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Reviews | Josiah and his Children

Josiah and his Children

Stephen Palmer

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

179 pages

Josiah and his Children

The Christadelphian review (from August 2008)

Lessons for families

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

BROTHER Stephen Palmer powerfully demonstrates the truth of Paul’s words to Timothy in his recently published book on Josiah and his family. Subtitled “Lessons for the last generation”, this very readable book of 179 pages considers the Bible records of Josiah and his sons and brings out exhortation for ecclesial life for believers who, like Josiah and his family, live in the shadow of God’s impending judgements.

The reader is frequently challenged to consider lessons arising from Josiah and his family and how they might influence their views in relation to modern issues. Among these are comments on how we should respond to the development of a separate youth culture, the need to ensure that sound interpretation of scripture is not unduly influenced by modern social trends, issues relating to clothing and the dangers of ecumenism. There are also some valuable, if incidental, comments on the importance of verbal inspiration and the need for care when selecting a translation of the Bible.

Family life in the Lord

By addressing not just Josiah but also his family Brother Stephen is able to draw out lessons for family life in the Lord today. Although the title refers to his sons, attention is also given to Josiah’s parents and his grandfather, as well as to his network of colleagues and friends. Many readers will find these observations the most valuable aspect of the work.

Other readers will find the expositional aspects of the book of most interest. With careful attention to detail Brother Stephen traces events in Josiah’s life. Amongst other useful points, he makes a compelling case for two separate cleansings of the land. Brother Stephen is very thorough in his handling of the historical record but does not restrict himself to Kings and Chronicles. There are copious references to contemporary prophets – Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Among these is a fascinating comparison between the response of Jehoiakim to God’s word and that of Nebuchadnezzar. Many students will particularly value these thoughtprovoking observations about events of the times and the colour they add to an appreciation of several well known passages from these prophets.

Judah did not reform

Josiah was clearly an impressive leader. Over the years some Bible commentators have romantically – even naively – portrayed his reformation as a model for reform in ecclesial life. While all would do well to emulate Josiah’s faithfulness and commitment, it must be recognised that Josiah’s reformation was largely ineffective because it was driven from the top and was not embraced by the average Israelite. (Incidentally, in this regard the author draws a parallel with the first century ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ which likewise was not embraced by the masses in Israel. In both cases judgement soon followed.) Brother Stephen shows how Jeremiah’s strident prophecies provide the necessary balance that ensures we correctly appreciate the impact of Josiah’s reformation, the challenges he faced and the lessons for today.

The expositional material is not restricted to books and prophecies from Josiah’s time. Not surprisingly in a study of Josiah’s life, attention is drawn to how the Law of Moses, in particular the book of Deuteronomy, motivated and informed Josiah’s actions. There is also an intriguing page suggesting how the experiences of Josiah might be seen through the prism of the book of Lamentations.

In relation to the New Testament, there are copious references to the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, including a chapter devoted to Josiah as a type of Christ. Brother Stephen suggests that several incidents in the Gospels reflect, may even have been informed by, the experiences of Josiah. Finally, a number of links are suggested between the Old Testament record of Josiah’s times and the issues addressed in the epistles.

Valuable sources

This book is drawn from articles which appeared in The Christadelphian from June 1994 to December 1995. Throughout the book Brother Stephen makes reference to other studies relating to these times which have been published in Christadelphian magazines in recent decades. There is much valuable material in these sources which are sometimes overlooked. Directing the reader’s attention to them encourages further study of these interesting times. It is hoped that other writers will follow this example.

The value of the book is enhanced by a scripture and subject index. It is commended heartily to all who wish to become more familiar with the declining days of Judah’s kingdom and, having recognised the parallels with our owns times, wish to prepare for the judgements that will soon accompany the return of our Master.

GEOFF HENSTOCK

The Testimony review (from January 2010)

Lessons for the last generation

ALL GODLY PARENTS hope and pray that their children will be baptized and join them in the walk to the Kingdom. Some accept the Truth in their teenage years seemingly without much difficulty. Others can take longer, like a seed that lies dormant a long time before it germinates, and may have to experience the shallowness of the world or reverses in their life before they turn to their God. And others simply reject their upbringing and follow a way that ignores the Almighty.

King Josiah, who was so highly commended by his Lord, might have expected that at least one of his three sons would “hear the instruction of [his] father, and forsake not the law of [his] mother”. But all three turned their backs on the example of their parents and proved to be unworthy kings over God’s nation. Brother Stephen Palmer’s book explores this last generation before the end of the nation and offers Scriptural advice and exhortation for us who live in the last generation before the coming of Christ.

The book is an expansion of a series of articles in the Christadelphian in 1994-95, but the reviewer remembers Brother Stephen giving Bible School talks on this theme at Nene College, Northampton, UK, in the 1980s. When those attending the school arrived, a topic of conversation was whether there had been a printing error in the programme. Was Brother Stephen going to talk about the last or the lost generation? In practice it did not matter, for that generation was both last and, sadly, mostly lost.

Josiah’s righteous reign

Beginning with a useful overview and chronology of the time, the author discusses the scriptures that say that there was no king before or since like Josiah, a commendation also given to King Hezekiah. How can both be true? He suggests, rightly in the reviewer’s opinion, that they both showed superlative qualities, though of a different kind: Hezekiah his great faith, and Josiah the wholesale way he responded to the Word of God.

After a chapter about Josiah’s grandfather, the wicked Manasseh, and a fine exposition of the qualities of the Divine Name of Exodus 34:6,7, Brother Stephen considers Josiah in his youth, in the chapter entitled, “Time of decision for a teenager”. Several people influenced Josiah: Manasseh (his reformed grandfather), Jedidah his mother, Zephaniah the prophet (probably his cousin), Jeremiah the prophet, Ahikam the son of the scribe, Huldah the prophetess and Shallum her husband.

This chapter, and the next, where the expressions “the way of David” and “man of God” are expounded, are gripping. Brother Stephen uses his concordances thoughtfully, and is able to make cross-connections between distant and apparently quite different parts of Scripture. One of the joys of either listening to him speak or reading his articles is his ability to open up the Word and to stimulate our imaginations so that the Word is more memorable to us and therefore more helpful in our daily lives.

A keynote event of the life of Josiah was his cleansing of Jerusalem and Israel from the idols that remained from Manasseh’s and Amon’s reigns. This work was carried out over six years, and was begun when Josiah was only twenty years old. “This was a complete destruction. He pulled down the idols, broke them apart and then pulverised them. Never again would they be used for worship. It could not have been an easy task. How did they grind the images to powder? It probably took longer to do that than to make them in the first place! But it was what Moses had done at Sinai” (pages 37-38).

The author draws out the exhortation for us in the twenty-first century: “He ground them to powder. It is no good us merely shifting them out of central focus. Human nature is such that when opportunity comes we will put them right back. We have to deal with our idols ruthlessly: ‘If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out’. This is what is going to happen anyway when the kingdom of men and all that is associated with it is destroyed by the stone power of the Kingdom of God as described in Daniel 2. Far better for us to deal the death blow to idolatry in our lives now than share the fate of the image of the kingdom of men, when Christ returns” (page 44).

The Book of the Law is discovered

The other keynote event in Josiah’s life was the discovery of the Word of God in the treasury of the temple. Copies of the Law of Moses must have been lost for some considerable time, but Brother Stephen suggests that it was also lost in another way. Jeremiah 8:8,9 implies that the scribes in Josiah’s day were falsifying the Law, and Brother Stephen points out that today the same thing is going on. Doctrinally biased translations and paraphrases of the Bible abound, and he gives examples from the Living Bible, The Good News Bible and the NIV. We need to exercise care and discretion in our use of such translations, so that the Word of God is not lost to us.

But the copy of the Law found by Hilkiah may well have been the original one in the handwriting of Moses the man of God. We too can ‘lose’ the Word of God, even though copies of it abound, and exhortations from the teachings of Jesus are made powerfully by the author. But the reaction of Josiah to the reading of the book of the Law “is one which we all must cultivate. In our children we need to develop a respect for the Word at the youngest age … It is a precious thing which in many parts of the world is in very short supply. When we sit down to do the readings we need an atmosphere of calm and seriousness, not casualness or flippancy. We need to read prayerfully, conscious that we are reading the words of the Creator of heaven and earth” (page 64).

In this chapter, called “Personal discovery of the Word is essential”, the author makes a lovely point from the response of Huldah the prophetess to Josiah’s query: “Tell the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the LORD …” (2 Kgs. 22:15,16). Brother Stephen asks a question: “Why did she call Josiah ‘the man’ and not ‘the king’ as she does later (verse 18)?”. He suggests that the answer lies in Deuteronomy 17, where verse 12 twice refers to ‘the man’, immediately followed by the prediction that Israel would ask for a king, who, God said, was to write out a copy of the Law and read therein all the days of his life. Perhaps Josiah did write out his personal copy of the Law as a result of Huldah’s message.

In the second cleansing of the temple, in 2 Kings 23:4, Josiah commanded that vessels made for Baal worship should be burned in the Kidron valley, and the author develops a nice exhortation from these and other acts of purging. Perhaps the third feature of Josiah’s reign was the great Passover held in his eighteenth year. Every detail of the Law was observed, not in a pharisaical way but “with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to the law of Moses” (verse 25). He encouraged the priests and the Levites (2 Chronicles 35:2-4) so that all Israel were taught in the Word of God. Good exhortation is made here for us in our ecclesias to encourage one another in our knowledge of the Word of God.

The author goes on to a lovely chapter about Josiah as a type of Christ, and gives a useful table of comparison on page 115. Jeremiah 22:16 says of Josiah that he “judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know Me? saith the LORD”. Brother Stephen develops this as an exhortation on ‘knowing God’, and makes links with Jeremiah 9 and the spirit of Christ as defined in the First Letter of John: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (4:8).

Josiah’s sons become king

After the death of Josiah, his sons came to the throne in turn. They chose evil, and the curses of the newly found book of Deuteronomy came upon them. “Here are powerful lessons for our generation. Our young people today are under greater pressure than ever before to conform to a world heading swiftly towards judgement. It may seem at times that ecclesial decay is an inevitable part of this trend. But it need not be so … a faithful remnant did survive, their characters developed in the maelstrom of that society. The same can be true today. But there are also serious warnings. Josiah was a faithful and impressive role model for his sons, surely, and yet each of them turned against the example their father had set. There was no inheriting of his faith, and Josiah’s sons were not to be saved because of who their father was. And the same will be true at the judgement seat of Christ. Our children who have reached the age of responsibility will have to give account personally for the way they have chosen to respond to the influences bearing upon them” (page 117).

The first of Josiah’s children to ascend to the throne was Jehoahaz, and in his short reign of three months he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD. Brother Stephen suggests that something that may have contributed to this was the clothes that he wore in rebellion against God (Zephaniah 1:8), and he develops his argument. Jehoiakim ruled for eleven years and was evil in God’s sight, for reasons a lot clearer than those for his older brother. Jeremiah rebukes him for corruptly taking money and living in a sumptuous palace (22:13,14). His attitude to the Word of God was wrong (verse 21), and he was the king who cut up with his penknife the scroll containing Jeremiah’s prophecy from God and threw the pieces into a fire (chapter 36).

Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim and therefore Josiah’s grandson, would have had memories of Josiah up to the age of seven. The author offers clues from Scripture that may tell us why he did evil in God’s sight, reigning for only three months. Zedekiah reigned eleven years and was Josiah’s third son. He seemed to have been a compromiser, whose interest in the things of God was secretive. He broke the covenant he had made with the king of Babylon and suffered the consequences of Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath. Brother Stephen brings together many interesting passages from Jeremiah’s prophecy in discussing this last “profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day [had] come”.

Lessons for the last generation awaiting Christ’s coming

Conditions in Jesus’ day were no different from, and indeed worse than, the last generation of Josiah’s sons. The nation was in a “hopeless and spiritually terminal condition”. It was the false prophets who were largely to blame for this; and, sadly, we too are surrounded by false prophets who would take us away from the faith once delivered to the saints. How important it is for us all to understand from the Scriptures the things which we believe, which separate us from false Christianity!

The author makes some powerful exhortations for us to hold fast to the Truth and not to be swayed by the “lightness” (Jeremiah 23:32) of the false prophets. Their words were effervescent, just bubbles and not the real substance of the Word, but the bubbles were more immediately attractive to the people. And so the last chapter, “Shall we learn the lessons?”, brings things home to ourselves. Will we follow the examples of Josiah’s sons, or will we, like Josiah, tremble at God’s Word and apply it in our lives? Shall we be like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who lived at the same time but followed the better way? Brother Stephen’s book is highly commended to our Brotherhood and young people, in order that we might be “accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36).

JOHN NICHOLLS

(Originally published in the January 2010 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 434-436), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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