Josiah Reigns in Judah
22:1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. 2 And 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.
Josiah Repairs the Temple
3 In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the LORD, saying, 4 “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money that has been brought into the house of the LORD, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people. 5 And let it be given into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD, and let them give it to the workmen who are at the house of the LORD, repairing the house 6 (that is, to the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons), and let them use it for buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house. 7 But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”
Hilkiah Finds the Book of the Law
8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.
11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
14 So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter), and they talked with her. 15 And she said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 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. 20 Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’” And they brought back word to the king.
23:1 Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. 2 And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD. 3 And 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. And all the people joined in the covenant.
4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5 And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. 6 And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. 7 And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. 8 And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the gate of the city. 9 However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.1 11 And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts.2 And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, he pulled down and broke in pieces3 and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men.
15 Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned,4 reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the LORD that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. 17 Then he said, “What is that monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted5 these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.” 18 And he said, “Let him be; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria. 19 And Josiah removed all the shrines also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which kings of Israel had made, provoking the LORD to anger. He did to them according to all that he had done at Bethel. 20 And he sacrificed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
Josiah Restores the Passover
21 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” 22 For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem.
24 Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. 25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.
26 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. 27 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.”
Josiah’s Death in Battle
28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. 30 And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place.
Jehoahaz’s Reign and Captivity
31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 And Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents6 of silver and a talent of gold. 34 And Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt and died there. 35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, from everyone according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.
Jehoiakim Reigns in Judah
36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done.
Righteousness cannot be imposed by parents, churches, or governments because it must flow from the heart. Of course, good laws are better than bad ones, and they have great value in restraining evil. Good laws backed up by appropriate penalties will usually bring some modification of behavior. But the law cannot bring a change of heart, and that is why attempts to impose religion always fail.
God’s purpose is not to impose an outward conformity to His law. It is to cultivate an inward desire for righteousness. This is the promise of the new covenant and the work of the Holy Spirit. It involves changing our hearts to give us a new hunger for righteousness, and a new ability to pursue a life that is pleasing to God.
How would you feel if, in the news one morning, you discovered that forty-two of the fifty American states had left the union and each had a completely independent government and armed forces? Then, what if several years later, those forty-two independent states collapsed and were overrun by enemies?
As a citizen in one of the eight remaining “United States,” you would no longer be part of a world superpower. Instead, you would be a citizen of a rather small and vulnerable country. Enemies who were once thousands of miles away could now move military installations very close to your border. What once seemed strong and secure would now seem weak and vulnerable.
That’s how it was for the people of God in the two tribes that made up the southern kingdom of Judah. In the time of David, Israel had been a dominant power, with the twelve tribes united. But after ten of the twelve tribes declared their independence, things changed radically for the south. The nation was diminished militarily and economically, and within two hundred years the northern kingdom was overrun by enemies and the ten tribes were scattered.
God’s promise to bless the descendants of Abraham and then to bring blessing to the nations of the world through them must have looked very doubtful. But God’s promise to bless His people had never been revoked.
A Turn for the Worse
For many years, the people of Judah had the benefit of better leadership than their brothers and sisters in the north. But things took a turn for the worse when Manasseh came to the throne. He reigned for fifty-five years (2 Kings 21:1) and brought more trouble to God’s people than anyone else. “Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel” (21:9).
God had driven the Canaanites out of the land because of their many sins, but now God’s own people were doing things that were even worse! Manasseh promoted the worship of Molech, which included an evil rite in which children were sacrificed in a fire (21:6). If God judged the Canaanites for their sins, how could He restrain judgment on His own people (21:11)? God’s people were called to be a light in a dark place, but the reality was that they were living in the same darkness as the people around them!
At the end of Manasseh’s reign, his son Amon came to the throne, but he lasted only two years before he was murdered, leaving his eight-year-old son Josiah as king.
The Influence of a Godly Leader
In contrast to his father and grandfather, Josiah “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).
Josiah began to seek the Lord in the eighth year of his reign (2 Chronicles 34:3), which would be at the age of sixteen. As a teenager he developed a heart for God that shaped his entire life. It is never too early to seek the Lord.
This godly young leader wanted to get Judah back on the right track, but he had no knowledge of the Bible to draw on and no godly example to follow. Josiah grew up in a spiritually confused and biblically illiterate culture, and yet deep within his heart there was a longing to know God.
Rediscovering the Bible
Josiah decided he would begin by refurbishing the temple, and in the eighteenth year of his reign (at age twenty-six), the king and his people began the renovation (2 Kings 22:3). While the work was in progress, Hilkiah the high priest found a dusty old book that would change the direction of the nation. He said “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD” (22:8). This book was almost certainly a copy of Deuteronomy, and one wonders how it could possibly have become lost in, of all places, the temple!
The Word of God roundly condemned what Manasseh had done, and it is not difficult to imagine why the priests ignored the Scripture. If they had preached from the Bible in the time of Manasseh, they would have found themselves on a collision course with the culture. So they buried the Bible, and fifty years later a new generation arose that did not know God or His law.
The amazing thing is that the priests continued their work in the temple without ever using the Scriptures! If the church chooses this path, then within a generation we will have young people like Josiah growing up who want to know God but do not know where to find Him.
Rediscovering Right and Wrong
The book of Deuteronomy was read to Josiah, and “when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11). How could we have strayed so far from what God requires?
Righteousness is revealed in the Word of God, and without the Word we cannot tell right from wrong. If righteousness is to be restored to our families, our churches, and our nation, then those who love God must get serious about putting the Bible into practice.
Josiah gathered the elders and the people and read the whole book of Deuteronomy aloud. Standing by the pillar of the temple, he made a public pledge to obey the Lord. Then all the people joined in making the same commitment (23:2-3).
Josiah traveled throughout the country, and wherever he found altars or other evidences of idolatry in the land, he completely destroyed them. It was the greatest onslaught against idolatrous practices in the history of Israel. Nothing like this had ever happened before.
The idolatrous altars Solomon built for his foreign wives had stood for 300 years, as did the golden calf set up by Jeroboam (23:13, 15). No other king dared to touch them, but Josiah destroyed them completely.
God held back judgment on the nation during Josiah’s lifetime: “Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD… Your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place” (22:19–20).
Josiah was unrelenting in his pursuit of righteousness: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him” (23:25). You couldn’t ask for a better epitaph than that!
Righteousness Begins in Each Person’s Heart
But there were limitations to Josiah’s achievement. Most of the change came as the direct result of Josiah’s own activity. It was not a grass roots movement; it was all done by state intervention!
There was a strong element of coercion involved in all of this. So it is not surprising to find that as long as Josiah lived, “they did not turn away from following the LORD, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:33). But as soon as Josiah died, the inevitable happened. Things went back to the way they were before.
The prophet Jeremiah gives us a fascinating insight into the limitations of Josiah’s reform: “‘Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but in pretense,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:10). With the right leader you can change the laws of the land. But unless the hearts of the people are changed at the same time, it will only lead to disappointment in the long term. When Josiah used his political power in an attempt to change the face of the nation, the people conformed to the tide of cultural pressure. But that was as far as the change went, and under a new king the tide moved in a different direction.
Good behavior can sometimes be little more than a reflection of your environment. If all you do is conform to the expectations of others, when you are with a different crowd, you will find out who you really are. True righteousness can only come from a heart that has been changed by God, and for this reason God promised a new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
God was promising to do what no parent, church or state can ever do – get His law into our minds and hearts, so that we will want what He has commanded.
Centuries later, Jesus took a cup filled with wine and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). He was talking about the covenant God had promised through Jeremiah, in which God would change us from the inside out.
When we come to Jesus in faith and repentance, He puts a desire for righteousness in us. That is the promise of the new covenant. God gives us more than His law, He gives us Himself! God’s Spirit creates new desires and capacities within you. That is why a Christian loves God and longs for righteousness. That is why a Christian prays, and why, when a Christian sins, it is not long before he or she feels the need to come to Christ and be forgiven.
This hunger and thirst for righteousness is one of the greatest blessings of the Christian life. Those who hunger for what God forbids will, in the end, experience emptiness and frustration, but those who desire righteousness will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Don’t settle for an outward conformity to Christian values when Christ can give you a new heart.
- Is there a promise of God that, because of circumstances, seems doubtful to you now? Why?
- Where do you most relate to Josiah’s background? He grew up in a spiritually-confused, biblically-illiterate culture, but deep down he had a desire to know God.
- What is the value of moral laws? What are their limitations?
- Where does true righteousness come from?
- What is God able to do that no parent, church or government can ever do?