Earlier this week I got a brief message from our choir director that told us we had no choir practice and encouraged us to enjoy our week off. As is my fashion, I felt it necessarily to reply somewhat cheekishly to this message by commenting that with two other practices–one before services with the a capella choir with the children’s choir for a performance in June, and the other a practice after services for the piece we are to sing next Sabbath–as well as Sabbath School, I did not have this particular Sabbath off, even though a church-wide fast was scheduled. It seems that I am temperamentally unable to simply let things rest, whether it be a day or whether it be a brief and lighthearted message. If it is half as exhausting to deal with me as it is to be me, it must be more than exhausting enough for most people not to want to tangle too closely.
As it happens, the Sabbath School lesson today is one I find of particular importance. I am not sure how much of the story the children will understand of it, but it is the story of the law being found in the temple and brought to the young King Josiah. The story is told in 2 Kings 22: “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Now it came to pass, in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the scribe, the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the house of the Lord, saying: “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money which has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people. And let them deliver it into the hand of those doing the work, who are the overseers in the house of the Lord; let them give it to those who are in the house of the Lord doing the work, to repair the damages of the house—to carpenters and builders and masons—and to buy timber and hewn stone to repair the house. However there need be no accounting made with them of the money delivered into their hand, because they deal faithfully.” 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. 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.” Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. 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, “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.” So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her. Then she said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, “Thus says the Lord: ‘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 Lord, in this manner you shall speak to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: “Concerning the words which you have heard— because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord 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 heard you,” says the Lord. “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.”
Let us look at the various aspects of this story which are striking, and there are a lot of them. Whether or not I am able to convey all of them to the young people is uncertain, but if they get even a part of it, it will still be a worthwhile story for them. For one, let us note that Josiah was a righteous king who had decided after generations of unbelief that the Temple to God in Jerusalem needed repairs. The freewill offerings of the brethren came in for the repairs, and priests and the workmen of the temple were considered so trustworthy that it was not necessary to account for what they were given. While they were engaged upon this task, the book of the law had been found in the Temple, apparently ignored and unread for many years. When the law was found and read, Josiah’s response was to tear his clothes in mourning over the failure of Judah to obey the law in the face of what was promised punishment, even to the point of destruction. They then went to Huldah, a prophetess, who pronounced that although the doom on Jerusalem was certain that Josiah would escape the national calamity because of his own tender heart. It is more than a little bit striking that they would go to a prophetess, not least because there are so few prophetesses named in the Bible and because there were plenty of God’s prophets active including literary prophets like Jeremiah and Habakkuk. At any rate, what we see here is a praise of Josiah’s faithfulness as a ruler combined with a gloomy prophecy about impending national ruin. It is hard not to read this passage without thinking of our own age .
In order to help the children better understand what was found, I printed out four passages from the law in Deuteronomy for the students to find in our class and then to read out at least portions of it to understand what it was that the people of Israel and Judah had disobeyed so flagrantly. I also hope they are able to understand at least a little bit about the context of the repentance of Josiah–I might have them look at Josiah as he is mentioned in 1 Kings 13 in a prophecy as well as how he was raised up as king among the possible heirs through the people of the land, as those are interesting aspects of the historical and political and religious context as well. Anyway, as tired as I am, as plagued by headaches and poor sleep, I hope I can convey just how distressed Josiah was to know about the doom of the nation he ruled, a doom that I reflect upon often when I think about the state of my own nation.
 See, for example: