The law, in highlighting our failure to keep it, points to Christ

October 24, 2014

This Sunday I’m preaching on Josiah, a relatively unsung (to us, anyway) king of Judah. I guess all kings of the divided kingdom are unsung, whether they were good or bad. Still: Josiah was a very good one—perhaps the best of all. He’s the only person in the Old Testament who was said to fulfill the Torah with his whole heart. Unlike even David, Josiah led his people in the celebration of Passover, the only king of Israel, divided or otherwise, to do so.

And what does all this Torah-observance get him? Not salvation for his people, as Peter Leithart points out in his commentary on 2 Kings.

Great as he is, Josiah cannot save Judah from destruction. Like the house of Ahab (1 Kgs. 21:27-29), Judah is doomed despite the repentance of the king, and as with the houses of Jeroboam 1 (14:13) and Ahab (2 Kgs. 3:2), the final prophecy of doom comes to a king who is comparatively good. Wisdom does not save Israel from division; Torah, even when kept with incomparable faithfulness, cannot reverse the effects of generations of idolatry. The message of the reign of Josiah is not that the temple must yield to Torah, but that Torah is as impotent as the temple for saving the people of Yahweh. The law is powerless to purify the idolatries of Judah, and Judah is doomed to exile. As Habakkuk says, the law has “become impotent” (Hab. 1:4), and Josiah points to Jesus largely because of his failure, by showing that the law is weak and by leaving Israel desperately hoping for a greater king to perform what he law cannot accomplish.[1]

And this failure of the law is exactly the failure that Paul points to in Galatians and Romans, especially Romans 7. Leithart writes: “Because of sin and the dominance of flesh, the person who receives the law is radically divided, schizophrenic, in a state of living death torn apart between inward desire to obey God and total inability to do so… The law drives to Christ and to faith in him.”[2]

This is, he writes, the “gospel of 2 Kings 22-23”: the “impotence of the law and the absolute need of an incarnate word who shares his Spirit.”[3]

This is precisely one important point we’ve been talking about so far in my Romans Bible study on Wednesday nights.

1. Peter Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 270.

2. Ibid., 271.

3. Ibid.

One Response to “The law, in highlighting our failure to keep it, points to Christ”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I of course agree that the law cannot save because we cannot keep it all, so we need grace, which is only provided for by Christ on the cross. However, I am not sure this is the primary emphasis of the Josiah account. I think the reason Josiah could not save Judah is because Judah was already “too far gone” for there to be redemption at that point. Thus, God gave up on the generation in the wilderness when they listened to the naysaying spies, and nothing they might do afterwards could reverse the sentence. I think in Ezekiel it says to the effect that if Noah and Daniel were in the community, they would save only themselves by their righteousness. So, Josiah could only save himself and those of his generation who followed him from the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, but could not reverse the “death penalty” already decreed on the nation as a whole through ongoing rebellion. Again, it is always true that salvation of us as individuals cannot be obtained through keeping the law due to the futility of our efforts in that regard, and I guess that point could be made through Josiah as much as anyone else. But I personally don’t find that to be the thrust of that “episode” of Israel’s history. I think it might rather be that persons may reach a point of “no return.” IMO


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