Prepare Your Brethren
"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:
neither after him arose there any like him."
SECOND KINGS CHAPTERS 22 and 23
JOSIAH was one of the best kings of Judah. He ranks with David and Hezekiah as the three outstanding kings that ruled God's kingdom in the past.
(Jotham, a strange shadowy figure of whom we are told so little, could perhaps be considered a 4th in this distinguished group. He reigned 16 years. He is spoken of highly, and nothing adverse is recorded against him. But the record is so brief).
HISTORICAL POSITION OF JOSIAH: LAST GOOD KING
Jehoram Jehoram (Joram)
Joash (Jehoash) Jehoahaz
Amaziah Jehoash (Joash)
Uzziah (Azariah) Jeroboam II
All three are in many ways types of the great king to come. Josiah was an especial type of Christ in that his name and work were recorded in prophecy long before his birth. In this respect he resembles Cyrus—the only other case where one was so prophesied of. Cyrus, too, in his destruction of Babylon, and freeing the Jews, and proclaiming their return to their land to rebuild their city and temple, was a striking type of Christ.
In some respects Josiah was unique among the kings. In 2 Kings 23:25, it is recorded—
"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, neither after him arose there any like him."
Nothing adverse is recorded against him, except it may be the strange incident which led to his death.
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Josiah was the last good king of Judah. After him events rapidly closed in for the final destruction. Three of his sons, and one grandson, all evil, reigned after him. Here, unhappily, is an indication of weakness, for the promise was—
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Josiah was the grandson of the wicked king Manasseh and came to the throne at the death of Amon, around 640 BC—about 35 years before Nebuchadnezzar first came against Jerusalem, and about 55 years before the final destruction of the city.
Jeremiah was born about the same time as Josiah and began to prophesy in the 13th year of Josiah's reign. Besides Jeremiah, Zephaniah also prophesied in the reign of Josiah.
Josiah's father was Amon, who was wicked like his father Manasseh, and who reigned but 2 years before being assassinated by his own servants.
Josiah was 8 years old when his father was killed and the people of Judah made him king. At 8 years old he would necessarily be under the guidance of someone in the conduct of the kingdom, but we are not told who it was. We are told that his mother's name was Jedidah, and doubtless she would be a great influence in shaping his character. It would be providential that the wicked influence of his father would be removed. Perhaps, as in the case of Joash, the High Priest guided the affairs of the kingdom until Josiah grew up.
The 31-year reign of Josiah was the final period of good and blessing before the destruction of the kingdom. It was an opportunity for all Judah to learn and experience the way of righteousness and truth. But this godly period died with Josiah himself. It was enforced from above, but was not deep in the hearts of the people.
The record of Josiah's reign is a little fuller in Chronicles than in Kings. There we are told that in the 8th year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David. This would be when he was 16.
The old sometimes turn to God through disappointment, or bitter experience, or disillusionment with the ways of the world, but it is very beautiful when the young turn spontaneously to God at the beginning of life's freshness and strength—
"Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them" (Eccl. 12:1).
There is not much love manifested in giving God the worn-out days toward life's end.
At 16 he dedicated himself to the service of God. At 20, in the 12th year of his reign, we read in Chronicles that he was ready to begin the great work of cleansing Judah and Jerusalem from all idolatry, and establishing the true worship of God throughout the land.
This was a tremendous undertaking. Seventy years had now passed since the death of Hezekiah. Manasseh had spent most of his long reign in filling the land with idolatrous images and practices—
"Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, to do worse than the heathen whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel."
At the end of his life, after being severely punished, Manasseh turned to God and endeavored to restore His worship in Judah, but all the symbols of idolatry were apparently permitted to remain, except in the city of Jerusalem.
At his death, his son Amon immediately restored all the evil customs, using the places and images his father had earlier made in his wickedness.
From Josiah's 12th to 18th years—6 to 7 years—was taken in cleansing the land. 2 Chr. 34:4 records that—
"They broke down the altars of Baalim in his presence."
Josiah personally supervised the cleansing work. He himself went systematically all over the land.
The record in Kings describes the finding of the Book of the Law, in the 18th year of Josiah, before recording the cleansing of the land and the destroying of the idols, but Chronicles, more in orderly detail, says he began the cleansing in his 12th year and found the book in his 18th, so the cleansing appears to have occurred principally in the 6 to 7 years preceding the discovery of the book, after which—still in his 18th year—they had the great Passover.
We will follow the order of the record as it occurs in 2 Kings 22. Here no details of his reign are given until v. 3 tells us that in the 18th year of his reign he sent Shaphan the scribe to the High Priest Hilkiah. The term "scribe" in this case would indicate the chief personal officer and representative of the king.
He was sent to convey to Hilkiah all the money the Levites had gathered from all Israel—not only Judah, but in all the territory of the former kingdom of Israel. This would be a further indication that the cleansing of the whole land—both Judah and Israel (though recorded later in Kings) had already been done.
Shaphan the scribe was to instruct Hilkiah to use the money to cleanse and repair the Temple of God. The money was given to the overseers of the work, and we read in v. 7—
"Howbeit there was no reckoning made with them of the money that was delivered into their hands, because they dealt faithfully."
This was a very good and pleasing state of affairs. It is like the early days after Pentecost, when no one said the things he possessed were his own. All worked together in mutual trust and faithfulness. Each man's earnest concern was to make sure he GAVE as much as he could, rather than being anxious, like the animal world, to GET all they could.
This is in Josiah's 18th year—the year of the greatest Passover ever held, and it is a pleasing indication that at this time, at least, the service of the people was of the heart. They were stirred up to faithfulness and righteousness, even though all collapsed and the power of wickedness and of the flesh all flooded back in again when Josiah died, 13 years later.
It was during this cleansing and repairing of the Temple that the High Priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law. It is not likely that this was the original copy that Moses made at the dictation of God, for when Solomon put the Ark in the Temple there was nothing in it but the two tables of stone. The Book of the Testimony and the Pot of Manna and the Rod of God that budded had been lost or destroyed in the confusion and apostasy of the previous centuries.
The fact that the king was so greatly agitated when Shaphan the scribe read him this Book of the Law would seem to indicate that its message and warning were completely new to them, and that they had no other copies.
There is a Jewish tradition, and it is very much in harmony with the probabilities, that Manasseh and Amon had both endeavored to destroy all the existing copies of the Law. We remember Jehoiakim's reaction to Jeremiah's message from God—he slashed it with a knife and threw it in the fire.
We may wonder, if Josiah had no copies of the Law at all, how and why he did so much toward reestablishing the worship of God from his 8th to 18th year?
But when we look closer into the record we find no reference to any details of the Law or form of worship until after this book is found. It was not until the 18th year of his reign that he set out to cleanse the Temple. And apparently the Passover—the most basic ordinance of the Law, was not kept until the finding of this book. How completely the knowledge of God's revealed Way seems to have been lost!
If it was in his 8th year that he began to seek after the God of David, why was it 10 years before he became acquainted with the Law of Moses? These and other questions naturally present themselves to us.
Josiah, in his seeking, would go to the High Priest, and to the prophets. We know there was Huldah, the prophetess, and Zephaniah. And Jeremiah began his ministry in Josiah's 13th year after Josiah dedicated himself, at 16, to seek the service of God. From these he would receive guidance and instruction as God gradually developed him for his work.
Hilkiah the High Priest seems to have been a good man and worked with Josiah, but the fact that Josiah had to send him to Huldah the prophetess to enquire of the Lord shows that the normal method of enquiring of God through the High Priest by Urim and Thummim was not at that time known.
This Book of the Law that was found when they repaired the Temple was doubtless well hidden for safety, sometime during the dark reigns of wickedness of the two previous kings, just as the infant Joash was typically hidden in the Temple of God 6 years during the wicked reign of Athaliah—and just as the Word himself is at present hidden in the Tabernacle of God, waiting to be brought forth for both guidance and judgment at the end of man's six millenniums of misrule.
As we wonder and meditate about the long period in Josiah's reign before the book of the Word of God was manifested, we begin to see a beautiful fitness in it, both natural and spiritual.
It came at the proper time—the climax of his cleansing labors. The land was so steeped in ignorance and darkness, and so full of the corruption and confusion of idolatry, that it took 6 years of earnest effort by Josiah to destroy all the idolatrous practices and get the people's minds into a condition to receive a message from God.
It was like the ministry of John the Baptist, preparing the land for the revealing and manifesting of the Living Word.
This picture of the conditions in Judah at the time of the beginning of Jeremiah's prophecy adds much light and interest to the early chapters of Jeremiah's book: two godly but inexperienced young men, king and prophet, starting out together to turn Judah back to God.
The message God gave Josiah through Huldah when he asked about the book is recorded at the end of 2 Kings 22. He was told that the foretold curses and judgments upon the nation, which had so distressed him when the Law was read to him, would surely be poured out because of the long-accumulated wickedness of the nation, but he was told—like Hezekiah—because of his righteousness, it would not come in his day, but he should be gathered to his grave in peace.
This promise of peace in his day did not lessen Josiah's efforts to develop holiness in the nation, but rather the reverse. He immediately (as we read at the beginning of ch. 23) assembled all the elders of the land to the House of God, and as many as possible of the people, small and great, and personally read to them the words of the Book that had been found, and he caused all the people to enter a solemn covenant to obey the words of the Book.
2 Kings 23:4-20 describes Josiah's activities in destroying the idols of the land. This appears to parallel 2 Chr. 34:3-7, which occurs between Josiah's 12th and 18th years.
This section in 2 Kings 23 seems to be a general summing up. The scope of the events it describes seems to be too great for just the brief period within the 18th year itself between the finding of the Law and holding of the Passover (which—in itself—would require considerable preparation and advance notice among the people).
In v. 4 we are told that all things connected with Baal-worship in Jerusalem were taken outside the city and burned in the Kidron valley, and the ashes were taken to Bethel.
Bethel was the original center and source of the idolatry that had infected the whole land. It was here that Jeroboam had set up his calves and his rival form of worship to draw his subjects away from the Temple at Jerusalem. The prophecy that was declared to Jeroboam concerning Josiah had to do with Bethel, as we see a little later on in the chapter. Bethel therefore typified all that Josiah was endeavoring to stamp out.
V.5: "And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained: them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, to the moon, and to the planets, and the host of heaven."
All these certainly were not left free to operate for 6 years, to the 18th year of his reign.
V.8: "And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places."
To prevent the reestablishment of these places or centers of idolatrous worship, his policy was to defile them with men's bones, or to put them to unclean uses as places of refuse—
V.10: "And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom."
The valley of Hinnom was the scene of some of the most evil of their practices—the offering of children to the god Molech. This was prominent among Manasseh's abominations. Josiah's action established this region as the refuse-dump of the city of Jerusalem and effectively put an end to its former evil uses.
Henceforth the "valley of Hinnom" (Gai Hinnom) was the garbage heap of Jerusalem, and from this comes "Gehenna" as the place of burning and corruption and utter destruction of all that is refuse and rejected.
Jeremiah at the same time prophesied that in the destruction coming upon the city, this valley would be the scene of such carnage and would be so filled with dead bodies that it would be renamed the "Valley of Slaughter."
In all this we see the foreshadowing of the antitypical Josiah who would light the Gehenna fires of the day of judgment and fill the dark places of idolatry with the bodies of their worshippers.
V.11: "And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun and burned the chariots of the sun with fire."
Here is another aspect of the degraded idolatry of God's people. How pitifully this compares with the glorious mysteries that are wrapped up in the "chariot of the cherubim" and "the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof"—God manifested in a pure holy multitude!
In v. 13 we are told that Josiah defiled the high places which Solomon had made for his wives to worship the gods of Sidon, Moab and Ammon.
What a long history of evil influence stemmed from Solomon's unfaithfulness! These high places, known by all to be his, would make more difficult the task of every good king or prophet who would endeavor to draw the people to a cleancut allegiance to God.
"Solomon, to whom God gave great wisdom, erected them, and no one since has taken them down." Such would be the argument for tolerance and compromise.
V.15: Here we come to the fulfillment of the remarkable and long-standing prophecy of the man of God who was sent to Bethel to denounce Jeroboam, and who was subsequently killed by the lion. He had said:
"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).
That was over 300 years before. It was not revealed whether Josiah was aware of the prophecy, but the time had now come for its fulfillment. At least it was known in Bethel, and doubtless when they knew of the existence of a righteous king in Judah named Josiah, they must have watched his activities with great interest.
In his taking the ashes of the images to Bethel, as we saw previously, Josiah must have had a special interest in carrying out his cleansing activities THERE, whether because of the prophecy or simply because it was the center of the false worship.
We note again from this incident that Josiah personally supervised the destroying of these idolatrous things, for he was present himself.
As he turned from the altar of Jeroboam, he noticed there were sepulchers near, and he had the bones taken from them and burned on the altar to pollute it. Then he noticed a special marker on one of the sepulchers, of such a nature as to cause him to ask what it stood for.
It was at this point that the men of the city told him that it was the grave of the prophet who had foretold these very things, so Josiah gave orders that that grave should not be disturbed. So the bones of the two prophets were left together in peace.
Josiah went through all Israel doing as he had done at Bethel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
The next thing that is recorded (v. 21) is the great Passover held in his 18th year, following the finding of the Book of the Law. There is a great sadness about this Passover. Even the eager joyfulness and high resolve of the people is sad, for this was the end for the nation of what was at rare times (and what always could have been) a holy rejoicing in the love and goodness and fellowship of God.
God only wanted them to do what was best and happiest for themselves, as He does for us, but in willful blindness they destroyed their kingdom and brought ages of sorrow and misery upon themselves.
How sad is the picture of mankind! God said of Israel through Jeremiah at this time—
"They have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and have hewn them out broken cisterns that can hold no water."
From the words of Huldah the prophetess Josiah knew that it could not last. He knew that their long history of disobedience and idolatry had brought the final judgments very near.
Jeremiah's prophecies, now familiar in the land, right from the beginning showed that the end was now inevitable.
But Josiah still did all he possibly could to make this Passover a joyful and acceptable offering of the nation to God. We are told in v. 22—
"Surely there was not holden such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah."
The record in Chronicles is again more detailed. There we are told (2 Chr. 35) of all that Josiah did in his effort to stir up the people and make the occasion memorable. Josiah was now 26 years old, and he was clearly the moving spirit of it all (2 Chr. 35:2)—
"And he set the priests in their charges, and encouraged them to the service of the house of the Lord."
Then he instructed the Levites in their duties. He himself, of his own substance, contributed 30,000 sheep and 3,000 bullocks.
The singers were in their places, the porters waited at every gate, and all the arrangements that David had organized were carried out as well as they could.
The day was so full, and the number of worshipers and offerings so great, that the Levites were sanctified to help with the priest's work. The Levites prepared food for the priests, singers and porters while they worked, for none could leave his work until night came.
"There was no Passover like to that kept all the days of the judges and all the days of the kings."
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Josiah's reign lasted 13 more years, but not a word is recorded concerning its events, except the occasion of his death. This Passover was the climax—a final, striking, brilliant, tragic illustration of what might have been. We would be deeply interested in the events of the succeeding 13 years, of Josiah's activities, and of how he felt about the approaching disaster which he knew must come. He knew his effort was hopeless—endeavoring to put spirit and life in a doomed nation, and Jeremiah, working with him, knew the same thing.
But they both knew too that their duty was clear, and their reward was sure if they discharged that duty faithfully, and that (Rom. 8:28)—
"All things—ALL things—work together for good to those that love God and are the called according to His purpose."
And they knew too that there was always, and would always be, the small faithful remnant in the land according to the election of grace—the little flock, pitifully insignificant by all human standards, for whom all the aions were made, and for whose sake they must continue to labor to the end.
In Josiah's 31st year, when he was 39, Necho, king of Egypt, came through the land to fight against Assyria. He sent ambassadors to Josiah, assuring him that he had no hostile intentions against Judah but was just passing through.
But Josiah felt called upon to resist the Egyptian army, and in the battle that followed he was mortally wounded, for he had disguised himself and joined personally in the actual battle. We are reminded of his keen personal attention and attendance at all the details of the destruction of the images and idol worship.
What was his motive, and what result did he expect in opposing the great army of Egypt? If he expected a miraculous divine deliverance, why did he not seek divine counsel before acting? Did he feel that faithfulness left him no alternative but to oppose alien trespassers in the spirit of Jonathan, knowing that the Lord could save by many or by few?
Necho claimed to have a direct command from God against Assyria—a claim that could be discounted as a self-interested fabrication, except for the strange comment of the inspired historian in (2 Chr. 35:22)—
"But Josiah hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God."
Clearly God works His will and manifests His guidance to us in many strange ways and from many directions, and we must therefore be ever alert for lessons of wisdom and warning from unexpected and unlikely sources.
It was fitting and symbolic in the wisdom of God that Josiah should give his life in conflict with his people's enemy—especially the ancient enemy and oppressor, Egypt—the type of darkness and sin. Thus in his death, as in his life, he was a type of the great king to come. The battle in which he lost his life was in the valley of Megiddo.
2 Chr. 35:25: "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."
The extent and intensity of the nation's mourning for this great and beloved king is evidenced by the fact that this mourning is made the great example and type of the final, latter-day mourning of Israel when they discover that all their woes have stemmed from their blind rejection and destruction of their own God-appointed Savior. Zechariah says (12:11)—
"In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon."
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"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."
They could have asked for no better leaders, but it did not last. By his royal power he obliterated all traces of idolatry, cleansed the land thoroughly and established the true worship of God.
But true righteousness cannot be legislated. It must be the product of spiritual understanding and love. Anything established by force, or fear, or any other motive, can never last.
Bro. G.V. Growcott