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Prophet of Wisdom
Spring Quarter: Prophets Faithful To God’s Covenant
Unit 1: Faithful Prophets
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 21, 2021
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: 2 Kings 22:14-20
Key Verse: 2 Kings 22:19
- Identify the two major parts of Huldah’s prophetic message.
- Explain the key verse (2 Kings 22:19) in light of the text’s spiritual principles.
- Pray for our nation’s leaders that they will seek the common good, one leader each day for the next week.
The events recorded in this week’s scripture lesson took place in the days of Josiah, king of Judah (reigned 640-609 BC). He was a godly king known for his tireless efforts to purify Judah’s worship and the temple.
To understand this lesson, we need to know that during the years preceding Josiah’s rise to the throne, the kings of Judah had wavered between devotion to the Lord and idols. Josiah’s great grandfather Hezekiah (reigned 724-675 BC) had instituted a set of religious reforms in Judah that were intended to restore proper worship of the Lord (2 Chronicles 29-31). However, gross unfaithfulness to the God of Israel characterized the reign of Hezekiah’s son Manasseh (694-642 BC). He rebuilt pagan worship shrines that his father had destroyed. Manasseh encouraged worship of the Baals as well as that of the sun, moon, and stars (2 Kings 23:11). Manasseh went so far as to offer his son in child sacrifice and built pagan altars within the Lord’s temple itself. Toward the end of his reign, Manasseh repented of his sin (2 Chronicles 33:10-17). But his former evil contributed directly in Judah’s ultimate destruction and exile (example, 2 Kings 21:10-16; 23:26).
Then Josiah’s father, Amon (reigned 642-640 BC), returned to the idolatry that characterized the earlier years of Manasseh. King Amon was assassinated in a palace coup after a two-year reign, and the “people of the lord” made his 8-year-old son Josiah king in his place (2 Kings 21:19-26, 2 Chronicles 33:20-25).
Apparently, as a boy, Josiah was influenced by godly advisers among Judah’s aristocracy. Some are named in today’s text. Other godly contemporaries included well-known prophets. Zephaniah, a descendant of King Hezekiah, prophesied during the reign of Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry began in the thirteenth year of Josiah (Jeremiah 1:1-2), five years before the event of today’s lesson. The point is that their ministries were an impetus in Josiah’s reforms. The result was that when Josiah was 16 years old, “he began to seek the God of his father David” (2 Chronicles 34:3). And in the twelfth year of Josiah’s reign, he began to purge the land of pagan idols and shrines (2 Chronicles 34:3-7).
About six years later, King Josiah ordered a renovation of the temple. The temple was, for the Jewish people, the symbol, the very incarnation of religion. Thus, in restoring the temple, Josiah was seeking to restore the religion that was enshrined in it. And we would do well in the 21st
century to apply ourselves to a similar task, to the rebuilding of religion into the structure of our society.
But while in the process of renovating the temple, the Book of the Law was found within the temple. Scholars disagree regarding the exact identity of the book that was found. Some believe it was a copy of the entire Law of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch). Others believe it was only the book of Deuteronomy or some portion of it. Sometimes in the previous decades during the reign of wicked Manasseh and Amon, the Book of the Law had been lost and forgotten. Or perhaps, we are told that idolatrous priests intentionally “misplaced” it in order to hide the guilt of their own waywardness.
When Shaphan, the king’s secretary, reported to Josiah on the progress of the repair project and also alerted him to the discovery of the book, Josiah’s reaction was one of great distress to what he had read from that book (see 2 Kings 22:11). The book detailed the punishment Israel would suffer if the people failed to keep the covenant.
These curses would culminate in exile from the land (Deuteronomy 29:25-28). Realizing the guilt of Judah, Josiah sent a delegation to inquire of the Lord concerning the wrath that the king feared would soon be visited on him and his kingdom (II Kings 22:12-13). A description of the nature of that delegation is how today’s lesson scripture begins.
A Word Sought
2 Kings 22:14
At this point, we see the forming of a delegation. This is the first action taken as a result of King Josiah’s order in 2 Kings 22:12-13. King Josiah called “Hilkiah” the high priest, “Ahikam” son of the royal secretary, “Akbor” official in Josiah’s court, “Shaphan” the royal secretary and “Asaiah” the king’s attendant, to go and inquire of the Lord about what is written in this Book found in the temple concerning the king and the people of Judah.
Knowing that their ancestors had not obeyed the Book’s dictates and hence had brought the Book’s covenant curses upon themselves, Josiah is portrayed as one who is willing to seek the counsel of the prophets.
In this instance, the prophetic word comes from a previously unknown prophetess named Huldah. Huldah appears elsewhere only in the parallel account to this event in Chronicles 34:22-28. Nothing more is known about her except what is given in these two accounts. However, the delegation felt no hesitation in coming to Huldah.
Although female prophets in Israel were rarer than male prophets, Huldah’s role is not without precedent in the Old Testament. Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), and the unnamed wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3) precede her in being designated “prophet.”
A question for us is, where do we go for wisdom? When we face change, do we reinforce our negative thinking by consulting with cynics of like mind, or do we, like the delegation, seek wisdom from the Lord.
A Word for Jerusalem
2 Kings 22:15-17
Huldah confirms Josiah’s fears, pronouncing judgment upon Jerusalem and its inhabitants because they have been disloyal to God and have served idols. The anger of the Lord will be kindled against Jerusalem (“this place”) and its inhabitants (meaning the citizens of Judah), says Huldah, and it will not be quenched.
Huldah begins her response with the prophetic formula “this is what the Lord…says.” Her use of this phrase, which occurs more than 500 times in the Old Testament, marks her as a true prophet. Adding “the God of Israel” emphasized the Lord’s sovereignty over the nation and his relationship to it. God chose to associate himself with Israel specifically. And though this fact should have had implications for how the people behaved, it did not often play out in reality.
Huldah’s referring to King Josiah as “the man who sent you to me” created space between the king and herself. Though he was powerful, she was the one who had heard a true word from God to share. Huldah’s words reminded the delegation that Josiah was merely a man who, like all people, was subject to God’s reign.
As great as King Josiah’s desire was to spare his nation, he could not save Judah from coming judgment. Thus, Huldah indicated that Josiah’s worst fears were justified (see 2 Kings 22:13). Moses had warned that destruction would come if the Israelites were disobedient to the Lord (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). And later prophets based their judgment oracles on warnings found in the Law of Moses (example Jeremiah 6:16-19; Amos 2:4-5). Josiah may have heard these calamities read straight out of Deuteronomy 28:15-68 (2 Kings 22:10-11).
In verse 17, Judah’s having “forsaken” God for idols would result in punishment. What Moses had warned about (Deuteronomy 28:20; 29:25; 31:16-17), Huldah recognized as a coming reality in Judah. Jeremiah also cited Judah’s having “burned incense to other gods as evidence of their idolatry and this means by which the nations provoked the Lord’s “anger” (example Jeremiah 1:16). Both the idols and the sacrifices offered to the idols were works “their hand have made.”
God’s anger was abundantly justified since it had been provoked by intentional human rebellion, and this had happened so often that the limits of God’s patience were exceeded. Zephaniah pulls no punches and indicates that Judah was rotten to the core (Zephaniah 3:6-8). Thus, the fire of God’s judgment would “burn,” and it would “not be quenched.”
An acquaintance wrote to a Russian novelist and said, “I have decided that the real problem of life is learning to put one’s self in second place.” The novelist wrote back: “I have decided the real problem in life is to decide what to put in first place.”
Now, the First Commandment deals with that. God says, “you should have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). God first! God first!
What is an idol? Timothy Keller, Presbyterian minister, says it is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God. Truth is, anything can be an idol – family, children, spouse, grandchildren, country, money, profits, romance, sex, success, power, Facebook, even religion. An idol is anything that takes the place of God.
The writer of First John warns, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). What we are being told is to keep ourselves from misplaced devotions.
A Word for the King
2 Kings 22:18-20
As for King Josiah, because he has heard God, God has also heard him. Huldah’s message of judgment against Judah is not the final word.
When earlier Shaphan, the royal secretary, read the law to Josiah, the king was shaken to his core. He had torn his “robes” to signify his grief (2 Kings 22:11). That was an appropriate response to the words of the scroll that announced that Jerusalem would “become a curse and be laid waste.” God had heard Josiah and had seen his weeping and the state of his heart. So God had decided to honor the king’s humble and contrite response.
Moses had described such repentance as a prerequisite for the Lord’s restoring Israel after it fell under judgment (Leviticus 26:40-42). And such humble repentance had led God to delay the demise of Ahab’s dynasty (1 King 21:29), to postpone judgment in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:26), and to restore Josiah’s grandfather Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-13). The New Testament also highlights the centrality of humility and repentance before God.
Many kings of Israel and Judah paid little heed to God’s word because they were impressed with themselves. However, Josiah was different. He was a model of humble leadership. He placed God and the welfare of his nation before himself, and God blessed him as a result.
In verse 20, we see that God would honor King Josiah by protecting him from the punishment that was coming against Judah. The phrase “I will gather you to your ancestors” is a variation on the formula “[name] rested with his ancestors,” as used through 1 and 2 Kings. The king would not experience the “disaster” that God would bring on the temple, Jerusalem, and Judah.
As has been pointed out, the phrase “you will be buried in peace” may seem to contradict what we know about Josiah’s death in battle (2 Kings 23:29-30). But the idea is that Josiah would die at peace with God. He would not presumably witness what the words of the book anticipated and what Huldah confirmed: the devastating destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC.
The message of God through Huldah confirmed anew God’s righteousness, faithfulness, and mercy. God would be faithful to the word he had uttered centuries before when he warned Israel of the penalties that would result from unfaithfulness to the covenant.
Important to note! Huldah’s message and the words of the book resulted in Josiah’s gathering the nation for a covenant renewal ceremony.
So Judah was spared while Josiah was alive. But after his death, Judah returned to evil ways and experienced the promised curses. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar as well as the exile in Babylon.
The events described in 2 Kings 22 point out both the importance of engaging with God’s words and responding to them. To say the least, it seems strange that the Book of the Law was neglected and lost to the people of Judah. We wonder how that could have happened among God’s covenant people. Yet is that really so different than the Bible being lost to numbers of Christians who never read or study it?
The great 19th
century preacher Charles Spurgeon is reported to have said, “The way you defend the Bible is the same way you defend a lion, you just let it loose.”
But the Bible has such power only if we open it and turn it loose – in reading it, repenting of our sin and responding in obedience to what has been read.
We honor God when we do his will as recorded in Scripture. King Josiah sought to do just that and he serves us as a good role model.
Resources for this lesson
- What can you do to ensure that a hobby or favorite activity doesn’t become an idol?
- What would you say to a fellow Christian who fully expects to escape all consequences God may visit on the idolatrous culture around us?
- Why do you think so many Christians fail to read the Scriptures? Please explain!
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- “2020-2021 Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 249-256.
- “The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume III,” pages 279-282.
- “The Interpreter’s Bible Volume 3,” pages 315-319.
- “A Popular Survey of the Old Testament” by Norman L. Geisler, page 144.