Josiah: Forgotten Scripture
A Summer Family Reunion: Lessons From Our Faith Ancestors
II Kings 22:1-13
Sunday, July 15, 2018
In 1899, Harvard University’s Peabody Museum received an interesting artifact. It was a bear claw necklace brought back by Lewis & Clark from their monumental expedition from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean that took place from 1804 to 1806. Along with studying the land, the animals, the flora and the fauna, Lewis & Clark had also visited with various Indian leaders along the way. In doing so, they had made new friends, built relationships and they also had received gifts like the very, rare bear claw necklace that was generally given to an Indian warrior who had shown significant bravery.
Unfortunately, when the artifact came to the museum, it was promptly miscatalogued, forgotten about and lost. In fact, it was only in 2003, 104 years later, that the necklace was found again by two museum assistants who were taking inventory in the area of the museum where the necklace had been stored.
To say that their rediscovery was significant is a bit of an understatement. After all, the necklace is one of only seven known and documented items that still exist that were actually given to Lewis & Clark by Native Americans. In fact, if you were to visit the Peabody Museum at Harvard today, you would find that the necklace is no longer in hiding but rather is now on prominent display in a glass case all its own.
Something very similar to the story of Lewis & Clark’s missing bear claw necklace happens in our passage for today from II Kings. This text too is the story of something that was lost only to be found much later. Yet, the object lost in II Kings is far, far more significant than the bear claw necklace of Lewis & Clark. What was found in II Kings was none other than the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy or at least a large portion of it. A book, believe it or not, that the Jewish people had lost long before and that they were no longer aware even existed.
Here is the story in greater detail. The story of the lost book is also the story of Josiah whose reign as King of Judah, or the Southern Kingdom as it was also called, comes in the midst of a divided Israel. As you may remember, after the reigns of King Saul, David and Solomon, Israel divides into two governments or kingdoms. One maintains the name Israel or Northern Kingdom and the other takes the name Judah or Southern Kingdom. By and large, the fracturing of the country politically is also a sign of what was happening spiritually.
These were dark days for the Jewish people. Their leaders were not good. Both kingdoms struggled. And, the people’s relationship with God weakend dramatically. Over the course of the divided kingdom, only two kings are remembered as having been very successful leaders politically and spiritually. One was Hezekiah and the other is Josiah who becomes King of Judah when he is 8 years of age.
Judah was at an all time low spiritually speaking when Josiah takes the throne. In fact, as we learn from scripture, the Temple in Jerusalem was in ruins. At the same time, we must also say that a bright spot came in Josiah’s 18th when some type of renewal of the temple began.
As the Temple is being repaired and renovated, the people working there find a book that they had no idea existed. Though II Kings never names the book, most Biblical scholars are in agreement that based on the way it is described, what was most likely found was the book of Deuteronomy or at least a large section of it. Think about that for a moment, Deuteronomy is largely Moses’s farewell speech to his people, just before he dies and just before they enter the Promised Land. In the speech, Moses reiterates God’s laws that were to govern God’s people. Thus Deuteronomy was the primary book reminding the Jewish people of who they were and how they were to act toward God and toward each other. Yet, here they were at a dark point in their history, having lost the Temple copy of Deuteronomy and having forgotten that the book even existed in the first place. In many ways, it would be like us reaching mid December, and discovering Luke 2, the account of Jesus’ birth and reading it for the first time as if it is a story that we have never known or heard before.
This passage about Josiah and the forgotten scripture found in the Temple is an incredibly important story for us to be aware of an informed by. It is a story about how easy it is for any of us to loose things particularly from a spiritual perspective.
On the one hand, and in a more general way, Josiah’s story reminds us of how easy it is for us to loose perspective on the truly important things in the midst of our pursuit of lots of other things in life that are not nearly as significant.
I can’t begin to say exactly how it was that the Jewish people ended up at a place where the Jerusalem Temple was in ruins and they no longer had a knowledge of the book of Deuteronomy. Both of those statements are a bit mind boggling to make about God’s chosen people. But, I can say with a large degree of confidence that it didn’t happen overnight. It was the result of other things gradually becoming more important until over time their relationship with God moved from being central, to being marginalized, to being unimportant to being simply forgotten. It was the result of a slow but steady changing of priorities until that which should have been most important was no longer important at all. It happened not only to the Israelites, it happens to all of us.
If you were here last Sunday, you heard Carroll Thompson mention that we cleaned out several sheds in Alaska while working for Mark and Nicola Faires who are SEND North Missionaries there. Those sheds, which Mark and Nicola had inherited from the previous owner and then added to over time contained all kinds of things – tools, car parts, airplane parts, electrical supplies, plumbing supplies, etc. Going through those sheds, was literally like living through an episode of American Pickers!?! Yes, those folks really do exist.
As we worked, I routinely heard Mark, the missionary, say, “I am sure I have this tool or that wire or this part, but, I honestly don’t know which shed its in.” Mark wasn’t really saying that he had lost these items due to misplacing them from the very beginning. No, at one time, I am sure that he knew exactly where they were located. But, over time, he hadn’t needed this particularly tool or that airplane part. Over time, item had gradually been pushed to the side, then forgotten and then lost.
This is our danger. We begin by pushing the important things in life to the side for just a season until over time we have totally forgotten of their existence at all. This begs a question – are the things where we are investing our time and energies the truly important things? And, are there essential elements that we are in danger of forgetting about altogether due to a lack of use or interest?
On the other hand, and much more specifically, the Josiah story is also the tale of the loss of the reading of scripture and the loss of an ability to allow scripture to read us. What happens when Deuteronomy is found? Josiah and his contemporaries read it and they hear it fully, completely and humbly.
In our church, we talk a lot about the reading of God’s word but do we do it? And, when we read scripture do we read scripture in large chunks or a book at a time so that we can understood fully the words being said, the context in which it is said and the full story? Or do we read a verse hear and a verse there. If I was advising your reading of scripture I would give your three ideas. Do it daily, do it a book of the Bible at a time and have a resource on hand to supplement your reading of God’s word not to become your primary reading. And, when you get stuck, call us, text us and let us help.
Too often we talk about how important the Bible is much more than we take time to actually read it. But, I am a firm believer that our faith and our relationship with God and their strength will be strongly tied to our reading of God’s word.
The other thing Josiah does is he allow the scripture to read him. What I means is that he comes to it with humility and with repentance wanting to know how God’s word wants to change him rather than approaching scripture only as a means of supporting what he has decided or as an affirmation of his own agenda. We would do well to learn the same – we should approach scripture humbly so that we can read it yes but also that it might read us.
One of the things we found as we sorted through those sheds in Alaska was a compass. You don’t see lots of old fashioned compasses in 2018. Most of us just use the digital version on our cell phones these days. But, there it was and when dusted off, it was faithful and true, pointing North, showing the way. God is the same. God awaits the renewal of a relationship. God awaits our rediscovery of God’s leadership in our lives. Like that old compass, God sits patiently ready, faithful and true to show us the way. Amen.