Summary: A sermon about the prophetess Huldah.
In order to understand the story of Huldah, we have to understand the story of Israel at this point in their history. You see, we are now long past the “golden days” of King David’s reign and King Solomon after him. The twelve tribes have been divided into two different kingdoms; ten of the tribes are joined into what’s called the Kingdom of Israel in the north, and the other two tribes are called the Kingdom of Judah in the south. The Northern Kingdom had been conquered years before by the Assyrians, and the Southern Kingdom was suffering under poor leadership. King Manasseh had ruled for 55 years, the longest of any king in Judah’s history. And the Bible tells us, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” King Manasseh’s son, Amon, followed right in his father’s footsteps. Amon was so evil, in fact, that his servants conspired to assassinate him only two years after Amon became King.
The immediate heir to the throne was an eight-year-old boy named Josiah. Now, we balk at the thought of any eight-year-old ruling a kingdom. But in the ancient world of kings and queens, this sort of thing didn’t seem to cause the kind of havoc we would expect. While a king’s power was certainly absolute, most of the day-by-day administration was in the hands of a variety of royal servants. The real question was how the young king would use his extensive power once he was old enough to figure out that he had it.
The good news is that, in Josiah’s case, it was a happy story. Here’s how the Bible puts it: “In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a boy,” (at this point, a boy of sixteen) “[Josiah] began to seek the God of his ancestor David, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem” through a series of vigorous reforms. Josiah cleared away many of the pagan altars and practices that had come to dominate Judah’s worship. And eventually, he began
“to repair the house of the Lord his God.” You know how buildings deteriorate overtime; paint begins peeling, walls may crumble, the roof needs replacing. As the Kingdom of Judah had ignored the Temple over time, it had fallen into disrepair, and so Josiah has decided to get things spruced up. So Josiah sends in teams of workers. They begin to get things cleaned up and start making some of the necessary repairs, when suddenly, word comes from the priest, Hilkiah, that he has found the book of the law of the Lord given through Moses. Most likely, this is what we know as the book of Deuteronomy. How they had managed to lose the book of the Law is another question entirely, but I think it just goes to show the extreme waywardness in the Kingdom of Judah at this time.
In any case, when the book was brought to King Josiah, he did what I think any of us would do with a great ancient book found buried like a treasure beneath years of discarded goods; he read it. And it wouldn’t have taken a genius to understand that the Israelites were living way off base. So as soon as Josiah finished the reading of the scroll, he tore his clothes in extreme distress. Josiah was so serious about following God that he realized how far short he and his nation were from living according to the will of God, and he was terribly upset.