Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
2 Kings 22:10 (NIV)
I’ve been geeking out on some history of late. Over the years, I’ve often referenced one of the most significant inflection points in human history, when Roman Emporer Constantine unexpectedly declared his faith in Jesus Christ in 312 A.D. Almost overnight, followers of Jesus went from being illegal, hunted, persecuted, and scapegoated dregs of the Empire to having the most powerful earthly patron and protector imaginable. Over the next century or so, the Jesus Movement would become the most powerful institutional empire in the world. This ushered in many good things, but it ultimately also laid the groundwork for some of the most heinous and tragic events in history.
Initially, Constantine’s faith led him to do many positive things as Emporer. He established a day off for everyone in the empire, every week, as God had commanded in the Ten Commandments. Other than the Jewish sabbath, a day off each week was unheard of in the ancient world. Every weekend I can whisper a thank you to God, Moses, and Constantine.
Another thing Constantine did as the Emporer was to invest in creating copies of the Bible. There was, of course, no printing press in those days. Everything was copied by hand. A new copy of the entire Bible, both old and new testaments, would cost the average person 30 years’ wages. Copies of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the letters of Paul were few and far between. By funding the creation of new copies, Constantine helped ensure that more and more people had the opportunity to hear the Great Story.
The Hebrew people, and later the followers of Jesus, have long been known as “people of the Book” (btw, the phrase is also used in reference to Muslims and their Quran). This Great Story is the foundation of what I believe as a disciple of Jesus.
Today’s chapter contains a historical inflection point similar to Constantine’s faith in Jesus. In 622 B.C., young King Josiah of Judah orders that repairs be made to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. In the course of events, the high priest discovers a copy of the Law of Moses. For a couple of hundred years, the people of Judah worshipped other idols and pagan gods, even going so far as to set up altars to other gods within Solomon’s Temple. Along the way, they put the books of Moses on a shelf in the junk room and forgot about them.
When the books of Moses were read to King Josiah, they had an immediate, spiritual effect. It spurred a spiritual revival on a national scale.
In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about this chapter-a-day journey I started 17 years ago next month. That feels like a long time, but it’s rooted in 25 prior years of being a “person of the Book.” For over forty years I’ve been reading, studying, memorizing, contemplating, meditating, and endeavoring to live each day “by the Book.” Paul wrote that the words are “living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” I’ve experienced that. It pierced King Josiah’s heart in today’s chapter when he heard it read for the first time. It pierces my heart again and again, deeper and deeper, the further I get in my spiritual journey.
I can’t imagine what it must have looked like for the people of Josiah’s day to live in complete ignorance of what the Books of Moses actually said.
I know a very different reality; A reality in which virtually every follower of Jesus I know has the luxury of having the Book, perhaps multiple copies, readily available.
It’s one thing for The Book to be a rare treasure that’s lost. It’s another thing for it to be an overlooked luxury ignored.
May it be said of me that I was “a person of the Book.” Not just in my reading, my blogging, or my podcasting, but in my life and relationships.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.