As a high school kid, I remember being obsessed with the idea of personal legacy. I slavishly craved a reality in which my life counted and enacted effectual and tangible change. I was terrified of being forgotten….of not “making a difference.” Or, worse, I feared being faithful but still forgotten.
Why live a faithful life if no one will remember me? My only incentive for living faithfully was so that I would be remembered. It was a self-serving faithfulness.
I praise God for the sanctifying work of his grace he’s done in my life since high school. It is only by his grace that I no longer cling to the sanctimonious ambition of personal legacy for one’s own sake alone. It is only by his grace that I’m content with being insignificant. And in God’s kind providence, I recently stumbled across a story in the book of 2 Kings that would continue to serve as a means of grace from God to sanctify my pride.
2 Kings is written at a point in Israel’s history in which they are clinging to the Davidic promise. It was a promise given to king David by God that a king would come from David’s line and establish Israel’s kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:10-13). With threats from enemies all around, the people longed for the fulfillment of this promise.
So, when we arrive on the shores of the books of the kings, we wonder, king after king…. is this the one? Will this one be the king to conquer all foreign enemies? And time and time again, the answer is a resounding no. The kings lead the people into sin over and over and over again. Thus, in 1 Kings 11, God says he will tear the kingdom away from Solomon and in 1 Kings 12, the kingdom is divided between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Finally, in 2 Kings 17, the southern kingdom of Israel falls and is exiled to Assyria. Only Judah remains. God’s covenant people are left to wonder, is there a shred of hope in a king from Judah?
A cursory glance at the lives and reigns of some of the kings in 2 Kings will reveal rampant wickedness continues. So, when Yahweh relents no longer and finally lays a pronouncement that he will bring upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle in 2 Kings 21, we are not surprised. The fate that had fallen on Israel was now pronounced on Judah as well. Because God is the only God, he demands exclusive worship. He is not prepared to take his place alongside the gods of the nations, nor to be displaced by them. Destruction is coming, the only question is when.
But all of a sudden, like a blast of cool air on a sweltering day, we read the story of a king by the name of Josiah in 2 Kings 22. Josiah was a truly faithful king. The narrator records, “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (2 Kings 22:2).
Despite sinful kings before him and divine pronouncement of judgement upon the kingdom of Judah, we still want to believe that there’s a chance of redemption for the lone remnant of God’s people because of this faithful king. But like a slap in the face, the prophetess Huldah reminds us that judgment on the kingdom is still coming in 22:16-17. Judgement is fully and finally pronounced. There is no avoiding it.
What is Josiah’s response?
Rather than complaining or falling into sinful lethargy, Josiah gathers all of the elders and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all its prophets and priests and he leads the people in reading the book of the law that had been found in the temple. Then, in verse 23:3 it says, “And the king stood by the pillar and a made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in the book. And all the people joined the covenant.” This is remarkable. After decades of unhampered sinfulness and idolatry, a faithful king leads the people in a covenant recommitment to God.
The rest of chapter 23 records Josiah’s leadership over one of the greatest reforms of biblical worship in Israel’s history even as judgment looms overhead.
Josiah’s is a faithfulness that does not confuse obedience with pragmatism. Remember, judgement is still coming. Josiah pushes on not because it will change anything but simply because God demands it. He pushes on not because he will be rewarded for his legacy but solely because it would bring honor and glory to God. It was an obedience without incentives. It was obedience to God’s moral law solely because God commanded it and because it would honor him. He didn’t care about his legacy. He didn’t care about receiving tangible results from his obedience. He disregarded the carnal impulse to only act in egocentric faithfulness.
The world tells us over and over again that we should be driven by final results… Increase the bottom line! Look out for yourself because if you don’t the world will eat you up! The Bible paints a different narrative. It is a narrative of selflessness. A narrative of God’s glory, not our own. Josiah’s example should stir in our own hearts a desire to be faithful to God regardless of results. It should be driven by one motive: a desire to please God, to act in obedience to him, and to bring glory to him.
Despite what the world may tell you, it’s okay to be insignificant. Don’t listen to hustle culture. Don’t buy the lie of western culture that you are a messiah whom the world desperately needs (for more on this, see here). Labor to live a faithful life before God for the sake of obedience to him and to the praise of his glory alone. The moment we live for our own glory is the moment we infringe upon the glory due only to God. The less significant we make ourselves out to be, the more significant we make God out to be.
The world may never know if you wake up each morning and spend time in the Word. The world may never know if you fall on your knees each day to petition God for his grace. The world may never know if you treat others as more significant than yourself. In fact, much of the Christian life is lived without praise. Much of it is lived without reward this side of glory. But that’s the thing…we don’t live for this world. We live for the world to come. If only we endure now, you know what awaits us? “The immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). It takes a conscious effort and the power of the Spirit to defy the carnal impulses of this world, but by God’s grace we can do it. And for those who have been saved by his grace in salvation, eternal union with God awaits.
We may rest in unvisited tombs one day, but there was one who rose from the tomb, defeating sin and death forever so that he might establish his kingdom here on this earth and establish his people as heirs to that kingdom. That person is King Jesus, the son of God. He was the full fulfillment of the promise found in 2 Samuel 7. Though equal with God, he didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. Instead, taking the form of a servant, he was born in the likeness of men and was obedient unto death in the place of sinners (Phil. 2:1-12). He became insignificant so that all who trust in him can be counted significant again before God. Praise God for the good news of the gospel. That is our hope. That is how we forget ourselves and live for the glory of God alone. Until Christ returns again in all his glory and calls us home, may God grant us the strength to establish the legacy of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ Jesus whether or not the world remembers us.
In anticlimactic fashion, King Josiah is killed in battle by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt and the kingdom is promptly inherited by a wicked king who leads the people back into sin. To the eyes of the world, Josiah lived a futile existence. To the eyes of God, Josiah lived an honorable life. The path to true significance comes through the valley of insignificance.