The pillar stood, supporting the marbled splendor of Solomon’s temple, for more than 300 years. Israelites, from the least to the greatest, crowded as close as they could. They leaned in to hear the words that would be spoken by the regal man standing next to the pillar—their king Josiah. The occasion was ominous, because only the most serious proclamations included both an invitation to the temple and a public declaration by the king. King Josiah reverently unrolled the scroll that had so radically changed his heart a few days earlier. The scroll provided the defining direction of his reign as God’s king. Considering his words carefully, Josiah peered over the top of the parchment and spoke to his gathered subjects.
“Today, I bring to you, in this ancient and holy place, ancient and holy words. These words were found in this very temple just a few days ago, where they had been lost for many years. We as a people have failed to heed these words for generation upon generation. I hold in my hands the book of the law.”
One can almost hear a collective gasp, followed by murmuring from person to person, as the identity of the scroll is made clear. Josiah’s steady voice regains control. He says, “Our high priest, Hilkiah, while cleaning out the temple of God, found this Word of the Lord, which has provided us with an ancient transcript of God’s will for His people. It is a most precious, most beautiful, and most challenging Word. I have torn my robes. I have wept long and hard over this scroll. I have consulted Huldah, God’s prophetess, and I am convicted by her words that we must heed the words in this scroll. God’s Word must be obeyed. It is now my intention to read every word to you, so that you, too, might be challenged as I have been.
“The king’s eyes, bleary from weeping, lower to the scroll. The courtyard of Solomon’s temple is quieter than seems possible, given the number of people assembled. Each man, woman, and child leans forward to hear the book of the law, as their king reads it. An hour later, the eyes of Israel mirror those of Josiah. The book of the law has provided a clear statement of what God wishes them to be. And the picture is drastically different from what they are. They aren’t God’s people, and yet they are. And how deeply they wish to be.
A spiritual revival follows Josiah’s reading of the law. The ripples created when the book of the law first reached the eyes and ears the king now becomes a wave of action that reenacts the cleansing of the temple all over the land. Idols are destroyed. False worship is eradicated. The temple is purified of anything relating to pagan deities. Every high place that has been used for false worship is destroyed. When the land is free of the impurity of false worship, King Josiah orders, “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant.” And they do.
Reading the Book
While the principles of religious freedom and the separation of religion from government (sometimes called the separation of church and state) would make it impossible for a similar event to happen in most of today’s Western, democratic nations, the story of Josiah’s reform movement does have a lesson for us. It shows the power that God’s Word can have on our lives when we read it and take its lessons seriously.
When it is read, the Bible has the power to influence the mind and inspire the heart. Evidence that this is still true is seen in the number of movies that use biblical passages in their scripts.In every genre, from gritty action flicks to funny quips from comedians, the Bible is quoted to reinforce key points. The Bible, by its very nature, compels readers and listeners to contemplate their lives and consider the changes they need to make.
The Bible promises, “Blessed are those who hear [its words] and take to heart what is written in it” (Revelation 1:3). Jesus said, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matthew 7:26). And the author of Hebrews said that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The bat provides a significant analogy of the effectiveness of the Word of God. A bat is guided in its flight by the sounds that it emits, and each echo of sound that returns to a bat causes it to connect its course so that it does not fly into objects. Just as a bat is guided by the sounds it hears, the person who listens to the Word of God and adjusts the course of his or her life accordingly will avoid many dangers and diversions.
The Bible’s premier poet said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).Those who read Scripture daily are directed through this Word to the kingdom of God. Jesus prayed a special prayer for His followers: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). In numerous places, God invites us to rely on His Word. And once we realize what the Bible actually contains, we’d be foolish to do otherwise. The apostle Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The Bible, integrated into our lives, makes us more loving and lovable people.
Carrying the Book
In the 2010 post—apocalyptic movie “The Book of Eli”, Denzel Washington played Eli, a man who follows instructions from a voice to walk across the United States and carry the world’s last Bible for 30 years. When asked by a young woman named Solara if he had really walked for 30 years because of a voice in his head, Eli responds, “I know what I hear, I know what I heard. I know I’m not crazy. I didn’t imagine it.”
As a Christian viewing the movie, for me this line resonated as the film’s core message. This is the point of being a true follower of Jesus: to know His voice, follow His instructions and rely on His protection. The years of walking alone—protecting the Bible with every fiber of his being—cause Eli to become a hardened loner. At the height of his frustration, with Solara tailing him, he shouts, “I don’t like people following me!”
When he has nearly reached his destination, Eli is injured, which causes him to have an epiphany. As Solara drives the injured Eli on the final leg of his journey, he tells her, “In all the years I’ve been carrying it [the Bible] and reading it every day, I got so caught up in keeping it safe, I forgot to live by what I learned from it.””What did you learn?” Solara asks. Eli quietly replies, “Do for others more than you do for yourself.” Then as an after thought, he adds, “That’s what I got from it, anyway.”
Living the Book
The Talmud relates the story of a rabbi named Hillel who was told by a non—believer that he would convert to Judaism if, while standing on one foot, the rabbi could explain the entire Torah—the books of Moses. Hillel lifted one foot and said, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.” The Bible—read, understood and applied—leads to an active life of constant development, maturing a person into someone who, like Paul, can say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”(1 Corinthians 11:1). People who are shaped by reading and heeding God’s Word are, at heart, servants—doing for others more than they do for themselves.
This article originally appeared in/on Signs of Times in January 2011.