Josiah is considered Judah's last good king. He began his reign in 640 BC and, never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since (2 Kings 23:25). Yet, piety does not guarantee wisdom.
The world was in turmoil in late sixth century BC. The Assyrian Empire was fading, Pharaoh Neco was seeking to expand Egyptian influence and the Babylonians were building an empire. When the Assyrians were attacked at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, Pharaoh Neco marched north to do battle against Babylon on behalf of Assyria (2 Kings 23:39, 2 Chronicles 35:20). In response, Josiah sallied out against the Egyptians as they moved along the Mediterranean coast. But King Neco sent messengers to Josiah with this message: "What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or he will destroy you" (2 Chronicles 35:21). Unfortunately, Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken (2 Chronicles 35:22). Thus, just after he completed the cleansing and refurbishing of the Temple, Josiah died in battle.
The truth is, there was no reason for Josiah to take sides in the conflict between the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance and the Babylonians. Regardless of his reasons (the Bible does not say) he was ultimately choosing a side. And to that side he was willing to commit the wealth and manpower of Judah - even his own life. Moreover, there is no textual evidence that Josiah consulted Yahweh concerning his decision. As a result, Josiah was not concerned with the work of God as much as he was concerned with God joining him in his own work. In other words, Josiah wanted God to be on his side.
One is reminded of a circumstance in Israel's history when a leader recommended God himself declare a "side." This was Joshua's attitude prior to beginning the Canaanite campaign. According to the Bible, When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, "Are you friend or foe?" "Neither one," he replied. "I am the commander of the LORD's army." At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. "I am at your command," Joshua said. "What do you want your servant to do?" (Joshua 5:13-14).
In a nutshell, the commander of the Lord's army told Joshua it was not a matter of taking sides but a matter of submitting to God or rebelling against God. Truly, God is not on anyone's side. God is truth and reality. In one sense there is no such thing as sides with God. It is either live according to truth or be in rebellion against Yahweh. Or, one might say there are just two sides; God and everything else. Hence, it is foolish to look at one side or the other apart from God. It is foolish to align oneself with a side and then expect God to back you up. Instead, you should line up with God in Christ and live accordingly. You may incidentally find yourself in step with "one side or the other" but in order to remain true you must have your eyes always fixed upon the Lord Jesus Christ. You must recognize that Christ and his kingdom overwhelm the petty idea of taking sides. The kingdom of God truly represents a higher law that must be obeyed and expressed in each life and sphere of influence - regardless of sides. Thus, there is no corner of this existence exempt from obedience to the most high God.
The Bible tells us that Jesus took on human flesh and came into this world to testify to the truth (John 18:37). He did not arrive to take sides. Instead he demands that everyone join him. His is the only true "side." All else is falsehood. Therefore, the authentic Christian life is characterized by submission to the Lord Jesus and him alone. We cannot allow political or cultural trends to dictate our behavior. We must not take sides but must call all sides to submit to Jesus Christ. Frankly, this is the message of Christmas. A message of God-with-us requiring unequivocal submission. A message of casting down sides and lifting up Christ.
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