Are You Sensitive to God's Word? (II Kings 22:8-20)
Topic: One Truth: Your Word is Truth Passage: 2 Kings 22:8–22:20
I. A Sensitivity to Words
While a sensitivity to certain words is extremely important, our culture is becoming sensitive in some unexpected ways. Consider the following phrase: “I want to talk to you about everything going on right now.” Strangely, that phrase recently made it onto an “Oppressive Language List” published by Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center
Why is the phrase “everything going on right now” oppressive? This is how the university explained it: “Being vague about important issues risks miscommunication and can also avoid accountability.” As one commentator put it, “If I say, 'everything going on right now' in reference to police brutality or the pandemic, for example, I might be letting oppressors off the hook.”
Brandeis also suggests we stop using the phrase “trigger warning”. Why? Because, according to Brandeis, “the word 'trigger' has connections to guns for many people; we can give the same heads-up using language less connected to violence.”
Another example is the change that Disneyland recently made. According to the Orange County Register, “Disneyland has replaced the fireworks announcement that began “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” with the more gender-inclusive “Good evening, friends,” according to Disney officials.” As the article goes onto explain, “Disney has been striving to introduce more diversity and inclusivity into its theme parks, workforce and company culture.” So again, a sensitivity to words, words that may not be 'inclusive' enough.
I would love to have you turn to II Kings 22 this morning, to a passage that also speaks to this same issue, a sensitivity to words. I've run across some wonderful passages in I & II Kings in the “5-on-5” readings recently, and wanted to look at those passages together.
II. The Passage: “Regarding the Words You Have Heard” (22:8-20)
To set up the scene a bit, this chapter takes place (v. 3) in the eighteenth year of King Josiah's reign over Judah. Since he ascended to the throne at the tender age of eight, Josiah would now be twenty-six. In verse 3 we read that the king sent his royal secretary to ensure that the Jerusalem temple tax was counted and transferred to the appointed workmen, so that needed repairs could be made to God's sanctuary, the one built by King Solomon. Let's pick up at v. 8...
And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.  And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD.”  Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.  When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. (repeat)
Now, even if you know nothing about Josiah or this “Book of the Law”, the king's reaction is striking, isn't it? What was this book? From both the context and early OT usage of that phrase, this “Book of the Law” was most likely the book we call Deuteronomy. So when we talk about the king's reaction in v. 11, let's be clear: we're talking about his reaction to God's word. Brothers and sisters, I believe the first thing God wants us to understand about this passage is that King Josiah's reaction was not one of indifference or academic interest or even spiritual curiosity. What is crystal clear in v. 11 is the degree to which Josiah was sensitive to God's word.
To what degree are you sensitive to God's word? What does that even mean? I'd encourage you to consider those questions as we take a closer look at the text.
1. Guilt and Grief (vs. 8-11)
Notice first what verse 11 tells us about the degree to which Josiah was sensitive to God's word. We're told that he was so sensitive that he “tore his clothes” when he heard the inspired words of this book. Why did he tear his clothes? He wasn't angry or frustrated. No. He was undone. He was convicted. He was brokenhearted. King Josiah's reaction here is one marked by a powerful experience of both guilt and grief. Why that reaction? Well, let's fast forward and sneak a peek at verse 13 of this same chapter. Josiah explains his reaction...
“For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
To tear one's clothes was a cultural expression of deep sorrow, humility, and repentance. Now, just in case any of us think that Josiah reacted this way because he was just a bad guy who had been caught 'dead to rights' by God, look with me at 22:2... And [Josiah] did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. His concern for the condition of God's Temple was just one expression of his faith and righteousness. In a parallel account we read that Josiah was very different from those who came before him. I Chronicles 34:11 speaks of his repairs to “the buildings that the kings of Judah had let go to ruin.”
So again, why this extreme reaction? Three reasons: 1) as the next chapter makes clear, Josiah recognized that he personally tolerated things that should not have been tolerated, and failed to restore things that had been lost; in other words, 2) as king, Josiah knew that in many ways, he was accountable for the spiritual condition of the people he was commanded to shepherd, and 3) just as II Peter 2:8 describes how a righteous man is tormented or grieved by “lawless deeds” all around him, God-fearing Josiah was similarly burdened in light of the people's sins.
Deuteronomy not only makes it clear that Israel was to “destroy all the places where the nations... served their gods” (12:2), but that they should “take care that you be not ensnared to follow them” (12:30). If they rejected these warnings? Deuteronomy 28:15...
“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”
So what do we see here? We see that in this case a sensitivity to God's word means a sensitivity to sin. But please notice where the passage takes us next.
2. Confirmation and Comfort (vs. 12-20)
After tearing his clothes, gripped by guilt and grief, what does King Josiah do next? Look at what learn in verse 12...
And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying,  “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and 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 kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”  So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter), and they talked with her.  And she said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me,  Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read.  Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.  But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard,  because your heart was penitent [lit. “tender”], and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD.  Therefore, behold, 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 disaster that I will bring upon this place.’” And they brought back word to the king.
So did you notice how verse 19 tells us even more about Josiah's reaction. Not only did he tear his clothes when he heard the word of God. He also wept. His profound sense of guilt and grief over his own sin and the sin of the people drove him to tears.
But please notice that the king's emotional encounter with God's word did not drive him away from either God or his word. A sensitivity to sunlight might drive someone back into the shade or a darkened room. In the same way, a sensitivity to conflict might tempt someone to leave a hard conversation. But a healthy sensitivity to God's word actually deepens that man or woman's desire for the word. They want to know more. They need to know more.
Isn't that what we see here with Josiah? He doesn't want to shut out the voice of God because it's too painful or too onerous. He wants to hear more of God's word. And that's exactly what happens through the prophetess Huldah. Notice that God answers Josiah's guilt and grief with words of confirmation and comfort. Not only does God confirm the nature of the nation's transgressions and the consequences of that sin, he also encourages the king with a word of reassurance. You see, it was the wickedness of Josiah's grandfather, Manasseh, that had tipped the scales and secured God's coming judgment. But wonderfully, Josiah's sensitivity to God's word actually delays this coming judgment. He and his generation would be spared.
So what does it means to be sensitive to God's word? It not only means a deeply-affected heart in light of what God has revealed. It should also lead to a deepening desire to hear more of God's word... all of God's word... both the conviction and comfort... and to obey that word.
III. Feeling Insensitive? Don't Settle!
Brother, sister, friend, is your heart tender when you hear the word of God? If you were in Josiah's position, how would you react to the reading of God's law? When you read it, when you hear it, does Scripture impact you deeply (including emotionally)... whether that means guilt or grief, or comfort or joy? In light of our often tepid or academic or routine or wearied responses to God's sacred and precious word, maybe we should be tearing our clothes this morning? To what degree are you sensitive to God's word?
However you answer that, though there could be many, let me offer two practical applications:
First, when it comes to God's word, don't settle for dry data. I know there have been way too many times when I have been content with learning something interesting from Scripture; content with finding something that I can use in this or that situation, with this or that person, on this or that occasion. Sadly, I have settled for dry data instead of straining to hear the heart-gripping truth that God has graciously revealed. Please know that your relationship with the word, like your relationship with the God of the word, can be vibrant and warm and engrossing. Please don't settle for some other version of faith. But this leads to another idea...
Second, whenever you read or hear the word, ask yourself, “How is God speaking to my heart in this passage?” Biblical facts. Deep doctrines. Gems of wisdom. None of these are bad. Not at all. But we too often come to God's word with only an academic or pragmatic posture. “What do I need to know to master this subject? What might help with this or that problem in my life?” What if instead we asked, “How might God want to undo me through this passage? How is God exposing my secrets, my excuses, my fears in this chapter? How might God want to thrill me or drive me to my knees or restore my hope or break me with this verse?” These questions don't replace the basics of interpretation, but they are equally critical.
In all this, it's so important to remember the very thing Josiah felt deeply here: apart from God's grace, all of us are sinners. Desensitized. Callous. Hardened. Unresponsive. But King Josiah's relationship to the word should remind us of another king's relationship with the word, the One of whom it was said, Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures... (Luke 24:45)
King Jesus can give us this understanding of God's word. We also read in Acts 16:14 that when the Good News about King Jesus was being announced to a Greek woman named Lydia it says, the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. Brothers and sisters, friends, Jesus Christ can open your mind and your heart to the power of God's truth. Isn't this what happened earlier in the book of Acts when Peter declares,
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:36–37)
King Josiah might exemplify a healthy sensitivity to God's word, but only King Jesus can give us that kind of heart. His death for sinners has secured that new heart, and his resurrection empowers it. If you haven't been “cut to the heart” by the Good News about Jesus, ask God this morning to open your mind and heart. If you have, thank God, and ask him to help you bring that same heart every time you open his word. To be clear: our emotional response to the gospel does not save us. Christ saves us. But our sensitivity can indicate something important about the healthiness of our response. So looking to Christ, let's pray for that healthy sensitivity.