Josiah was so moved and so grieved when hearing God’s Word that he expresses it in the most dramatic fashion possible. This was a significant sign of repentance and sorrow. And he as the King was repenting as the representative of his people before the Lord. It says then,
12 Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, 13 “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 aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
He sent the priests to inquire of the Lord, to intercede for him and the people. Remember, he was righteous, but the people were not, and that condition of sinfulness grieved the King before the Lord. He wanted to know if there was any hope at all for the nation at this point. So great was their sin, and so great the holiness of God. Was there any hope for them at all?
He feared that the work of reform for the last ten years was too little too late in light of the depths of the wickedness of the people as their true condition was brought to light by the Word of God. We read then in verse 14,
14 So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her. 15 Then she said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, 16 “Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read— 17 because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched.’”’
As they inquired of the Lord, He sent His Word through this prophetess, and the word back was not good news. It is the same message that Zephaniah had preached. Judgment was coming, it was sure, and it could not be stopped. Josiah had been motivated to remove the idolatry from the land, to hope that he could undo that which was deserving of wrath. But the Word from God is that it is too late. The physical places of false worship were removed but in their hearts the people were still idolaters. Judgment was coming. However, that is not the end of the message from the Lord. We go on in verse 18,
18 But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, in this manner you shall speak to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: “Concerning the words which you have heard— 19 because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the Lord. 20 “Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.”’” So they brought back word to the king.”
Here we see the patience and longsuffering grace of God. Here is a drop of mercy in a sea of wrath. God said through the prophetess that He had seen Josiah’s repentance and sorrow when he had heard the Word of the Lord and had torn his clothes. The Lord confirms that the judgment is coming, but it will not come in Josiah’s time. These things will come to pass after Josiah has been taken to be with the Lord.
We know that Josiah reigned until 609 BC. The Book of the Law had been found in 622 BC. For the last 13 years of his life then, Josiah reigned in peace, up until the end. He led the people in continued reform and revival that we will see in 2 Kings 23 later, but as we see he was faithful to the Lord we have to realize that the judgments proclaimed by Zephaniah and the other prophets did not come to pass until 586 BC. For 25 years after the death of Josiah there was no judgment.
I want to focus specifically here are the three things that Josiah did, the three ways he responded to hearing the Word of God that brought 38 years to pass before judgment came – do you see that? Typically in Scripture a generation is 40 years. In fact, Josiah died at age 39. So for God to spare the people judgment for 38 years, we see that the response of Josiah to the Word of God brought a generation peace and not judgment! An entire generation was spared. And don’t forget that many born in that generation were taken into the exile. Daniel and his friends among them.
As we have read Zephaniah and as we ask how we can apply the message of the Minor Prophets today, we see the wrath and doom and gloom and the certainty of judgment for sin. But where do we find hope? We find hope in Josiah’s response to the Word of the Lord. It says first, when he heard the Word of the Lord that his heart was tender. The phrase for tender heart means Josiah had a contrite heart. Now what is contrition? The word means “soft”, hence tender hearted. It refers to being bruised or wounded. There is a softness to a contrite heart. Not a hard heart. It speaks to a heart that is sensitive to something. Here his heart was sensitive to hearing the Word of God.
The Scriptures tell us that when we are sensitive to God’s Word, when we have a soft place in our hearts for Him and His Word, we respond to it as we ought. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”
So often we think that it is the believers who have it all together and who seem to not have any doubts, fears, or struggles, we think those are the strong Christians. But here we see that God cares about those who are broken hearted. Those who have a contrite spirit. Those who have fought the battle with sin and are bruised and wounded.
Think about the parable of the Shepherd and the Sheep. There are 100 sheep in the flock. One goes missing. One is lost, wandering, wayward, injured. And who does the Shepherd go after? He doesn’t go after the 99 who are where they are supposed to be. That one, who has the greatest need. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart. Josiah had a contrite and tender heart. And God was near to him.
Psalm 51:17 tells us, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— these, O God, You will not despise.” Again, so often we fall for the myth that God is looking for a bunch of super Christians to go and turn the world upside down. But do you know who God is looking for? Those who are broken. Those who are battered. Those who are bruised. Because those are the ones who can go out into the world and be compassionate and sympathetic towards sinners. “The sacrifices of God (the things He values and accepts) are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— these, O God, You will not despise.”
Isaiah 57:15 says, “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” God is with the contrite.
In Isaiah 66:2, “For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” Says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” God looks for those who respond to His Word with a contrite heart, with brokenness, with tenderness. Those who understand their sinfulness and their need, who understand that we cannot do this on our own. We must have the Lord! Without Him we can do nothing.
It may seem foolish to gather and listen to the Word of God preached and taught and explained and applied. God says preaching is foolishness. He says He does not use the strong, or the wise according to this world to accomplish His purposes. He confounds the wise by sending men like me out to proclaim His Word! He uses the broken, the weak, the foolish things to demonstrate that it is all His Spirit, His Power, His Word – it is all about what He is doing.
Josiah responded with a tender heart and it says he humbled himself before the Lord. So his second response to the Word of the Lord was to have humility. What is humility? The word means “to bow down.” It is to lower yourself before another. Humility is not thinking that you are less than you are; it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is understanding that it is not all about me. It is about serving the Lord and serving others. It is a right perspective.
Psalm 10:17 says, “Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear.” He says there when we humble ourselves that He, that God is going to prepare our heart. For what? For whatever comes next! For whatever you are about to deal with or experience. But you know how we deal with it, we worry, and stress, and fear, and doubt, but here the Lord says that if we want our hearts to be ready for what is next, we need to humble ourselves. We need to bow before Him and trust Him to take care of us.
Psalm 18:27, “For You will save the humble people, but will bring down haughty looks.” The Lord saves those who know that they cannot save themselves and who know that they must turn from self and sin and trust Christ to save them.
Psalm 25:9 says, “The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.” Do you want to learn God’s Word and God’s Ways? Humble yourself before Him.
In Psalm 147:6 we read, “The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked down to the ground.” The Lord lifts up. He upholds those who lower themselves.