Friday, November 20, 2015

Lesson 8: Josiah's Reforms

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic


Lesson 8: Josiah's Reforms


"For hundreds of years after the death of Solomon, a strange and melancholy sight could be seen opposite Mount Moriah. Crowning the eminence of the Mount of Olives, and peering above the groves of myrtle and olive trees, were imposing piles of buildings, for the idolatrous worship of gigantic, unseemly images of wood and stone. ... Little did Solomon think when he built the unholy shrines on the hill before Jerusalem, that these evidences of his apostasy would remain from generation to generation, to testify against him. Notwithstanding his repentance, the evil that he did lived after him, witnessing to the terrible fall of the greatest and wisest of kings.

"More than three centuries later, Josiah, the youthful reformer, in his religious zeal demolished these buildings and all the images of Ashtoreth and Chemosh and Moloch. Many of the broken fragments rolled down the channel of the Kedron, but great masses of ruins remained. Even as late as the days of Christ, the ruins on the 'Mount of Offense,' as the place was called by many of the true-hearted of Israel, might still be seen. Could Solomon, when rearing these idolatrous shrines, have looked into the future, how he would have started back in horror to think of the sad testimony they would bear to the Messiah!

"How sad the thought that the far-reaching influence of Solomon's apostasy could never be fully counteracted! The king confessed his sins, and wrote out, for the benefit of after generations, a record of his folly and repentance; but he could never hope to destroy the baleful influence of his evil deeds. Emboldened by his apostasy, many continued to do evil, and evil only. And in the downward course of many of the rulers that followed him, may be traced the sad influence of the prostitution of his God-given powers (Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, Feb. 15, 1906).


What is there about the story of "Josiah's Reforms," that occurred in the time of the Kings of Old Testament times, that can possibly relate to the 1888 message? And to the Seventh-day Adventist Church (us) today?

There is one word that stands out in the above quotation from Ellen White, and the story as discussed in the quarterly: repentance!

Moses called upon succeeding generations to recognize and confess their corporate guilt with "their fathers": "If they shall confess their trespass which they trespassed against Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept the punishment of their iniquity ... I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 26:3-40). They were explicitly to confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers.

Succeeding generations often recognized the truth of this principle. King Josiah, seeking to promote corporate repentance in his day, confessed that "great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us" (2 Kings 22:13). He said nothing about the guilt of his own generation, so clearly did he see their involvement with the guilt of previous generations. The writer of the Book of Chronicles agrees with this confession of corporate guilt (2 Chron. 34:21).

This young king's zeal for the Lord was unbounded. Again, in deep piety he sought to renew the old covenant: "He caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to [take their stand for it]" (vss. 31, 32).

King Josiah's revival and reformation were based upon leading all the people into making a promise to God that they would "perform" "His commandments." We read: "And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant" (2 Kings 23:3).

We might be inclined to think, this was a good thing. But it is essentially the same mistake their ancestors made when God gave them His everlasting covenant promise at Mount Sinai. God's covenant was the same which He gave to Abraham.

Abraham's justification by faith was to have been the guiding light of a nation's world mission. "In thee shall all families of the earth shall be blessed," the Lord promised (Gen. 12:3). Abraham made no promise in return; all he did was believe the Lord's promise (Gen. 15:6). That promise of God was the new covenant.

Before the giving of the law at Sinai with "thunders, and lightnings," earthquake, fire, and the death boundary, the Lord tried to re-establish the same new covenant with Abraham's descendants: "If ye will obey [listen to, Hebrew] My voice indeed, and keep [cherish, Hebrew] My covenant [His new covenant promise to Abraham], then ye shall be a peculiar [special] treasure unto Me above all people" (Ex. 19:5). [1] Of all nations in the world, they were to be "the head, and not the tail" (Deut. 28:13). But Mount Sinai was the turning point in the nation's destiny, for they refused the Lord's new covenant of justification by faith. Instead of humbly saying "Amen" to God's promise as Abraham did (the Hebrew word for "believe" is amen), the people promised a work's program of obedience, "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do" (Ex. 19:8). That was the old covenant. The nation bound themselves to a long detour that would finally lead them to the terrible deed of Christ's crucifixion.

God told Josiah through the prophetess Huldah that He appreciated that his "heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before Me" (2 Kings 22:19). It's readily apparent what motivated Josiah's repentance. It was God's words against Judah and the curse of desolation. Josiah's faith was motivated out of fear for what God had predicted was to befall them. This fear motivation was old covenant through and through. Such fear-based faith could never produce a heart reconciliation, an at-one-ment with God.

Huldah prophesied of Josiah's early demise. God speaking through her said: "Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place" (vs. 20). Josiah rendered all manner of outward changes of reform. God appreciated his efforts. But the changes were only cosmetic in nature. Neither the king's heart nor the peoples' hearts experienced genuine faith, which is a heart appreciation for God's loving and giving Himself to them for their salvation from sin.

While maintaining such devotion to the written Spirit of Prophecy, Josiah managed to reject its living demonstration. The problem was that the renewed "spiritual gift" came through the most unlikely avenue that king or people could imagine--the mouth of a supposedly pagan king!

Pharaoh Necho of Egypt was leading his army in opposition to the rising power of Babylon. Josiah thought it his duty to attack him. Didn't Moses in the Spirit of Prophecy tell Israel to oppose the heathen? But the zealous king couldn't discern how Necho was on God's errand. He warned Josiah, "Forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that He destroy thee not" (2 Chron. 35:21). The Chronicler says the king "hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God." The Lord was forced to let the young king die of his battle wounds (vss. 22-24). Jeremiah was heart-broken, for Josiah's revival fizzled out with his untimely death. From then on it was downhill all the way.

Like Josiah, is it possible for us as Seventh-day Adventists to think we are super-loyal to "the Spirit of Prophecy" while at the same time rejecting its living demonstration? That happened in 1888; our brethren were replaying Josiah's "tape." In rejecting that "most precious message" "sent from heaven" they imagined they were loyal to Ellen White's past writings while setting aside the Lord's living message. [2]

Are we replaying Israel's old covenant revivals and reformations? Sober reflection forces an answer: as a body we are as lukewarm now as we were over a century ago. When "we" "in a great degree" and "in a great measure" rejected that "most precious" new covenant truth that came in the 1888 era, "we" locked ourselves into "many more years" of an old covenant detour as surely as did Israel at Sinai. [3]

The faith-experience of the new covenant was the main focus of leadership opposition to the 1888 message. While they opposed the "messengers," A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, they actually preferred the essential elements of the old covenant. Ellen White was shown in vision that these revered leaders were wasting their time trying to urge a view different from Waggoner's, for she was "shown" that he was right. [4]

Old covenant ideas have continued to predominate in our experience. Our revivals and reformations have followed the pattern of those of Israel. Not yet have we as a church body truly recovered the new covenant which "we" largely rejected a century ago.

In the great final Day of Atonement, all the failures of ancient Judah and Israel must and will at last be rectified in a repentance of the ages. Jesus says, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:19).

Is there a special reason why our Lord calls the "remnant church" to repent? It is easy to assume that only false or apostate churches need to repent. The more convinced we are that a certain denomination represents the true "remnant church" of Bible prophecy, the more perplexed we are to understand how she seriously needs an experience of repentance. But her only hope lies in that possibility.

The bedrock sin of all mankind is hatred and rejection of Christ, manifested in His crucifixion. Repentance for this sin is where the miracle of the atonement takes place. Our 1888 history illustrates this truth, and the inspired messenger of the Lord was quick to discern its significance. The 1888 Conference was a miniature Calvary. It afforded a public demonstration of the same spirit of unbelief and hatred of God's righteousness that inspired the Jews to murder the Son of God.

Ellen White explains why we need to repent, and how we relate to God's "ancient people":

"If with all the light that shone upon His ancient people, delineated before us, we travel over the same ground, cherish the same spirit, refuse to receive reproof and warning, then our guilt will be greatly augmented, and the condemnation that fell upon them will fall upon us, only it will be as much greater as our light is greater in this age than was their light in their age." [5]

"All the universe of heaven witnessed the disgraceful treatment of Jesus Christ, represented by the Holy Spirit [at the 1888 Minneapolis Session]. Had Christ been before them, they [the leaders] would have treated Him in a manner similar to that in which the Jews treated Christ." [6]

Men professing godliness have despised Christ in the persons of His messengers [E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones]. Like the Jews, they reject God's message." [7]

She believed to the end that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the true "remnant church" of Bible prophecy, entrusted with the proclamation to the world of God's last gospel message of mercy; and that repentance and humbling of heart before God is the only appropriate response that "we" can make that will enable Heaven to pour out the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the accomplishment of the task.

Our denominational history is in fact one continual call to repentance.

The repentance Christ calls for is beginning to be realized. When one member in a congregation falls into sin, a little reflection can convince many members that they share in his or her guilt. Had we been more alert, more kindhearted, more ready to speak "a word in season to him who is weary," more effective in communicating the pure, powerful truth of the gospel, we might have saved the erring member from falling. Therefore, it is encouraging to believe that within the generation a large sense of loving concern can be realized on a worldwide scale. With "the mind of Christ," a bond of sympathy and fellowship is established "in Him." This miracle will follow the laws of grace.

Such an experience will transform the church into a dynamo of love. It is God's plan that no church will have seating capacity for the converted sinners who will want to stream into it. Corporate and denominational repentance is the whole church experiencing Christ-like love and empathy for all for whom He died.

"The time has come for a thorough reformation to take place. When this reformation begins, the spirit of prayer will actuate every believer, and will banish from the church the spirit of discord and strife. ... All will be in harmony with the mind of the Spirit." [8]

--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland

[1] The Hebrew word often translated "obey" means "listen" (shamea). The word translated "keep" in this text is shamar, which in Genesis 2:15 means to "cherish," to treasure, to prize highly, but not explicitly "obey."
[2] See, for example, Uriah Smith's and G. I. Butler's letters to Ellen G. White of Feb. 17, 1890, Sept. 24, 1892 (Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis 1888, pp. 152-157, 206-212). The Lord not only sent "prophets" to Israel, but "messengers" also (2 Chron. 36:16).
[3] See E. G. White Letter 184, 1901; Evangelism, p. 696.
[4] See E. G. White Letters 30, 59, 1890.
[5] E. G. White, Review and Herald, April 11, 1893.
[6] E. G. White, Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 6, p. 20.
[7] E. G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 472.
[8] E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 251.