us. He loved us while we were at our worst. He reconciled us to Himself through the death of His son, not through some form of self-reformation. We couldn’t have saved ourselves any more than the Jews of Josiah’s day could. There is a day coming when God will completely restore His people. He will reform their behavior, but He will do so by changing their hearts. He will do for them what they could never have done for themselves. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses” (Ezekiel 36:26-29 ESV).
Father, You are a faithful, loving, gracious God. When we couldn’t do anything to save ourselves, You stepped in and provided salvation for us through Your own Son’s death. You did for us what we could never have done for ourselves. And one day, You are going to do for the people of Israel what they have never been able to do on their own. You are going to complete restore, renew, and reform them, from the inside out. You will reconcile them to Yourself and make them a people after Your own heart. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men