Let me begin with a note to my readers. I propose for the next year to use the relatively new Narrative Lectionary as the basis for my essays. I have been writing this blog now for over six years, and have well over 300 separate pieces on my site for Patheos. Thus, I have addressed the Revised Common Lectionary texts for the Hebrew Bible, and on occasion the Book of the Acts, at least twice. My comments on those texts are readily available on my site’s catalogue. It seems appropriate to me to turn to a different series of texts for my work; I think that will freshen my commentary and offer to my readers other opportunities for their own reading and preaching. The Narrative Lectionary is the creation of some of the faculty of Luther Seminary, and focuses narrative attention on the Hebrew Bible in the fall of the year and the New Testament in the spring. The summer months are addressed in different ways, as shall be seen. The lectionary is given in a four-year cycle. This is an experiment for me, and I hope you will find value in it, as I hope to quicken my own creative juices by this change.
Because I have already addressed the text Jeremiah 33:14-18 in my blog for Christ the King Sunday, a text the Narrative Lectionary assigns to the First Sunday in Advent, I will turn to the text provided by the Narrative Lectionary for November 24 Christ the King, namely 2 Kings 22:1-10, 23:1-3. I find this an especially inspired choice for wrestling with the larger meanings of Christ the King Sunday, since the theological history recorded in 2 Kings sheds light on what we might mean by calling Christ King.
The king of Judah discussed in this chapter became known as one of Judah’s great reformers. In the light of the discovery of a “book” during the refurbishing of the Temple of Jerusalem, Josiah was determined to perform the demands of YHWH as the book outlined them. It has long been decided that this rediscovered book was either what we know as Deuteronomy, or at least some portion of it. Its discovery among the money collected by the Temple was fortuitous and apparently unexpected. The implications of the discovery were nothing less than momentous. All worshipping places in the land were proscribed as pagan, and all Judeans were commanded to come only to the Jerusalem Temple to worship. With that one stroke, the power of the rural priests was destroyed, while the power of the Temple and its priests and functionaries was greatly enhanced. At the same time, Jerusalem became even more significant in the life of Judah, and no doubt reaped the increasing rewards of the larger influx of worshippers from the countryside.
Those were two of the quite practical effects of the book’s discovery and Josiah’s conviction that its edicts must be followed. However, the theological impact, according to the author of Kings, was equally important. Josiah’s role as the finest of Judean kings, rivaling even the most significant monarch in all Israel’s history, the famous David, was cemented for all time. Of course, we must remember that all of Northern Israel’s kings were by definition poor ones, since they did not worship in Jerusalem, as Deuteronomy demanded. It is clear that the books of Kings were heavily edited by the Deuteronomic Historian, who overlay his Israelite history with the requirements found in the book of Deuteronomy. Thus, because Josiah, upon hearing the newly-discovered book read to him, reacted in horror, realizing how far his realm was from following the book’s demands, “tore his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11) and immediately sought to find out whether the book was in fact what he thought it to be, namely a word directly from the mouth of YHWH.
She is only partly correct in her statements. Josiah is indeed “gathered to his ancestors,” and he is spared the “disasters” of exile, first the partial exile in 597BCE and finally the fuller disaster in 587BCE, but he is surely not “gathered in peace.” In reality, King Josiah, in a foolish attempt to impede the movements of the armies of Pharaoh Neco from moving up the Mediterranean coast to confront the armies of Assyria in 612BCE, is killed and brought back to a weeping Jerusalem in his chariot (2 Kings 23:29-30). Thus does history not fit the theological grid that Huldah and Deuteronomy suggests. In history, piety and devotion are no guarantee of a peaceful end.
Still, the use of Josiah as a kind of literary model for the coming Christ is not a bad one. He is a dedicated reformer, who himself is desirous of following the will and way of his God, and who also urges his people to do the same. At 2 Kings 23:1-3, Josiah is said to demand that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem be brought to him in the Temple, along with “all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great” (2 Kings 23:2). There the king himself reads the words of the book, and publically “makes a covenant before YHWH, to follow YHWH, keeping the commandments, decrees, and statutes, with all his heart and all his life, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book” (2 Kings 23:3). And all assembled, all the people, “join in the covenant.”
Is this not what the Christ child has come to do? He follows the word of his God, not deviating to right or left, and he bids all those who want to be his disciples to do the same. Josiah is hardly a perfect model, but he is remembered as being a devoted and pious king, a veritable paragon among the rather poor and weak monarchs that preceded and follow him. At least to that extent, Josiah may be seen as model, however limited, for the one who is coming into the world, even Jesus who is called Christ, the Child of the living God.
(Images from Wikimedia Commons)