The Law Restored

The Law Restored

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Toronto, August 31, 2008

 revcooper.ca

Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. …And the king went up to the house of the LORD … and he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD. (2KI 22:11, 23:2)

When we were children, everything was so simple. Things were either good or bad, true or not true. Our beliefs were defended not from reason but because that’s what our parents, our teachers, our own friends thought – and therefore they were good and just. Perhaps we look back with affection and longing for those times of simplicity and innocence, but with becoming an adult comes both the freedom and the burden of the rational mind. No longer are things simply good or bad, true or false, but instead there are many degrees of good and shades of truth. As adults we have to worry about the reasons behind our actions, we have to consider far-reaching consequences and the effects we have on other people’s feelings. We have to think before we act! Weeks can go by where the press of business and family concerns prevent us from thinking about anything from the Word, and then suddenly we are drawn to some teaching that brings us up short, as we realize how appropriate that doctrine is to the very situation in which we find ourselves. It’s almost as if the Lord taps you on the shoulder.

With this in mind, let us return to the story of Josiah as it was read in the lessons. Josiah was one of the last kings of Judah, ruling at the end of a long decline as the kingdom drew away from the Lord and became more and more secular. Josiah, however, was unlike most of his predecessors because he was a good, moral man. He saw that the temple was in ruins from generations of neglect and ordered that repairs begin.

The letter of the Word tells us that there were “damages” to the temple, or breaches in the walls, which signify “falsity which comes (from) the separation of good from truth…” and also the “infraction of truth and perversion of it by separation from good…” (AC 4926:2,6)

Josiah, as their leader, represented the Jewish people. The temple, as the centre of worship for the Jewish people, signified the central doctrinal core of the Jewish faith. We can see from this that Josiah can also stand for the adult member of the New Church, and the temple in Jerusalem his core belief structure, a doctrine which has become like a ruin from lack of use. This story is really about a person who has become too busy to live according to the truths of the church learned in childhood and youth from parents and teachers.

We do not have an accurate description of exactly how the temple looked at that time, but we do know that it had not been used in many years. The dust and dirt of years of neglect, the cracks and fissures in the wall, the dark and empty rooms all create a vivid picture of what happens to a person’s faith and doctrine when he does not care for it by bringing it actively into his life. The idealistic faith of our youth crumbles away like an unused, un-repaired building.

Josiah the king represents an adult who is in the midst of establishing home, family, and career, and who finds these concerns take so much time that he just does not have the time for the things of the Church as he did when he was younger, with more energy and fewer responsibilities. There are only so many hours in the day, after all, and they are all filled with the efforts required to establish a secure and comfortable home and place in the world. The temple of doctrine (from historical faith) that was built up in childhood and youth begins to crumble and decay from lack of use and failure to care.

It must be emphasized that Josiah was the first good king that had ruled in Judah in many generations. The kings before him had stripped the wealth from the temple to pay for luxuries for themselves, to bribe the rulers of other countries to betray treaties, or to ransom themselves out of slavery. These kings had even at times worshipped other gods within the walls of the temple – but not Josiah. With Josiah, the neglect had been benign. He simply did not know or understand the significance or the importance of the temple in Jerusalem!

Of all the various attributes of the Jewish faith, that which stands out as most important to that faith is the Mosaic Law, that is, the Ten Commandments and all the other laws regarding every aspect of life and worship in the Jewish Church, laws that were given to Moses by Jehovah Himself. It is incredible to say, but Josiah, a king of Judah ruling in Jerusalem, did not know the Mosaic Law! It was no longer taught or known anywhere in Judah. Again, this is a picture of what can happen when we allow ourselves to get so involved in our natural pursuits.

And even so, the Lord constantly tends to every one’s eternal welfare, seeking to lead each one of us to heaven no matter what our state. He does so gently, imperceptibly, and according to each person’s own loves. So the Lord led Josiah.

Josiah lived in the shadow of the great temple of Solomon, and saw its sad condition. Perhaps he decided to order the renovation of the temple for some personal, selfish reason. Perhaps he wanted to associate his kingdom with that of Solomon. Perhaps he was moved by some undefined feeling of respect for his ancestors. We cannot see how the Lord bends the course of own lives, so we cannot expect to see clearly how He has bent the course of the life of another, but we do know that for whatever reason, Josiah was moved to order the temple repaired. We also know that the direct result of that order was that a copy of the Mosaic Law was found, brought to him, and read to him.

In response to hearing the law for the first time in his life he tore his clothes in agony and humiliation for he was suddenly made aware of the kinds of evils that he and his people had been committing against the Lord all these years. Even though they may have been done from ignorance, he was still distraught at the realization of just how far he and his people had travelled from God.

The hells love to keep our evils hidden from us, for as long as they are hidden, we cannot do anything about them, and unless we see them and reject them as-of-ourselves, the Lord cannot remove them from us. Thus the hells use our natural concerns for the welfare of our homes, families, and careers to direct our attention anywhere but towards self-examination. We may know that we should examine ourselves for evils, but we keep putting it off to some fictional later time when we will “have more time to do something about it.”

If we were left entirely to our own devices, we would happily continue along this course into hell, all the while thinking well of ourselves for being so selfless and concerned for others, when in fact we are concerned only with selfish things: making the home comfortable for the sake of our own pleasure; getting ahead in business for the sake of wealth and the power that it brings and only incidentally for the welfare and comfort of our family; and many other things that are outwardly respectable, but inwardly from hell.

Fortunately we are not left entirely to our own devices. The Lord is continually watching over each one of us, endeavouring to quietly, gently bend us away from our selfish loves and towards Himself. From time to time He may find it appropriate to stir something in our remains, to touch a fond memory, remind us of a friend and something said to us that was important, perhaps a word or gesture that made us feel loved and valued. A little thing like this, seen in the right context at a critical point in our lives, can turn us, turn us as Josiah turned towards repairing the temple, turn us towards the Lord in His Word.

This might express itself in so simple a form as returning to church after a long absence. A long absence from church can be accompanied with feelings of fear, and guilt which make it more difficult to return. To gain control over those feelings is an act of humiliation, as if we were literally tearing our garments.

The Heavenly Doctrines teach that since “garments” represent truths (AC 2576:15), to rend or tear the garments signifies “humiliation because there is nothing pertaining to them that is signified by the adornment of garments” (AC 2576:16). This means that it is recorded that Josiah tore his garments to signify that the truths represented by a king’s garments were not present with him, and that he was humiliated to discover that he did not have those truths that he should have had. Another passage in the Doctrines tells us that Josiah tore his garments to signify “mourning on account of lost truth,” it being lost to him because it was only known, and not lived. (See AC 4736:6)

Josiah represents an adult who has been living without much thought of the Church, except in matters of habit, who is brought up short. A crisis brings some teaching from the Word, so memory from childhood into sharp focus. He suddenly, perhaps for the first time, sees the doctrine of the Church as speaking specifically to him, to his own life, to his own particular situation. It suddenly becomes clear to him that his life is not as orderly as he thought. He cries out in his own mind that he didn’t know, that he simply didn’t understand. He has come from an “accidental” self-examination to a fully developed state of temptation, complete with humiliation, anguish, and despair that he might ever be saved. When this happened to Josiah, he said,

Go, inquire of the LORD for me, 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 aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us (2KI 22:13).

Josiah’s words indicate that he is in a state of deep despair and anguish for himself and his people. He clearly sees that they have been doing none of the things that the Lord has commanded, and that they have been doing all of the things that He had forbidden. Josiah turns to the only source of help that he can think of – a prophet, or in this particular case, Huldah, the prophetess. Josiah’s purpose was to immediately confess his ignorance and his sin, and then ask for forgiveness and it was traditional to use a prophet to serve as a means of conjunction between man and God, for a prophet represents the truths of the Church in the letter of the Word.

When brought to the depths of a state of temptation, when a person sees nothing but evil and feels nothing but despair, what better source of comfort and hope is there than to turn to the Word, to the simple passages learned in childhood, to the Lord’s prayer itself? To ask the Lord, in the genuine humility of temptation, for Him to lead you in the way of His will, is the most profound prayer of all. It is the most profound because it becomes the turning point from which a person stops despairing of his own ignorance and troubles and begins to see that the Lord has provided the Word for him to follow, to uplift him, to reform and regenerate him. In this state, a person can turn away from himself and towards the Lord, away from the negative and hellish and towards the affirmative and heavenly, to the doctrine of genuine truth from the Word.

Huldah the prophetess tells Josiah that even though he and his people had been doing evils, because his heart was tender and because he humbled himself before the Lord, the Lord has heard him, and has promised that he would be gathered unto his fathers, and into his grave in peace (2KI 22:19,20). While this may not seem like much of a reward for us, we must remember that in those days a king’s peaceful death would be both unusual and welcomed. Since their idea of the afterlife was limited to that shady place known as “Sheol,” the promise that he would be gathered to his fathers must have sounded very appealing. So too with the man who returns to his Church after a long absence. The initial anxiety and fear are replaced with a state of comfort and peace.

However, by Huldah’s promise is represented nothing less than the Covenant, the promise given by the Lord that if we will as of ourselves flee from evils as sins, He will teach us the doctrine of the church and give us the loves to conjoin with the doctrine. We read from the Arcana Coelestia,

“The … Word is a covenant … because it is the Divine from the Lord, thus the Lord Himself. And therefore when the Word is received by man, the Lord Himself is received” (9396:9).

At the beginning of the story from the Word, king Josiah was just another ancient man. He was known to his people as a “good” king. In other words, he treated his subjects fairly and well. He brought all his people into the knowledge of the law of the Lord, so that they could learn to follow the law and love the Lord too. He was led by the Lord to begin the restoration of the temple, which set events in motion that changed him and his whole kingdom for the better, but only after it had taken him to the depths of despair and humiliation, only after he had truly seen what he was in and of himself, and called upon the Lord in His Word for help. As the prophetess said to Josiah,

Thus says the Lord God of Israel. …Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, …and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace….” (2KI 22:18-20) AMEN.

First Lesson: 2KI 22:8-20

Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. {9} So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the LORD.” {10} Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. {11} Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. {12} Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, {13} “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, 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 aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” {14} So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her. {15} Then she said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, {16} “Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants; all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read; {17} ‘because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched.’” ‘ {18} “But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, in this manner you shall speak to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Concerning the words which you have heard; {19} “because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the LORD. {20} “Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.” ‘ “ So they brought back word to the king.

(2KI 23:1-2) Now the king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him. {2} The king went up to the house of the LORD with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 9396 [9]

The reason why Divine Truth or the Word is a covenant or joining together is that the Word is the Divine from the Lord, thus is the Lord Himself; and this being so, when the Word is received by a person the Lord Himself is received. From this it is evident that it is through the Word that the Lord is joined to a person; and since the Lord is joined to the person, so too is heaven joined to that person. For heaven is called heaven by virtue of the Divine Truth emanating from the Lord and therefore from the Divine. This explains why those in heaven are said to be ‘in the Lord’. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper

Page last modified September 27, 2009

http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/index.htm

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