The Word in the Wings
From the study: God’s word transforms a tender heart
By: KAYA WEAVER
Shortly before Babylon invades, Judah (southern Israel) is ruled by King Josiah, who works to eradicate idol worship in Israel. During temple-maintenance, a priest finds Moses’s law book, and a scribe brings it to Josiah. Josiah hears the book read and laments; the people have not kept the laws. He sends servants to inquire of Yahweh, and they speak with the prophetess Huldah, who gives them a response for the king (see 2 Chronicles 34:1-22).
Huldah’s words can be divided into two sections that follow a parallel pattern. Each section begins by identifying Yahweh as the speaker. The phrase “this place and its inhabitants” occurs in each section, referring to the consequences anticipated because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh’s instruction, as well as to the fact that Josiah has read from the book of the law and is aware of these consequences. Each section also specifies what action Yahweh will take, but the two sections differ in terms of the character of this description.
CONSEQUENCES FOR ISRAEL
2 Chronicles 34:23 And she said to them, “Thus says Yahweh God of Israel:
say to the man who sent you to me…
In this first section conveying God’s word to Josiah through the prophetess Huldah, she identifies Yahweh as the speaker and instructs the servants to report back to Josiah.
24 ‘Thus says Yahweh: I am about to bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants —
all the oaths written in the book which were read in the presence of the king of Judah.
Next, Yahweh warns of the impending consequences for Israel’s past actions, identifying “this place and its inhabitants” as the objects of Yahweh’s action. Additionally, this verse points to the words written in the book of the law as the source text detailing these consequences.
25 In return for their forsaking me and burning incense to other gods
in order to anger me with all their handiworks,
my rage will be poured out in this place,
and it will not be extinguished.’
Yahweh elaborates on the nature of Israel’s actions and their consequences. Israel was not faithful to Yahweh but instead turned toward other gods in their worship. Not only did they abandon Yahweh, but they incited Yahweh’s anger by what they made and did. As a result, Yahweh responds by allowing Israel to feel God’s anger “in this place” where they were unfaithful. The imagery of burning reflects the reciprocity in this exchange: Israel burns incense to other gods, so Yahweh’s anger burns against them and isn’t extinguished.
CONSEQUENCES FOR JOSIAH
26 And to the king of Judah, who sent you to seek Yahweh–thus say to him:
‘Thus says Yahweh God of Israel: the words which you’ve heard–
In the second section of Yahweh’s words through Huldah, she again identifies Yahweh as the speaker and instructs the servants to report back to Josiah. Again, Yahweh references the words which Josiah heard read aloud from the book of the law.
27 because your heart is tender
and you were humble before God
when you heard Yahweh’s words concerning this place and its inhabitants,
and you were humble before me,
and you tore your garments,
and you wept before me–
I have also heard, declares Yahweh.
The second section of Huldah’s prophecy also references “this place and its inhabitants” as objects of Yahweh’s responsive action. However, the second section diverges from the first in focusing on Josiah’s response of lament and humility. Whereas Israel abandons Yahweh, Josiah cries out to Yahweh, and Yahweh hears Josiah. Israel refuses to engage Yahweh in relationship, but Josiah reaches out, so Yahweh in turn engages in relationship with Josiah even in the midst of Yahweh’s anger towards Israel.
28 I am about to gather you to your ancestors,
and you will be gathered to your grave in peace,
and your eyes won’t see any of the evil which I’m bringing on this place and its inhabitants.’”
And they relayed this word to the king.
Whereas the consequences for Israel in the first section are expressed in images of fiery anger, Yahweh describes a peaceful future for Josiah. God promises that Josiah will not live through the evil that is coming for Israel because Josiah has not held himself apart from Yahweh but has chosen to engage in relationship on Yahweh’s terms, seeking a return to the ways outlined in God’s law. Josiah’s ancestors in Israel avoid and forget God’s law, but Josiah receives it, acknowledges it, and responds by seeking Yahweh.
In GPA’s new ballet Casefile: Euangelion, multiple characters face difficult choices about how to respond to God’s word. Izabelle wrestles with whether to take a risk to help her jailed friends. The sympathetic guard, Emilia, must decide to commit to the regime she helps enforce or to make herself vulnerable to the words she reads in Scripture. Izabelle and Emilia can settle for the security offered by conforming with the culture surrounding them, or they can each hold themselves apart by acknowledging the truth in God’s word even when it challenges their way of life.
Because Josiah lets Yahweh’s words affect his actions, hearing and responding, Yahweh also hears and responds to Josiah, restoring peace for the humbled king. For those who let their hearts be tender, soft enough to be shaped and changed by God’s word, this book of the law calls people back into restored relationship with Yahweh.
Scripture quotations in this post are my own translation.
Tickets for Casefile: Euangelion (November 10-12) are available here. See you at the show!
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