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… 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. (2 Kings 22:8-11)
I wonder how long the people of Israel– including the priests– went without reading and listening to the Word of God. Years? Generations? At this point in Israel’s history, their religion was running on fumes, the remnants of traditions whose origins were a distant memory. Syncretism has blended the worship of the Lord with that of gods of surrounding nations. The Lord continuously sent the prophets, so the people were not entirely without witness to the truth at this time. The Word of God was also there, but it was collecting dust and the people were oblivious.
Young King Josiah, by God’s grace, had some fear of the Lord in him and commissioned that the temple be repaired. The funds for the project were to be taken from the people’s contributions which were stored in the house of the Lord. It was there that the Book of the Law was found. Immediately it was taken to the king to be read. His reply was to weep and tear his clothes. They had broken the covenant. The reading of the Law served as a testament to just how far Judah had fallen from God. That’s what the Word does, of course. It pierces soul and spirit, joint and marrow, laying our hearts bare before the Lord, to whom we must give account. Judah was in big trouble.
With Josiah’s repentance, God mercifully spares him (and the nation during his generation). But Judah’s sin at large would not change and exile was on the horizon.
There is a subtle warning we should note from this story: it is possible to continue along with all the forms, functions, and traditions of religion apart from the Word of God. This is a profoundly bad thing. As the Jews then, so Christians now can continue in weekly attendance at services, prayers, financial giving, observing ordinances, and enjoying fellowship, but not be guided by the Word of God. This is dangerous.
The Word is corrective. It does spiritual surgery in our hearts, diagnosing our hidden sins at work, and then applying the gospel to bring healing. It is our authority, our standard of truth, by which we can spot falsehood among us and within us. It is a light that leads us near to God when we would tend to stray from him. It is a preservative, keeping us in faith, hope, and love. Where God’s Word is not heard or known, people will drift into all manner of error: mysticism, superstition, syncretism, empty religion, apostasy, self-centeredness, and more. The people of Judah had the form of religion but were empty of its power. They had the Word in the house of the Lord, but no one knew it. No one was reading it. Nobody gained from it.
How many churches are whitewashed tombs because they tried to keep religion and its traditions, but lost the Word. It’s in the pulpits and pews and at home on the congregants’ bookshelves (somewhere), but not in their hearts and minds. We must let the Word of God speak into our lives, in our conversations, and into our religion. We must be on guard against ‘going through the motions’ apart from faith.
Don’t let that Bible sit on your shelf collecting dust. Take it up, read it, and let it do its work in you.