Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. 2 Chronicles 34.27
In Hebrew thinking, the heart — leb — is the central place in a human being from which all thought, speech, conduct and action spring and is therefore the place in man with which he is most concerned. He tells Samuel: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7).
Here, in today’s passage, when the Lord looks at the heart of Josiah, the young king of Judah, he sees that it is “softened” — that is the literal meaning of of the Hebrew word râkak that the NIV translates as “reponsive” — and that so pleases God that he promises Josiah that he will die peacefully and not live to see the terrible things that lie in store for Judah (2 Chronicles 34.28). What was the visible sign of Josiah’s “softened” heart? That when he was only eight years old he “began to seek the God of his father David” (2 Chronicles 34.3) and then went on to purge Judah of its idolatrous worship (2 Chronicles 34.3-7) and to repair the Lord’s temple ( 2 Chronicles 34.8-11).
The opposite of a softened heart is, of course, a hardened heart. Pharaoh’s heat was “hardened” and in consequence he resisted God and refused to let God’s people go (Exodus 7.22 etc). And I need to remember that even the heart of someone who follows Jesus can become hardened. Matthew says that it happened to the disciples after the feeding of the five thousand and that it prevented them from trusting him to keep them safe (Matthew 6.52).
The most softened, responsive heart of all was, of course, the heart of Jesus himself. When he saw the widow of Nain crying for her dead son, “his heart went out to her” (Luke 7.13). Over and over again, we are told that when Jesus looked at the crowds who followed him, “he had compassion on them” (Matthew 9.36 etc). When he stood before the tomb of Lazarus, “Jesus wept” (John 11.35); and he wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19.41).
I need the softened heart of Josiah but even more I need the softened, responsive heart of Jesus.
Soften my heart, Lord,
Soften my heart.
From all indifference set me apart,
to feel your compassion,
To weep with your tears;
Soften my heart, O Lord,
Soften my heart.