JOSIAH'S STUMBLE – 2 Chronicles 35:20-27Posted by Angella on Oct 16, 2011 in 2011 | 0 comments
Preached October 16, 2011
2 Chronicles 35:20-27
Theme: Josiah’s end warns us not to become so self-willed in our zeal for God’s cause that we actually violate His will in our pursuit of it.
(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
As we’ve been studying together from the life of King Josiah—the last of the godly kings of Judah—we’ve been impressed by the things we’ve seen. He was a man who was very zealous to obey the word of God. And he was used by God remarkably to rid His land of that which displeased Him.
But as we’ve been examining his life together, some folks have pulled me aside and said, “Sure he was a godly king. But what about the tragic way his life came to a close? How do we explain the sinful downfall he suffered in the end?” And it’s to this perplexing ‘last chapter’ of his life that, with God’s help, we turn today.
2 Chronicles 35:20-27 is were we find the fullest version of the story:
After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by the Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him. But he sent messengers to him, saying, “What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I have not come against you this day, but against the house with which I have war; for God commanded me to make haste. Refrain from meddling with God, who is with me, lest He destroy you.” Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself so that he might fight with him, and did not heed the words of Necho from the mouth of God. So he came to fight in the Valley of Megiddo. And the archers shot King Josiah; and the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am severely wounded.” His servants therefore took him out of that chariot and put him in the second chariot that he had, and they brought him to Jerusalem. So he died, and was buried in one of the tombs of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah also lamented for Josiah. And to this day all the singing men and the singing women speak of Josiah in their lamentations. They made it a custom in Israel; and indeed they are written in the Laments.
Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and his goodness, according to what was written in the Law of the LORD, and his deeds from first to last, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah (2 Chronicles 35:20-27).
* * * * * * * * * *
I have had to take a little more time than usual to reflect on this passage before I felt I was ready to preach from it. And I’m very glad that I took that time. For one thing, I have found that the deeper I got into the background story of this passage, the more astonishing it became to me. In spite of how strange a passage it may seem to be to us on the surface, God reveals some remarkable things in it concerning His sovereign rule over the affairs of this world.
But another thing I’ve found is that the more I have gotten into this morning’s passage, the more convicted I became by it on a personal level. It describes a dangerous fault that many of us in this room can easily fall victim to. I believe that I myself have often fallen prey to it; and I believe that it’s a particularly deceitful and dangerous fault because it threatens us most when we are most zealous to live for the Lord and advance His cause.
It’s a fault in which we become so zealous for what we believe to be God’s will that we becoming “self-willed” in our pursuit of it; and actually end up opposing God and standing in His way.
It’s a fault that I’ve come to call ‘Josiah’s stumble’.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now; to show you how this is a fault that trip up the very best and most devoted of God’s saints, just look at how this passage begins. It sets the time of this event in this way: “After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple . . .” (v. 20a).
You remember what the “all this” was, don’t you? Josiah became king at the tender age of eight. At at the age of 16, he began to seek the God of his great ancestor King David. And at the age of 20, he began an aggressive campaign to rid his kingdom of all the idolatry and immorality that his fathers had allowed into it. In the course of this effort, a long-lost copy of the Scriptures was found; and the record of God’s law was read to Josiah—along with the promise of God’s judgment upon Josiah’s people because of their disobedience to it. And as a result, King Josiah intensified his reforms even more. He sought to utterly rid the land of every idol and of every shred of wickedness, and to lead his people in faithful worship of the one true God.
The record of God’s own word concerning the life of King Josiah was that it was a very good one from beginning to end. In 2 Kings 23:25, we read “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.” And even after the sad fall that he suffered—at the end of this morning’s passage—we’re told that his life was characterized by “his goodness, according to what was written in the Law of the LORD” (v. 27). And I’m glad that God included those words; aren’t you? Even when we’ve blown it big, God is “not unjust to forget” our “work and labor of love” (Hebrews 6:10).
But even before Josiah became King—even before he came along, restored what he could, and “prepared the temple”—God had declared His set purpose regarding His disobedient people. Josiah’s grandfather, King Manasseh, had led the people so deeply into ungodliness and idolatry that there was no turning back. God declared,
“Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. So I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become victims of plunder to all their enemies, because they have done evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day” (2 Kings 21:12-15).
The fulfillment of that promise is what occupies the stories of the remaining kings of Judah. And the news of this impending judgment was a part of what motivated King Josiah to do all that he did to lead his people in righteousness. But even still, God’s intention was set. God had told Josiah that he himself would be spared those dreadful days of judgment. But even in telling Josiah this, God knew the heart of his people was still rebellious and unrepentant; and so He told Josiah,
“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” (2 Kings 22:16-17).
By the way; if I may just say in passing, what a lesson that is for us! Our God is a great God of grace—ready to forgive anyone who turns from his or her sin and seeks Him through His Son Jesus Christ. He truly is patient and longsuffering toward us, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But if we keep putting Him off and ignoring His call upon our lives—as the people of Judah had—we also need to know that there’s a point at which God’s patience comes to an end. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
If you have been hardening your heart toward God, and have been refusing to turn from the things that God says not to do, I hope you’ll heed the warning of God’s word without delay—and seek His forgiveness through His Son Jesus Christ today.
* * * * * * * * * *
I believe that Josiah’s manifest zeal for God and His people—even in the light of this promise of impending judgment—helps us understand this morning’s passage better. We read, “After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by the Euphrates . . .” (v. 20).
The focus now shifts, from the events within little Judah, to the geopolitical scene. A battle was brewing among the Gentile nations. The former world empire of Assyria—that had, just a century and a half before this time, conquered the northern kingdom of Israel—had by this time become weak. It was subject to attacks from the growing kingdom of Babylon on the north side of the Euphrates River. And Necho—the Pharaoh of Egypt at this time—saw this as an opportunity.
He sent his ships to the shores of Palestine, and began to send his troops up north to come to the aid of Assyria against Babylon at the strategic Syrian city of Carchemish. But his intention was, ultimately, to stop Babylon in its growth as a world power, bring what remained of Assyria under his dominion, and make Egypt the dominating power of the world.
The reason we know this is because God gives us a surprising amount of information concerning Pharaoh Necho through the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 46, we’re told that God gave a prophetic message to Jeremiah “Against Egypt.” And this prophecy begins with a preface—sometime after the facts—that tells us the history of what actually happened to Necho in his campaign against Babylon as prophesied through Jeremiah:
Concerning the army of Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, which was by the River Euphrates in Carchemish, and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (Jeremiah 46:2).
In other words, four years from the time of our passage this morning, Pharaoh Necho would meet his end at the hands of the very king of Babylon that he sought to go up northward to fight. And as we read on in this prophecy God gave to Jeremiah, we see what Necho’s motive was in this campaign. In verses 7-8, we read;
Who is this coming up like a flood,
Whose waters move like the rivers?
Egypt rises up like a flood,
And its waters move like the rivers;
And he says, ‘I will go up and cover the earth,
I will destroy the city and its inhabitants’” (vv. 7-8).
Necho had it as his purpose to “cover the earth”. But little did he know that, in reality, he was going up north to fulfill the purpose God had already sovereignly decreed for Necho’s own destruction! As verse 10 says;
For this is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts,
A day of vengeance,
That He may avenge Himself on His adversaries.
The sword shall devour;
It shall be satiated and made drunk with their blood;
For the Lord GOD of hosts has a sacrifice
In the north country by the River Euphrates (v. 10).
Necho thought he was going up north in order to defeat Babylon and take dominance over the world. He didn’t know it at the time; but he was actually going up to attend a sacrifice unto God—with himself as the sacrifice! As verses 25-26 tell us; “The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, says: ‘Behold, I will bring punishment on Amon of No, and Pharaoh and Egypt, with their gods and their kings—Pharaoh and those who trust in him. And I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the hand of his servants. Afterward it shall be inhabited as in the days of old,’ says the LORD” (vv. 25-26).
What a staggering revelation this is of how God rules over the affairs of mighty world empires and their kings! We so often fret and worry about what nations and world rulers will do. But God here lets us know that—no matter how mighty the great rulers of the world think they are—they are nothing more than mere puppets. Their strings are being pulled by the God of heaven so that they fulfill His sovereign purposes for them. As Proverbs 21:1 has it, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Now, back to our passage. All of this is vital to understanding what happens next. The Bible tells us, “After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by the Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him” (2 Chronicles 35:20).
Please understand; Necho was not a worshiper of the one true God. He was a pagan. He was king of a pagan land; and he worshiped the pagan gods of his nation. And yet—amazingly! shockingly!—when Josiah saw him and rode out to stop him, we’re told, “But he sent messengers to him, saying, ‘What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I have not come against you this day, but against the house with which I have war; for God commanded me to make haste. Refrain from meddling with God, who is with me, lest He destroy you’ (v. 21). And we know for certain that this was truly a word from God to Josiah; because, as verse 22 tells us, these were “the words of Necho from the mouth of God”!
We might wonder how a thing like this could be—that a pagan king could speak forth such a clear word from God. But I remind you that God once even spoke to a rebellious prophet named Balaam, way back in Numbers 22, through the donkey that he was riding on! And if “a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet” (2 Peter 2:16), then we shouldn’t have any problem believing that God can also speak from the mouth of a pagan king in order to rebuke a godly king that was misguidedly zealous for His cause. (And by the way; the fact that God could speak through Necho’s mouth doesn’t mean that he was a God-fearing pagan any more than the donkey would have been a particularly God-fearing donkey!)
Why was it that Josiah went out against Necho? We can’t be sure of this; but given the zeal that Josiah had demonstrated throughout his life for the cause of God, I speculate that he was concerned that Necho’s actions would increase his own power and would make him a genuine threat to the people of Judah. After all, Necho was going up north to come to the aid of the Assyrians; and the Assyrians had long been a troubler of the people of Judah. I even speculate that, in doing this, Josiah was hoping to stave off the set purpose of God to bring judgment upon His own people.
Whatever Josiah’s motivation, the fact that Necho—a pagan king—spoke a message from God to him should have been enough of a ‘shocker’ to cause him to stop in his tracks. God was sending Necho up north to go to his own destruction. And God had already determined to bring punishment upon the people of Judah for their idolatry. Josiah was told to stand down! He may have been innocent in going out to Necho at first; but to continue to stand against him was to oppose the revealed will of God. And yet, as we’re told, “Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself so that he might fight with him, and did not heed the words of Necho from the mouth of God” (v. 22).
When we’re zealous for what we perceive to be God’s cause, and yet God tells us to step out of the way and let Him fulfill His divine purposes without our meddling—and we refuse to do so out of a misplaced sense of zeal—we’ve actually made the transition from “God’s will” to “self-will”. In our own misplaced zeal for God’s cause, we actually set up our own purposes in opposition to the purposes of God! And every time we go forward in such rebellious self-will, we end up suffering loss. Do you remember how God told the people of Israel to go up and conquer the promised land? They refused to do what God said; and wandered forty years in the wilderness as a result. And then, when they repented and decided that they would go up and conquer the promised land any way—even though God had told them not to because He would not go with them—they presumed to go up to battle for God’s promised land against God’s will; and they suffered a horrible defeat as a result. Or do you remember how—in the events that follow this morning’s passage—God told the people of Judah that the Babylonians would come and take them captive? God told them to submit to the Babylonians and they would live. Out of a misplaced zeal for God’s promised land, they refused to submit to the Babylonians; and the city of Jerusalem was brought to ruins as a result.
Every time we set our will up over God’s—even if it’s out of a misplaced zeal for His cause—we suffer loss. And that’s what happened to Josiah. I even suspect that he knew clearly that he was out of God’s will in trying to fight Necho; because he chose to disguise himself “so that he might fight with him, and did not heed the words of Necho from the mouth of God. So he came to fight in the Valley of Megiddo. And the archers shot King Josiah; and the king said to his servants, ‘Take me away, for I am severely wounded.’ His servants therefore took him out of that chariot [which was perhaps a part of the disguise] and put him in the second chariot that he had, and they brought him to Jerusalem. So he died, and was buried in one of the tombs of his fathers” (vv. 22-24).
* * * * * * * * * *
What a tragic loss this was! Godly King Josiah—the last of the great kings of Judah—had been slain because he would not heed God when God told him to stop. And as the scriptures go on to tell us, the mourning of the people of Judah over him was truly legendary.
And I suggest, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that there are two great lessons for us to learn from this perplexing end to Josiah’s story. First, we need to understand and appreciate that our God is the sovereign God who causes all things to work together for the good pleasure of His will. He is able to make world events serve the fulfillment of His purpose. He is able to steer the hearts of even ungodly and pagan kings so that they accomplish His will. In all of this, God sets His sovereign purpose; and brings that purpose about with perfection! Sometimes, He lets us know what that purpose is in His word. At other times, the unfolding of the specifics of His purposes are kept a mystery to us. But we never need to fear; because we fit perfectly in that purpose when we “trust and obey”.
But we also need to understand that those two things must go together. We not only need to “trust”, but also “obey”. In our zeal for God’s cause, we must never seek to act in a way that’s in opposition to His revealed will. When He says for us to act, we must act. But when He says to stand by and wait for Him to fulfill His purposes without us, we must wait and not meddle!
May God help us avoid Josiah’s stumble!