Introduction: On April 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation for a National Day of Fasting, in which he stated:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. (https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/proclamation-of-national-day-of-prayer-and-fasting/)
What President Lincoln was describing in his day was a need for revival in our nation. But who among us can deny that our nation is in even greater need for revival today? In fact, all one has to do is read what Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans about a culture that has been given over by God in judgment to see that our culture is indeed experiencing the judgment of God and is therefore in dire need of another great awakening. And all one has to do is to look around at the many so-called Evangelical churches that have strayed far from God’s word to see that there is a profound need for revival.
With this in mind, let us consider how God brought about revival in the life of King Josiah and in the life of Israel during his reign (2 Kings 22-23). As we do so, we shall highlight six marks of genuine revival that will help us as we seek and pray for revival in our own day.
I. Restoration of God’s Word as the Absolute Authority
Here we find that genuine revival begins with accepting the authority of God’s Word for oneself and then sharing His authoritative Word with others.
1. Accepting the Authority of God’s Word for Oneself (2 Kings 22:8-13)
NKJ 2 Kings 22:8 Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the LORD.” 10 Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. 11 Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. 12 Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (Italics mine.)
Josiah clearly accepted the authority of God’s Word and saw that as such it must be obeyed. Thus, he also saw that the violation of God’s Word had placed him and all the people of Israel under the wrath of God.
2. Sharing God’s Authoritative Word With Others (2 Kings 23:1-2)
NKJ 2 Kings 23:1 Now the king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him. 2 The king went up to the house of the LORD with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem– the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD.
Josiah’s acceptance of God’s Word as the ultimate authority led to his decision to share it with all the people of Judah. This is what happens when a person has experienced revival though the Word of God; he wants others to experience the same thing.
II. Recognition of One’s Failure to Obey God’s Word
We have already seen evidence of this in Josiah’s reaction to hearing the Word of God that has been recorded in 2 Kings 22:11-13. When Josiah tore his clothes (vs. 11), he showed his sorrow for his sin, and when he spoke of “the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us” (vs. 13, italics mine), he included himself as one of the sinners who needed to repent. As John Gill correctly says, it is “expressive of the rending of his heart, and of his humiliation and sorrow for the sins he and his people were guilty of” (Exposition of the Bible, e-Sword). Thus, Josiah exhibited the kind of godly sorrow for his sins that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
Such was the heart Josiah exhibited not only when he tore his clothes but also when he took action to change his behavior and to lead the people in changing their behavior.
III. Recommitment to Obeying God’s Word
This brings us back to the beginning of chapter 23, but this time we will consider 2 Kings 23:1-3.
NKJ 2 Kings 23:1 Now the king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him. 2 The king went up to the house of the LORD with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem– the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD. 3 Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to follow 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. And all the people took a stand for the covenant.
Observe that Josiah led the people in recommitment to obeying God’s Word as soon as he was able to bring them together. As William Mason once wrote, “If we put off repentance another day, we have a day more to repent of, and a day less to repent in” (http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/quotes-on-repentance).
IV. Removal of the Stumbling Blocks That Lead to Sin
We see how zealous Josiah was to do this in 2 Kings 23:4-20.
NKJ 2 Kings 23:4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, the priests of the second order, and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the articles that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5 Then he removed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places all around Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven. 6 And he brought out the wooden image from the house of the LORD, to the Brook Kidron outside Jerusalem, burned it at the Brook Kidron and ground it to ashes, and threw its ashes on the graves of the common people. 7 Then he tore down the ritual booths of the perverted persons that were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the wooden image. 8 And he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba; also he broke down the high places at the gates which were at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were to the left of the city gate. 9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brethren. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech. 11 Then he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech, the officer who was in the court; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 The altars that were on the roof, the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, the king broke down and pulverized there, and threw their dust into the Brook Kidron. 13 Then the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, which were on the south of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the people of Ammon. 14 And he broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images, and filled their places with the bones of men. 15 Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and crushed it to powder, and burned the wooden image. 16 As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar, and defiled it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. 17 Then he said, “What gravestone is this that I see?” So the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” 18 And he said, “Let him alone; let no one move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria. 19 Now Josiah also took away all the shrines of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the LORD to anger; and he did to them according to all the deeds he had done in Bethel. 20 He executed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them; and he returned to Jerusalem.
Notice that Josiah removed not only removed all the articles of idolatry from the temple in Jerusalem, but that he also removed all the idolatrous priests and the all the high places throughout the kingdom of Judah. In fact, he even went into the area that had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel and destroyed the centers of idolatry there, especially in Bethel and in the city of Samaria. Thus, he demonstrated a single-hearted devotion to eradicating the causes for sin for all of his brethren. An illustration may help to drive the point home:
A very practical man was known to confess: “I have too much religion or too little; I must either give up what I have or get more. I have too much religion to let me enjoy a worldly life, and too much worldliness to let me enjoy religion.” He solved the dilemma triumphantly by a wholehearted acceptance of Christ as his living Lord. He put an end to divided loyalty and doubtful obedience. (2000+ Bible Illustrations, e-Sword)
Josiah demonstrated wholehearted devotion to the Lord rather than divided loyalty when he removed the stumbling blocks to sin from Israel.
V. Revitalization of True Worship
We have seen this indicated already in our reading of 2 Kings 23:6-7.
NKJ 2 Kings 23:6 And he brought out the wooden image from the house of the LORD, to the Brook Kidron outside Jerusalem, burned it at the Brook Kidron and ground it to ashes, and threw its ashes on the graves of the common people. 7 Then he tore down the ritual booths of the perverted persons that were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the wooden image.
We may see Josiah’s commitment to the revitalization of true worship further detailed in verses 21-24.
NKJ 2 Kings 23:21 Then the king commanded all the people, saying, “Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” 22 Such a Passover surely had never been held since the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was held before the LORD in Jerusalem. 24 Moreover Josiah put away those who consulted mediums and spiritists, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.
There can be no doubt that Josiah sought a thorough-going revival of true worship for the people of Israel and Judah.
VI. Repentance Evidenced by an Obedient Lifestyle
We may see this in the consistency of Josiah’s life as described in 2 Kings 23:25.
NKJ 2 Kings 23:25 Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.
Such was the assessment of Josiah’s life. He did not just repent for a time and then become apathetic, but he remained faithful throughout his life, albeit a relatively short one. Here again an illustration may prove helpful:
Two little boys were playing together one afternoon. They had not been playing long when the larger boy took advantage of his weaker playmate. Georgie, the smaller one, too proud to complain, withdrew some distance and sat by himself, manfully winking back the ready tears. After a short time, the larger boy grew tired of his solitary play and called, “Say, Georgie, come back. I’m sorry.” Georgie, warned by previous experience, did not respond to the invitation at once. “Yes,” he replied cautiously, “but what kind of sorry? The kind so you won’t do it again?” (2000+ Bible Illustrations, e-Sword)
Josiah clearly demonstrated genuine sorrow for sin that is resulted in the kind of repentance “so you Won’t do it again.”
Conclusion: As we conclude our brief examination of some marks of genuine revival seen in the life of Josiah, I am reminded of how often people may seem to be repentant for a time but then quickly go back to their previous way of life. Although this was certainly not true of Josiah, it was true of many of the people of Israel in his day.
Jonathon Edwards once described such half-hearted and halting repentance in his famous book Religious Affections, in which he wrote:
Instead of embracing Christ as their Savior from sin, these people are actually trusting in Him to help them save their sin. Instead of flying to Him as their refuge from their spiritual enemies, they us Him to defend themselves against God. They turn Christ into the devil’s helper, so that they may comfortably continue to sin against God, assuming that Christ will protect them from God’s judgment. They trust Christ to allow them the quiet enjoyment of their sins, to be their shield against God’s displeasure, and all the while, as they claim to be Christ’s children and pretend to press against His heart, they hide their mortal weapons under their clothes. They claim to feel great love for God and great joy in tasting the sweetness of His love for them, but all the while they are hiding death and hatred in their hearts. (Uhrichsville, Ohio, Barbour Publishing, Inc, 1999, p. 245)
May we always pray for such a genuine repentance so that we will never be guilty of such sinful attitudes. And may we remember in closing these words form the Apostle Peter:
NKJ 1 Peter 4:17-18 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”