Imagine starting a new project where the leader and the entire chain of command is on the same page, inspiring everyone to contribute cooperatively and efficiently to the cause. Now imagine that this cause is not the Lord's cause.
While the young King Josiah leads his people in a faithfully-executed temple repair campaign, the Book of the Law is discovered within the temple treasury. The Book of the Law presents itself as the true treasure and offers a new chance for Israel to get on the same page - quite literally - of Deuteronomistic reforms which is Israel's only hope amidst destruction and pending exile.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You are listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Fr. Dustin Lyon, a regular contributor on the Doulos podcast, is joining me from his new home and parish, the Twelve Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Duluth, Minnesota. Fr. Dustin is the host and producer of the way podcast on the Ephesus School Network. So welcome back. Fr. Dustin, thanks so much for joining me today.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 0:41
Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be back. And we're a little closer geographically, both in Minnesota anyway.
Hollie Benton 0:48
Right. So for today's topic, I wanted to have us think about the experience of taking on a new job or a new role, either as an employee or as a new parish volunteer, feeling enthusiastic about that new role and how to best serve the parish or the organization. And Fr. Dustin, you yourself are taking on a new role once occupied by the former priest of the Twelve Apostles. And yet another priest will be filling your role at the parish you just left, probably enthusiastic to get started in the new role as well. I remember the CEO of a Fortune 500 company where I once worked suggested that the first year or two of serving a new role are among the best years of contribution because a person just isn't jaded by those long standing habits and can more easily see the opportunities for improvement to that organization. So it's exciting to start a fresh new role and to prioritize how you want to serve that parish or organization. Presumably someone in a new role, has really bought into the mission and vision of that organization and is ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work to bring that mission to fruition. Today, we will be looking to II Kings, and how the young King Josiah who started his reign at age eight, came to realize the tremendous work and responsibility ahead of him and initiated the Deuteronomistic reforms for his nation. So Fr. Dustin, can you provide a bit of context before we read the passage today?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 2:20
Yes, so what our listeners need to know is just a brief history of the Old Testament in general. All of our listeners are familiar with Moses, and the Hebrews fleeing Pharaoh in Egypt. And they eventually, after 40 years in the desert, they eventually work their way to what we know as the Promised Land, modern day Israel or Cana. And so they make their way there, they eventually end up with kings. This is not God's plan. This is not what the prophet Samuel wanted. But they end up with various kings. And they have, at this point, a United Kingdom that includes Northern Israel, and then the southern portion, which we call Judah. Eventually, Assyria comes and conquers Northern Israel, and that falls to the Assyrians. And so what is left at this point is simply this little kingdom centered around Jerusalem in the surrounding area called Judah. Eventually, the Babylonians will come and destroy Judah and exile the people, but that has not yet happened. So at this point in the story, we have the northern kingdom under the occupation of Assyria, the southern kingdom is kind of reinventing itself. They're out on their own now. And so King Josiah, who we'll here about at this point, is one of those kings trying to hold everything together with these threats all around his kingdom.
Hollie Benton 3:36
So I'd really like to encourage our podcast listeners to read II Kings 22, on their own, even the whole book. For now we'll focus on verses 3-13. "In the 18th year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan the son of Azali′ah, son of Meshul′lam, the secretary, to the house of the LORD, saying, Go up to Hilki′ah, the high priest that he may reckon the amount of the money which has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people, and let it be given into the hands of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord, and let them give it to the workmen who are at the house of the Lord repairing the house, that is to the carpenters and to the builders and to the masons, as well as for buying timber and queried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money which is delivered into their hand for they deal honestly. And Hilki′ah, the priest said to Shaphan, the secretary, I have found the book of the law and the house of the Lord. And Hilki′ah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it and Shaphan the secretary came to the king and reported to the king, Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hands of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord. Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, Hilki′ah the priest has given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And when the king heard the words of the book of the law, he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilki′ah the priest, and Ahi′kam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micai′ah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asai′ah the king’s servant, saying, Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people. And for all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us." So Father, Dustin, there's a lot going on in this passage. It seems King Josiah, and all those working on the temple repair project from his secretary, to the high priests, to the overseers and all the workmen, including the carpenters and masons, and even those who are just simply contributing coins at the temple door. they're all cooperating, working efficiently, honestly and faithfully. It's the ideal working situation where mutual trust and shared responsibility is prominent. In this day and age. If any of us were part of such a highly functioning team or parish, I could see us slapping each other on the backs giving each other high fives and making speeches about how God has blessed us with each person contributing to the project. We might even write a book about the greatness we achieved together with such a cooperative, honest, and faithful team. So it's interesting how the book of the law is itself an actor in this passage. The king expected to find money in the treasury to support his building project, which was already running so efficiently under his leadership. And what he found in his treasury was not merely the money. What the real treasure here is, is not the money collected by the people and through the people and for the people. What was found was the book of the law. And that's the real treasure here. And this good and remarkable King Josiah, when he heard the words from the Book of the Law read to him, he didn't feel justified in leading his temple repair project. He rent his clothes, perhaps even stopping the building project dead in its tracks, to attend to the gravity of the Lord's great wrath against them, and the disobedience of their forefathers. What's more, is he got his whole team on board, to attend to the seriousness of the work prescribed in the book of the law. So readers today, I think, may have trouble understanding what's the big deal? What's King Josiah worried about? He could have been like King Solomon with the grand temple and an even grander palace if he had maintained the focus on his great building project. Instead, biblical scholars suggest that it is Deuteronomy, the biblical law, that is given the focus under King Josiah's reign. I really find this passage astonishing. What do you think Fr. Dustin?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 8:11
It is! It's an amazing passage. What's happening immediately in this context is Josiah's grandfather, King Manasseh, had led the Judeans astray, or the people of Israel astray. And he's the one that had gotten them worshipping Ba'al and the traditional Canaanite gods again. Perhaps it was in the context of seeing Northern Israel fall just like here in America after 9-11. People turned to religion, they were looking for answers. They were looking for a why. Why did this happen to us? Are we being punished? What's going on? And so King Manasseh had led Israel astray, or Judah astray. He had invoked a lot of pagan practices back into Israelite worship. And so what King Josiah is doing, it seems like on some level, he understands that this is wrong, this is incorrect. And so he's again, building up the temple of Jerusalem. One of the things he focuses on is Passover. So we think of Passover today, in the Jewish tradition, as a kind of home feast. People gather in each other's homes, they eat the lamb, there's a whole ritual that goes along with it. But in this time, and in the time of Jesus, Passover was what we call a pilgrim feast. And people had to travel to Jerusalem to sacrifice in the temple. So it was not something that was done around the family table. But it was something that you celebrated as a nation together at the national temple. Now that Israel is constricted to basically just Jerusalem in the surrounding area, it's much easier to do these sorts of things. And so Josiah is working on the temple and he's spending money to work on the temple. And what I really liked about your observation, Hollie is he goes to the treasury and he expects to find money there, and they're going to use this money to build God's house. But instead, as you know, they find a different sort of treasure in this treasury. And I really like thinking of it like that because it puts things in perspective. A lot of things that Jesus talks about in the New Testament, are you going to build your barns and put all your treasure there? Or are you going to follow this instruction of God and make your treasure in heaven. And here's the contrast right here in the Old Testament, literally, with the treasury of the temple. And so they go in. and along with the gold, they find this second law, which is what the word Deuteronomy means, literally, it's a Greek word that means second law or second instruction. Scholars do think that probably what they are talking about is they found the book of Deuteronomy, or a version of the book of Deuteronomy. I'm not so interested in the historical, archaeological, you know, was it Deuteronomy? Was it not Deuteronomy? I'm more interested in the reforms that Josiah now undertakes as a result of finding this book. And these reforms seem to match what's in Deuteronomy. Here's what makes it extremely interesting is that Josiah obviously gets scared, he tears his clothes, as the passage says, and he very quickly enacts this sort of reform, and does things a completely different way. And for readers, this may sound absurd, you know, as you said, Hollie, he's the king, he can do whatever he wants, if he wants to continue on with his vision of Israel and his vision of the temple, he can do that, by all means he can do that. That's what his grandfather had done. So what was in this law that scared him straight? What made him take a different direction and start following the instructions that he found in Deuteronomy? Well, if we go back and look at Deuteronomy, at the very end of it, starting kind of around chapter 30-ish, and kind of following from there, Moses gathers all the people there on the very edge of the Promised Land. They've been in the desert for 40 years, and they're about ready to enter the Holy Land. And Moses gathers everyone, and he wants to remind them of the covenant that they had made with God on Mount Sinai. And so he repeats the law. And so this is why it's called second law, because he's repeating the law a second time to the people to remind them of what they agreed to. In other words, they had agreed to be God's people. And that means following God's instruction, or God's law. But what's most interesting at this point is that he says, If you obey God, if you follow His instruction, this instruction will give you life, it will be life -giving for you, and all these good things will happen, you will be blessed, you'll have food, then he lists all those blessings. And readers can go and read those for yourselves. But then he turns around, he says, If you do not follow God's instruction in the land, then all these bad things will happen to you. And he has all these curses that he lists, and one of the curses is exile. In other words, if you don't obey God, and you don't follow His statutes, God will come in, destroy everything you have, and send you out of the land. It's almost the idea, and readers can go and explore this in the prophets, it's almost as if the land needs to be cleansed. And in order to be cleansed, you have to get rid of the people who are making it dirty. They're an infection of sorts. Moses tells people that God will cast people out into exile. And probably what has happened, remember what I had said before, is that Northern Israel had fallen to the Assyrians, so Josiah is sitting here seeing God's curses being enacted in Northern Israel. So now he fears the same thing might happen to Judah, because the law has already spelled this out. And he says, Oh, my gosh, if I don't start obeying these laws that God has given to us for being in the land, if I don't do these, then God may do to us what he did to Northern Israel. So at this point, Northern Israel becomes an example of what happens when you disobey God. A lot of that has to do with basically the two great commandments that we think of later that Jesus summarizes, which is loving God, and loving your neighbor. So in other words, part of the reform is making sure that you are worshiping the true God, and you're not following the gods, the old gods of the land, the gods of Canaan. And the other part is making sure that you're loving the people and the poor and respecting them as your neighbor. And so Josiah enacts these reforms in order precisely to follow the law. So that's kind of the background, what's happening at this point. For those interested in New Testament studies, Jesus will repeat this sort of thing, especially in the Gospel of Matthew. So with Jesus, the blessings are essentially the Beatitudes. And then the curses are the woes to the Pharisees that he does at the end of Matthew right before the crucifixion. These things get repeated over and over again in Scripture. What's most interesting for me is the application and I think this is where scripture or this message speaks to us as well, especially for those who are doing servant leadership, and you're looking at where to begin. So I've done podcasts about this before. I know the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative stresses this as well. But servant leadership in the secular world often begins with me, it's what I want to do, or I choose to be a leader, I have a plan that I'll enact. And here it's very different. In fact, that secular version of servant leadership might be what you described, Hollie, with everyone working on the temple before they found the law, here's everyone cooperating, they have a plan, they seem to be going the right way. They're enacting Josiah his vision of what he wants. And we can say perhaps that's the secular version of servant leadership. But then they find the law and everything changes. They have a new foundation for this pyramid, a new starting point. And instead of it being Josiah's vision, it's now scripture. And scripture now becomes the foundation. And it gives the vision of how we should be as Christians. In this case, it gave a vision of what it means for King Josiah to be king of Judah, and how the Judeans should worship and how the Judeans should interact with one another. And so scripture still serves the same function for us today. In order to be a leader, a servant leader, whether you're at the top or at the very bottom of the hierarchy in your organization, it doesn't matter, the foundation is still the same, that our common vision is that that's given to us by scripture, it's God's instruction that should be guiding us and leading us. Here's a story of that happening, an entire organization, in this case, an entire kingdom, changes directions, based on God's law, rather than a particular King's vision. That should be a reminder to us as well as servant leaders or for parishes, that we really need to engage scripture and study it and see where God is leading us, you know, the mission that God has given us. Jesus is very clear on these sorts of things. To me, that's what the treasure is, it's this instruction, rather than the gold. And same thing for any church. The treasure of the church is not how much is in the coffers, in the bank account. The treasure of the church is the proclamation, The Gospel, that's given to us anytime the priest or a reader stands and reads from the Bible.
Hollie Benton 17:05
That's the real treasure. And you hinted at it before, but it's in Deuteronomy, where we first hear, Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, the very basis of whose will we are enacting, whose vision are we enacting? Is it my will? Or is it the Lord's will? Is it my love of the Lord? And that is the basis of the mission and vision of what King Josiah is enacting. And in many ways, because we have his story in scripture, it becomes a reminder of mercy itself, that God is giving you another chance. King Josiah is inserted between the devastation and wickedness of King Manasseh, his grandfather who gave way to pagan gods, and then sure enough, after King Josiah, Judah was taken into exile. So it's a reminder that God means business, and we would do well to attend to his instruction, and seek to do the Lord's will and not my own.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 18:10
Exactly. And that's how the story becomes a teaching. I know people who approach the Old Testament, well, that's just a history, and they want to read it as Okay, that's what happened 3000 years ago. But if you leave it at the level , it's just a story or a part of history, you've missed the entire point, that this story is a teaching, just as the fall of Northern Israel became a teaching for King Josiah or an example for King Josiah, this story now becomes an example for us. Now, in a sense, we've been warned twice. As you read through the text, we saw Northern Israel fall. And now we've seen King Josiah respond to that, and that becomes a second warning. And then eventually, if we keep going through the Old Testament, we'll see even Judah fall to the Babylonians. And that in a way becomes a third warning to us again, and again and again. When people fail to follow God's instruction, we see death and devastation and destruction in exile. I know in Orthodox theology, we like to talk about God is life. The icons of Jesus we put Ὁ ὬΝ in Greek in his halo, which means existence. But we can't ignore the fact that that existence is found in God's instruction. It's instruction of how to live. Here it is before us. And so this isn't just a story. It is a teaching,
Hollie Benton 19:25
That's right. Glory to God, thank God for your willingness to help open the treasury of King Josiah's story and how that story in itself has become an instruction for us today to live by.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 19:38
Glory to God, thank you for having me.
Hollie Benton 19:40
You know, we always want to highlight and applaud teams that are cooperating well, and working well, where they're on the same page and working together.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 19:49
Yeah, we always want to be on the same page. And the trick is, What page are we on? In this case, that page is literally given to us
Transcribed by https://otter.ai