I’ve never written a blurb for the back of a book. There’s good reason for this: I am not famous enough to help anyone sell their books and I am not really an expert on anything in particular. My understanding is that authors and publishers want those blurbs to come from people more well known than the author, people who will make readers stand up and pay attention. If we see someone we trust and respect encourage us to read a certain book, we’re much more likely to pay attention.
Which is why we ought to pay attention to the way God singles out and commends a few people in Scripture. When the Creator of the Universe calls you greater than all those born of women, like Jesus did of John (Lk. 7:28), we should take a much closer look.
In our church’s Old Testament reading this week, we came across another similar blurb from God:
Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.
2 Kings 23:25
The king in question is young Josiah. Here, God gives him praise and honor not given to any other king in the entire Scriptures. Consider that! Even David and Solomon, heroes of the faith, don’t compare to Josiah in their relationship to the Lord.
What was it that gained such high praise from God? Josiah’s turning to the Lord. Or, to put it another way, his repentance. It was Josiah’s total and passionate commitment to repentance that earned him such praise from God. Knowing that we often use the language of repentance without the substance, God shines the brightest possible light on Josiah so that we would learn what true repentance looks like. Consider what Josiah teaches us about truly turning from sin.
Repentance begins with hearing the Word of God. Josiah was 26 when Hilkiah found God’s law in the temple and Shaphan read it to the young king (2 Kgs. 22:10). Although Josiah was a respectable man already, this was the point of brokenness before the Lord. True repentance begins with a conviction of sin against God’s law, not just a general sense of shame.
Repentance doesn’t make excuses. Unlike so many of our politicians, Josiah didn’t make a speech blaming the nation’s sins on past kings (2 Kgs. 22:11). Although he recognized those past sins led to the current time of judgment, he sought the Lord without excuse, agreeing that God was just to judge (Ps. 51:4) and taking responsibility to make wrong things right.
Repentance is a covenant. Josiah called the elders and people together, leading them through the same hearing and brokenness he had experienced. And then they made a covenant to God, a solemn, renewing vow to follow the Lord wholeheartedly (2 Kgs. 23:3). Their repentance went far beyond feeling really bad about their sin; rather, their sorrow was a springboard for new and deeper obedience.
Repentance is a thorough violence against sin. After the covenant ceremony, life didn’t just return to normal. No, the work was only beginning. The temple was cleansed of relics and other idols. The unfaithful priests were stripped of their positions. The Asherah was removed, burned, beaten to dust, and scattered over the graves of the unfaithful. Whorehouses were brought crashing to the ground. Local places of idolatry (“high places”) were hunted down and broken in pieces; the worst one, Topheth, where Israel had sacrificed their own children, was defiled to the point of uselessness. Horses and chariots that were worshiped as part of the sun god’s worship were removed from the temple. Altars that past kings had built in various places were broken and crushed into dust. Even the bones of the unfaithful were exhumed and burned on their own altars. The point is this: repentance is violence against sin. Have we been using the words of repentance without putting to death the sins of the flesh? (Rom. 8:13)
Repentance leads to worship. As Josiah led the nation away from their idolatry, he also led them to the Lord. He immediately called for the Passover to be kept, for the first time in many generations (2 Kgs. 23:21-22). And so repentance will include a growing, violent hatred of sin and a growing, passionate worship of God. Repentance that doesn’t lead to worship is likely motivated by personal concern rather than a concern for God’s glory.
It was repentance that made the Spirit honor Josiah. True, thorough, violent, passionate repentance. May God help you and me to repent like this!