Not a Pet for Me to Love

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Gentle Reader,

Several years ago I had a months-long bout with bronchitis, and since then every single cold goes straight to my chest, leaving me with a cough like that of an elderly chain-smoker. It’s both insanely attractive for others to hear and incredibly energy-zapping for me. (Not to mention a good ab workout. Gotta find the silver lining). Because I can’t just get a little sick, like regular people. No, my disaster of an immune system and malfunctioning organs wage a battle royale, first allowing in any and all viruses because hospitality matters, then attempting to shove out the guests by any means possible.

There isn’t even a Trojan Horse involved. My body hangs out the “welcome” sign for everyone, then goes into panic mode when that “welcome” is accepted.

What does this have to do with anything?

I’ve had time to catch up on my chronological read-through of the Bible, that’s what.

Two little sentences capture my attention:

When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. …

“…because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God…”

– 2 Chronicles 34:19, 27a (CSB)

King Josiah of Judah follows hard on the heels of two disastrous rulers.

Manasseh, son of the great King Hezekiah, undoes all the work of his father; he worships just about every false god there was, engages in witchcraft, sets up an idol within the Temple precincts and sacrifices at least one of his sons on a pagan altar (2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chronicles 33:1-9). God reaches the end of His patience with Manasseh, and the king is taken captive to Babylon – where he repents (2 Chronicles 33:12-13). Because the Lord responds to every act of sincere repentance with forgiveness and restoration, Manasseh is returned to Jerusalem, where he sets about cleaning up the mess he had made.

Too little, too late. When Manasseh died, his son Amon came to the throne, and he did all the evil that his father had done. Judah was on a collision course with judgement.

So how in the world do we wind up with Josiah?

This brief and righteous blip on the timeline?

In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a youth, Josiah began to seek the God of his ancestor David…

– 2 Chronicles 34:3a (CSB)

There are moments when I wish the biblical writers had maybe left out a few genealogies and given us instead a little more detail in the stories, and this is one of them. Then I remember that the Holy Spirit preserved everything necessary to life and salvation on these pages, and I have to trust that I don’t need to know why Josiah made this decision. What matters is that he did. Prevenient grace caused him to look around, to see the devastation of his country, and to long for something better. Rather than turning from the convicting, holy presence of God, Josiah walked toward Him.

Thus his response upon hearing words from the Book of the Law.

Then the court secretary Shaphan told the king, “The priest Hilkiah gave me a book,” and Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.

When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. …

“…great is the Lord’s wrath that is poured out on us because our ancestors have not kept the word of the Lord in order to do everything written in this book.”

– 2 Chronicles 34:18-19, 21b (CSB)

Overcome with emotion, the king rips up his clothes. A sign of mourning. His words reveal the dread and sorrow he feels. For ten years he had pursued God. He had done the work of destroying all places of pagan worship throughout the country. He had set out to restore the Temple. All looked good and right.

But there was something in the words.

Something that sliced Josiah’s heart.

He sends his officials off to seek counsel. They go to a woman named Huldah, a prophetess. She tells them that destruction and judgment are coming – but not during Josiah’s lifetime. God sees his mind, his soul. He knows how Josiah yearns to follow Him, to do what is right.

There’s a breath, a space. The passion and purity of the king, his immediate movement to restore worship of the True God among his people, provides respite. In my mind I hear silence. Utter clamness between the chaos of the sin of Josiah’s father and grandfather and the calamity that is to come, the fire and rage of Babylon.

A moment to repent. That is not fully embraced.

What made Josiah different? Why did his people not follow his example? Why does 2 Chronicles 36 roll right into a string of weak, pathetic kings who quickly forget Josiah? Who quickly forget God?

Asking these questions leads to self-reflection, for that’s what happens when you study Scripture. The Spirit breathes life into the black ink upon the white background. The letters pierce my mind, the sentences weave between the cracks in my heart. Why do I not follow the example of Josiah? Why am I so often weak and pathetic? Why do I easily and quickly forget God?

Where are my torn clothes?

God, thank You for the gift that is Your Word, Jesus Christ sent to seek and save the lost like me. Thank You for the treasure that is Your words, those that came directly from Your lips and those that arose from people’s relationship with You, all of which You kept safe for us, for me, so that we could have relationship with You as well. Thank You for Your faithfulness in convicting me about my sin. For loving me as I am yet not being content to leave me in that state. Teach me, Father, to see my sin not as a beloved, cuddly pet for me to love but as a beast intent upon devouring me. Teach me to respond as Josiah did, with torn clothes and a broken, obedient heart.

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