It is impossible for us in this modern world to imagine a book being entirely lost – every single copy gone. In the world before printing, it was a real possibility. Handwritten copies could easily be destroyed and works by some great authors have disappeared completely. The Book of the Law (Deuteronomy?) was lost in Josiah’s day, after the reigns of two evil kings. When it was rediscovered during renovations in the Jerusalem Temple, the effect on Josiah was powerful. He knew what had to be done. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 9. 2 Kings 23:3 Covenant renewal under Josiah
1. Repentance of sin
Josiah was a king who desired to serve God – ‘He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (22:2), despite having an evil father (Amon) and grandfather (Manasseh). Why was Josiah different? The only explanation is the grace of God at work in his life. When Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law (22:8) and it was read to the king, Josiah ‘tore his robes’ (22:11), a sign of heartfelt repentance. He recognised his own sin and that of the nation. This is reinforced by God’s word through Huldah the prophetess – ‘they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods’ (22:17). To enter into covenant with the Lord we must have experienced God’s saving grace and also have felt his Word uncover our sins. The sins of the nation of which we are a part ought also to grieve us.
2. Rededication to God
This godly king sets an example. Stirred by the reality of judgment and the hope of mercy to the repentant, he summons a gathering of the nation’s leaders and ‘read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant’ (v2). Together they will renew their covenant with the Lord, binding themselves to live out their obligations to God in their day, bringing their covenant commitment up to date. Their commitment is to ‘follow the Lord and keep all his commands’ (v3). It is to be ‘with all his heart and all his soul’ (see Deuteronomy 6:5). Outward conformity must be accompanied by heart commitment. Each one makes personal dedication: ‘all the people pledged themselves to the covenant’ (v3). Our covenanting is to be a personal response to God’s grace and can be a regular rededication of ourselves to the Lord.
3. Reformation of life
Pledging faithfulness to the Lord has practical effects on our lives. There needs to be ongoing thorough reformation, removing all that is offensive to God and contrary to his covenant law. Thus in v4-20 we have a description of the removal of all the trappings of idolatry. This had been done in part before, but covenant renewal gives fresh impetus. The evidence of vile pagan practices is destroyed. Our covenant commitment to the Lord requires nothing less. We need ongoing reformation that gets rid of any idol, any false god replacing the Lord in our hearts. We are always in danger of conforming to the thinking and standards of those around us. The Lord’s call is ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed’ (Romans 12:2). The Lord provides means of grace to strengthen us, like the Passover/Lord’s Supper (v21). It is Christ’s strength that empowers us (Philippians 4:13).