2 CHRONICLES 34
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20 And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king's, saying,
21 Go, enquire of Yahweh for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of Yahweh that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of Yahweh, to do after all that is written in this book.
The written law had evidently become a rare and little known thing in high places in Israel, through the neglect and apostasies of former kings. To this probably Isaiah refers a little over two generations before Josiah's day:
"Their root shall be as rottenness and their blossom shall go up as dust, because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against His people and He hath stretched forth His hand against them and smitten them" (Isaiah 5: 24-25).
But though buried away as a piece of lumber in the temple and unknown in the palaces of the kings, it does not follow that it was unknown to everyone in Judah. even among the Ten Tribes, in the days of Ahab's deepest revolt, God informed Elijah that He had reserved to Himself seven thousand men who had not compromised themselves in the prevailing idolatry. How much more probable that in Judah there was a remnant who were faithful and who mourned in secret the corruptions of the times. Indeed, their existence is plainly recognised in the following message by Isaiah:
"Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word: your brethren that hated you and that cast you out for My Name's sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified; but He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed" (Isaiah 66: 5).
And still more plainly in the word by Ezekiel, a generation after Josiah:
"Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (Ezekiel 9: 4).
Consequently, though among those surrounding the court of Jerusalem, the written law was a forgotten thing, copies of it were doubtless multiplied among the private servants of Yahweh scattered among the hills and valleys of Judea, among whom faithfulness was thus preserved. But it was necessary to preserve the sacred writings among the leaders of the nation for the sake of its transmission to succeeding times. Copies in private possession were not in the channel of public preservation.
The vicissitudes of the times made their destruction or disappearance a matter of certainty in a short time. In the copy stowed away in the recesses of the temple, and discovered after a long slumber among the dust and cobwebs, the hand of God is visible, as it has been in all generations since, in the preservation of His marvellous word from destruction, often attempted with formidable method and power.
By one providential agency and another, the most ancient book and the most ancient people are extant in the earth at the present day, when their enemies, great in ancient power and name, have passed out of recollection in the land of the living. The Greeks and Egyptians under Antiochus tried to extirpate the Hebrew scriptures some generations before Christ. The Hebrew scriptures fill the land of modern culture: and where is Antiochus? Pagan Rome, 300 years after Christ, made the same attempt, including in her imperial edict, issued by Diocletian, the writings of the apostles.
These writings are the most venerated throughout the civilised world: and where is Diocletian? Where Roman Paganism? Rome of the hated popes has been guilty of the same insane endeavour. The curling flames have devoured thousands of copies by her command, and consumed the bones of readers and believers: but the hated book lives still, and is sold in thousands under the very walls of the Vatican. The providence of God has operated to the protection of His greatest gift to man, from man's own satanic malice and hostility.
Ways of Providence Ch 22