King Josiah was one of the good guys (2 Kings 22:1–23:30; 2 Chronicles 34:1–35:27). Upon encountering the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:8), he instituted far-ranging spiritual reforms in Judah, putting down idolatry and leading the people back to a proper worship of YHWH. This is how 2 Kings summarises his reign:
Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. (2 Kings 23:25 NIV)
This is high praise indeed seen against the backdrop of the many kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord. You would have expected Josiah to live long and prosper. Instead, he dies in battle.
After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Necho king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle. But Necho sent messengers to him, saying, “What quarrel is there, king of Judah, between you and me? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.”
Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Necho had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo.
Archers shot King Josiah, and he told his officers, “Take me away; I am badly wounded.” So they took him out of his chariot, put him in his other chariot and brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. He was buried in the tombs of his ancestors, and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him. (2 Chronicles 35:20–24 NIV)
Why did God allow Josiah to die? Perhaps he didn’t believe that God would speak through him, a pagan king? Maybe he acted without first consulting God? Or was this an indication that Josiah continued to trust in alliances with powers like Assyria, rather than trusting in the Lord alone? Whatever the reason, even though he started so well and did so much good, Josiah falls. Even our best leaders are not perfect. Even our best leaders die eventually.
As I write, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, founding prime minister of Singapore, a brilliant leader and statesman, is in hospital fighting for his life. His condition deteriorates by the day. Karpal Singh and Nik Aziz, two giants in the opposition in Malaysia have passed away—Karpal last year, and Nik Aziz earlier this year. One can only speculate as to the impact of their presence, with the events now unfolding in Malaysia.
This is the hard truth. We are grateful when the Lord gives our communities good leaders. But the story of King Josiah has one key lesson for us: our ultimate trust must be in God and God alone. All earthly leaders will one day fail us even if it is by their exit from this life. There is only one leader that will never fail us—the King who comes riding on a donkey (John 12:12–15). Only Jesus can fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6–7 (NIV):
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
We thank God for the good leaders God gives us. We encourage them. We work with them. We will be sad when they leave us. But we will not be shaken. Our ultimate hope is in a God who is on His throne, who with the first coming of Jesus has inaugurated His perfect kingdom, a job that will be completed when He returns. In the meantime, we are guided by these words from the Lord’s model prayer:
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:10 NIV)
Our hope, our cry, is for the return of Jesus. In the meantime we work and pray for His will to be done on earth. We share the gospel of the Kingdom, and we work for justice and righteousness knowing that our work will not be in vain because the Lord will return to finish what He began. We live in challenging times but we hear our Lord speaking to us through Paul:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV)
We gird our loins. We catch our breath. We press on.
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