I have been steaming along in Sunday school trying to reach the end of 2 Kings before the summer is out. We've been studying 1 and 2 Kings since last year, and it has been a profitable study for me, and I hope and pray for the students as well.
This past week we read about Josiah's reforms. The last hundred or so years of Judah's history is quite a roller coaster ride. Hezekiah exhibits faith in God worthy of David, institutes religious reforms, and manages to see Assyria pushed back for a time. Manasseh plunges the land into its worst idolatry ever, comparable only to Jeroboam of Israel, who overturned every category of the worship of the Lord God in order to set up his own religion in the hopes of keeping the northern tribes from turning back to Jerusalem and the tribe of Judah. Manasseh may be the worst king of Judah, but Josiah is probably the best since David. He purges the land of idolatry, reestablishes the covenant and the Law, and holds the first Passover since the time of the judges. In terms of the history of the Divided Kingdom and the message of the prophets to the people to turn from their sins and repent, Josiah's reforms represent the pinnacle of faithful obedience.
Despite the fervency and extent of Josiah's reforms, the Lord God was unwilling to relent in dragging Judah into exile.
It is a sobering consideration to think that the best efforts at reform can still result in circumstances that are painful, unsavory, or even destructive. Doesn't the Lord God delight in showing mercy? Isn't His ultimate purpose to beautify the Bride of Christ? Isn't it true that when the people humble themselves and repent that the Lord will cause them to be restored and make them prosper? Of course each of these questions demand an affirmative response, and yet it is not contradictory for the Lord to delay, withhold, and otherwise forestall mercy and restoration, and for the express purpose of beautifying the Church. One can say it brings a deeper sense of humility, or of gratitude, or a host of other generalizations that may be true enough as far as they go. But the ultimate purpose remains unchanging, and there is no circumstance, and even no sin that does not serve to further the realization of that purpose. The Lord God suffered the Church to endure the malicious persecutions of Saul in order that the Paul He was fashioning would harvest a multitude. Did those who died from Saul's sin have less of God's mercy, or was it rather of a different tone and temper? Was Jeremiah less favored of God because he was called to preach the embracing of exile in a time of peace, prosperity, and relative stability? Or consider the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore far worse than any member or community within the Church. Is He not the Most Highly Favored? Yet he suffered the most, and lived the purest.
The simple reality is that our lot in life is particular while the promises of God are general. Their realization is assured, but the specifics of that realization must necessarily differ as each member of the body in the purposes of history differs. Who can fathom the depths of God's wisdom in these matters? It is a fearful thought to consider that the Reformation of faithfulness, whether individual or corporate, could still lead the individual or group into an exile that has steadily solidified itself in the destiny of a nation so long rebellious. But it is a comforting thought to know that even in such a case as that, the Lord God has not abandoned His Bride, nor left His own to go without His presence.