2 KINGS 22-23
JOSIAH THE REFORMER
Josiah was evidently the most Godly king of Israel since David. The writer gives him the highest praise we have seen in the Book of Kings 2 Kings 22:1-2). He says Josiah:
1. did what was right in the eyes of the Lord;
2. walked in all the ways of David; and
3. did not turn aside to the right or left.
Josiah was completely faithful to the Lord, kept the law and led the nation to do so, reformed worship in all Judah and parts of Israel and wiped out idol worship.
He came to the throne when he was only eight years old (2 Kings 22:1). He was not a co-regent since his father had been assassinated (2 Kings 21:23). The writer does not tell us how he was able to reign, but it is likely he had some sort of co-regent during his youth. The story of his reign begins when he had reigned 18 years and was 26 years old (22:3).
We know the spiritual state of Judah was terrible at the time Josiah became king. He father Amon and grand-father Manasseh were two of the worst kings ever. Manasseh was so evil he sealed the fate of Judah for exile. He worshipped many gods and corrupted the worship of the Lord by defiling the temple, building alters and idols even in the Lord’s house.
You cannot account for Josiah’s faith from his family. You can only attribute it to the work of the Holy Spirit through the reading of the Scripture. He may have been aided by the preaching of Jeremiah, although 2 Kings does not mention him in regard to Josiah. Jeremiah 3:6 specifically mentions the Lord’s word to Jeremiah during the reign of Josiah. Zephaniah also prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem as the Great Day of the Lord.
Even before Josiah read the Scripture, he set about to serve the Lord. His first task was to repair the temple (2 Kings 22:3-7). The temple had probably been neglected during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon. So Josiah called for the High priest, Hilkiah, to get the money people were charged when they came into the temple and turn it over to workmen for repairs. This is similar to what Jehoash did in chapter 12.
While Hilkiah was taking care of the temple funds, he came across the Book of the Law (22:8-10). Even though he was high priest, he did not know where it was and had not read it. Or he had kept is to himself during the reign of Amon, knowing Amon did not sympathize with it. That is how bad things were. He knew what it was, though, and took it to the kings secretary, Shaphan. Shaphan read it. He realized it was important. The king needed to see it.
So, when Shaphan reported to the king that the temple funds had been turned over to the workmen and Josiah decreed, he also told him Hilkiah had brought him a book. Josiah had him read it.
What happened next demonstrates the power of God’s word. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, brings conviction. Jesus said:
“…it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” John 16:7-9.
Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit of joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
This was the experience of Josiah. Picture Josiah sitting on this throne listening. Shaphan began to read the Book of the Law. I think this refers to what we call the book of Deuteronomy. It may have referred to what we know as the first 5 books of the Bible. But if it was Deuteronomy, Josiah listened to the story of Israel refusing God’s command to enter Canaan. He heard how God sent them into the wilderness for a generation as punishment.
But then he heard the terms of the covenant, the law. He heard the command to obey the law. He heard God command them not to worship idols or to make them. He knew as he heard it that his land was full of idols, even the Lord’s own temple. The Holy Spirit convicted him of these sins. He heard the 10 commandments. He heard that the Hebrews were people chosen and loved by God. They were to be holy to the Lord. Then he heard the penalties for disobedience. He knew his kingdom was disobedient to the law.
How did Josiah react? He was greatly distressed. He tore his clothes (2 Kings 22:11). He sent the high priest and others to go and inquire of the Lord for him and for the people concerning the word of the Lord (2 Kings 22:12-13).
Josiah understood the consequences of Israel’s disobedience. He said “for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our father have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13).
It is interesting to me that the high priest could not make inquiry of the Lord. He appears to have been clueless about the Law and incapable of seeking the Lord on his own. Yet he was supposed to be the religious leader of the people.
Instead, Hilkiah and the other men went to a woman who was a prophetess (2 Kings 22:14-20). And, indeed, the Lord gave her a message to give to King Josiah. It was not a very happy word.
Huldah the prophetess related God’s word that indeed the Lord was angry and had determined to bring disaster on Judah as the book of Deuteronomy said. These are the curses for disobedience to the law of the covenant (16-17).
The only good news was that, because Josiah had repented, the Lord would not bring the disaster during his life time.
Despite knowing Judah was ultimately doomed, Josiah continued his obedience to the Lord (23:1-3). He led a great reform in the land. First, he called all the people to Jerusalem. He took them to the temple. He personally read the Book of the Law to them. He made a covenant to obey the Lord and the people joined him.
Josiah followed his commitment with action. He went on a crusade to rid the land of idols (23:4-20). Here is a list of what he did.
1. He took all the items of idol worship out of the temple and burned them.
2. He ran off the priests that made offerings in the high places.
3. He ran off the priests of Baal.
4. He ran off the priests who led worship to the stars.
5. He desecrated pagan worship sites.
6. He destroyed the houses of male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord.
7. He destroyed the high places.
He broke down the altars at the gates of the city.
8. He defiled the site in the Valley of Hinnom where children were burned to Molech.
9. he removed horse idols to the sun god and burned their chariots.
10. He broke down all the extra altars Manasseh and Amon had built.
11. He even found and destroyed high places for pagan worship that Solomon had built. He desecrated their sites with the bones of dead people.
12. He pulled down and burned the golden calf at Bethel and defiled the site as the Lord had said would happen back in 1 Kings 13:2. That prophesy was so specific it named Josiah as the one who would do it, long before he was born.
13. He destroyed shrines all through Samaria and sacrificed the pagan priests on their altars (20). He desecrated the sites with dead bodies.
These actions were required by the law. Deuteronomy 12 commands Israel, upon entering Canaan, to destroy the high places, to tear down the pagan altars, tear down and burn the Asherim and destroy any idols they found.
After destroying idol worship in the land, literally going to war against the Devil, Josiah re-instituted the Passover (22:21-23). The observance of Passover was commanded in Deuteronomy 16. But it had not been observed for years in Judah or Israel. Since Josiah had just read the book, he likely required them to do just as it said. Therefore, the offered sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem and ate unleavened bread with the meat of the sacrifice for 7 days (Deuteronomy 16:2-3).
Josiah also got rid of the practitioners of occult arts (22:24-25). He put away the mediums and necromancers. All in all he followed God’s law to the letter, not just in form but n spirit. He sought to personally serve God and to lead the nation into the pure and scriptural worship of the Lord.
This did not turn the Lord away from judgment (22:26-27). The Lord had determined to remove Judah from his land, away from his presence, as he removed Israel. Here we see echoes of the judgment on Adam, as he drove him from his presence in Eden.
After all of these reforms, Josiah died young. He was only 39. He went to battle against Egypt when it went to war. The Babylonians had restored their kingdom and revolted from Assyrian rule. They were now the giant power in the east. Babylon would attack Judah and destroy it. Egypt likely was going to aid the weakened Assyria against the new Babylon (23:28-30). Pharaoh Neco marched from Egypt along the Via Maris (Way of the Sea). He was trying to join the Assyrians. Together they would march into Haran to defend against the invasion of the Babylonians. Neco had to cross Judah to get to Haran and Josiah tried to block him at Megiddo.
2 Chronicles 35 tells us Neco tried to warn him off and told him God had sent him to do battle. But Josiah did not back off. He was killed the minute he got there. I think God was ready to move to judgment and took Josiah early.
What made Josiah a great reformer? He heard the word of God and he obeyed it. That is a good word for us. Many Christians have to hunt for their Bibles on Sunday. Christians should be students of the Word. We should read it. We should study it.
But after we read it and study it we should not stop. We should obey it. We should do what it says to do and be what it says to be. We will reform our personal lives and our church lives by doing so. We will affect those around us.
The end of the year is a good time to reflect on this. Read God’s word. Make a list of the qualities that the Bible says should be in a Christian and spend some time examining yourself and praying about it. Make obedience to God your New Year’s Resolution.