Sometimes it is a bit of an awkward matter to have a tender and sensitive heart. It ought to be of little surprise to those who know me well that I have a great fondness for those who share a tender and sensitive heart, to have an affectionate regard for that which is innocent and sweet. As is often the case, being a person of a tender heart (as opposed to a hard heart) tends to give a lot more pain to life, and life is often quite painful and unpleasant. That said, having a tender heart also allows us to be moved with compassion by the suffering of others, and allows us to hear and to heed the correction and instruction of God, which are in general good things. As is the case so often in life, having a tender heart is a quality that can cause a great deal of difficulty in life but can also provide one with a great deal of insight and lead to loving relationships with people of a like mind and heart. What happens depends on how one uses it.
As someone who comes from a social milleu where prophecy is particularly valued, and someone whose view of the Day of the Lord and the surrounding events as described in the Bible is pretty gloomy, someone who does not even like to imagine the sort of traumatic events that will befall the wicked and hard-hearted people of the end times, it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to find a way to describe my own mindset as far as prophecy is concerned. After all, much of the interest in prophecy either looks at the ultimate end point as a way of diminishing one’s horror at the expected short-to-medium term prophetic outlook, or there is an almost-macabre glee in the expression of some of the horrors of God’s judgment. As someone who has suffered more than my fair share of trauma and horror, I cannot look around me at the broken people I have seen in my own land and around the world and feel any sort of glee about immense suffering and degredation for themselves and their offspring. I simply wish they would have the heart to repent of their wicked ways and to seek God and to feel His mercy and His love.
In this context the story of Josiah is instructive. At a young age Josiah was crowned king of Judah after the death of his father, the idolatrous and kicked King Amon. By all accounts, King Josah from a very early age was a very godly king. 2 Chronicles 34:1-3 stakes of his piety that: “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the sight of the Eternal, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images.” By the time Josiah was sixteen years old, he was already beginning to seek to follow God’s ways, an example of godliness that many teens could be inspired by, and by the time that he was a young adult he was actively seeking to rid Judah of the heathen worship practices that invided God’s judgment on them, long before he was fully aware of God’s laws and of the moral failures of his people.
So, it ought to be of no surprise that when the Book of the Law was found in the temple in Jerusalem after some generations of neglect, that its reading to the godly King Josiah provoked him to an expression of great sorrow and grief at the hardheartedness of his people. Sending for the advice of a nearby prophetess, Josiah received the following word back from the Eternal in 2 Kings 22:16-20: “Thus says the Eternal: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants–all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read–because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore my wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched.’ ” But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Eternal, in this manner you shall speak to him, ‘Thus says the Eternal God of Israel: “Concerning the words you have heard–because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Eternal when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have yeard you,” says the Eternal. Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.” ‘ ” So they brought back word to the king.”
God is merciful and longsuffering to such a great degree that the reality and severity of his judgment escape many, who do not realize that God has a point at which the sins and wickedness of a society or institution have filled the limit, and at which point judgment is certain. This point often takes hundreds of years for a nation to reach. After all, the wicked inhabitants of Canaan, who were less wicked than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, were given four hundred and seventy years after their promised doom to repent and change their ways. God even gave an extra 150 years after the time of Jonah to the survival of the wicked Assyrians of Ninevah before bringing a judgment on their city. Often this desire to be merciful, to extend pardon, is confused with weakness. However, once God’s limit of patience has been reached, His judgment is certain and final, and cannot be turned aside by the sort of superficial and half-hearted repentence that is the stock and trade of those who claim to honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him.
The people of Judah had provoked God for many generations, and the corruption of the people of Judah was immense. This corruption was not limited to the kings, some of whom were godly, some of whom had at least some sort of devotion to God’s ways, and some of whom were greatly wicked in their behavior. In many ways, this corruption was matched by a priesthood whose possession of the Word of God and of the knowledge of the rituals of worship was corrupt, empty, and largely merely formal except during times of particularly devout reformist leaders (such as the high priest Jehoaida). Sadly, the people were often even more corrupt than their largely ungodly leaders, for even in the reigns of mostly godly rulers like Jotham the people worshiped on the high places despite knowing that these practices were frowned on by God. At some point, after sending out prophets to give divine warnings for generation after generation, God simply got tired of warning His wayward people and decided enough was enough.
However, even after judgment was certain for the people of Judah because of their generational moral corruption and the hardness of heart of their ways, God still gave mercy to a tenderhearted and godly king who sought His guidance and to live His life by His ways. Even though the righteousness of King Josiah could not take away the hand of judgment from the rebellious people of Judah, it did ensure that he himself did not live to see the darkness and the evil that would fall upon his people. Though he died in battle as an ally of the kings of Babylon in the death throes of the Assyrian Empire, Josiah did not live to see the evil that fell upon the people of Jerusalem during the death throes of his nation. He missed the starvation of his people, the cannibalism, the vain attempts to enlist the help of Egypt to preserve the illusion of Jewish freedom, the executions, the horrors of slavery and degredation for the people of Jersualem, and the destruction of the palace and temple of Solomon. All this Josiah received as an act of mercy from God to a king simply because his heart was tender and because he read the curses of God in Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28 and was horrified by them. God rewarded his tender and obedient heart with an honorable life and a death that was not in times of great tribulation.
We cannot know, until God tells us, at what point the sins of our nation and of our world and of our institutions reach the point at which God cannot bear to withhold His judgment from us. We cannot know how much immorality, how much exploitation of the poor and vulnerable and strangers, how many abortions or the rape and abuse of innocent children reaches the point where enough is enough. We do know that God has limits, that even His immense mercy has a point at which the demands for justice and judgment can no longer be turned aside. Let us hope that if we are alive at the time when that limit has been reached, that we too are found to be of the same sort of tender heart as righteous King Josiah. If we cannot see the repentance and the restoration of our people, may we at least be counted worthy to escape the judgment that will fall upon our corrupt world, our corrupt society, and our corrupt institions. For some, that mercy may be the preservation of life in the midst of great suffering, as was the case for the prophet Jeremiah. For some that mercy may be in an early and honorable exile, as was the case for the righteous prophet Daniel. And for others that mercy may be in a death that allows one to sleep in peace and not have to see the full horrors of God’s judgment displayed on his people, as was the case for King Josiah. However God shows His mercy to us, may we be considered worthy of that mercy because our hearts are tender.