23 June 2010

2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3

"The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant." (23:3)


Religion and faith always need reform and renewal. 'First love' has to be re-kindled. Familiarity too easily becomes mere habit and sometimes leads to contempt. Reform can be about restoring what has been lost or forgotten - that seems to be at the heart of Josiah's discovery. Can reform also be about discovering something new?

Josiah was king of Judah from 640-609 BC. He is a great 'reforming' king and the dramatic discovery of a book in the Temple spurs and shapes his reforms. Most scholars believe that what was discovered was some form of the Old Testament book now called Deuteronomy.

The discovery is timely. The world is changing; the kingdom of Judah has a brief window of freedom from external powers; it is a time for new vision and hope, perhaps even for re-unification of the divided nation of Israel. Josiah's reforms are not just spiritual but social and political.

More clearly than ever before the book of Deuteronomy shows the connections. This is not a new law but it has never been understood or seen this way before. Israel can only flourish as a nation and a society if it keeps the covenant God made with Moses; if it does not, and when it does not, Israel is doomed. Deuteronomy is both old and new: a restoration and a revolution.

Note the new prominence of the suggestion of the word 'if' ... If you obey, if you are faithful, if you turn to God you will flourish. If you do not, only bad things will come. The step is only a short one from here to our dangerous desire to bargain with God, our even more destructive tendency to judge other's misfortune as the result of their wrongdoing. This book of the law leads dangerously to the question put to Jesus about the man born blind - "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" (John 9:2). It leads us to the question: Why then do bad things happen to good people?

To Ponder

Have you ever bargained with God? How is a covenant different from a bargain?

The book of Deuteronomy helps connect the spiritual and the political. What kind of discovery or reform do we need that will enable us to connect our faith with a crisis, such as global warming?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr David Hewlett

David is currently principal of The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. He is an ordained Anglican priest and is an authorised minister within the British Methodist Church - a relationship that he has valued enormously.