"Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’” - 2 Kings 22:18-20
In this passage, the prophetess, Huldah is speaking of King Josiah, a king of Judah, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” He succeeded a line of Kings who “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” The author(s) of 1 Kings provide myriad examples of how the Kings prior to Josiah “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Among those examples, I was struck by the prevalence of “idolatry” as an example.
Warnings of false idols always evoke for me an image of the “golden calf.” And frankly, sometimes the false idols are that obvious. The Golden Calf could easily be the mascot of say, my favorite college football team. However, the list of practices in furtherance of idolatry that Josiah sets out to remove in renewing the covenant are so numerous, that it demands a broadened perspective to include more subtle manifestations of idolatry. Stopping at the Golden Calf is the trap of a contemporary world prone to dismissing the wisdom of the Bible by too literal of an interpretation. Idols distract us from what is most important in God’s message and arguably the most dangerous among those are cloaked in our individual judgment of “good.”
My first attempt at summarizing the above passage described Josiah as a “good” king, but I noticed the passage is very deliberate in framing it as to whether a king did “right in the eyes of the Lord.” That caused me to think of how strong the temptation is for me to reduce things to good vs. bad or right vs wrong. However, what makes our faith so special is not that it includes the playbook for the ideal behavior that none of us will ever accomplish but for which we shall always strive, but that it comes with the grace and mercy of a forgiving God that instructs us to likewise extend this grace to one another. When I reflect on what most stands in my way when I struggle to extend the grace I know to be right in the eyes of the Lord, it is almost always the stubborn attachment to what “I” believe is right.
The placement of this scripture in the story’s timeline also stands out to me. After Josiah’s priest found the Book of the Law and it is read to Josiah, Josiah is credited with having been responsive and humbling himself before the Lord. And while he later devotes his reign to correcting the errors of his predecessors with the determination of a modern day social justice warrior, he receives the praise and prophecy BEFORE any of that. He receives it for his humility and responsiveness. He is spared the disasters that will plague his society.