Formations 06.24.2018: Finding Guidance Together

2 Kings 22:14-20; 23:2-3

A librarian reads to a group of children in the early twentieth century.

When the scroll shows up in the temple’s renovation, it is taken to the prophet Huldah. And she offers a vision of what it means for Judah and its king, Josiah. She also addresses a question that has risen again and again: how are words and work related to each other, to God, and to humanity?

These themes intermingle again this week. Huldah predicts Judah’s destruction according to “all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read” (v. 16). And such destruction is warranted because “the work of their hands” has angered God (v. 17).

The stories of Samuel and Kings show that words and work, both human and divine, intermingle. Even Josiah’s reforms, so celebrated by our text, reflect both good and questionable work. On one hand, Josiah ensures priests are paid and removes royal interference from the temple in Jerusalem (22:9; 23:5). On the other hand, Josiah desecrates tombs and murders idolatrous priests from the high places (23:16, 20).

Our own world carries its own complexity. Consider the so-called post-truth world, where technology and social media have enabled the rapid spread of misleading and made-up news. But remember that these technologies allow for freer exchanges of people and ideas. Through them, the stories of those who have been marginalized may reach wider. These changes in communication have real physical effects. The good and bad they cause may be tricky to separate. And in such a time as this, our central question bears up: where do we turn for spiritual guidance?

While Huldah and Josiah might not give us answers, they leave us with some possibilities.

Remember that Huldah allows “all of the words of the book” to speak (v. 16). Whatever her own convictions, she lets the scroll speak for itself. This is an alternative position to the kings who have used their subjects to grow in wealth, power, and privilege.

And Josiah, when he hears the scroll, responds. Its words demand work. More than that, they shape the direction of his work. But before specific reforms and policy, Josiah takes the scroll to “all the people of Judah…, both small and great” (23:2). Reading it, he calls Judah back into covenant with God.

Huldah and Josiah lead us again and again to see our mutual dependence in relationship with God, with others, and with Scripture. They call us again and again to community and its challenges.

Their words lead us to work with God and others. This work leads us back to our own words. And for Josiah and Huldah, such relationships of faithfulness may persevere, even amid the promise of destruction.

Discussion

• When have you seen ideas, people, or communities appropriated incompletely to further the privilege, power, or wealth of others?
• How might our preconceptions shape our hearing of the testimony of Scripture and testimonies of our neighbors?
• What fruit, good or bad, might come from upholding the tensions in our shared and various experiences and interpretations of Scripture?

Reference Shelf

Works of their Hands

Both yad and the Gk. term cheir extend beyond literal usage to significant theological meanings. From the image of “holding in the hand” is derived the idea of possession or control. Relatedly, “hand” can refer to that which persons do with the hand(s) or even the persons themselves, or any agent of an action. Through extended metaphor “hand” often means “power,” both human and divine. God’s saving activity (deliverance, protection) may be described as the work of God’s hand. Prophetic inspiration is ascribed to God’s putting the divine hand on the spokesman. Negatively, God can turn a hand against people or deliver them into the hands of their enemies.

[…]

“Hand” may also refer to people, agents, a direction or side, or a part of something. The term yad in a few instances refers to a monument.

Scott Nash “Hand,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 356.

Covenant

The initial and defining act of reform is the reconstitution of the community of faith as one intentionally committed to Yahweh’s Torah and to covenantal obedience of Yahweh. Thus Josiah assembles the leadership of the community and “all the people great and small.” The purpose is to hear the Torah read and to pledge obedience to its radical vision of reality. Covenant-making, the submission to Yahweh’s requirements and expectations, is deeply rooted in Israel’s memory and imagination. The narrative surely appeals to the fundamental covenant-making of Sinai (Exod 24:1-8) and echoes the provisions in Deuteronomy for regular reconstitution of covenant (Deut 31:9-13), the practice of Joshua upon entry into the land (Josh 8:30-35; 24:1-28), and the covenant-making of King Jehoash and the priest Jehoiada (2 Kgs 11:17-20); it anticipates the work of Ezra in Nehemiah 8:1-12. All of these texts—and most especially our present text—understand that a covenantally constituted community is particularly linked to Yahweh, is committed to a radically alternative ethic, and is aimed at a quite alternative future in the world. We are here at the most distinctive ecclesial and ethical claim of the Old Testament.

The negative counterpoint of the act, implied and not stated, is that over long years of carelessness and indifference, covenantal dimensions of life have been forgotten and neglected, so that through ethical carelessness, religious indifference, and theological heterodoxy, Israel’s peculiar identity and vocation in the world have been abandoned. Thus, the narrative presents Josiah’s act as an act of such profound importance that it parallels the founding act of Moses at Sinai and the renewing act of Ezra. This act is nothing less than the recovery of a lost destiny.

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 554.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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