The end was drawing near for Judah. Almost a hundred years had passed since Israel had been taken away by the Assyrians and God’s servants the prophets have warned that Judah would now be held to the same standard that had once condemned Israel.1 Yet, there was a glimmer of hope. Two wicked kings, Manasseh and Amon, have been succeeded by the righteous boy-king, Josiah. Josiah came to the throne when only eight years old and was noted for seeking the Lord when he was sixteen. In the twelfth year of his reign he diligently sought to purge Judah of its idolatry.2 Following this great reformation effort, in the eighteenth year of his reign he directed that the temple of the Lord be repaired.3
As work proceeded on the temple a dramatic discovery was made—the Book of the Law was found.4 Though all knowledge of the Law had never been lost, it is evident that for some time a complete copy was not to be found in Judah. As would be expected of one with a deep commitment to the Lord and His righteousness, Josiah wanted to hear the Law read and when it was, it broke his heart. He tore his clothes as he said, “Great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
Worried and distressed that the end might be near, Josiah sent several of his trusted servants to a prophetess named Huldah that they might inquire of the Lord as to what the words of the Law meant for him and for all of Judah. The word of the Lord proved to be unpleasant: “Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah....Therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place, and not be quenched.”5
The word of the Lord was unpleasant, but there was some good news in it. God promised Josiah that the calamity would not come on Judah in his lifetime because his “heart was tender, and [he] humbled himself before God when [he] heard His words....”6 In summary, God promised a complete outpouring of His wrath upon Jerusalem after Josiah was dead.
What was Josiah to do? He had been working for the reformation of Judah for six years and God told him that it was not working. He was informed that all his efforts to save his nation were going to fail. Was it time to surrender? Time to say, “I’ve tried. There is nothing more I can do”? While we might expect such, there was no surrender or resignation to the inevitability of destruction on Josiah’s part. His most diligent efforts at reformation and cleansing of the land came after he was informed that God’s wrath was inevitable. Josiah did all he could to bring the people back to God, His law and His worship.7
Was this great spiritual war waged by Josiah enough to turn the tide? “Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah....”8 Despite a heroic effort by Judah’s greatest king, the nation fell. But were his labors really in vain? Josiah’s greatest works were done while knowing that the end was coming and though he could not stop the destruction, surely his labors were not in vain. Without Josiah the end likely would have come much sooner and only the judgment will reveal the names of the righteous remnant whose souls were saved by the influence of this great man who refused to give up.
Is the end near today? We have no prophets or prophetesses to tell us, but one cannot help but be discouraged by the moral decay in our nation. Whether we speak of governing officials, entertainment giants, false teachers, or the average citizen on the street, things are bad and seem to be getting worse. Moral standards are declining, yea, disappearing and many Christians are being dragged into this mire. Maybe the end is near, and if so, what are we to do? We can sit around wringing our hands and longing for days when things were different, or we can be like Josiah and go on the spiritual warpath. Will we save the country by such actions? Only the Almighty knows what could happen if all His people got as stirred up as Josiah, but there are three important things within our grasp. First of all, we can save our own souls. Secondly, while our children will have to make their own choices, our diligence may be that which keeps them from perishing with our ungodly world. Finally, we may not be able to stop all the encroachments of ungodliness among God’s people everywhere, but a few Josiahs can keep the Pepper Road church of Christ stronger longer.
Will we be the Josiahs God desires, and the United States, Athens, and Pepper Road need?