“Reading for Reform and Renewal”
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
1 Timothy 4:13
The Scriptures are meant to be read not only privately for individual study but also publicly for the shaping of the entire church family. In addition to teaching, Paul instructed Timothy to devote himself to reading Scripture out loud to the church. It was crucial for every Christian to hear God’s word on a regular basis because it is ‘living and active’ (Heb. 4:12). God powerfully works through his word. There are several key moments in the history of God’s people when the Scriptures were read aloud to great effect.
For example, in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, the temple in Jerusalem was finally being repaired after years of neglect. During its reconstruction a priest named Hilkiah found a book called ‘the Book of the Law,’ what we call Deuteronomy, Moses’ recounting of the Law and Israel’s history just before entering the Promised Land (Deut. 28:61; 29:21). Kings in previous generations had access to this book and were even instructed to make their own copy to read (Deut. 17:18-20). Sadly, sometime during the decades of apostasy before Josiah ascended the throne, this book was lost or hidden.
When Shaphan, Josiah’s secretary, read the book out loud to the king and he heard Israel’s history, God’s instructions in the Law, the blessings for obeying the covenant, and the curses for disobedience, and the warnings of exile, Josiah tore his clothes in grief and horror. 2 Kings 22-23, where this story is recorded, teaches us three powerful lessons regarding the public reading of Scripture.
First, Scripture warns us of danger — When the king heard the Law read aloud he realized how far Israel had wandered from God (2 Kings 22:13). The prophetess Huldah warned them bad things would happen if they didn’t start obeying the words of the Law and turn to God as a nation. Josiah understood the danger Israel was in and his responsibility as king to set the example (2 Kings. 22:14-20). Scripture has the power to convict us when we are wrong. This painful conviction is necessary before we can make things right.
Second, Scripture moves us to reform — In response, Josiah gathered all the people to the temple to hear the Law read aloud. Upon hearing the word, the king called Israel to reform and renew their covenant promises to God (2 Kings 23:1-3). Again, Scripture was at the heart of this national movement; the priestly desire for inner purity, the prophetic word of warning and judgment, and royal leadership into covenant reform were all motivated by Scripture. God’s word, with its stark warnings and glorious promises, has the same transformative power in us when we hear to obey.
Third, Scripture teaches us accountability — Josiah wasted no time rooting out and destroying idolatry in Israel and reestablishing proper worship to the LORD (2 Kings 23:4-20). Sadly, the kings after Josiah undid all his reforms and the nation went downhill from there. Eventually, they suffered the consequences of their disloyalty to God and were exiled to Babylon. The lesson here is that we can’t rely on the reforms of previous generations. Each generation must read and wrestle with the Scriptures afresh lest they forget the lessons of the past and fail to meet the challenges of the present.
Reading Scripture during the assembly acts as a warning to show us where we might be straying from God, motivates us to make the necessary changes in our lives, and teaches us that we are accountable for our spiritual condition before God. Josiah realized Israel had not been keeping the Passover, a fundamental part of their national identity and life (2 Kings 23:21-22). What might our generation be missing? If we read and hear God’s word we can find out and make the corrections (2 Tim. 3:16-17).