Josiah

(Supported by Jehovah)

(2 Kings 22—23; 2 Chron. 34—35)

Contemporary Prophet, Jeremiah.

“A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.”—Proverbs 20:26

“Josiah was eight years old when he began to I reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Boscath. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.”

At last, after more than three hundred years, the prophecy of “the man of God out of Judah” is fulfilled: “Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee [the idol altar at Bethel] shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee” (1 Kings 13:2). “For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young [sixteen], he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images [lit., sun-pillars] , that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them. And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.”

“God’s purposes will ripen fast,”

is true, in a certain sense; yet in another sense

“The mills of God grind slow.”

Scoffers long may have asked, “Where is the promise of this coming prince, this child of the house of David, named Josiah?” And as generation after generation passed, and no prince of that name appeared, even the righteous may have questioned in their minds and wondered if God had forgotten, or doubted if the prophecy were really true. Did Jedidah (beloved) know of this prophecy when she named her first-born? or the child’s grandmother, Adaiah (Jah has adorned)? They were of the town of Boscath, a swell (of ground), and at last the time had come when he should rise of whom the prophet had spoken; and the prophecy was now fulfilled—as all God’s word must be.

“And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round about. And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.” It took six years of labor to accomplish this; and “in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house,” he commissioned his officers of state “to repair the house of the Lord his God.” Levites were sent throughout the land to collect the money necessary for this work. “And they put it in the hand of the workmen that had the oversight of the house of the Lord, and they gave it to the workmen that wrought in the house of the Lord, to repair and amend the house: even to the artificers and builders gave they it, to buy hewn stone, and timber for couplings [or joists], and to floor the houses which the kings of Judah had destroyed. And the men did the work faithfully.” Manasseh, though restored personally, had not the energy—or influence, perhaps—to do this work. Everything must have been in a ruined state when the young Josiah began his work of restoration.10

And now a great discovery was made. A hid treasure (long lost, no doubt) was found, “better than of gold or rubies rare.” “And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and brought the king word back again, saying, All that was committed to thy servants, they do it. And they have gathered together the money that was found in the house of the Lord, and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers, and to the hand of the workmen.” He says nothing of the new-found treasure as yet. It may not have been a treasure in his eyes, perhaps. Like many at the present time, he was more occupied with “workmen” and “money “than with God’s book, which He has “magnified,” not merely above all Christian work or missionary enterprise (though these have their place), but “above all His name.” Shaphan did not despise the book, but he had not yet, like many a modern scribe, realized the importance of that blessed volume. Then—after “money,” and “overseers,” and “workmen,” have all been mentioned—”then, Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book”—only a book! “And Shaphan read it before the king.”

“And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes.” He then commanded the temple curators, and his servant Asaiah, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book.” It was, no doubt, the Pentateuch—either the original, as written by Moses, or the temple copy (Deut. 31:26), used in days gone by at the coronation of their kings (See Deut. 17:18; 2 Chron. 23:11.) How long it had been lost is not known; probably since the beginning of Manasseh’s reign at least.

“And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tokehath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe: now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter [of the town]; and they spoke with her to that effect” (2 Chron. 34:22, N. Tr.). Why they did not inquire of Jeremiah, or Zephaniah (who were contemporary with Josiah (Jer. 1:3; Zeph. 1:1), is uncertain. Anathoth, Jeremiah’s birthplace, was only three miles from Jerusalem, and so within easy reach. Both these prophets, however, may have been too young at the time to be consulted as prophets by the nation. (See Jer. 1:2).

Huldah’s answer was a most impressive one: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses which are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: because they have forsaken Me…therefore My wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched. And as for the king, of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, concerning the words which thou hast heard, because thy heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest His words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before Me;…I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.”

In wrath God remembers mercy; and like his great-grandfather Hezekiah, Josiah is comforted with the assurance that there should be a postponement of these impending judgments during his day, because he, like Hezekiah, humbled himself. He at once gathered all the elders of the land together, and with them and the priests and Levites, “and all the people, great and small: and he [or, one] read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the Lord.”

“And the king stood on the dais and made a covenant before Jehovah, to walk after Jehovah, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and with all his soul, to establish the words of this covenant that are written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3, N. Tr.) On the young king’s part this was all real, no doubt, but one has only to read the earlier part of Jeremiah’s prophecy to see how hypocritical it was with the mass of the people. (See Jer. 3:10, marg.) They had enthusiastically entered into covenants with the Lord before, and the outcome was always the same—breakdown, and wider departure from God than ever before.

The work of reformation is then extended: “And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the Lord their God. And all his days they departed not from following the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chron. 34:33).

“Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he brake down…And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount, and sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them upon the altar, and polluted it, according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words [O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee. 1 Kings 13:2.] Then he said, What title is that that I see? And the men of the city told him, It is the sepulchre of the man of God which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Bethel. And he said, Let him alone; let no man move his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria.”

It is not certain if this remarkable incident occurred before, or after, the finding of the copy of the law in the temple; (see Author’s Introduction). It proves however that after the lapse of at least three centuries the prophecy of the Judean prophet was still fresh in the minds of men. God not only lets none of His words fall to the ground, but takes care also that in some way or other they are preserved in the memories of those concerned in them. The “title” on the man of God’s tomb would help, no doubt, to keep the occurrence from being forgotten. How awed and encouraged Josiah the king must have felt, to know that he had been named and appointed by God for the work he was doing, so many generations before. How it would tend to impress upon him the force and meaning of such scriptures as the 139th psalm. And witnessing how literally the prophecy of the man of God was fulfilled, he and all his people, would be convinced that the prophecies of Huldah and Jeremiah against themselves would in like manner be exactly fulfilled.

Moved, no doubt, by what was written in the recovered book of the law regarding it, “Josiah kept a passover unto the Lord in Jerusalem.” Careful preparations were made that everything might be done according to the written word of God. It was in the eighteenth year of his reign, so was probably celebrated immediately after the completion of the temple repairs and the finding of the book. (Comp. 2 Chron. 34:8, and 35:19). “And he set the priests in their charges, and encouraged them to the service of the house of the Lord. And said unto the Levites, that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the Lord, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build, it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the Lord your God and His people Israel. And prepare yourselves by the houses of your fathers, after your courses, according to the writing of David king of Israel, and according to the writing of Solomon his son.” It was all to be done according to what was written. Josiah evidently took great care as to this, and so became a beautiful example for all who long to please the Lord and desire to decline “neither to the right hand nor to the left,” like this godly king, from following Him. Some in the kingdom might think him too much bound to the letter of these writings, but he would have God’s approval, which was quite enough. No one can say where the wilful departure of a hair’s breadth may not eventually lead. The safety of all is to keep as far away from the edge of the precipice as possible. “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Thy commandments” (Ps. 119:6).

Josiah tells the Levites to put the ark in its proper place in the temple, and not bear it any longer on their shoulders. It is the last historical reference to the ark in Scripture. It would almost appear, from Jer. 3:16, that it had been made an object of ostentatious display, and was possibly borne by the Levites in procession through the streets of Jerusalem. It is never after heard of, and probably perished when the temple was burned by the Chaldees (2 Chron. 36:19).

The king further commands the Levites: “Kill the passover,” he says, “and sanctify yourselves, and prepare your brethren, that ye may do according to the word of the Lord” by the hand of Moses.” And such a pass-over it was!—”there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” It even exceeded the great pass- over under Hezekiah, which had not been equaled since “the time of Solomon son of David king of Israel” (2 Chron. 30:20). Josiah’s surpassed that of all the kings, and found its compeer only in that of the prophet.

And now comes the closing act in this stirring drama of Josiah’s life. “After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Charchemish by Euphrates: and Josiah went out against him. But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that He destroy thee not.” It was a fair warning, and Josiah should certainly have heeded it. Necho came against Assyria, and had no quarrel with Josiah. He was a man of enterprise and energy. It was he who attempted to connect the Red Sea with the Nile by a canal. Phenician navigators, under his patronage, circumnavigated the continent of Africa. He came by sea on this expedition, and landed at Accho. So he was not even on Josiah’s territory when that king culpably marched his forces against him.

“Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and harkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God,11 and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo. And the archers shot at king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, Have me away; for I am sore wounded. His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had; and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers.”

“Why shouldest thou meddle to thy hurt, that thou shouldest fall?” said the king of Israel to Amaziah, Josiah’s ancestor, years before (2 Kings 14:10). Josiah should also have been familiar with the proverb, “copied by the men of Hezekiah,” “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears” (Prov. 26:17). And another: “It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling” (Prov. 20:3). It was not of faith, else why “disguise” himself? There is no record of any prayer before the battle, as in the case of so many of his godly ancestors; and this rash act of Josiah seems unaccountable. He may have suspected that Necho had some ulterior design upon his kingdom; but as the king of Egypt strongly disclaimed any such intention, Josiah’s unprovoked attack upon him was wholly unjustified. And God, who is the God of peace and righteousness, would not preserve him, as he had Jehoshaphat. There is another light, too, in which Josiah’s early end may be looked at. The people were utterly unworthy of such a godly ruler, and their wickedness, spite of external reformation, called loudly for judgment; so the righteous was taken away from the evil to come. Viewed from this standpoint, it was a mercy to the man himself; but to the nation, speaking after the manner of men, it was a dire calamity.

They evidently realized this, for we read, “All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations.” These “lamentations” must not be confounded with Jeremiah’s “Lamentations,” written over (and therefore after) Jerusalem’s fall. (Comp. Jer. 22:10-13; Zech. 12:11)

Josiah was the last good king to sit upon the throne of David, “till He come whose right it is.” And he was the last whose body found a resting-place among the kings, “the sepulchres of his fathers.”

“The memory” of this “just” and energetic king is “blessed.” When only twenty years of age he began the herculean task of cleansing his kingdom of its abominations. There were “vessels that were made for Baal,” and “for all the host of heaven,” to be brought forth out of the temple; there were “idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained,” to be “put down”—them that burned incense to “Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets.” “And he brake down the houses of the sodomites [men consecrated to vile purposes], that were by the house of the Lord, where the women [also consecrated to heathen deities] wove hangings [tents] for the groves.” “Joshua the governor of the city” had high places at the entrance of his gate which Josiah fearlessly “broke down.” He took away the “horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathanmelech the chamberlain,…and burned the chariots of the sun with fire.” “And the altars that were on the top [or roof] of the upper chamber of Abaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, did the king beat down” (or shattered). He seems to have had few sympathizers, or supporters, in his reforms, and superintended some of the work personally. (See 2 Kings 23:16.) He could not be blamed if the mass of the people were hypocritical and unreal. (See Zeph. 1:5). Genuine repentance is not wrought by a king’s command, but he did all that lay in his power, and did not permit a single visible vestige of idolatry to remain in his realm. It is significant that when this last righteous king of Judah died, the whole land was outwardly cleansed of its abominations. And when his work was done, God called him home, though an Egyptian arrow was His messenger. “And like unto him was there no king before him, that 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; neither after him arose there any like him” (2 Kings 23:25).

“Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and his goodness, according to that which was written in the law of the Lord, and his deeds, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah.”

10 The shameful idolatry that filled the land had to be cleared away before any claim to, or restoration of, Jehovah’s worship could be made. Hence this must be accomplished ere Jehovah’s temple is restored—which in Hezekiah’s day was done first (2 Chron. 29:3).—[Ed.

11 The word “from the mouth of God” may sometimes come through such as are not true servants of God. See John 11:49-5; 1Num. 23:5; Josh. 13:22. [Ed.