Day 217: Asking Hard Questions (2 Kings 20-22)

August 6, 2023, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Lead Pastor

Context: Earlier in the week, my nephew died at age 34.

Good morning. Please open your Bibles to 2 Kings 22.

I want to thank all of you for your prayers for my family and me in the death of my nephew Aaron this week. Initially, we thought the funeral would be earlier in the week, and my plan was to be there for my brother this morning and then stay through the funeral. Dr Tew had very graciously agreed to preach this morning. But because of the circumstances of Aaron’s death, the funeral was pushed to this coming Saturday. So, I’ll go later in the week, preach the funeral on Saturday, and then I will be here next Sunday to worship with my own church family as Dr Tew teaches us from God’s Word.

If you are a guest with us this week, I want to apologize for what will be feel like a downer sermon. We are going to talk about some tough truths. But you’ve heard me say it many times—I am responsible to teach what God’s Word says, and not what I wish it said. And the combination of where we are in our reading plan and circumstances so many of us are dealing with have caused us (or at least me) to ask some hard questions. And then we wonder if it’s okay to ask them. Now, if it’s just me asking questions, then, again, come back next week. But I have a feeling it’s not just me. I know enough of your stories that I know you’ve got lots of “Why Gods.”

  • We read in 2 Kings 20 how God told good king Hezekiah to get his house in order because he was going to die, and how Hezekiah prayed, and how God added fifteen years to his life. And we wondered if God changes His mind because of our prayers. Then we wondered why God didn’t or hasn’t answered our prayers for a loved one to recover. Were we somehow not doing it right?
  • We wondered how a bad king like Ahaz could have such a good son like Hezekiah. Then how a good king like Hezekiah had an awful son like Manasseh, who then had a son named Amon. Then, history repeated itself as Amon the Awful fathered Josiah the good. Amon was well on his way to being just as bad as his dad, but he was assassinated by his own servants after only two years. But wondered why we see parents who do everything “right” for their kids still have kids that go off the rails, and why parents with no heart for God can raise the next Billy Graham (We forget that there has never been a more perfect parent than God, and look how Adam and Eve turned out)
  • We wondered why evil King Manasseh had the longest reign of any king in Israel or Judah’s history, at 55 years. And then we wondered why his grandson Josiah, whom you could argue was the most godly king in Israel’s history, died in battle before his fortieth birthday.

  So—lots of questions. And they all boil down to the same questions people are asking today:

  1. Is God good?
  2. Is God wise?
  3. Is God powerful?

With those questions in mind, let’s look at God’s Word together. We are in 2 Kings 22., starting in verse 21.

A little background on King Josiah. We’re told at the beginning of chapter 22 that “He was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned 31 years.” Eighteen years into his reign, when he was around 25 or 26, he starts making repairs on the temple, which his Manasseh and Amon had defiled with pagan altars and statues of Asherah and Baal.

While the workmen and priests are making their repairs, Hilkiah the high priest finds “the Book of the Law” which at that time would have been the books of Moses). In 2 Kings 22:8, he tells the royal secretary “I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord.”

Can we ponder that together? Hilkiah finds the Book of the Law. Now, for something to be found, it must first be lost. So this must mean that for at over half a half century, no one had a copy of God’s Word, not even in God’s house.

What do you think would happen to a church that hasn’t seen a Bible for 55 years? What would happen to a people if that was the only place of worship in the city? I’m not going to ask you how many of you don’t have a Bible this morning. But I am going to encourage you to have a physical copy of God’s word from now on when you come to church. If you don’t have a Bible of your own, please talk to me. We have them here. We will give you one.

Anyway, back to the story. In 22:11, the royal secretary reads the Law to Josiah. And the implication is that he had never heard it before. He tears his clothes and weeps and repents. Then he commands the High Priest to find out if God is going to judge the people for neglecting God’s word.

Hilkiah finds a woman named Huldah, described in verse 14 as a prophetess, who basically says “Yep. Pretty much.” She assures them that Judah will be judged, but that it won’t happen in Josiah’s lifetime. That brings us to chapter 23. Josiah gathers all the people of Jerusalem at the temple, and verse 2 says he read all the words of the Book of the Covenant. All the words, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. Then he makes a covenant to obey all the commandments with all his heart and soul. Notice verse 3: All the people joined in the covenant.

Don’t miss all the “alls” in verse 3. It has been said that partial obedience is total disobedience.

2 Kings 23:4-20 is a record of Josiah’s reforms. And it is stunning. He sets out to destroy every idol and every false idol in Israel, starting with the temple. He gets rid of the idols. He throws out the pagan priests who had been worshiping the sun, moon, and stars.

There’s a mind-boggling detail in verse 7: “He broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of Lord.” Things had gotten so bad under Manasseh that ritual prostitution was happening within the walls of the temple.

Josiah moves from cleansing the temple to removing all the pagan altars in Jerusalem. Then he does the same thing in all the rest of the kingdom of Judah. But he doesn’t stop there. Remember that by this time the kingdom of Israel had been desolate for over a hundred years. So Josiah crossed the border and went through all the towns of Israel and Samaria, destroying altars, removing shrines, and putting pagan priests to death. Which brings us to 2 Kings 23, starting in verse 21. Read along with me:

21 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” 22 For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem. 24 Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. 25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

2 Kings 23:21-25

Let’s stop there for a minute. There had never been a Passover observed to the level it was under Josiah. I don’t think it is saying it hadn’t been observed at all. But not since the time of the judges, at least 450 years before had anyone observed it with such attention to detail. We always consider David to have been the greatest king of Israel. And he was a great king. But we’ve also talked about his flaws. But verse 25 says that there had never been a king like Josiah, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.

Remember what Huldah the prophetess had told Josiah? She told him that disaster will come on Jerusalem because of its centuries of idolatry. So we get to verses 26-27:

26 Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27 And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

2 Kings 23:26-27

Many years ago, I was the camp pastor for a youth camp where they had an “ask the camp pastor” session. This was an opportunity for the kids to ask me any question they wanted to from the Bible. These were sharp kids. During the junior high session, one of the kids asked, “Will there be animals in heaven, and if not, where does the white horse Jesus comes back on come from?”

I will never forget the question a high school student asked me, though. He had been studying today’s passage about Josiah, and he stood up and asked me, “So, 2 Kings 23 talks about what a good king Josiah was–how he destroyed the idols and repaired the temple and reinstituted the Passover. 2 Kings 23:25 says there was never a king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart.”

“But the very next verse says that none of this was enough to turn away God’s wrath from the people of Judah because of all the terrible things Josiah’s father Manasseh did.” “So, I guess my question is, what’s fair about that?”

That question has haunted me ever since. I don’t remember what my answer was. I just remember the pain of the question. What’s fair about a God who punishes one generation for the sins of the previous generation, no matter how earnestly that generation turns to the Lord? One answer, which I admit is not a very “feel good” answer, is that God is faithful to all His promises, not just the ones we benefit from.

Back in 2 Kings 21, God pronounced judgment on Manasseh: We might think it is unfair that God would still punish Judah even after Josiah’s reforms, but the fact is, it was God’s mercy that preserved the kingdom for five more generations after Manasseh. God stayed His hand long enough for Manasseh to repent. He was followed by Amon, who was just as wicked as his father, but unlike Manasseh did not repent. Then came Josiah, the last good king of Judah. Through Josiah, God allowed one more generation to seek the Lord, to find the Book of the Law, and to reinstate the Passover. After Josiah came three evil kings in a row, and then the exile to Babylon.

I want to point out something I had not thought about before. Do you remember how Josiah gathered all the people of Jerusalem together to hear the word of the Lord, and then observed the most precise, by-the-book Passover in history? Think about this: twenty-four years later, Babylon carried all the people of Jerusalem into exile (see 2 Chron.36:20).

This means that at least some, if not most, of the adults that were carried to Babylon were there when Josiah read the Book of the Law. They observed the greatest Passover. And while the text doesn’t mention any names of who was there that day, there is the very strong possibility that Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all there.

God’s timing is amazing. What if the Jews had gone into exile without hearing God’s Word? Josiah’s reforms may have been what preserved Judaism throughout the seventy years of exile.

For us, God has pronounced his judgment on all the earth. One day, this world will end. Our obedience and repentance might delay God’s judgment, just as it did with Josiah, but it won’t cancel it. There will never come a point when all the people of the world have been so good for so long that God’s going to say, “Hey—all that stuff in the book of Revelation? Never mind.” So, to answer the young man’s question in as biblically faithful a way as I could, I should have asked him how he was defining “fair.” Does it mean equal treatment without favoritism or partiality? Is fairness rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior?

Historians tell us Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC— 22 years after the death of Josiah. Taken in isolation, that doesn’t seem like a long time. But if you zoom out and look at the entire timeline, you realize that it was 130 years after Ahaz, who was neck and neck with Manasseh for the title of worst king ever. Or consider the two centuries the northern kingdom of Israel was ruled by one evil king after another before they fell to Assyria in 722. Suppose the young man had brought up Ahaz or Ahab and asked, “Why didn’t God destroy those kingdoms right away? What’s fair about that?” So let’s get back to the three questions we asked at the beginning of this sermon:

1. Is God Good? Yes!

  • Psalm 145:17-19 tells us that He is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 
  • He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103).
  • Every good and perfect gift comes from him (James 1).
  • No good thing does He withhold from him whose walk is blameless (Psalm 84:11)
  • He is love (1 John 4:8)

There are too many verses in Scripture to cover them all in this sermon, but from cover to cover we see a God who is good,

2. Is God Wise? Yes! God knows everything, sees everything, is everywhere all at once. God saw Josiah’s sincere repentance, and He delayed his judgment on the earth. Our theme for camp this year was “Beyond the Surface.” The key verse for the week was 1 Samuel 16:7: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see only what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart. God sees every detail of history. He knows how every decision we make is going to play out. And He sees the ending from the beginning. [DVD Illustration]

3. Is God Powerful? Absolutely. In the destruction of Jerusalem, you don’t see a God who was powerless to stop Babylon. You see a God who is powerful enough to carry out his judgment. Sin is an offense to a holy God. And God will not let it go unpunished.  But God is also mighty to protect. In this morning’s reading, we got to Zephaniah 3:17, which says,

The LORD your God is with you, he is the warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” He is mighty to heal.

It may not be in this lifetime, but we know that there will come a day when, according to Revelation 21:4,

God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

It’s fair to ask, “Well then, why doesn’t He protect us and heal us more often? If God is so mighty, why didn’t he prevent my nephew from overdosing? Or better yet, why didn’t He protect him from getting addicted to painkillers in the first place?

The answer is that we live in a fallen world. When humans chose to go their own way instead of God’s way, God allowed them to. God is sovereign, but humans have agency and free will. They can choose to surrender to God, or they can choose to rebel against God. Adam and Eve chose to rebel, and Creation has been broken ever since.

Most importantly, God is powerful enough to forgive our sin. He loves us so much that He made a way for us to be made right with him again. He sent His son to pay the penalty for our sin once and for all when he shed his blood on the cross. And we know from 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that God reverses the consequences our sin sets in motion. We see that in God’s judgment of Judah. Hundreds of years before Josiah, Judah put themselves on a course that would lead to their destruction when they built altars to false gods. Ultimately they paid a price for that. In the same way, my nephew’s heart and kidneys had been compromised through years of abuse. We don’t know what he took on Tuesday or how much he took, but it was enough to stop his organs that had already been through so much.

Aaron was a follower of Jesus. I know that beyond doubt. He was forgiven of his sins. He was cleansed from unrighteousness. But he still had to deal with the consequences his sin had set in motion.

But listen, because this is so important. God’s is so powerful that He raised His son from the dead. Three days after Jesus died on the cross, He rose from the grave. We find ultimate healing and deliverance and eternal life because Jesus had victory over sin and death.

Ephesians 1 tells us that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is for us also is at work in us. That means that those of us who have been united with Jesus in a death like his will also be united with him in a resurrection like His (Romans 6:5-10).

In the cross, God’s perfect justice and perfect love come together. Judgment against sin was completed. Love for sinners was demonstrated. Because of the cross, God does not deal with us as our sins deserve.

Back to the question that kid asked at camp: what’s fair about that? If I could see that kid again, I would tell him that he was asking the wrong question. Because Grace and mercy are never about what’s fair. Mercy is not getting the punishment our sins deserve. Grace is getting all the riches in glory we don’t deserve. What’s fair about that?

Nothing, praise God.

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