Reading the Documents Doesn't Always Help

While attending to tax receipts, a government agent finds his country's founding document and brings it to the attention of the ruling powers, which are stunned by how far the country has strayed from its founding principles.  A public reading of the document ensues.  No, this is not this week's news; it's a lot older.  As strangely similar the events are, the events after this first reading should add a dose of caution to the optimism in Washington, D.C. today.

In 640 BC, Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight after the assassination of his father, Amon.  As kings of Judah went, Josiah was a good ruler.  When he was in his mid-twenties, Josiah ordered the high priest, Hilkiah, to go to the temple in Jerusalem and oversee its repair using the money the priests had been collecting from the people (one could say this was "tax" money for the services rendered by the priests).  As Hilkiah was accounting of the money in the temple, he made an amazing discovery -- the Book of the Law.

Now, to modern sensibilities, it is very puzzling to find out that something so vital to the legitimacy of a people -- their founding document, as it were -- could be misplaced.  You'd think someone would wonder what happened to that stuff that Moses wrote.  Nevertheless, the traditions of the Book of the Law lived on without a thought to the book that spawned them.

You'd think that such a momentous finding would be reported to the king right away.  At the very least, you'd think the high priest would at least read the thing.  You'd be wrong, as Hilkiah gave it to his secretary, Shaphan, who did actually read it and decided that maybe the king should know about it.

King Josiah had Shaphan read the Book of the Law aloud and was taken aback by how far Judah had strayed from its founding principles.  In fact, Josiah immediately ordered that the Book of the Law be read aloud in front of the elders of Judah on the steps of the temple before all the people of Jerusalem.  Afterwards, Josiah decreed that henceforth, Judah would return to obeying the Book of the Law, and the assembled people did likewise.

Parts of the above story have parallels to today -- the "discovery" of the founding documents by those in a position of authority (or recently put in a position of authority) and a subsequent reading in front of government officials.  Yet the similarities quickly break down from there.  In Josiah's day, those assembled to hear the reading quickly pledged themselves to follow the Book of Law.  In Washington this week, quite a few of the government officials didn't stick around to hear the reading, and support for it was split mainly down party lines, with a large dose of ridicule aimed at the whole affair.  At least the people in Josiah's day committed themselves to getting back to basics.  They purged the temple of idols and all the other stuff that displeased God.

The outcome of Josiah's reading provides a warning for us today.  After Josiah, Judah had only two more kings before being swallowed up by Babylon.  In the long run, repentance wasn't enough to save Judah from destruction.  It was enough to postpone it beyond Josiah's lifetime, but that's about it.

I have often wondered why, if everybody got back on board and started doing the right things, God still wiped out Judah.  Had Judah's enemies gotten so strong that it didn't matter what the people did?  Were the people just caught up in the moment?  Did they quickly change their minds after the reading?

The text in 2 Kings suggests something deeper -- the society of Judah was so rotten underneath that no amount of contrition was going to save it.  Not only had the people forgotten where they had misplaced their founding principles, but they had supplanted them with others that were vile and corrosive.  Individual redemption could still be found, but the body of the state was already in a terminal condition.

And so a warning for today: Reading the Constitution in the halls of government to remind those in power of where their authority originates is laudable, but even when everyone in government shares your concern (which they don't), it doesn't assure that the sickness of society can be reversed or even stymied.

My hope is that the analogy I discovered in the 22nd and 23rd chapters of 2 Kings isn't as close as I think.  However, as I watched and listened to the events in Washington this week, I found the similarity too close for comfort.

Matthew Ruley is a graduate student in arts administration and resides in Palm Harbor, FL.
While attending to tax receipts, a government agent finds his country's founding document and brings it to the attention of the ruling powers, which are stunned by how far the country has strayed from its founding principles.  A public reading of the document ensues.  No, this is not this week's news; it's a lot older.  As strangely similar the events are, the events after this first reading should add a dose of caution to the optimism in Washington, D.C. today.

In 640 BC, Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight after the assassination of his father, Amon.  As kings of Judah went, Josiah was a good ruler.  When he was in his mid-twenties, Josiah ordered the high priest, Hilkiah, to go to the temple in Jerusalem and oversee its repair using the money the priests had been collecting from the people (one could say this was "tax" money for the services rendered by the priests).  As Hilkiah was accounting of the money in the temple, he made an amazing discovery -- the Book of the Law.

Now, to modern sensibilities, it is very puzzling to find out that something so vital to the legitimacy of a people -- their founding document, as it were -- could be misplaced.  You'd think someone would wonder what happened to that stuff that Moses wrote.  Nevertheless, the traditions of the Book of the Law lived on without a thought to the book that spawned them.

You'd think that such a momentous finding would be reported to the king right away.  At the very least, you'd think the high priest would at least read the thing.  You'd be wrong, as Hilkiah gave it to his secretary, Shaphan, who did actually read it and decided that maybe the king should know about it.

King Josiah had Shaphan read the Book of the Law aloud and was taken aback by how far Judah had strayed from its founding principles.  In fact, Josiah immediately ordered that the Book of the Law be read aloud in front of the elders of Judah on the steps of the temple before all the people of Jerusalem.  Afterwards, Josiah decreed that henceforth, Judah would return to obeying the Book of the Law, and the assembled people did likewise.

Parts of the above story have parallels to today -- the "discovery" of the founding documents by those in a position of authority (or recently put in a position of authority) and a subsequent reading in front of government officials.  Yet the similarities quickly break down from there.  In Josiah's day, those assembled to hear the reading quickly pledged themselves to follow the Book of Law.  In Washington this week, quite a few of the government officials didn't stick around to hear the reading, and support for it was split mainly down party lines, with a large dose of ridicule aimed at the whole affair.  At least the people in Josiah's day committed themselves to getting back to basics.  They purged the temple of idols and all the other stuff that displeased God.

The outcome of Josiah's reading provides a warning for us today.  After Josiah, Judah had only two more kings before being swallowed up by Babylon.  In the long run, repentance wasn't enough to save Judah from destruction.  It was enough to postpone it beyond Josiah's lifetime, but that's about it.

I have often wondered why, if everybody got back on board and started doing the right things, God still wiped out Judah.  Had Judah's enemies gotten so strong that it didn't matter what the people did?  Were the people just caught up in the moment?  Did they quickly change their minds after the reading?

The text in 2 Kings suggests something deeper -- the society of Judah was so rotten underneath that no amount of contrition was going to save it.  Not only had the people forgotten where they had misplaced their founding principles, but they had supplanted them with others that were vile and corrosive.  Individual redemption could still be found, but the body of the state was already in a terminal condition.

And so a warning for today: Reading the Constitution in the halls of government to remind those in power of where their authority originates is laudable, but even when everyone in government shares your concern (which they don't), it doesn't assure that the sickness of society can be reversed or even stymied.

My hope is that the analogy I discovered in the 22nd and 23rd chapters of 2 Kings isn't as close as I think.  However, as I watched and listened to the events in Washington this week, I found the similarity too close for comfort.

Matthew Ruley is a graduate student in arts administration and resides in Palm Harbor, FL.

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