2 Kings 22:11-13 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king's attendant: "Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us."
2 Kings 22:15-20 "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 'This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.' Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.'"
2 Kings 23:19-27 Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed and defiled all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria that had provoked the Lord to anger. Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem. The king gave this order to all the people: "Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant." Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem.
Josiah repented when he heard what was written in the Book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy): he immediately removed all idols and desecrated all the high places of Baal and Asherah, including the altars at Bethel and Dan set up by Jeroboam. He also slaughtered all the male shrine prostitutes found in the temple and the priests of Baal and Asherah. He also put away all the mediums and spiritists. And he even restored the Passover celebration which was neglected since the days of the Judges. But it was all too little, too late. The reforms were superficial because his son Jehoahaz immediately reverted back to evil ways of idolatry & Baal worship.
Reforms are superficial because they can only change the conduct, but not the character. Essentially, Josiah's reforms changed the outward religious practices of the Judah, but inwardly, their hearts remained indifferent to the Lord God of Israel. The Babylonians were already planning to invade Judah, ever since Hezekiah showed the Babylonian emissaries all the treasures of Judah. Josiah's reforms did not turn away the wrath of God against Judah: Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the Lord said, "I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there" (2 Kings 23:26-27, ESV).
Character change must begin in the heart: for Josiah, hearing the words of the Law found in the Book of the Law changed his heart: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord" ("2 Kings 22:18-19)
But we can't say that about the elders and priests who were commanded by Josiah to gather to hear him read to them from the Book of the Law. They submitted to the laws' requirements but we do not hear of the same heart-wrenching repentance that Josiah experienced when he heard God's words. Compliance to the Law is not the same as obedience to the Law: compliance is simply conforming but real change is transforming.
Whenever I hear churches talk about "discipleship" as a priority, it often means bible study and more bible study. I do not say that Bible study is not profitable, but as D.L. Moody observes: "God gives us the Bible not to increase our knowledge but to change our lives." Bible study that simply fills our heads with more knowledge will not automatically lead to transformation of character. True transformation must be holistic: it must convince the mind, convict the heart and convert the will: the king stood by the pillar and 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 this book (2 Kings 23:3, ESV). It took just one generation after him to unravel everything he did.
For real transformation to take place, we need more than just the Word of God--we need the Spirit of God. Only He can convict the heart of sin, of righteousness and of judgement. I have seen long-time church goers and even leaders experiencing real heart-transformation when they welcomed the Spirit of God into their hearts afresh. But when churches reject the Holy Spirit ministry, the congregation can actually become hardened and indifferent by their over-exposure to God's Word preached from the pulpit every Sunday.
Father, You have said, "Not by might, not by power but by My Spirit." So come Holy Spirit and revive and fill our hearts Lord. Amen.