04 October 2011

"Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king's servant Asaiah, 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 kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.'" (vv. 12-13)


King Josiah and King Hezekiah are the only kings of Judah who is are praised without qualification in the books of Kings. Hezekiah's reign is followed by the reigns of Manasseh and Amon, two idolatrous kings who adopted "the abominable practices of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel" (2 Kings 21:2b). Josiah, the king in today's passage, becomes king upon the death of Amon.

Josiah sets about to refurbish the temple and, during those repairs, a 'Torah' is found which reveals God's law for the chosen people. This is a text that Manasseh may have hidden during his reign when he instituted a number of forbidden religious rites and practices (2 Kings 21:4-9).

Josiah's response to the rediscovery of God's law is to reform the religious practice alongside the refurbishment of the temple. But Josiah's reforms were too late to save the kingdom of Judah. Josiah himself predicts that, because his predecessors did not obey the word of God, the wrath of God would come upon the people of Judah, despite the nation's renewed observance of God's law.

There is simply no way around the matter: this is one of those difficult texts in Scripture that we must wrestle with. Wrestling with this text can be more fruitful if we don't read it through a simplistic interpretive lens that assumes that human faithfulness will automatically bring God's reward.

Instead, it might be more helpful to look at this text as a passage that describes what often happens in human history: bad choices and bad behaviours of previous generations can affect the welfare of future generations. Several times in Hebrew Scripture (the Old Testament), it is declared that God punishes the children for the sins of the parents unto the third and fourth generations (egExodus 20:5-6). What if this is simply an honest appraisal of what happens in families and societies rather than an attempt to threaten the faithful with divine wrath?

Josiah finds himself captive to the deeds of those who came before him; his choices and ability to steer the course of history are constrained.

To Ponder

In your estimation, when has it happened in human history that one generation suffered from choices made by a previous generation?

In what areas of life do you think that future generations might suffer due to choices that we are making now? What might we be able to do about it now?

Bible notes author: The Revd Pam Garrud

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