How do we respond when we are confronted with the word of God?
That’s an interesting question. Ideally, when we hear a word from the Lord we embrace that word, and strive to live into the truth revealed in that word. Yet, that’s often easier said than done. If the word is just calling us deeper into faith, then it may not be difficult to embrace. But, if that word runs counter to the way we’ve been living, do we have the courage to change our lives.
Two examples of responding to truth can be seen in the lives of Josiah and his son Jehoiakim, and it’s hard to believe that they could have responding in more opposite ways.
Many of us know the story of Josiah. Josiah takes over the throne when he is just eight years old. His father was a wicked king, so wicked that he reigned for only two years before his own servants conspired against him. Josiah’s grandfather was Manasseh, and although he reigned for over fifty years, he too was wicked and abandoned the ways of the Lord. Yet, despite Josiah’s youth, he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and pointed the nation to God. He started making reforms; getting rid of the high places and the altars to false gods. During his reign, while they are cleaning out the Temple, somehow they find the book of the Law, which was probably Deuteronomy. Somehow Deuteronomy had been lost for generations. Perhaps it’s been awhile since you read Deuteronomy, but it’s a pretty important book, detailing the law for the Old Testament. Somehow Deuteronomy has been lost, but now the priests have found it, and once they realize what it is they get nervous because they recognize they have not been following God’s law. They begin to wonder, what should we do?
They decide they need to tell Josiah what they’ve found (imagine that conversation). They get Josiah to sit down and they read him the book of the Law. Josiah immediately tears his clothes, repents on the spot, and calls for the prophetess Huldah to see if there is anyway to stop the impending disaster. He calls a community fast, renews the covenant, and challenges the nation to follow the law of God. This would be hard because they have to change so many things that they were doing, complete lifestyle changes to conform to God’s will, but they accept the call. Josiah sees what needs to be done and he boldly calls the community to 100% discipleship.
Jehoiakim’s story is not as well-known. Jehoiakim takes over after the death of Josiah, and leads the people for eleven years until the Babylonians finally come in and send them to exile. During the reign of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah is one of the prophets. God tells Jeremiah to get a scribe and write down all of the prophecies that he’s said since he began as a prophet. After it’s all written down, Jeremiah then sends his friend Baruch to the Temple, and he says, stand in the Temple courts and read this scroll which contains the word of the Lord. When Baruch does this, some of the palace administrators are there, and they get worried because the nation is clearly not living right. The palace administrators ask to borrow the scroll, and they take it to Jehoiakim and read to him the words of the Lord. Some of these administrators probably remembered Josiah’s response, perhaps they were even there, and they are hoping for a similar result, but Jehoiakim responds differently. When Jehoiakim hears the word of the Lord, after every paragraph is read he takes a knife and cuts that paragraph out of the scroll and burns the paper in the fire. When Josiah hears the word of the Lord, he not only repents, but he calls the nation to repentance: we will serve the Lord. When Jehoiakim hears the word of the Lord, he burns it because he has no desire to change, and the nation ends up in exile.
The obvious question becomes will we be more like Josiah or Jehoiakim? When we are confronted with truth, especially truth that challenges us to change, will we repent and embrace the truth, or will we ignore the truth?
Change is not easy. It takes hard work, and often is only accomplished through pain. Yet, in the call to faithfulness, we must be willing to embrace the truth; molding our lives to conform to the truth revealed in Jesus.