Reform or “reformation” is defined as “the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, etc; to cause (a person) to abandon wrong or evil ways of life or conduct”. So the prophet Jeremiah cries, “Thus saith Yahweh of Hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words saying, The temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh are these…” (Jer 7:4,5): and again, “Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of Yahweh your God; and Yahweh will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you” (Jer 26:13). There was a “great religious Reformation” in the sixteenth century which had for its object the reform of the Roman Catholic Church and which led to the establishment of the Protestant Churches. This simply exchanged one form of corruption for another, with the result that nothing was in reality “improved or amended”. The feature articles in this issue of The Lampstand review the reformations of Josiah and Hezekiah and the life of Jehoshaphat, and highlight the notable aspects that form the background to these times of improvement and amendment in the history of the nation of Judah.

The commandment given to the kings of Israel through Moses was clearly spelled out in Deuteronomy 17:18: “And it shall be, when he [the king] sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law (‘deuteronomy’) in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left…”. Obviously Josiah, Hezekiah and Jehoshaphat were kings who took heed to this commandment and were therefore conversant with the requirements of the law in relation to the keeping of the Passover, the order of the priesthood, the temple services and so on, as well as their own personal conduct before God.

In these days of instant communication, instant access to information and countless books on every imaginable subject, we may consider this to be a totally outdated commandment. When all the reputable reference books—Strong’s, Englishman’s, and even the “pioneer works”—are available on disk, why ‘make hard work’ of Bible study! However, there is a timeless, simple principle involved in the wisdom of such a commandment. We are much more likely to remember and be impressed by something which we have personally written or copied out. Such a copy was given to the boy king Joash that he might be educated in the requirements of the law (2 Chron 23:11) and later, King Josiah was much agitated by the reading of a copy found in the precincts of the Temple (2 Chron 34:15).

What do we learn from such a commandment? How can we write “a copy of this law in a book”? The practice of Bible marking was once (not so long ago) common amongst our community. It is an activity which is productive of an immense amount of benefit and spiritual growth—both as a personal, individual exercise or together with our families. Having studied a subject or a chapter, it is of lasting value to record our conclusions in the margin of our Bibles, and the daily habit of Bible reading will also be enhanced by the marginal notes accumulated over time.

Not only was the king instructed to “write him a copy of this law” but it was to be his constant companion that he might read from it daily and meditate upon it “that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God”. The same sentiments are contained in Deuteronomy 11:18,19: “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”

The purpose of these activities was that the king might “keep all the words of this law and these statutes to do them”. The Hebrew for “keep” (shamar) means “to hedge about, guard, protect, attend”: obviously the message is that we should take to ourselves and closely observe the principles of the words of Scripture that they might direct our actions in a practical way. The people to whom Jeremiah wrote rested in the confidence that they were “the temple of Yahweh” but this was not a sufficient guard against the judgments of Yahweh. Nor can we rest in the confidence that we are members of the Ecclesia of God whilst at the same time doing our own works and walking in our own ways. We need a reformation—to correct the things that are wrong, change the things that have become corrupted, abandon evil ways of life or conduct—and a very practical and effective way to begin is to take up our pens and “write a copy of this law”. There are numerous sets of notes, tape recordings, booklets and other study aids to source our material, as well as cheap, very useable disposable pens of assorted colours—all readily available. A little Bible marking every day, along with our daily Bible readings, will be a tremendous source of strength and spiritual direction in our personal lives and in our ecclesial life. We do not know what trials or reverses lie ahead for us individually or for the ecclesial world as the day of our Lord’s return draws closer. Let us prepare ourselves for that day when we hope to be a part of that Great Reformation that will change this world so that it will truly be filled with the knowledge of the Glory of Yahweh.