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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
The Reign Of Josiah, King Of Judah c. 640/39-609 BC.
Josiah came to the throne as a young child when the powers of Assyria were beginning to wane. Babylon and Media were on the ascendant, Egypt’s power was reviving and the Assyrians were being kept busy elsewhere. And while he could do little to begin with, it was a situation of which Josiah would take full advantage. Set on the throne at a young age by ‘the people of the land’, (the clan leaders, landed gentry, landowners and freemen of Judah who clung more to the ancient traditions), and advised by the godly Hilkiah (the high priest), and at some stage by the prophets Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1.1) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25.3), he grew up concerned to restore the true worship of God, and remove all foreign influence from the land. This being so we would certainly expect initial reform to have begun early on, and to have gathered pace as he grew older, the moreso as Assyrian influence waned, for there is no hint in the description that we have here of Josiah that he was any other than faithful to YHWH from his earliest days.
The fact that reform did take so long initially must be attributed firstly to the continuing influence of Assyria, whose representatives would for some years still hold undisputed sway in Judah’s affairs, secondly, to the king’s youthfulness, and thirdly to the strength of the opposition parties who clearly encouraged the worship of local deities. All these would mean that Josiah had to walk carefully.
On the other hand the fact that silver had already been gathered for the repairs to YHWH’s house (verses 4-5) was an indication that prior to Josiah’s eighteenth year general inspections had already been made of the Temple with a view to its repair. That would be why an appeal for ‘funds’ had previously gone out to the people prior to this time. That in itself would have taken some time (compare the situation under Joash - 12.4-12). Nor would this work have proceeded without some attempt to ‘purify’ the Temple, for whilst we in this modern day might have thought first about the fabric, they would have thought first as to whether it was ‘clean’, and whether all that was ‘unholy’ had been removed. So as Josiah became more firmly established on his throne and began to take the reins into his own hands, and therefore well before his eighteenth year, (as in fact the Chronicler informs us), reforms would have begun to take place which would have resulted in the removal of the grosser and more obvious examples of the apostasy of previous kings. This is what we would have expected (such things would have stuck out like a sore thumb to a true Yahwist), even though not all that the Chronicler spoke of would have taken place immediately because of the strength of opposition.
Jerusalem and its environs would be the first to be cleared of the most patent signs of idolatry, then the wider areas of Judah, while the movement beyond the borders of Judah would have taken place much later as the reformation gained strength and the people became more responsive and receptive, and as the authority of Assyria over the whole area became minimal. On the other hand the very length of time that did pass before these reforms began to take hold does indicate the depths of idolatry into which Judah had fallen, and how many were gripped by it. There can be no doubt that it was rampant.
Thus what happened in the eighteenth year must not be seen as indicating the beginnings of the reform. It was rather the commencement of the actual physical work on the restoration of the Temple, something which must have been well prepared for beforehand. And it was this preparatory work that resulted in the discovery of an ancient copy of the Book of the Law, probably due to an in depth examination being made of the stonework. Such sacred texts were regularly placed in the foundational wall of temples when they were first built.
It is typical of the author of Kings that he does not bring us details of the build-up of a situation but rather assumes them and goes straight into what will bring out what he wants to say. To him what was central here was not the process of reformation, but the finding of the Book of the Law, and Josiah’s resulting response to it.
As the Temple must have been in constant use without the book having been found previously, this discovery must have taken place in a very unusual place, and the probability must therefore be that it was discovered within the actual structure which was being examined prior to being repaired. This suggests that it had been placed there at the time of the building of the Temple, and thus on the instructions of Solomon, for it was quite a normal procedure for sacred writings or covenants to be placed within the foundations or walls of Temples when they were first erected.
When Nabonidus, for example, was seeking to restore the Samas shrine in Sippar in sixth century BC, he commanded men to look for the foundation stones (which would contain the Temple documents) -- and ‘they inspected the apartments and rooms, and they saw it --’. Thus he found what he was looking for. Such finds were a regular feature of work on ancient temples and occurred reasonably often, and it is clear that Nabonidus expected to find an ancient record there simply because he knew that the placing of such records in the very structure of a Temple was customary. It seems that it was also similarly an Egyptian custom to deposit sacred texts in the foundation walls of sanctuaries. For example, in a sanctuary of Thoth one of the books believed to have been written by the god was deposited beneath his image. Furthermore certain rubrics belonging to chapters in The Book of the Dead, and inscriptions in the Temple of Denderah, give information about the discovery of such texts when temples were being inspected or pulled down.
This being so the discovery of such an ancient record by Josiah would have caused great excitement and would have been seen as a divine seal on his reforms. But it was not its discovery that resulted in the commencement of the reforms. Rather it was discovered because the reforms had already begun. What it did, however, do was give a huge impetus to the reforms, and help to direct them and confirm that they were pleasing to YHWH, especially as one of the central messages of the book was discovered to be that the wrath of YHWH was over His people because of their failure to walk in His ways.
The genuineness of the account cannot be doubted. The great detail confirms that we are dealing with actual history, and the fact that appeal was made by the king to a woman prophet was something which would never have even been considered by an inventor. It was an idea almost unique in Israel’s known history. The nearest to it is Deborah in Judges 4-5. This would only have been suggested if it had really happened.
But one question which then arises is as to what this ‘Book of the Law’ which was discovered consisted of. In other words whether it included virtually the whole ‘Book of the Law of Moses’, or simply a portion of it. Our view, which is confirmed by 23.25, is that the whole Book of the Law of Moses was found, even though initial concentration was on one of the scrolls, the one brought by Hilkiah to Shaphan. For those interested in the question further we will now consider it in the form of an excursus.
Excursus. Of What Did ‘The Book Of The Law’ Found In The Temple Consist? .
In spite of the fact that the majority of scholars see The Book of the Law as being simply a portion of Deuteronomy, (although with a multitude of related theories and datings connected with that idea), that must in our view be seen as very unlikely for a number of reasons.
The first good reason that counts against it is that the book inspired an observance of the Passover that exceeded all that had gone before it following the time of Joshua (23.21-22). The Book is described as ‘the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH’ (23.2), a description which is then followed up in verses 23.21-23 with the words, ‘and the king commanded all the people saying, “Keep the Passover to YHWH your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant. Surely there was not kept such a Passover from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this Passover kept to YHWH in Jerusalem’.
The impression gained here is not only that it stirred the people to keep the Passover, but also that it guided them into doing so in such a way that it exceeded anything done since the time of the Judges. In other words it took them back to the way in which it was observed in the early days under Moses and Joshua (the assumption being that in their days it was properly and fully observed).
However, when we actually look at what the Book of Deuteronomy has to say about the Passover we find that the details given concerning the observing of the Passover are in fact extremely sparse. These details are found in Deuteronomy 16.1-8 and it will be noted that the only requirements given there are the offering of the sacrifice of the Passover itself, without any detail as to whether it was to be one sacrifice or many (although possibly with a hint of multiplicity in that it is from ‘the flocks and the herds’), and the eating of unleavened bread for seven days. In other words it details the very minimum of requirements, and clearly assumes that more detail is given elsewhere, something very likely in a speech by Moses, but in our view unlikely in a book which purportedly presents the full law. It is hardly feasible that these instructions produced a Passover in such advance of all those previously held that it was seen as excelling all others, for the instructions given were minimal.
This is often countered by saying that the thing that made this Passover outstanding was not the way in which it was observed, but the fact that it was observed at the Central Sanctuary rather than locally. However, there are no good grounds for suggesting that the Passover, when properly observed, was ever simply observed locally (even though the eating of unleavened bread would be required throughout Israel). The indication is always that, like the other feasts of ‘Sevens (weeks)’ and ‘Tabernacles’, it was to be observed when the tribes gathered at the Central Sanctuary ‘three times a year’, something already required in ‘the Book of the Covenant’ in Exodus 20-24 (Exodus 23.14-17). Deuteronomy 16.5, which is sometimes cited as indicating local Passover feasts, was not in fact suggesting that it had ever been correctly observed in such a way. It was rather simply underlining the fact that the feasts of YHWH could not be observed locally, but had to be observed at the Central Sanctuary when the tribes assembled there three times a year. Consider, for example, the observances of the Passover described in Numbers 9.1-14; Joshua 5.10, which in both cases would be connected with the Central Sanctuary (the Tabernacle) and that in 2 Chronicles 30 in the time of Hezekiah, which was specifically required to be at Jerusalem, and which exceeded in splendour all Passovers since the time of Solomon.
It is, of course, very possible that at this stage in the life of Josiah the Passover had been neglected, for if the Passover was already regularly being fully observed every year it is difficult to see why its observance here was worthy of mention as anything new, especially by someone as sparse in what he mentions as the author of Kings. It is clear that he considered it to be religiously momentous. The mention of it may, therefore, suggest that the Feast of the Passover had not at the time been regularly observed officially at the Central Sanctuary, except possibly by the faithful remnant, so that this all-inclusive celebration was seen as exceptional. But if it was a Passover spurred on by the Book of Deuteronomy, and run on the basis described there, it would hardly have been seen as such an exceptional Passover that it exceeded all others since the time of the Judges (but not Moses and Joshua). The only thing that could make it such an exceptional Passover would be that the additional offerings of Passover week were of such abundance that they excelled previously remembered Passovers. Such additional offerings, however, are only mentioned in Numbers 28.16-25 and Leviticus 23.8, where it is also assumed that they will be at the Central Sanctuary. But they are not even hinted at in Deuteronomy. That is why many consider that the book of the Law must have at least contained a part of either Leviticus or Numbers, or both.
There are a number of other indications that suggest that the Law Book consisted of more than Deuteronomy. For example, if we compare the words in 23.24 with the Pentateuch we discover again that, if we are to take them as echoing what had just been discovered, more than Deuteronomy is required. For example in 23.24 we read of ‘those who have familiar spirits’. But this is a way of putting it which is paralleled only in Leviticus 19.31; 20.6, (compare also 20.27), whereas Deuteronomy, in its only mention of familiar spirits, speaks of ‘consulters of familiar spirits’ (Deuteronomy 18.11). The terminology used in 23.24 is thus unexpected if it was inspired by a section of Deuteronomy, but fully understandable in the light of Leviticus.
Again, while ‘images’ (teraphim) are also mentioned in the Pentateuch, it is only in Genesis 31.19, 34, 35 (and then in Judges 17.5; 18.14, 17, 18, 20), and the idea of the ‘putting away of idols’ is something found only in Leviticus 26.30 (where the idea is described in an even more forceful form). Deuteronomy 29.17 does mention such ‘idols’ as something seen among the nations among whom they found themselves, but contains no mention of putting them away. On the other hand ‘abominations’ are only mentioned in Deuteronomy 29.17 (but even then they are nowhere specifically said to need putting away). Yet here in Kings all these things are said to be ‘put away --- to confirm the words of the Law which were written in the book --- which was found in the house of YHWH’. This must again be seen as suggesting that the Book of the Law that was discovered included a considerable portion of the Pentateuch over and above Deuteronomy.
These difficulties continue to mount up. For example, in 22.17 there is a mention of ‘burning incense to other gods’ in relation to the Book of the Law, but such an idea appears nowhere in the Book of Deuteronomy, which never refers to burning incense. The idea of the burning of incense is, however, found thirteen times in Exodus to Numbers. It is true that in these cases it is the genuine burning of incense to YHWH that is in mind, but that very mention would be seen as acting as a counter to doing the same thing to other gods. In Deuteronomy incense is only mentioned once, and there it is ‘put’ and not ‘burned’, whereas incense is in general mentioned fifty times in Exodus to Numbers, and thirteen times described as ‘burned’.
The idea of ‘wrath’ coming against the nation appears with equal stress both in Leviticus 26.28 (compare 10.6); and in Deuteronomy 29.23, 28; 32.24 and therefore could be taken from either, and indeed the idea that God visits His people with judgment when they disobey His laws is a regular feature of the whole of the Pentateuch. The idea of the ‘kindling of wrath’ is found in Genesis 39.9; Numbers 11.33; Deuteronomy 11.17, in all cases against people. The word ‘quashed’ appears only in Leviticus 6.12, 13 (the idea occurs in Numbers 11.2). Of course all these terms could have been taken from background tradition, but if the book discovered had been simply a part of Deuteronomy it is strange how little there is in what is said of it that is especially characteristic of Deuteronomy. And while silence is always a dangerous weapon it is noticeable that there is no mention in this passage of God’s curses which are so prominent a feature of Deuteronomy (moreso than His wrath), and could hardly have been missed even on a superficial reading, if the book was Deuteronomy. If it was really Deuteronomy that was read to Josiah we must surely have expected him to mention God’s cursings. But the only mention of the word ‘curse’ in this passage in Kings is in fact found in 22.19 where it is used in a general sense in parallel with ‘desolation’ in the sense of the people being ‘a desolation and a curse’ (compare Jeremiah 49.13 where the idea is similarly general; and see Genesis 27.12, 13 for the Pentateuchal use of the word). The word ‘curse’ does not appear in this passage of Kings as being related specifically to covenant cursing. Rather in 22.19 it is the inhabitants of Judah who are ‘the curse’. Deuteronomy, in contrast, never uses ‘curse’ in this general way and only ever mentions cursing in connection with the blessings and cursings of the covenant. The general idea of a people being cursed is also found in Numbers 22.6 onwards. That was how people thought in those days.
It is often said that Josiah obtained the idea of the single Central Sanctuary as the only place where sacrifices could be offered to YHWH, from the Book of the Law. But it most be borne in mind 1). that the idea of the Central Sanctuary pervades the whole of the Pentateuch from Exodus to Deuteronomy (that is what the Tabernacle was), and 2). that Deuteronomy nowhere expressly forbids the offering of sacrifices at other places. It simply emphasises the need for a Central Sanctuary at whatever place YHWH appoints. But this concentration on the Central Sanctuary as the place where the main sacrifices were to be offered (i.e. the Tabernacle) is undoubtedly also found throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, whilst nowhere in any of these books is sacrifice limited to the Central Sanctuary alone. Where the idea arises it is always accepted as being possible at any place where YHWH chooses to record His Name, (although only at such places), and that is seen as true from Exodus onwards, for in Exodus it is specifically recognised that YHWH can ‘record His Name’ (choose) where He wills (Exodus 20.24), and can do it in a number of places, and that when He does so ‘record His Name’, sacrifices can be offered there. The Central Sanctuary was simply the supreme place at which He had recorded His Name (often because the Ark was there - 2 Samuel 6.2 - just as worship could always be offered wherever the Ark was). All this explains why Elijah could offer a sacrifice at ‘the altar of YHWH’ which he had re-established on Mount Carmel, an altar presumably seen by him as originally erected where YHWH had recorded His Name, resulting in a sacrifice that was undoubtedly acceptable to YHWH without contravening ‘the Book of the Law’.
The fact that ‘the high places’ (bamoth), where false or syncretised worship was offered, (a worship which was thus tainted by assimilation with local religion), were to be removed, did not necessarily signify that all places where sacrifices were offered were illegitimate. The example of Elijah illustrates the fact that as long as their worship had been kept pure, and it was at a place where YHWH had recorded His Name, they would be retained. And indeed in a nation as widespread as Israel was at certain times, such an idea as a sole sanctuary would have grievously limited the ability of many to worship in between the main feasts, something which Elijah undoubtedly recognised. What were thus condemned were the high places which mingled Baalism with Yahwism. Furthermore it should be noted that in the Pentateuch these ‘high places’, so emphasised in Kings, are only mentioned in Leviticus 26.30 and Numbers 33.52, whilst they are not mentioned at all in Deuteronomy.
The truth is that Josiah could just as easily have obtained the ideas that he did concerning the exclusiveness of the Central Sanctuary from the descriptions of the Central Sanctuary in Exodus to Numbers as from Deuteronomy, and it is noteworthy that in the whole passage in Kings there is not a single citation directly connecting with Deuteronomy 12. This, combined with the fact that the ‘high places’ (bamoth) which Josiah (and the author) were so set against are not mentioned in Deuteronomy (in the book of the Law they are mentioned only in Leviticus 26.30; Numbers 33.52) speaks heavily against the idea that he was simply influenced by Deuteronomy.
All this may be seen as confirmed by earlier references to ‘the Book of the Law’ in a number of which the whole of the Pentateuch is certainly in mind. In Deuteronomy it is always called ‘this book of the law’ (Deuteronomy 29.21; 30.10; 31.24-26) and refers to a book written by Moses (or on his behalf by his secretary Joshua - Deuteronomy 31.24-26). In Joshua 1.8 ‘the Book of the Law’ refers to something available to Joshua which he has available to study. In Joshua 8.31 it is called ‘the Book of the Law of Moses’ and includes specific reference to Exodus 20.24-26, but it is then immediately called ‘the Book of the Law’ and clearly includes Deuteronomy with its blessings and cursings (Joshua 8.34). Thus at this stage it includes both Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Joshua 23.6 it is ‘the Book of the Law of Moses’, and there it is clear that Exodus is in mind in the command to make no ‘mention of their gods’ (Exodus 23.13). For the idea of ‘bowing down’ to gods see Exodus 11.8; 20.5; 23.24; Leviticus 26.1; Deuteronomy 5.9. In Joshua 24.26 it is called ‘the Book of the Law of God’ and a warning is given against ‘strange gods’. For a mention of such ‘strange gods’ see Genesis 35.2, 4; Deuteronomy 32.16. It will be noted from this that the whole of the Law of Moses is called ‘the book’ (not ‘the books’), and that such a book is seen as including all the books in the Pentateuch.
Of course we can rid ourselves of some of this evidence by the simple means of excising it and calling it an interpolation (after all why keep it in if it spoils my case?) but such excision is usually only on dogmatic grounds, and not for any other good reason, and if we use that method arbitrarily nothing can ever be proved.
It would appear therefore that the Book of the Law, whatever it was, cannot be limited to Deuteronomy (and even less to a part of it). On the other hand it has been argued that there are certain similarities in the section which some have seen as definitely pointing to the Book of Deuteronomy. Consider for example the following references in 2 Kings 22-23;
1). References where the words were spoken by someone :
2) References where the words are the author’s:
These can then be compared with the following references in Deuteronomy:
It is true that there are certainly a number of superficial similarities. However, it will be noted that the greatest similarity between Kings and Deuteronomy lies in the words used by the author who was, of course, familiar with Deuteronomy. And even there it could be just a coincidence because in each case a book connected with laws is in mind. On the other hand the differences will also be noted. Thus Deuteronomy on the whole emphasises ‘the law’ while Kings on the whole emphasises ‘the book’. Thus the Deuteronomic emphasis is different. We should also note that Deuteronomy does not refer to ‘the book of the covenant’, whilst both 2 Kings 22-23 and Exodus 24.7 do. Furthermore, if as is probable, much of the content of Deuteronomy was known to the speakers in Kings (as it was to Jeremiah, and of course also to the author), what more likely than that they would partly echo its language in order to demonstrate their point? In so far as it proves anything this would rather indicate an already wide familiarity with the language of Deuteronomy, than that ideas had been picked up and reproduced as a result of hearing an unknown book read once or twice. This is not to deny that Deuteronomy was possibly a part of what was discovered (we think it probably was), but it is to argue that it is certainly not proved by the language used. What is being argued is that the language used points more to the fact that ‘the Book of the Law’ contains at a minimum a larger portion of the Law of Moses. Indeed in 23.25 it is called ‘all the Law of Moses’.
End of excursus.
The Reign Of Josiah.
It will be noted that, as so often in the book of Kings, we are given little detail of the king’s reign. All the concentration is rather on the cleansing and restoration of the Temple, which resulted in the discovery of an ancient copy of the Book of the Law, the reading and interpreting of which gave impetus to reforms already begun, indicating that one of the author’s aims was to bring out how everything that was done (even what was done before it was found) was done in accordance with the Book of the Law.
As ever the author was not interested in giving us either a chronological or a detailed history. He was concerned as a prophet to underline certain theological implications, and the history was called on for that purpose (although without distorting it) and presented in such a way that it would bring out the idea that he wanted to convey, which was that Josiah sought to fulfil the Law of YHWH with all his heart, and that all that he did was in accordance with that Law.
But the details of Josiah’s reforming activities, which are then outlined, clearly include some which took place before the book was found, if for no other reason than that the Temple must almost certainly have been ‘cleansed’, at least to some extent, before it was restored. The whole point behind the preparations that had taken place for the restoration of the Temple was that there was a totally new attitude towards YHWH, and it is impossible to think that such an attitude would not already have ensured the removal of the most patently idolatrous items from the Temple, especially in view of the waning power and influence of Assyria. (By Josiah’s eighteenth years Ashur-bani-pal would have been dead some years, and his successor was far less militarily effective).
Nor must we assume that the Book of the Law of Moses was unknown prior to this point. The whole of Judah’s religious life, when at its best, was in fact built on that Law, and its influence had constantly been seen within the history of Israel from Joshua onwards. Parts of it would undoubtedly regularly have been recited, at least to the faithful, at the feasts. Furthermore it had previously been promulgated by the great prophets such as Isaiah, Micah, Amos and Hosea, and it must be seen as probable that written copies of the Law of Moses were stored in the Temple, both before the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 31.24-26; compare 31.9), and within the Holy Place, and were available for reading within the Temple, even though (like the Bible has so often been) possibly wholly neglected at certain times. The point was rather that it had almost ceased to be read, with the result that what was believed about it had been considerably watered down. (Consider how many people today believe what they know the Bible’s message, but have never read it for themselves). The discovery of the ancient copy of the Book of the Law did not therefore produce a new totally unknown law for the people, but rather it brought into prominence the old Law and caused it to be read, stripping it of many of its accretions, and presenting it in a version which was seen as coming directly from the ancient past, something which would be recognised as giving it new authority because it was recognised as containing the wisdom of the ancients.
We can visualise the scene as follows:
Having basically considered the initial pattern, which then leads on to a description of the reforms in depth, we must now consider the overall analysis of the section. It divides up as follows:
Note that in ‘a’ we have the introduction to Josiah’s reign and in the parallel its cessation. In ‘b’ the repairing of the Temple commences, and in the parallel this is not sufficient to avert the wrath of YHWH. In ‘c’ the ancient Law Book is discovered and in the parallel it is read to the people and acted on. Centrally in ‘d’ the prophetess declares that the consequences of YHWH’s wrath are temporarily suspended but will not finally fail of fulfilment.
Introduction to Josiah’s Reign (2.22.1-2).
Josiah’s reign commences with the usual introductory formula giving his age when he began to reign, the length of his reign, and the name of the queen mother, followed by a verdict on his reign, which in this case was exemplary.
2.22.1 ‘Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath.’
The early assassination of Amon resulted in Josiah coming to the throne at a very early age, with the result that he was only eight years old when he began to reign, and he then reigned for thirty one years, dying in battle at the age of thirty nine. The name of the queen mother, whose status in Judah was seen as very important, was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah. Jedidah means ‘beloved’. The name Adaiah is found on seals that have been excavated. Bozkath lay between Lachish and Eglon (Joshua 15.39). The purpose of the marriage may well have been in order to seal the relationship between Jerusalem and the border cities in the Shephelah, some of which like Libnah saw themselves as semi-independent (8.22).
2.22.2 ‘And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, and walked in all the way of David his father, and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.’
The verdict on his reign was exceptional, for not only did he do what was right in the eyes of YHWH without reservation (he even removed the high places), but he also did not turn aside ‘to right or left’ (compare 18.3). In other words he was unwavering in his faithfulness to YHWH.
Instructions Concerning The Restoration of the Temple (2.22.3-7).
In view of its connection with the Temple these instructions would have been entered in the royal annals (compare 12.4-5). The entering up in some detail of such information about temples was a regular feature of official annals, for temples and their maintenance were seen as being of great importance to the stability of the royal house. Indeed the kings saw themselves as reigning on behalf of the gods, and as responsible for their houses. The similarity of wording with 12.11-15 (where it is not, however, in the words of the king) can be explained in one of two ways. The first possibility is that Josiah, with the restoration in view, had read the earlier annals and based his words on them. The second is that the prophetic author himself based the wording in 12.11-15, concerning the earlier restoration, on the words of Josiah here. Either is possible.
The fact that sufficient silver had been gathered for the restoration, something which would have taken months if not years to do, indicates that the reforms had already been in progress for some time. That was why the silver had been collected. Furthermore there can really be no doubt that before proceeding with this repair work, the Temple itself would have been ‘cleansed’ by the removal of major objectionable items such as the Asherah mentioned in 23.6. This would especially be so as by this time Ashur-bani-pal of Assyria had been dead for some years (his death occurring somewhere between 633 and 626 BC), and he had in fact not troubled Palestine in his later years, being taken up with both warfare elsewhere and antiquarian interests. Thus his death in itself would have signalled the possibility of removing the hated Assyrian gods from the Temple, even if that had not occurred previously, something which would have had the support of the majority of the people. That the reforms had commenced six years previously as the Chronicler states is therefore simply confirmation of what is already obvious (2 Chronicles 34.3). But it is not mentioned here because the author of Kings was not so much interested in when the reforms started as on concentrating on the details of the finding of the Book of the Law.
Note that in ‘a’ the amount of ‘silver’ was to be weighed up, and in the parallel no reckoning was to be made of it by the workers. Centrally in ‘b’ it had to be given to the workmen for the carrying out of the restoration work.
2.22.3 ‘And it came about in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan, the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of YHWH, saying,’
This would have been in about 622 BC, some years after the death of Ashur-bani-pal, and three years after Babylonia had finally freed themselves from the Assyrian yoke. Thus it came at a time of decidedly waning Assyrian power (in fact within ten years the Assyrian empire would be on the verge of extinction). The eighteenth year is mentioned, not because it was the date of the commencement of the reforms, but as the date when serious repair work began on the restoration of the Temple itself after years of preparation, work which resulted in the law book being discovered within the Temple structure, a discovery which would have caused huge excitement as the emergence of something coming from the distant past. It would give a new impetus to what was already going on.
Shaphan (‘rock badger’) the scribe was Josiah’s official go-between, and one of the highest officials in the land (compare 18.18); 2 Samuel 20.25; 1 Kings 4.3). He was called on by the king to convey his official instructions in respect of the actual repair work on the Temple. The Chronicler tells us that he was accompanied by the governor of the city and the recorder. The deputation was thus seen as of the highest importance.
2.22.4-5 “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may sum the silver which is brought into the house of YHWH, which the keepers of the threshold have gathered of the people, and let them deliver it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of YHWH, and let them give it to the workmen who are in the house of YHWH, to repair the breaches of the house,’
The instructions were necessarily passed on to the leading priest at the Temple. The title ‘high priest’ occurs in 12.10; Leviticus 21.10; Numbers 35.25, 28; Joshua 20.6. Such a status is also mentioned at Ugarit, and most nations had ‘high priests’, so that Israel would have been an oddity not to have had one. Normally, however, in Israel/Judah he was called simply ‘the Priest’, but here he was being given his formal official title in an important communication.
Hilkiah was being called on to weigh and ‘sum up’ the ‘silver’ (possibly by turning it into ingots. There were no official coins in those days) which had been gathered for the purpose of the repair work, and had been brought into the house of YHWH. The ‘keepers of the threshold’ were high Temple officials (in terms of New Testament days ‘chief priests’) who were responsible to ensure the sanctity of the Temple by excluding from it any unauthorised persons. Their post would make them ideal for the collecting of gifts to the Temple, and watching over them. Hilkiah, having assessed the value of the gifts, was then to call on the keepers of the threshhold to deliver the silver into the hands of the workmen who had oversight of the house of YHWH, in our terms the priestly architects and structural engineers. They in their turn were to arrange for the work to be done by organised priestly workmen set apart for the work and were to pay over the silver accordingly. This work would be performed by suitably trained priests. The aim was to ‘repair the breaches in the house’, in other words to carry out needed building repairs to the decaying and neglected building.
2.22.6 ‘To the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons, and for buying timber and hewn stone to repair the house.’
The silver was to be both paid to the specialist workmen, and to the merchants who would provide the timber and hewn stone for the repair of the house. The need for hewn stone (hewn away from the Temple area in accordance with measurements taken) emphasises the poor state at that time of the Temple structure. Compare here 12.11-12.
2.22.7 ‘However, there was no reckoning made with them of the money which was delivered into their hand, for they dealt faithfully.’
The honesty of those involved was considered to be such that it was felt unnecessary to call for an account of how the silver was spent. Comparison with 12.15 suggests that this was regularly a recognised part of any such contract. To have taken up any other position would seemingly have been seen as insulting to the priest-workmen. Such an attitude was only really possible in times of ‘revival’ when there was a new spirit of dedication around.
The Discovery of The Book Of The Law And Its Immediate Consequences (2.22.8-13).
We have already indicated above our view that this Book of the Law was found within the foundation walls themselves, having been placed there on the orders of Solomon when the Temple was built so as to connect the covenant closely with the Temple, and to act as a reminder to YHWH that the worshippers within the Temple were His covenant people. This would explain why it was immediately seen as acceptable. Any ‘unrecognised’ records would hardly have been treated in such a serious fashion. In our view the only other possible alternative would be that it was found in the Most Holy Place by the Ark. Any discovery in any other place would have occasioned much more of an examination before the king became involved.
Whilst ‘book’ is in the singular, the law of Moses was regularly spoken of as ‘the book of the law of Moses’ regardless of how many scrolls it occupied. The probability here is that a number of scrolls were found of which Hilkiah selected one to bring to Shaphan. Shaphan having then read it took it to the king. Thus initially only the one scroll was read. The lack of mention of cursings by the king, a regular feature of Deuteronomy, suggests that the portion that was read included Leviticus 26.28.
It should be noted that there is no indication that its contents were ‘new’. Indeed had they been seen as such they would probably have been rejected. They would have expected that what they found in the Book of the Law would link closely with their own original traditions. What was new was that it was in the form of an ancient scroll remarkably discovered in the fabric of the Temple, and was read to the king who was moved by its warning of YHWH’s wrath coming on those who had not obeyed YHWH’s requirements. That was the only sense in which it was a new revelation. We can compare how, when the Bible had been restricted to the clergy for centuries by the Roman Catholic church, its availability to a wider audience caused a similar sensation. As here it had not been ‘lost. It had simply not been read except by sholastics who read it according to their own fixed ‘interpretations’.
It should also be noted that there is no suggestion that Huldah read the book, or even saw it. The impression given is that she referred to something that the king had heard, and not to something that she herself had read (otherwise we would have expected that to be made clear). Sufficient would have been communicated to her to enable her to identify it. And naturally she would be aware of its contents as one of the faithful who had constantly read the law of YHWH, and had access to it, even in times of apostasy.
Note that in ‘a’ the discovery of the Book of the Law is disclosed to Shaphan by Hilkiah, and in the parallel the king is deeply stirred ‘by the words of this book’, as disclosed to him by Shaphan. In ‘b’ Hilkiah delivers ‘the book’ to Shaphan who reads it, and in the parallel both Hilkiah and Shaphan are a part of the deputation to the prophetess Huldah, sent to enquire concerning the warnings given in the book. In ‘c’ Shaphan reports to Josiah concerning the book, and in the parallel the king tears his clothes at what it says. Centrally in ‘d’ it was read before the king.
2.22.8 ‘And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of YHWH.” And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan, and he read it.’
Hilkiah clearly saw the find as of such importance that it had to be reported to the king, and in consequence sent a messenger to Shaphan the court chamberlain informing him of the find. This in itself indicates how unusual the find was seen to be. It must have been something very special to have initiated such a response, otherwise it would simply have been placed with the other scrolls in the Temple. The fact that he described it as ‘The Book Of The Law’ indicated that he saw it as primarily containing the Law of Moses. As he had not read it (and was possibly finding it difficult to do so because of its ancient script) this description could only have arisen because he had grounds for knowing what it must be. That would hardly be true of some document left in the Temple which had been introduced there from outside which they had simply come across among the many treasures stored in the Temple. If, however, if it was found within the foundation structure of the Temple he would know immediately what it was, the ancient covenant between YHWH and His worshippers, coming from the time of Solomon.
It is true that we are not specifically told where the Book of the Law was discovered, but the impression given is that it was discovered as a result of the building work commencing, and probably therefore as a result of the initial survey work which would be required before that commenced. Some have suggested that it was the copy of the Book of the Law which Moses had required be placed next to the Ark of the covenant of YHWH (Deuteronomy 31.24-26), but it is difficult to see why that should have remained undiscovered for so long, especially as the Most Holy Place was entered at least once a year. The most obvious explanation is that it was discovered within the foundation walls while preparing for structural repairs.
That Judah already had a written ‘book of the Law’ is accepted under most theories (even if in truncated form in the postulated but doubtful J and E), so it is difficult to see why the discovery of another book of the law would in the normal way cause such excitement, especially if it was not known where it came from, certainly not sufficient for it to be taken immediately to the king by official messengers. But we can equally certainly understand why ancient scrolls discovered within the structure of the Temple itself would produce precisely that kind of excitement. They would have been treated with the utmost reverence as containing the wisdom of the ancients.
Hilkiah then ‘delivered the book to Shaphan.’ If there were a number of scrolls he may well simply have handed one of them to Shaphan. Or it may be that Shaphan received them all and selected one to read. Either way Shaphan then ‘read the book’, although not necessarily all the scrolls.
2.22.9 ‘And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, “Your servants have emptied out the money which was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of YHWH.’
Shaphan then reported to the king concerning the progress on the Temple repairs, informing him that the priestly overseers of the work had been duly provided with the necessary funds.
2.22.10 ‘And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has delivered me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.’
Then Shaphan explained that Hilkiah ‘the Priest’ had ‘delivered a book’ to him. No doubt a fuller explanation concerning the find was given, otherwise the king would probably not have been interested. Shaphan then read it before the king. Assuming that a number of scrolls had been found Shaphan would hardly have brought them all in. Thus he had presumably selected one for the purpose of reading it before the king. As we have seen the overall context certainly suggests that it was not simply a part of Deuteronomy. Nor is it conceivable why, if that were all it was, and the king did not know what Deuteronomy was, he should have wanted to hear the reading, for he would have considered that he already knew what the Law was.
2.22.11 ‘And it came about, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he tore his clothes.’
What was read out to the king moved him deeply, with the result that he symbolically tore his clothes in order to express his deep emotion, for it spoke of the wrath of YHWH against His people because they had not walked in fulfilment of His requirements.
2.22.12 ‘And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying,’
The king recognised that the people had not been observing the requirements laid down in the book, but it was the warnings of what would follow such disobedience that moved him. Thus he sent an important official deputation, combining both religious and political authorities, to a recognised prophetess, in order to enquire as to whether the wrath of YHWH was about to be poured out on them.
Ahikam the son of Shaphan would later help Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26.24). His son was Gedaliah who became governor of Judah (25.22; Jeremiah 39.14). Achbor means ‘mouse’ (compare Shaphan = rock badger, Huldah = mole, which suggests that at the time there was a preference for names connected with animals. ‘The king’s servant’ indicated a prominent court official. It was a term common on seals from Judah. .
2.22.13 “Go you, enquire of YHWH for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found, for great is the wrath of YHWH that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that which is written concerning us.”
He called on them to ‘enquire of YHWH’ on his behalf concerning the fact that the people (indeed ‘all of Judah’) had been disobedient to what was written in the book. His aim was to discover whether YHWH intended to visit His people with the great wrath described in the book. It is noteworthy that no mention is made of blessings and cursings (which we might have expected if it was Deuteronomy). It is the wrath of YHWH that he fears, the wrath described in Leviticus 26.16, 22, 25, 28-31, 33, 38. For ‘enquiring of YHWH’ see 3.11; 8.8; Genesis 25.22; 1 Kings 22.8.
Huldah’s Reply To Josiah (2.22.14-20).
The enquiry was made to Huldah, the prophetess. We should note that there is no hint that Huldah read the book, or even saw it. Given the care that the author has taken up to this point to indicate precisely what happened to the book (‘Huldah delivered the book to Shaphan and he read it’ -- ‘Shaphan read it before the king’) this must be seen as significant, especially as she does refer to Josiah reading it. Note also that while Josiah referred to ‘this book’ when speaking to Hilkiah and the others, this is not true of Huldah. Instead she seemingly demonstrated that she was already aware of the contents of the book and did not need to read it.
If she did speak from a background of ‘the Law of Moses’ we would expect to find that Law reflected in her words and we are not disappointed. Reference to ‘the ‘burning of incense’ is found thirteen times in Exodus to Numbers (although not in reference to foreign idols. That idea occurs first in 1 Kings 11.8), and in all incense is mentioned fifty times. It is, however, only mentioned once in Deuteronomy, and then not as ‘burned’. In contrast ‘provoke Me to anger’ is found regularly in Deuteronomy (4.25; 9.18; 31.29; 32.16, 21), but interestingly not in the part often seen by many as comprising ‘the Book of the Law’. ‘Kindling of wrath’ is found in Genesis 39.9; Numbers 11.33; Deuteronomy 11.17, in all cases against people. ‘Quenched’ occurs only in Leviticus 6.12, 13. The declaration that the inhabitants would become a desolation and curse is not Deuteronomic language, for ‘curse’ is here being used in a general sense along with ‘desolation’ as referring to what the people would become, an angle that does not occur in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy tends to stress positive ‘cursing’ by YHWH. Thus Huldah’s words reflect having the whole Law of Moses as a background (or the tradition that lies behind it) and do not favour the argument for Deuteronomy alone.
Note that in ‘a’ the deputation was sent to the prophet, and in the parallel the deputation brought the king word again. In ‘b’ evil was to come ‘on this place’ and in the parallel Josiah was not to see the evil that would come ‘on this place’. In ‘c’ YHWH’s wrath was kindled against them, and in the parallel Josiah had been moved by the fact. Centrally in ‘d’ the word comes to the king from YHWH.
2.22.14 ‘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, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter), and they communed with her.’
It is clear that the deputation saw Huldah (‘mole’) the prophetess as a suitable person through whom to ‘enquire of YHWH’. This was partly because she was both a prophetess and the wife of a high official (if it was the king’s wardrobe), or of s Temple servant (if it was the keeper of the Temple robes, compare 10.22). Either way he was the official ‘keeper of the wardrobe’, and thus well known to the men in question. This might explain why they did not seek out Zephaniah or Jeremiah, who, while highly influential, were probably not prophets directly connected with the Temple (although Jeremiah was a priest from Anathoth). Alternately they may well not have been in Jerusalem at the time. Some suggest that it was because they may have been seen as men who would be more likely to give a pessimistic reply, but it is not likely that Josiah would see things like that. He genuinely wanted to know what YHWH had to say. Huldah was clearly an exceptional woman, and presumably was recognised as having an exceptional prophetic gift. It must probably be accepted therefore that that was seen as her accepted function.
‘The second quarter’ was probably an area reserved for official functionaries of the palace and the Temple, so that this indicated her importance. It was probably the northern extension of the old Jebusite city.
2.22.15-16 ‘And she said to them, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel. You tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read.” ’
Her indirect reference to the book as ‘the book which the king of Judah has read’ can most naturally be seen as an indication that she herself had not read it. This would serve to confirm that it was not seen as a new source of Law, and that she did not need to read it in order to know what was in it. Its significance lay rather in the age of the record, where it was found, and what it signified. She commenced by pointing out that she spoke in the name of YHWH, and as His mouthpiece. ‘You tell the man who sent you’ (which in context was clearly not antagonistic) indicated that she was speaking with deliberate independence as a servant of YHWH and not as a servant of the king (i.e. not subserviently).
And the message was that evil was to come on Judah and Jerusalem. Once again there is no specific reference to what we call ‘The Exile’. The thought is rather of general judgment coming on Judah and Jerusalem in whatever way God chose. But both Leviticus and Deuteronomy would have perfectly justified her in seeing this as including exile (see Leviticus 26.31-36; Deuteronomy 28.15 ff), to say nothing of what the past had revealed about what happened to those who rebelled against great kings (as we have seen both Israel and Judah had already experienced a number of times what it meant to have many of their people taken into exile). Furthermore Micah had already prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem (Micah 3.9-12), and as Micah’s words are cited by Jeremiah 26.18 it must have been before the event. Huldah would therefore have had to be very naive not to be able to prophesy coming judgment in view of the sins of Judah and what had been said by prophets in the past. Thus there is no reason to think that words have later been put into her mouth. But it should be noted that she spoke generally of ‘all the words of this book’, rather than being specific. In the event she was to be proved literally true.
2.22.17 “Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense 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.”
And the reason why this would be so was because they had forsaken YHWH and had burned incense to other gods, provoking YHWH to anger with all the work of their hands. That was why His wrath was kindled against ‘this place’ (an expression common in both Genesis and Deuteronomy). The language reflects earlier passages in Kings (12.3; and often; 1 Kings 11.8; 12.33; 14.9; 15.30 etc; 22.43), and echoes different parts of the Pentateuch, as we have seen above. But there is nothing uniquely Deuteronomic about it (depending of course on your definition of the term). The burning of incense was a regular feature of Canaanite worship, and a number of examples of incense burning altars have been found in Palestine.
2.22.18-19 “But to the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of YHWH, thus shall you say to him, Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, as touching the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before YHWH, when you heard what I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and have torn your clothes, and wept before me, I also have heard you, says YHWH.”
Once again the prophetess avoided a personal reference to Josiah (compare ‘the man who sent you’ in verse 15), calling him rather ‘the king of Judah’, thus keeping him prophetically at arm’s length. But she confirmed that he had done well to ‘enquire of YHWH’, a phrase found in the Pentateuch only in Genesis 25.22. It is also found in Judges 20.27; ten times in Samuel; and often in Kings. Her message to him was that YHWH had seen his tenderheartedness and humility in the light of what he had heard, and had noted the fact that he had torn his clothing and wept before YHWH. It was because of that that YHWH had heard him.
The message that he had heard and which had so moved him was that YHWH had spoken ‘against this place’ and against its inhabitants and had promised that they would become a desolation and a curse. The descriptions were powerful and emphasised the severity of what was coming. Having accepted it, and having been moved by it, Josiah had now come to YHWH to seek His mind concerning it. It will be noted that the way the word ‘curse’ is used is dissimilar to the way in which it is used in Deuteronomy, although having the same root idea. Here it is the people who were to become a curse and it is paralleled with ‘desolation’ giving it a more generalised meaning. The same usage is in fact paralleled in Jeremiah 49.13 where the idea is similarly general and ‘curse’ is similarly paralleled with other descriptions. (Note also its use in Genesis 27.12, 13). It is not therefore used in such a way as to suggest that it specifically had the curses of the covenant in Deuteronomy directly in mind. This idea of Judah being a curse and a desolation can indeed be seen as having in mind any of the Pentateuchal warnings of what would happen to His people if they disobeyed Him (e.g. Leviticus 18.24-30; 20.22-23; 26.14-46; Deuteronomy 27.15-29.29).
2.22.20a “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, nor will your eyes see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” ’
In view of Josiah’s death as a result of battle wounds it might appear at first sight that YHWH did not fulfil His promise that Josiah would be gathered to his grave in peace. And it may be that in fact we have a reminder here that God’s promises are made on the condition of our obedience. On the other hand it is more probable that we are to see it as an indication of the conditions that would be prevailing in Judah up to the time of his death. Thus we may see this as indicating that YHWH’s point was that whilst Josiah was trusting in Him with all his heart He would ensure that all went well for him and Judah whilst he still lived. It could not, on the other hand, be a promise that he would himself be kept safe whatever he did, even if he was foolish, for that would have been unreasonable. What it was, was a promise that he would be kept safe whilst he was trusting in YHWH and walking in obedience to him. Consequently, when, instead of trusting YHWH and consulting Him about what he should do, he blatantly went out on his own initiative to fight against an Egyptian army that was not threatening Judah, he brought his death on himself. It was not a failure on behalf of YHWH to fulfil His word.
However, the prophecy was still fulfilled in its main intent, for the fact that Josiah was to be ‘gathered to his grave in peace’ was, as we have seen, not necessarily in context mainly an emphasis on the manner of his own death. In view of its parallelism with ‘nor will your eyes see all the evil which I will bring on this place’ we may well see it as having in mind that while he lived his land would be at peace, and would not suffer desolation, and that whenever he did die that peace would still be prevailing. And that promise was basically kept, for at the time of his death Judah was actually under no specific threat, and there was no immediate threat to its peace. The truth is that the Egyptians whom Josiah waylaid were not in fact focused on attacking Judah but were racing to assist the Assyrians in their last stand against the Babylonians and their allies, and according to Chronicles 35.20-21 claimed to have no grievance against Judah. Thus according to the Chronicler Pharaoh Necho made clear to Josiah that no danger was threatened against Judah. Josiah, however, refused to listen to him (2 Chronicles 35.20-21). Thus the author here in Kings probably wants us to recognise that what happened to Josiah was not of YHWH’s doing. It was rather the result of his own folly and occurred because, for political reasons (possibly as the result of an agreement with Babylon), he had set out to waylay the Egyptian army without consulting YHWH. The consequence was that he was seen as having chosen his own way of death in a way that was contrary to YHWH’s will. On the other hand, the fact that he would not see the evil that would come on Judah was true, for that occurred only after his death. Nevertheless the fact that Josiah died from battle wounds does tend to confirm that this was a prophecy ‘before the event’, for a prophecy ‘after the event’, which knew of the way in which he had died, would undoubtedly have been worded differently.
The question must be asked as to whether the prophetess had the Exile in view in her words, and the answer is probably both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It is ‘yes’ because she must certainly have been aware from past history of the possibility that future conflict could lead to exile, so that her knowledge of what Micah had prophesied in Micah 3.9-12 would only have confirmed such an idea to her, but it is ‘no’ because from the form of her words she was equally clearly not informed on the exact details. What she was passing on was simply what YHWH had told her to pass on. Knowing, however, that Micah had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, and knowing what had been said in Leviticus and Deuteronomy about Israel being removed from their own land, and knowing the tendency of great kings to have transportation policy, she must certainly have had the possibility of exile in mind. It was not, however, what she specifically warned against. Her warning was of desolation and destruction without going into the details.
2.22.20b ‘And they brought the king word again.’
Having listened to the words of Huldah the prophetess, the deputation returned to the king in order to convey her words to him.
The King’s Response To Huldah’s Words In The Making Of A Covenant With The People Followed By A Detailed Descriptions Of Josiah’s Reforms (2.23.1-23).
On receiving Huldah's response Josiah called together the elders of the people, and then as a consequence summoned to the house of YHWH the whole assembly of Judah from greatest to least, including priests and prophets. It was specifically a ‘gathering of the congregation of Israel’, that is of all men who were submissive to his rule. And there ‘he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH’. The emphasis is on the fact that the whole stratum of people were represented, rather than on suggesting that all the people would be literally present and able to hear the words that would be read out. The point that is being stressed was that the covenant was being made by the whole people.
It is open to question whether it was the king himself who actually read the words aloud, or whether, as is more likely, he made use of experienced readers of the Law to do it for him once he had opened up the proceedings. The latter must surely be seen as more likely unless the king was so moved that he saw it as his responsibility to be directly involved throughout. The purpose of this was in order to ‘make a covenant before YHWH’, in a similar way to Moses in Exodus 20-24, and Joshua in Joshua 8.30-35; 24; and so on. Indeed such a reading of the whole Law regularly took place at crucial times in Israel’s history as the responsibility of the people was brought home to them. See for example Exodus 24.3; Deuteronomy 31.10-13, 28; Joshua 8.33-35; 1 Samuel 10.25. The author, of course, wrote in full awareness of what would follow the death of Josiah when these same people and their descendants would again turn away from this Law, as Huldah had also warned, for the author lived at the other side of the investments of Jerusalem and the accompanying transportations.
The king then solemnly committed himself by covenant to observe, in its entirety from the heart, ‘all that is written in this book’, and this is later described in verse 25 as ‘all the Law of Moses’. Verse 25 then goes on to explain that Josiah not only promised it but did in fact fulfil his covenant. He was not to be seen as being of those who said and did not do. Thus verses 3 and 25 can be seen as a kind of inclusio for this whole passage, revealing how he performed what he had promised. All the people then ‘stood to the covenant’, in other words made their own solemn commitment on their own behalf to do themselves what the king had covenanted. This solemn commitment is then followed by a description of the ritual destruction of all the last traces of false worship which still remained in the Temple, namely the vessels that had been used in the worship of Baal and the Asherah.
This description of the ritual destruction of these vessels then became a signal for the prophetic author, (out of chronological order), to describe the whole of Josiah’s reforms from beginning to end, so as to demonstrate that he was faithful to his covenant. But many of these reforms would have occurred prior to this time, and others would take place some time in the future (it could hardly all have been done within a short period, but the intent had become focused as a result of finding the Book of the Law). So, as so often in Kings, his arrangement is to be seen as topical rather than chronological.
The long list of Josiah’s reforms emphasises how far Judah had sunk into ‘abominations’ of many kinds and does serve to demonstrate that, apart from a small remnant, it had outwardly become almost as pagan as the nations round about. Church history reveals how the same thing happened to the church. In both cases it was only due to the grace of God and the faithful remnant of His people who remained true that the truth was preserved. The list makes crystal clear that the palace, the Temple and the worship of the ordinary people had all been deeply affected. On the other hand the fact that the reforms were at least successful for the remainder of his reign indicates how much support they had among many of the common people. In their hearts many had still yearned after YHWH.
These reforms having been described we are then brought back to the covenant ceremony when the king called for a solemn observance of the Passover in accordance with ‘this book of the covenant’, something which duly occurred within the year in a way that exceeded all previous Passover celebrations, and was accompanied by the ridding of the land of all who practised the occult and idolatry. The genuineness with which Josiah had committed himself to ‘all the Law of Moses’ is then emphasised (verse 25), and by this it is made clear that whatever we see ‘the book of the Law’ as consisting of, to the author was representing it as ‘all the Law of Moses’.
Note that in ‘a’ all the elders of Jerusalem and Judah were gathered together in Jerusalem, and in the parallel the Passover to YHWH was kept to YHWH in Jerusalem. In ‘b’ all gathered to hear the words of the book of the covenant, and the covenant was made and confirmed by the people, and in the parallel all the people are called on to keep the Passover as it was written in ‘this book of the covenant’. In ‘c’ all the vessels of Baal, and the Asherah and the host of heaven were burned outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and their ashes carried to Bethel, and in the parallel all the houses of the high places in Samaria were destroyed and their priests were slain on the altars at Bethel, and men’s bones were burned on the altars. In ‘d’ all the idolatrous priests were slaughtered, and in the parallel the bones of the righteous prophets were preserved. In ‘e’ the Asherah was brought out, burned and beaten to dust, and in the parallel the high place at Bethel was burned and beaten to dust, and the Asherah was burned. In ‘f’ the houses of the sodomites where the women wove hangings for the Asherah were burned, and in the parallel the Asherim were cut down and their places filled with the bones of men. In ‘g’ the high places where the priests had burned incense were defiled, and the high places of the gates were broken down, and in the parallel the high places were defiled. In ‘h’ Topheth was defiled in order to prevent the possibility of child sacrifices to Molech, and in the parallel the special altars in the Temple/palace complex were destroyed. Centrally in ‘i’ the chariots of the sun representing the sun god were burned with fire. This was a final renunciation of Assyrian sovereignty.
The Reading Of The Law And The Making Of The Covenant (2.23.1-5).
2.23.1 ‘And the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem.’
Deeply moved by the words of Huldah the prophetess the king sent and gathered to him ‘all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem’. This was preparatory to calling the whole congregation of Judah together. Verse 21 would suggest that Passover was approaching and it would seem that the opportunity was to be taken to combine that in some way with a covenant ceremony in which a covenant would be made before YHWH, and the words of the book of the covenant would be read out. As Passover came fourteen days after the commencement of the religious new year on 1st of Nisan this may suggest that the covenant ceremony took place at the new year, prior to the Passover.
Note the distinction between the elders of Jerusalem and the elders of Judah. As the city of David Jerusalem was administratively separate from Judah. In Jerusalem the king had direct authority and could act as he wished, in Judah he had to consider local custom and respect the authority of the elders of Judah, the princes and the tribal aristocrats.
2.23.2 ‘And the king went up to the house of YHWH, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great, and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH.’
All the men of Judah having arrived in Jerusalem in response to the summons of their elders, the king went up to the house of YHWH. And with him went all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, together with the priests and the prophets, ‘and all the people both small and great’, for a great covenant ceremony. This was a gathering of the ancient ‘congregation of Israel’ and the ceremony can be compared with that held by Moses in Exodus 24.3-8, and those held by Joshua in Joshua 8.33-35 and 24.1-28, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the initial ‘conquest’ of the land. Note how in Exodus 24.7 ‘Moses -- took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people’, and how in Joshua 8.34-35 ‘Joshua -- read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women and the little ones and the strangers who were conversant among them’. And it should also be noted in the latter case that ‘the book of the Law’ included both the command in Exodus 20.25-26 (see Joshua 8.31) and ‘the blessing and the curse’ of Deuteronomy 11.26; 30.1 (see Joshua 8.34). Thus it was more than just a part of Deuteronomy. Furthermore Moses had commanded that ‘this Law’ be read to the people every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31.9-13).
We have in the above instances an indication of how the people were used to the idea of having ‘the whole Law’ read to them, and indeed Joshua made clear that none of it was omitted, and that in his case it certainly included at the very least a part of Exodus and a part of Deuteronomy as we know them today. Thus when Josiah read in their ears all the words of ‘the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH’ this would include all the Law records known in his time. (This would be expected by them no matter how long it took)
The description ‘the book of the covenant’ appears elsewhere only in Exodus 24.7 where it indicated at a minimum Exodus 20.1-23.33, and possibly Exodus 19 as well. Here it refers to the book found in the Temple, which was described as such because it was seen as underpinning the covenant with YHWH. Had it not been considered that this book covered the whole covenant, including Exodus 20-23, other records of the covenant used at covenant feasts would surely also have been included. (It would be foolish to argue that up to this time Judah, YHWH’s covenant people, who laid such an emphasis on the Ark of the covenant, and on YHWH’s covenant with their fathers, had no records of such a covenant at all. See for example 17.13-15; and consider 1 Kings 2.3; 8.58; 9.4 etc. which assume such records). Thus in our view this ‘book of the Law’ must be seen as containing the whole of the recognised covenant, that is, the whole of the Book of the Law of Moses.
2.23.3 ‘And the king stood by the pillar, and made a covenant before YHWH, to walk after YHWH, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book, and all the people stood to the covenant.’
Then the king stood by the royal pillar (compare 11.14), a pillar which by tradition was connected with the Davidic house. This may have been one of the two pillars erected by Solomon (1 Kings 7.15), or some other special pillar in the Temple recognised by custom as the king’s pillar. It was where kings stood to make official decrees, and there he made a covenant ‘before YHWH’ (before the Sanctuary and as in His presence) to walk after YHWH and to keep His commandments, and testimonies, and statutes, as they had come down to them from the past in the Law of Moses (compare 1 Kings 2.3; 8.58; 9.4; etc) with all his heart and with all his soul (compare verse 25; Deuteronomy 4.29; 6.5; 10.12; etc: Joshua 22.5; 23.14; 1 Kings 2.4; 8.48). He thereby firmly confirmed the covenant that was found in ‘this book’, and the people then themselves confirmed their part in it. To ‘stand to the covenant’ was probably recognised legal jargon indicating full acceptance and commitment.
2.23.4 ‘And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order (i.e. next in rank), and the keepers of the threshold, to bring forth out of the temple of YHWH all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven, and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried the ashes of them to Beth-el.’
As a ritual seal on the covenant the leading priests (compare Jeremiah 52.24) were then called on to bring out all the vessels within the Temple that had been used in false worship so that they could be burned outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, after which their ashes were carried to Bethel to be disposed of, probably in order to defile the altar set up by Jeroboam I (compare 1 Kings 13.2). Whether Bethel was under Josiah’s jurisdiction at this time (which it probably was) is irrelevant. All that mattered was that they had access to it.
That it was only the vessels which were brought out at this stage emphasises the fact that all the more obnoxious symbols of idolatry must have been removed already, otherwise they would have been the first to be brought out. It suggests that the vessels were the last thing to remain, probably kept on one side for some suitable time when they could be used to express an aversion for idolatry. So while what then follows was an essential part of his reforms, what is described is not to be seen as taking place in chronological order, as though it followed the above. It is rather to be seen as a full description of all Josiah’s reforms, some of which had already taken place, but placed between the making of the covenant and its sealing at the Passover so as to bring out that even the earlier reforms had been in accordance with the covenant and the Law.
Kidron was the place where Asa had previously burned defiling effigies (1 Kings 15.13; compare verse 6 below and see 2 Chronicles 29.16; 30.14 under Hezekiah), and was clearly a place marked down for such activity, being already defiled by what Asa had done. Importantly it was outside Jerusalem so that Jerusalem would not be defiled by the activity.
Details of Josiah’s Reforms Which Took Place Throughout His Reign Over Many Years (2.23.5-20).
What is now described would have commenced well before Josiah’s eighteenth year as the Temple was purified preparatory to its being repaired and restored, and it would have continued on throughout his reign as he was able to establish his rule further and further afield because of the waning power of Assyria and his own growth in political power. It is thus a summary of the whole process of his reforms carried out throughout Judah and Samaria, not just a description of what he did in his eighteenth year. It will be noted that the author’s sole concentration is on Josiah’s reforming activity. The fact that Josiah had made Judah strong, independent, and prosperous, and had then extended his rule throughout Samaria with similar consequences, was seen as peripheral. What mattered to the author was the establishing of the Rule of YHWH, and the purifying of the means of worship throughout all areas under his control.
2.23.5 ‘And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem, those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.’
One of Josiah’s first reforms had been to rid Judah of all the false priests (the chemarim) appointed by previous kings to serve at the idolatrous high places. These priests were not of the tribe of Levi (seen in the fact that they were not permitted to return to Jerusalem) and had burned incense in the false sanctuaries to Baal, and the sun, and the moon, and the planets, and all the host of heaven. Now they were being ‘put down’ in order to prevent worship at these high places.
The distinction between the sun, moon and planets and the host of heaven suggests that the latter phrase signified the host of stars visible in the night sky apart from specifically identified ones. ‘The planets’ probably refers to specifically identified stars (but probably not to the signs of the Zodiac which would be unknown at this time).
2.23.6 ‘And he brought out the Asherah from the house of YHWH, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and beat it to dust, and cast its dust on the graves of the common people.’
No doubt around the same time the Asherah image (or pole) that had been set up in the house of YHWH by previous kings (Manasseh and Amon), was brought out from the Temple and burned in the Brook Kidron, outside Jerusalem. Then it was beaten to dust (as with the golden calf in Exodus 32.20), and that dust was thrown onto the graveyard used for burying the common people (see Jeremiah 26.23), who did not have their own family sepulchres. This would be in order to defile it by contact with ground containing the dead, and in order to reveal that the Asherah herself was ‘dead’.
2.23.7 ‘And he broke down the houses of the sodomites, which were in the house of YHWH, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah.’
He also broke down the houses of the cult prostitutes (both male and female) which had been set up in the house of YHWH, in order to support the degraded worship of Canaanite gods, and was where women had woven hangings for the Asherah. The hangings may have been paraphernalia hung from the Asherah images, or robes for the Asherah priests, or cords to be placed round the heads of cult prostitutes.
2.23.8a ‘And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beer-sheba,
These priests were genuinely of the tribe of Levi, but had engaged in false worship at syncretistic high places. Note that their major crime was of ‘burning incense’ to false gods. This was a direct repudiation of YHWH to Whom alone incense of a special kind could be burned. Their high places where they had burned incense were defiled throughout the whole of Judah, from north (Geba) to south Beersheba). He seemingly at this stage had no authority over the priests outside Judah.
2.23.8b ‘And he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand at the gate of the city.’
He also broke down the high places set up at the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city. We have no other information about these high places, but they were clearly either fully idolatrous or syncretistic. It has been suggested that this was at the gates of Beersheba as ‘the city’ is not named, and the name Beersheba ended the previous verse. Remains of such a high place destroyed in the time of Josiah have been found at Beersheba.
2.23.9 ‘Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of YHWH in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened bread among their brothers.’
But the levitical priest of the high places themselves (in contrast to the chemarim - verse 5) were not left without sustenance, for although they were not allowed to officiate at the Temple in Jerusalem, presumably because of their previous heretical activity (for otherwise it is contrary to Deuteronomy 18.6-7), they were allowed to partake of the unleavened bread (or ‘priestly food’) allocated to the priests (see Leviticus 6.16; compare and contrast Deuteronomy 18.6-8, and note 1 Samuel 2.36).
2.23.10 ‘And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.’
Josiah also defiled ‘Topheth’. ‘Topheth’ means ‘fireplace’ or ‘hearth’ (the vowels deliberately connect the name with the Hebrew word for ‘shame (bosheth)). This was seemingly a sophisticated and gruesome set-up, either erected or dug in the ground, which was established in the Valley of Hinnom (compare Joshua 18.16) for the purpose of sacrificing children to Molech. The valley of Hinnom would later become Jerusalem’s rubbish dump (if it was not so already). That the actual sacrificing of children is in mind is confirmed in Jeremiah 19.5.
2.23.11 ‘And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of YHWH, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts, and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire.’
It is clear that model horses and chariots for the sun had been erected by the kings of Judah within the Temple area ‘by the chamber of Nathan-melech (‘gift of Molech’, or ‘gift of the King’) the chamberlain, which was in the precincts’. Models of such horses, some with solar discs on their foreheads, have been found east of Ophel, and at Hazor (9th century BC) and other sites, which all bear witness to the cult of the sun described here, whilst an Assyrian title for the sun god was ‘chariot rider’ (rakib narkabti). Similar sun worship in the Temple is attested in Ezekiel 8.16. The horses were removed from the Temple and the chariots burned with fire. This would be a clear indication that Assyria had been once and for all repudiated, as Assur, the chief god of Assyria, was the sun god and had no doubt been associated with these chariots and horses.
‘The precincts.’ This may refer to the precincts west of the Temple, or to colonnades within the Temple area, or to open pavilions. The word is found in the singular (compare 1 Chronicles 26.18) in a Lydian Aramaic inscription, and may be related to the Sumerian for ‘burning house’ (indicating a place of sacrifice). A similar word in Persian means ‘pavilion’.
2.23.12 ‘And the altars which were on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of YHWH, did the king break down, and beat them down from there, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron.’
Altars, probably to the sun (compare 20.11), but no doubt also honouring other sky gods, had been erected ‘on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz’, a sanctuary possibly built on the roof of the palace. Roof sanctuaries were especially suited for worshipping astral gods (compare Jeremiah 19.13; 32.29; Zephaniah 1.5). These altars were broken down, along with the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of YHWH for the worship of all the host of heaven (compare 21.5). These also were beaten down, and their dust cast into the Brook Kidron.
‘The two courts of the house of YHWH’ suggests that the original Temple court had been divided into two, one section for the worship of Baal and Asherah and the other for the worship of YHWH. Alternately it could refer to the court of the Temple, and the court leading from there to the place complex.
2.23.13 ‘And the high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of the destroyer, 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 children of Ammon, did the king defile.’
These idolatrous high places were built on the mountain to the east of Jerusalem (1 Kings 11.7) to the right of the Mount of the Destroyer (either a section of the Mount of Olives, or a play on words between mashchith (destroyer) and mashchah (oil)). They were built by Solomon for his wives, and may well have been maintained since then in order to service the foreign treaty wives of later kings. Now at last Josiah defiled them, rendering them unusable. There would be no more such worship within the vicinity of Jerusalem.
Ashtoreth was the Phoenician (Canaanite) mother goddess connected with fertility, love and war. Chemosh was the national god of Moab. The name Milcom (which appears in Ugaritic texts) is the same as Molech (Melech), the fierce national god of the equally fierce, half-wild Ammonites, but also worshipped throughout the area of Palestine, and even beyond.
2.23.14 ‘And he broke in pieces the pillars, and cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with the bones of men.’
Having defiled the high places, he also broke in pieces the pillars which represented Baal, and cut down the Asherah images, defiling their sites with dead men’s bones.
2.23.15 ‘Moreover the altar which was at Beth-el, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down, and he burned the high place and beat it to dust, and burned the Asherah.’
By this time, probably some years after the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah’s reforms were reaching beyond Judah. This was because Assyrian control over the province of Samaria had become non-existent as a result of the fact that they were engaged in their death struggles elsewhere (Nineveh was finally destroyed in 612 BC by the triumphant Babylonians, Medes and Scythians). Meanwhile Josiah appears to have been extending his rule over large parts of Samaria, filling the vacuum left by the Assyrians. In consequence he was able to purify Bethel, by destroying and defiling the altar and high place which Jeroboam I had set up there (1 Kings 12.29-33). The altar and high place were broken down, burned and smashed to pieces. The accompanying Asherah image was also burned.
2.23.16 ‘And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount, and he sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them on the altar, and defiled it, according to the word of YHWH which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things.’
As Josiah turned about, having given instructions concerning the destruction of the altar and high place, he spotted the tombs in the mountain, and the result was that he ordered that the bones be brought from them and burned on the altar as part of the process of defilement and destruction. This, as the author points out, was in accordance with what YHWH had declared through the man of God who had proclaimed these things in the time of Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 13.2). What YHWH had said, He now performed.
2.23.17 ‘Then he said, “What is that monument which I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the sepulchre of the man of God, who came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that you have done against the altar of Beth-el.” ’
Then he spotted a gravestone and asked what it was. And he was told by the men of the city that it marked the sepulchre of the man of God (whose ministry is mentioned in the previous verse) who had come from Judah and prophesied what Josiah had now done, which is one reason why his sepulchre is given such prominence here. It was present proof of the faithfulness of YHWH to His promises.
“It is the sepulchre of the man of God, who came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that you have done against the altar of Beth-el.” The literal wording is more startling, ‘The grave! The man of God who came from Judah ---.’
2.23.18 ‘And he said, “Let him be. Let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria.’
So Josiah immediately declared that his bones must not be touched. They were not to be used like the other bones had been as a method for defiling the altar and high place in Bethel. Rather they were to be left in peace, along also with the bones of the old prophet of Samaria. Of course ‘Samaria’ here is the equivalent of Israel (the ‘modern’ term being used). Thus the bones of prophets from both Israel and Judah were preserved.
2.23.19 ‘And all the houses also of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke YHWH to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Beth-el.’
Josiah then went throughout all the cities of the region of Samaria, destroying all the sanctuaries with their accompanying ‘high places’ (high altars reached by steps) which had so provoked YHWH to anger. He treated them in the same way as he had the altar and high place in Bethel. This was an indication of the extent to which his kingdom now reached.
2.23.20 ‘And he slew all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them, and he returned to Jerusalem.’
Furthermore he slew all the priests who had been involved with sacrificing and offering incense at the high places, and he did it on the altars of the high places, and also burned men’s bones on them in order to defile them further. The ashes of the dead would prevent anyone in those days from ever seeing them as sacred again. They were to be seen as religiously defiled beyond repair. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
We naturally react against the idea of the slaughter of these men, but we must remember they were at the time seen as traitors to YHWH and his covenant, and therefore as worthy of death. No one in those days would have doubted that their crimes were deserving of the death penalty, for they were seen as in direct rebellion against YHWH. Furthermore it is probable that at the time they were not seeking to submit to the king and pleading for mercy, but were fiercely seeking to defend their high places, which they saw as sacred, against the assaults of Josiah’s men.
The Observance of The Passover (2.23.21-23).
The making of the new covenant following the reading of the Law was then followed by an observance of the Passover. There are no grounds whatsoever for the suggestion that previously the Passover had been observed in people’s houses and that this was now changed so that it became an observance at the Central Sanctuary. As with the other major feasts Passover had always been observed at the Central Sanctuary since the time of Moses (see Exodus 23.14-17; 34.23; Deuteronomy 16.16). Deuteronomy 16.5 was simply confirming this. The reason therefore why this observance of the Passover was different from all others ‘since the time of the Judges’ had nothing to do with where it was held. It was to do with the magnificence of the offerings, and the genuineness of the worshippers, which were seen as paralleling the celebrations in the days of Moses and Joshua (see Numbers 9.5; Joshua 5.1-12). And it is significant that these offerings were not prescribed by Deuteronomy 16.1-8, but by Leviticus 23.4-8 and Numbers 28.16-25, demonstrating that the Book of the Covenant which had been discovered included at least one of these two passages.
The feast of the Passover, which celebrated the deliverance from Egypt, would have been seen as a very appropriate feast for celebrating the new deliverance from Assyria which was now being enjoyed and celebrated as the chains of Assyria were being flung off by the removal of all that was connected with the worship of Assyrian gods. No wonder that it was celebrated with such fervour.
2.23.21 ‘And the king commanded all the people, saying, “Keep the passover to YHWH your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant.”
The making of the covenant following the full reading of the Law was now to be brought into effect ritually by the observance of the Feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread ‘to YHWH your God’, the feast which especially celebrated the deliverance from Egypt. It now celebrated their equally important deliverance from Assyria. Passover was thus to be a part of their rededication of themselves to YHWH. And it was to be observed ‘as it is written in this Book of the Covenant’. It was to be a return to the old ways. Passover may well have been neglected in the days of Manasseh and Amon, and even prior to Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30.5) but now it was to be restored in all its glory.
2.23.22 ‘Surely there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah.’
As pointed out above the point here is that it exceeded all previous Passovers since the time of the Judges in its magnificence, and in the purity with which it was observed. It was seen as taking ‘Israel’ back to the glory days of Moses and Joshua themselves. And that required following the prescriptions found in Numbers 28.16-25, which had possibly been neglected. This description was, of course, hyperbole, emphasising the magnificence of the way in which it was observed. It was seen as restoring them to the purity of their beginnings. (The literal following of the rather minimal requirements of Deuteronomy 16.1-8 could hardly be spoken of in these terms).
2.23.23 ‘But in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this passover kept to YHWH in Jerusalem.’
And this Passover was observed to YHWH in Jerusalem in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, sealing the new re-establishment of the covenant in verses 2-3. Thus the making of the covenant, followed by the observance of the Passover, have here formed an inclusio within which we have had described the whole of Josiah’s reforming programme.
Josiah’s Obedience To The Law Would Prove To Be Insufficient To Prevent The Final Catastrophe For Judah Because Jerusalem’s Sin Had Been Too Great And Was Still Too Deeply Imbedded In The People (2.23.24-27).
With all his enthusiasm and godliness Josiah could only reform the outward trappings of Yahwism and demonstrate his own zeal and love for YHWH. What he could not do was force the people to follow his example in their hearts. The sins of Manasseh had brought out how willing the people had been to follow him in the path of idolatry. They had demonstrated what the people of Judah had really become in spite of God’s amazing deliverance in the time of Hezekiah.
Verse 24 sums up and puts the cap on the reformation, and includes the new element of the removal of all that was connected with the occult. From now on men would seek to YHWH only. The whole land was being swept clean, and it was in confirmation of the law which was written in the book which Hilkiah, the Priest, had found in the house of YHWH. For of all the kings of Judah there was none, not even Hezekiah, who so fully followed the Law of Moses with all his heart and with all his soul. Hezekiah had been the ultimate when it came to trusting YHWH, but Josiah was the ultimate in obeying Him.
Nevertheless Josiah’s obedience, like Hezekiah’s trust, while it averted YHWH’s wrath for a time, was not sufficient to totally remove that wrath, for Judah’s provocation was too great (and it is significant that just as Hezekiah’s trust had been seen to fail in his dealings with Babylon, so Josiah’s would be seen to fail in a similar way). It would not be until there came a Son of David whose trust and obedience was total that final deliverance for God’s people could come.
Note that in ‘a’ we have a summary of what Josiah had to put away from Judah and Jerusalem, and in the parallel it is YHWH’s anger over these thing that will result in the final destruction of Judah. Central in ‘b’ is the incomparability of Josiah.
2.23.24 ‘Moreover those who had familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the teraphim, and the idols, and all the abominations who were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of YHWH.’
Josiah’s cleansing of Judah went further than just the sites involving pagan ritual. It also included those who sought to parallel the prophets as obtainers of information from the ‘other world’ by engaging in the occult. Those who ‘had familiar spirits’ were mediums who claimed to consult the dead. The ‘wizards’ too claimed contact with the ‘other world’. The teraphim are associated with divination (compare Judges 17.5 where they are paralleled with the ephod in Micah’s own personal sect, and see Ezekiel 21.26). The word possibly associates with the Hittite ‘tarpis’, indicating a type of evil or protecting spirit. All had idolatrous associations. So these were removed along with all the other idols and abominations, and it was in order to ‘confirm the words of the Law’ which were written in the Book of the Law which had been discovered.
Here again we have a number of indications that suggest that the Law Book consisted of more than Deuteronomy. We read, for example, of ‘those who have familiar spirits’. But this is a way of putting it which is paralleled only in Leviticus 19.31; 20.6, (compare also 20.27). Deuteronomy, in its only mention of familiar spirits, speaks of ‘consulters of familiar spirits’ (Deuteronomy 18.11). The terminology used here is thus totally unexpected if it was inspired by a section of Deuteronomy, but fully understandable if inspired by Leviticus. The teraphim are only mentioned in the Pentateuch in Genesis 31.19, 34, 35 (and then in Judges 17.5; 18.14, 17, 18, 20). The idea of the ‘putting away of idols (gilulim)’ is something found only in Leviticus 26.30 (where the idea is described in an even more forceful way). Deuteronomy 29.17 does speak of such ‘idols’ as something seen among the nations among whom they found themselves, but it contains no mention of putting them away. On the other hand ‘abominations’ are only mentioned in Deuteronomy 29.17 (although even then they are nowhere specifically said to need putting away). Yet here in Kings all these things are said to be put away ‘to confirm the words of the Law which were written in the book --- which was found in the house of YHWH’. This must again be seen as suggesting that the Book of the Law included a considerable portion of the Pentateuch over and above Deuteronomy.
2.23.25 ‘And like him was there no king before him, who turned to YHWH with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses, nor after him did there arise any like him.’
As a result of his zealous activities to observe the Law in all its fullness Josiah is recommended in terms which deliberately remind us of his making of the covenant in verse 3. Here it is stressed that what he covenanted, he also carried into action. (Happy the person who can say the same). Note the addition of ‘with all his might’ which stresses this. He was not just a hearer, but a doer also. Thus while Hezekiah had been incomparable because he trusted in YHWH with all his might, Josiah was incomparable because he obeyed Him with all his might by seeking to fully observe His Law as discovered in the Temple, that is, ‘all the law of Moses’.
2.23.26 ‘Notwithstanding, YHWH did not turn not from the fierceness of his great wrath, with which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.’
His activity was, however, too late to prevent God’s wrath being visited on Judah. Even his righteousness was not sufficient, and this was because Manasseh’s sin, and Judah’s sin, had been too great and was too firmly imbedded within the psyche of Judah. It was not, of course, that YHWH would not have forgiven them had they truly repented. And had every king who followed Josiah behaved like he did then the outpouring of God’s wrath would certainly have been continually delayed. But the fact was that YHWH knew the truth about men’s hearts, and was already aware of what Josiah’s sons would do, and what Judah would do. He was thus aware that within twenty five short years all would be over. (We must remember, however, that the book does not end with that, but with the raising up of the erring son of David to place of acceptance, something which had within it a germ of hope for the future. But we must also remember that His mercy revealed in that had not prevented the collapse of both Israel and Judah. God is not mocked).
In a sense we could say that Judah, as with Israel before them, had committed ‘the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’. They had resisted YHWH for so long that resistance had become so ingrained within them that even the revival under Josiah was insufficient to stem the tide. Thus although those who in the future would listen to the pleadings of Jeremiah would find salvation and hope in God, the majority of Judah would await only judgment and darkness (as the Jewish leaders also would in the time of Jesus). The truth is that God is very patient, and allows His light to burn on for so long, but if it is not finally heeded eventually He allows it to die out. (We can compare Revelation 2.5. The Ephesian church, along with its fellow churches in Asia Minor, which had enjoyed such great privileges, gradually lost their illumination and sank into formalism and error, and the result was that eventually the Muslim hordes came in and their future became one of darkness. They had grieved God once too often. We see the light similarly growing dim even now in the UK, a light which, unless it is revived, will slowly die out. And make no mistake about it, the USA, which is under grave spiritual attack, will be next).
2.23.27 ‘And YHWH said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city which I have chosen, even Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, “My name shall be there”.’
YHWH’s verdict on Judah was now pronounced. His warning was that He would remove Judah out of His sight in the same way as He had removed Israel out of His sight. And this would even be true of the city and the Temple that, for David’s sake, He had chosen (1 Kings 11.13), and of which He had said, ‘My Name will be there’ (compare 1 Kings 8.16, 29). For within a few short years His prophet Ezekiel would visually witness His desertion of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 10.1-22 with 11.22-23), and the Ark which bore His name (2 Samuel 6.2) would be lost for ever.
As we know, Jerusalem would later be restored for a further probationary period, but old Israel would not have learned its lesson, and when the true Son of David came they would reject Him, bringing on themselves final destruction. But we must remember as we consider this that His final promise had not been the continuation of Jerusalem, but the continuation of the Davidic house out of which would one day arise the One Who would bring about salvation. That is why 2 Kings will end, not with the rising of Jerusalem from the ashes, but with the rise of the son of David from his captivity. And once Jerusalem was again destroyed the Temple would then be replaced by the new Temple, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the true people of God who have become one with Him in His salvation, and Jerusalem would become the one that was above to which His true people would look (Galatians 4.25-30; Hebrews 12.22), the Jerusalem which is the true city of God. The old has passed way, the new has come, and there is no going back.
The Closure of Josiah’s Reign (2.23.28-30).
Josiah’s glorious reign came to a sorry end when he made a fatal miscalculation without consulting YHWH. Assyria were by this time in dire straits after the sack of Nineveh and fighting for their very existence against the Babylonians, Medes and Scythians. The result of this was that Egypt decided in their own interests to aid Assyria’s survival in order that they might act as a barrier between Egypt and the aggressors, and so as to ensure their own control over the lands south of the Euphrates. They did not want a powerful Assyrian empire to be replaced by an equally powerful Babylonian one on their own doorstep. So with this in mind Pharaoh Necoh marched his troops northward to Assyria’s aid. But this meant that they passed through the plain of Esdraelon on Judah’s borders (Megiddo, on the western side of the Vale of Esdraelon was probably already in Egyptian hands and fortified by them, having been taken over from the Assyrians. It had been the administrative centre of the Assyrian province of Megiddo). We are given no reason why he made his decision, but we learn here that for some reason Josiah decided that he must prevent Egypt’s progress, evidently without consulting YHWH. This may simply have been a defensive move, with Josiah seeing Egypt’s aim as control of all the lands south of the Euphrates, but the more probable reason was that he had some form of treaty with the Babylonian alliance (otherwise why not consult YHWH?). If so it was a fatal move. As Hezekiah had before him Josiah was dallying with major players who could swallow Judah up whole.
As so often in Kings the author tells us what happened historically but does so with a theological motive. He expects his readers to recognise in what happened the hand of YHWH, and clearly saw Josiah’s action as a sin against YHWH, especially in view of YHWH’s promise of peace in Josiah’s day. The result would be the death of Josiah at a time when Judah could least afford it, surrounded as it was by powerful nations combating each other. Furthermore his decision to fight the Egyptians would give Egypt the excuse (if any were needed) to be the first to swallow up Judah.
Note that in ‘a’ we have the usual closing formula in which we are referred to the royal annals of the kings of Judah for the remainder of the acts of Josiah’s reign, and in the parallel the description of the cessation of his reign. In ‘b’ Josiah’s aggression against Egypt is described and in the parallel we are informed of its consequence. Centrally in ‘c’ we have described the death of Josiah, because he chose war and not peace.
2.23.28 ‘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?’
In accordance with the usual closing formula we are referred for the other activities of Josiah’s reign to the official royal annals of the king’s of Judah. This included the expanding of his kingdom by taking in much of what had been Samaria.
2.23.29 ‘In his days Pharaoh Necoh king of Egypt went up to meet the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates, and king Josiah went against him; and Pharaoh Necoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.’
As always in Kings any mention of an incident has theological reasons. It is clear therefore that the author did not approve of Josiah’s action as described here and saw it as a sin against YHWH, a sin which resulted in his violent death. That is something confirmed in 2 Chronicles 35.20-25. As mentioned above Pharaoh Necoh was marching northward in order to assist the Assyrians in their rearguard action against the Babylonian/Medan alliance, no doubt with a view to ensuring Egypt’s control over the lands south of the Euphrates, and so as to ensure that the alliance did not become too powerful. No reason is given for Josiah’s action in opposing him, but it was either because he saw Egypt’s advance through the Plain of Esdraelon as a major threat to Judah’s future (which it may well have been), or because he was actually in alliance with the Babylonians and was acting on their behalf. Either way there is no suggestion that he consulted YHWH, in spite of the fact that YHWH had promised peace in his day. The result was that he was wounded in the subsequent battle, and later died of his wounds. His successful reign had culminated in an ignominious death.
‘Went up ‘al the king of Assyria.’ At this time ’el and ‘al were virtually interchangeable. Thus ‘to meet with’ rather than ‘against’. The Babylonian Chronicle makes clear that he was going to Assyria’s assistance, simply in order to obtain control of lands south of the Euphrates (which in the past Egypt had always seen as within her sphere of influence), and because he wanted to stem the Medo-Babylonian tide which might then overflow on Egypt.
2.23.30 ‘And his servants carried him in a chariot dying from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulchre. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king instead of his father.’
Josiah’s followers bore their mortally wounded king in a chariot from Megiddo and brought it to Jerusalem, and there he died and was buried in his own sepulchre. And the consequence was that ‘the people of the land’ anointed Jehoahaz as king instead of his father. Jehoahaz was not the eldest son and may well have been chosen because of his anti-Egyptian attitude. The people of the land would not want to find themselves once again under Egyptian rule without a fight. Or it may simply be because he was seen as more suitable than Jehoiakim who would later prove so disreputable.
The Last Days Of Judah (2.23.31-25.26).
As Huldah had forewarned the death of Josiah signalled the beginning of the end for Judah, and in fact within twenty five years of his death (in 609 BC) Jerusalem would be no more. Jehoahaz (nee Shallum), who succeeded him, only lasted three months before the inevitable Egyptian punitive invasion consequent on Josiah’s precipitate action resulted in his being taken into exile in Egypt, to be replaced by his brother Eliakim, who was renamed Jehoiakim as a sign that he was Pharaoh’s vassal. And yet even within that three month period it is apparent that Josiah’s reforms had begun to collapse without Jehoahaz even lifting a hand to prevent it. The violent death of Josiah was seemingly seen as a signal to the Baalists that they could return to their old ways. Indeed Jehoahaz apparently approved of the moves, for the verdict delivered against him was that he had done evil in the eyes of YHWH. The truth was that the reforms had been mainly external, and had not really changed the hearts of the people, who could not wait to backslide.
For a few years Jehoiakim ruled as a vassal of Egypt, who now for a while controlled the land south of the Euphrates, but Egypt’s control over this area was not to last for long, and it was eventually lost to the new rising power of Babylon under first Nabopolassar, and then his son Nebuchadnezzar. The result of Nebuchadnezzar’s advance was that Jerusalem was invested and taken, and a number of important people, including Daniel and his three friends, transported to Babylon ‘in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim King of Judah’ (Daniel 1.1). Jehoiakim himself became a vassal of Babylon (24.3), whilst Egypt retreated behind its own borders, and remained there unable to do anything about it (24.7). It may have been at this stage that Jehoiakim was bound in fetters to be carried off to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36.6), before finally being restored to his throne.
Unfortunately, like his brother, Jehoiakim also ‘did evil in the sight of YHWH’, and whilst this might partly have been forced on him by Nebuchadnezzar, as he insisted on the gods of Babylon being introduced into the Temple, it was clearly seen as going beyond that. In line with what we have seen previously it indicated that he allowed the syncretistic and false high places to flourish again. Jeremiah tells us that Jehoiakim also ‘shed innocent blood’ like Manasseh (24.4), thereby demonstrating his total disregard for the Law of YHWH. This included the blood of Uriah the prophet (Jeremiah 26.23). The Chronicler further speaks of ‘his abominations which he did’ (2 Chronicles 36.8), a description which demonstrates his full participation in idolatry. Thus he fully earned the description which was applied to him. All Josiah’s efforts were proving to have been in vain. Again we see that idolatry had not been removed out of the hearts of the people.
The failure of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Egypt in 601 BC, which resulted in heavy losses for both sides, meant that he had to retire back to Babylon to lick his wounds, and it was probably this that encouraged Jehoiakim to rebel, relying on Egypt for support. But Nebuchadnezzar’s reverse would only be temporary, and when he returned with his armies in greater force and besieged Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 25.1-12) Jehoiakim was seemingly only saved from humiliation by his death, which may well have been at the hands of assassins who were seeking to appease Nebuchadnezzar. He was replaced by his eighteen year old son Jehoiachin who almost immediately surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and was carried away to Babylon, along with many prominent people (including Ezekiel), being replaced by his uncle Mattaniah, who was given the throne name of Zedekiah. Jehoiachin was, however still seen as king, even though absent, with Zedekiah merely acting as his regent. Under such circumstances it would have required a much more charismatic man than Zedekiah to hold Judah together. But Judah was in ferment and Zedekiah was unequal to the task, and lacking in his response towards YHWH.
The destruction of Assyria had brought great relief to the world and been hailed by all as the end of an era, and Judah still could not reconcile itself to the idea that Babylon had taken over Assyria’s mantle. Who did Babylon think they were? Zedekiah therefore ruled over a people in constant ferment who felt that Babylon’s yoke could be overthrown, and he was encouraged in this by ‘false prophets’. This comes out very strongly in the prophecy of Jeremiah, where Jeremiah is seen as standing almost alone in warning that Babylon must not be opposed (Jeremiah 27.12 onwards). The final consequence was that Zedekiah foolishly rebelled, and the consequence was that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took it, and later destroyed its walls and burned it to the ground, carrying the cream of the people away to Babylon. Jerusalem was no more. All that remained of Judah was a devastated country, devoid of its most prominent people, and ruled over from Mizpah by a governor, Gedaliah (25.22-23).
The Reign Of Jehoahaz King of Judah (609 BC) - (2.23.31-35).
Jehoahaz, who was Josiah’s fourth son, was given the unenviable task of replacing Josiah, knowing full well that the wrath of Egypt would inevitably fall on Judah as a result of Josiah’s action against Pharaoh, and sure enough within three months, having himself approached Pharaoh Necoh at Riblah, he found himself in bonds and carried off to Egypt as a royal hostage, with the land of Judah being put to harsh tribute. And yet even in that short time he had revealed that he would not be following in his father’s footsteps, for he is recorded as having ‘done evil in the eyes of YHWH even as his fathers had done’. In other words on the death of Josiah Baalism immediately re-established itself in Judah, with Jehoahaz’ support.
One of the problems with kings having multiple wives was that they did not have a close rapport with their sons, and the result was that the major influence in their bringing up was in the hands of their mothers and their advisers (note the constant importance of the queen mother in the narrative). This would partly explain why Josiah’s godliness had not been passed on to his sons, and why on his death his sons reverted back to Baalism. Such kings did not choose their wives because of their spiritual status, but because of their political influence.
Jehoahaz may well have been chosen by the people of the land (verse 30) over his brothers because they recognised his potential to be king, and because they were hoping through him to establish their independence. He may have been seen as anti-Egyptian. Or it may simply be that they saw him as the best candidate for negotiating with Egypt. Alternatively it may have been that he was the only one willing to offer himself to be the scapegoat in view of the inevitable reprisals of Egypt. Whichever way it was he would know that he had little option, when he was summoned to Riblah by Pharaoh Necoh (or went there of his own volition seeking peace terms) but to attend and accept his fate. What had happened to Josiah had already brought home the folly of armed resistance against such a powerful foe. Once there he was put in chains and carried off to Egypt as a royal hostage, where he remained until he died. (see here Ezekiel’s vivid picture in Ezekiel 19.3-4; and compare Jeremiah 22.10-12). There is no closing formula to his reign because he did not die in office. He just disappeared from the scene. And in the author’s eyes it was because he ‘did evil in the sight of YHWH’.
Note that in ‘a’ the land of Judah was put to tribute, and in the parallel the tribute was paid. Centrally in ‘b’ Eliakim was made king with the throne name of Jehoiakim.
2.23.31 ‘Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.’
Jehoahaz was twenty three years old when he began to reign. Jehoahaz was his throne name. His birth name was Shallum (Jeremiah 22.11). The three months of his reign is confirmed by the Babylonian Chronicle which states that Pharaoh Necho’s campaign in the north lasted from the month Tammuz to the month Elal (roughly July to September). It was at that point, once he had consolidated his position, that Pharaoh summoned Jehoahaz to Riblah. Jehoahaz’ marriage to the daughter of an influential inhabitant of Libnah was probably intended to help to cement Libnah’s association with Judah (compare 8.22).
2.23.32 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, according to all that his fathers had done.
Even though his reign was short it was apparently sufficiently long to indicate the direction of his intentions. Josiah’s death, which they had no doubt hoped for, would have been a signal to the would be worshippers of Baal and Asherah that they could now make some attempt to restore Baalism, and it would appear that Jehoahaz raised no objection, and possibly even connived in it. It is clear from this that Josiah’s faith and obedience was not seen as reflected in the attitude of his sons. This may well have been because his multiple marriages resulted in the sons being more influenced by their less godly mothers.
2.23.33 ‘And Pharaoh Necoh put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and put the land to a tribute of a hundred talents of silver, and a talent of gold.’
The prophetic author therefore saw what happened to Jehoahaz as part of YHWH’s punishment on him for his apostasy, for when he was summoned to Riblah to meet with Pharaoh Necoh he was put in chains and carried off as a hostage to Egypt, no doubt as a guarantee of Judah’s good behaviour, and as a lesson to Judah as to what happened to those who opposed Pharaoh. As the appointee chosen by Judah he was not to be allowed to reign. (He may well have been the only son of Josiah who had been brave enough to accept the throne, knowing precisely what would happen). For a poetic description of this incident see Ezekiel 19.3-4. Pharaoh then put the land of Judah to a tribute of a hundred talents of silver, and one talent of gold, a considerable sum for a small country to have to find, although possibly not large enough to be seen as excessively punitive.
Pharaoh Necoh had previously at last joined up with the remnants of the Assyrian forces and had stayed the advances of Nebuchadnezzar. Now he had established himself at Riblah and saw himself as overlord of the area south of the Euphrates, including Carchemish, Aram, Hamath and Palestine, and it was as such that he no doubt summoned Jehoahaz to present himself before him and exacted tribute on Judah. Alternatively Jehoahaz may have decided that his wisest move in view of what his father had done, was to seek peace terms with Egypt and have gone voluntarily. If so, as far as he was concerned, it was a misjudgment, for he became a permanent hostage from then on.
This Egyptian dominance of the area would in fact continue for some years, but it would end when Nebuchadnezzar advanced once more and Egypt was crushingly defeated by his forces at Carchemish, and then again at Hamath, thus having to fall back to its own borders where it did succeed in stemming the Babylonian advance.
Riblah was in the district of Hamath on the River Orontes in Aram. It commanded the main route from Egypt to the Euphrates, and was easily defended, which is why Pharaoh Necoh, (and Nebuchadnezzar after him), chose it as his headquarters. The neighbouring valleys and forests provided ample supplies for his troops.
2.23.34 ‘And Pharaoh Necoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim, but he took Jehoahaz away; and he came to Egypt, and died there.’
Pharaoh Necoh meanwhile made Eliakim, an older half-brother of Jehoahaz and a son of Josiah, king in his father’s place, and changed his name to Jehoiakim (the name of YHWH replacing El in Eliakim). This change of name may have been intended to indicate that Jehoiakim was now Pharaoh’s vassal, and that Pharaoh was his god. The introduction of the name of YHWH may have been cynical, indicating that YHWH should be seen as submissive to Osiris and Horus (Pharaoh being seen as the personification of Horus and destined to be Osiris) or it may have been a genuine attempt to win over the people of Judah, and to give them the (false) impression of a kind of independence.
2.23.35 ‘And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation, to give it to Pharaoh Necoh.’
Jehoiakim then set about gathering the tribute required by the Pharaoh by means of levying taxation on the people of the land ‘according to the commandment of Pharaoh’. The phrase is significant. It was no longer YHWH’s commandments that were being observed in Judah, but Pharaoh’s. As a result each man in Judah was assessed, and was then called on to contribute in accordance with his ability to pay. It would appear from this that while the Temple had been restored it had few treasures in it of which it could be stripped. Such poverty, the author wants us to know, was the consequence of its history (it is in total contrast to the wealth of Solomon with which the book began).
Throughout the book of Kings the prophetic author has constantly and deliberately emphasised the source from which tribute was paid. Initially and regularly it was paid from the Temple and palace treasuries (12.18; 16.8; 1 Kings 14.26; 15.18) then by stripping the Temple of its gold (18.16). Now it was down to everyone making a contribution. The royal treasuries were finally empty. This was the consequence of disobedience to YHWH.
The Reign Of Jehoiakim, King of Judah - 609-597 BC (2.23.36-24.6).
Nothing good is said about Jehoiakim in either Kings or Chronicles, whilst Jeremiah portrays him as an oppressive and covetous ruler (Jeremiah 22.17) who presided over a period of religious decay during which the syncretistic high places were restored (e.g. Jeremiah 25.5-7; 26.5-6; 35.14-15). He also introduced hideous Egyptian rites and filled the land with violence (Ezekiel 8.5-17; compare Jeremiah 22.17), capping it by murdering Uriah the prophet for opposing him (Jeremiah 26.20-23). Unlike his father, who had ruled justly and wisely, his thoughts were only for himself, and he built himself a palace without adequately paying his workforce (Jeremiah 22.13-16), thinking to aggrandise himself, but only thereby revealing his folly and that he had little regard for others. But none of this is described here in Kings in detail. Rather it is brought out by the prophetic author in his usual indirect way by referring to the fact that he ‘did evil in the eyes of YHWH’ (always an indication of a restoration of idolatry) and then describing the judgments that came on him as a result of YHWH’s hand at work. This was then followed by bringing out that this was because he was following in the footsteps of Manasseh. But he was not to be seen as being alone in being judged, for YHWH’s judgment was to fall on Judah as a whole, in fulfilment of the words of the prophets which portrayed the depths of sin into which they had fallen (24.2). This time they had gone too far. Manasseh had not been alone in his sinfulness. His people had shared in his sin with him. And that was why YHWH would not pardon, and why they would therefore share in the consequent judgment.
We note especially that the author avoids mentioning the arrival of the main Babylonian army to besiege Jerusalem because he wants us to see that the build up of YHWH’s judgment is occurring stage by stage (24.2). But he makes crystal clear that the end of it will be the destruction of Judah, because YHWH’s hand is against them, and that meanwhile there is no help to be had from Egypt. Judah will be left isolated, to stand, and fall, alone. It is in fact only when we get to the reign of his son Jehoiachin that we learn that calamity is awaiting Jerusalem, and had already been threatening in the final days of Jehoiakim.
Note that in ‘a’ Jehoiakim began his reign and in the parallel his reign ended. In ‘b’ he did (religiously) what was evil in the sight of YHWH and in the parallel the remainder of what he did can be found in the official annals of the kings of Judah. In ‘c’ Nebuchadnezzar came on the scene (Jeremiah tells us that he came as the servant of YHWH) and in the parallel it was because YHWH had planned to remove Judah out of His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, which were being repeated by both Jehoiakim and Judah. Centrally in ‘d’ YHWH has Himself sent destroyers against Judah in accordance with His own word which He had spoken by the prophets. The word of YHWH has gone out against Judah and will not be called back.
2.23.36 ‘Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah.’
Jehoiakim, who was a year or two older than his half-brother Jehoahaz, began to reign when he was twenty five years old, and reigned for eleven years. The queen mother, Zebidah, came from Rumah. If this was Khirbet al-Rumah, thirty five kilometres (twenty one miles) inland from Mount Carmel, it may indicate how far Josiah had extended his rule, the marriage being in order to establish his hold in the area. It would be a reign full of turmoil because of his sinfulness.
2.23.37 ‘And he did what as evil in the sight of YHWH, according to all that his fathers had done.’
Jehoiakim continued to allow, and even approved of, the outbreak of Baalism that had begun during the short reign of Jehoahaz, on the death of Josiah. Once again the syncretistic high places for the worship of both Baal and YHWH were being re-established (turning YHWH into simply another nature God. See e.g. Ezekiel 6.3-4, 13; 16.16-39), and altars to Baal and Asherah and even probably to the Sun, were being introduced into the Temple (see Ezekiel 8.16).
2.24.1a ‘In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years.
The arrival of Nebuchadnezzar (Nabu-kudurri-usur) of Babylon in 605/4 BC put an end to Egyptian supremacy, with the result that, on Egypt’s withdrawal behind its borders, Jehoiakim had to submit to him as his vassal. This took place in the third year of his reign (Daniel 1.1), when Jerusalem was invested and prominent men were taken as hostages to Babylon, including among them Daniel and his three compatriots. It may have been at this time that Jehoiakim was himself taken in chains to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36.6) where he would be forced to make an oath of allegiance. We can compare how similar ignominious treatment, followed by restoration, had been meted out to Manasseh without being mentioned by the author, whilst a similar thing had happened to Pharaoh Tirhakah under Assyrian rule.
This arrival of Nebuchadn(r)ezzar in force, followed subsequently by two further raids, is described in the Babylonian Chronicle as follows:
“In the twenty first year the king of Babylon (Nabopolassar) stayed in his own country while the crown-prince Nebuchadrezzar, his eldest son, took personal command of his troops and marched to Carchemish which lay on the bank of the River Euphrates. He crossed the river against the Egyptian army -- they fought with each other and the Egyptian army retreated before him. He defeated them, annihilating them. As for the remains of the Egyptian army which had escaped from the defeat so that no weapon touched them, the Babylonian army overtook and defeated them in the district of Hamath, so that not a single man got away to his own country. At that time Nebuchadrezzar captured the whole land of Hatti (which included Aram, Samaria and Judah). --- In his accession year Nebuchadrezzar went back again to the Hatti-land and marched victoriously through it until the month of Sebat. In the month of Sebat he took the heavy tribute of the Hatti-land back to Babylon. --- In the first year of Nebuchadrezzar (the year after the accession year) he mustered his army in the month of Sivan and went to the Hatti-land. He marched about victoriously in the Hatti-land until the month of Kislev. All the kings of the Hatti-land (including Damascus, Tyre and Sidon, and Judah) came before him and he received their heavy tribute. He marched to the city of Ashkelon and captured it in the month of Kislev.”
2.24.1b ‘Then he turned and rebelled against him.’
Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to invade Egypt three of four years after his succession (i.e. in c 601 BC) resulted in a set back for his army and he had to return to Babylon to recoup. This may well have been what caused Jehoiakim to rebel, probably with promises of support from Egypt. To him things were beginning to look promising.
2.24.2 ‘And YHWH sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, and bands of the Aramaeans, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by his servants the prophets.’
Being in no position to return immediately to Judah himself, Nebuchadrezzar nevertheless arranged for Judah to be attacked by marauders (who would be tributaries of Babylon) from all sides. The Chaldeans (Babylonians) were possibly occupying troops stationed in Aram and were effective enough to make people take refuge in Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 35.11). They were supported by bands of Aramaeans. The Moabites and Ammonites would harry the land east of Jordan, and possibly also cross the Jordan looking for spoils as they had done in the days of the Judges (Judges 3).
But in the eyes of the author the main cause for this activity was not Nebuchadnezzar, but the word of YHWH (after all, unknown to Nebuchadnezzar, he was YHWH’s servant - Jeremiah 25.9). Thus in the author’s view it was primarily because of Judah’s sins that these attacks were being carried out, in accordance with the words of YHWH’s servants the prophets. History was being seen as subject to His will.
2.24.3-4 ‘Surely at the commandment of YHWH this came on Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did, and also for the innocent blood that he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and YHWH would not pardon.’
The author then again stressed that all that was happening was ‘at the commandment of YHWH’. And this was because He had determined to remove Judah out of His sight as He had warned as long ago as Leviticus 18.28. He was sick of them. And this situation had come about because of the sins of Manasseh and what he had done, and because of the innocent blood which he had shed, and the fact that he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. It had been so bad that it was something that YHWH could not overlook because, although the reign of Josiah had at first altered the picture, Judah had turned back to the same behaviour as before, something evidenced by the slaying of Uriah the prophet by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26.20-23). Josiah’s death had resulted in YHWH’s covenant being openly slighted on a continual basis and it revealed Judah’s permanent hardness of heart, something which even Josiah had been unable to remedy. That was why Judah was doomed. Compare Deuteronomy 29.20.
2.24.5 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’
As usual the author was not interested in political activities which were not relevant to his case and in respect of them refers his readers to the official annals of the kings of Judah (for the last time).
2.24.6 ‘So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned instead of him.’
The closing formula is also used for the last time, for the author is now moving into a description of ‘current affairs’ concerning which he was fully informed. It is significant that we are not told how or where Jehoiakim was buried, leaving us to infer that there was something unusual about it, and indeed his end as a whole is shrouded in mystery. Jeremiah 22.18-19 tells us that he would be buried ‘with the burial of an ass’ and that his body would be thrown unmourned outside Jerusalem. (Josephus tells us that he sought to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, but was put to death and his body tossed ignominiously outside the walls of Jerusalem, although that may simply be an inference from the words of Jeremiah). However, 2 Chronicles 36.6ff. tells us that he was bound in fetters in order to be carried off to Babylon, although it is not said that that actually happened. Perhaps he died while in custody outside the walls of Jerusalem and never actually commenced the journey to Babylon. Daniel 1.1-2 is also equally ambiguous.
2.24.7 ‘And the king of Egypt did not come again any more out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken, from the brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates, all that pertained to the king of Egypt.’
In typical fashion the author added to the closing formula an appropriate comment concerning events. Compare 15.12, 16, 37; 1 Kings 15.23, 32. In this case it was a summary as to the situation with regard to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar’s control of the land south of the Euphrates, down almost to the borders of Egypt (to the Wadi of Egypt, just north of the border), had become such that the king of Egypt did not venture beyond his borders. All that he had previously gained had been lost and any assistance that he may have promised to Judah would thus come to nothing. He was no match for the forces of Nebuchadnezzar.
The Reign Of Jehoiachin King Of Judah 597 BC (2.24.8-17).
In typical fashion the prophetic author of Kings has not told us in detail about the closing years of Jehoiakim’s life, except in so far as it can be concluded from 24.2, for as his death approached Judah was not only under constant attack by marauding bands, but by Nebuchadnezzar’s main forces under his generals, which had arrived outside the walls of Jerusalem, with the result that large numbers of Judeans were being besieged in Jerusalem by an even larger ‘band of Chaldeans’. A number of other cities of Judah were also no doubt under siege. Thus after the initial manoeuvrings described in verse 2 YHWH’s wrath has come upon Judah to the uttermost. It was in such circumstances that Jehoiakim died in a way that is not described, but seemingly violently and without decent burial, and his son Jehoiachin came to the throne. Jehoiachin bravely maintained the resistance for a short while (‘three months’), but on the arrival of Nebuchadnezzar outside Jerusalem in person he surrendered himself and the city to him. Judah’s short period of independence was over, and it was all YHWH’s doing (verses 2-3).
This surrender of Jerusalem is described by the Babylonian Chronicle as follows:
“In the seventh year (598 BC), in the month of Kislev (November/December), the Babylonian king mustered his troops and, having marched to the land of Hatti, besieged the (main) city of Judah, and on the second day of the month Adar (16th March 597 BC) took the city, and captured the king. He appointed therein a king of his own choice (Zedekiah), received its heavy tribute, and despatched them (Jehoiachin and the tribute) to Babylon.”
But it was not to be the end for Jehoiachin, for although he was carried off to Babylon, he remained the recognised ‘king of Judah’ even there, and details of the daily rations allocated to ‘Ya’u kinu, king of the land of Yahudu’ and his sons, have been discovered in Babylon. He would eventually be released from prison by Amel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach) and be restored to honour ‘above the kings who were with him in Babylon’, sitting continually at the table of the king of Babylon as the king’s pensioner (25.29-30). In spite of all YHWH had not forgotten His promises to the son of David, and hope for the future had dawned. But before that Judah had to sink into the depths of despair.
Note that in ‘a’ Jehoiachin became king, and in the parallel he was replaced by Zedekiah. In ‘b’ he did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH, and in the parallel he was as a result carried away to Babylon along with the cream of the people. In ‘c’ Nebuchadnezzar’s generals besieged Jerusalem, and in the parallel they carried away ‘all Jerusalem’ into exile. In ‘d’ Nebuchadnezzar himself arrived and in the parallel he carried away all the treasures of the house of YHWH. Centrally in ‘e’ Jehoiachin and all his house surrendered to the king of Babylon.
2.24.8 ‘Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months, and his mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem.’
In some ways Jehoiachin patterned Jehoahaz earlier (23.31-34). Both came to the throne after their fathers had offended against a great power, and both were carried off as hostages within three months, Jehoahaz to Egypt and Jehoiachin to Babylon. Jehoiachin was also known as Jeconiah (1 Chronicles 3.16-17; Esther 2.6; Jeremiah 24.1; 27.20; 28.4; 29.2), and as Coniah (Jeremiah 22.24, 28; 37.1). The name appears as Ykyn on contemporary jar handles. He began his reign at eighteen years old, with Jerusalem surrounded by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, and within three months he surrendered when Nebuchadnezzar himself arrived. (It may be that he had become co-regent with his father at eight years old - 2 Chronicles 36.9 - with the Chronicler there deliberately seeking to parallel him with Josiah). It is significant that his mother was a ‘local’. This might suggest that there had no longer been outlying cities whose favour had to be won. Judah was now of limited extent.
2.24.9 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, according to all that his father had done.’
On coming to the throne Jehoiachin made no attempt to reverse the idolatries of his father. He continued with Jehoiakim’s idolatrous worship. Thus he found no favour with YHWH.
2.24.10 ‘At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged.’
The arrival of ‘the servants of Nebuchadnezzar’, prior to the coming of the Great King himself, must have occurred prior to Jehoiachin’s ascension to the throne, while Jehoiakim was still reigning. It was in fact possibly Jehoiakim’s attempt to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar’s generals that resulted in his ignominious death, and that caused Jehoiachin not to be willing to do so until Nebuchadnezzar himself arrived.
2.24.11 ‘And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it.’
The arrival of Nebuchadnezzar himself would have caused a great stir, and it is probable that, in view of the fact that he would learn that Jehoiakim who had instigated the rebellion was dead, he on arrival offered terms to the city. These terms included the surrender of the royal house who would be transported to Babylon, along with many of the great men of the land, and the seizing of all the palace and Temple treasures, together with what remained of the golden vessels in the Temple. But it would mean that the punitive war was at an end.
2.24.12 ‘And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers, and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign.’
The terms were accepted and Jehoiachin, the queen mother, his courtiers, his princes and his military officers all went out and surrendered to ‘the king of Babylon’ in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. They knew, of course, that this could only result in their transportation. That was part of the agreement.
This is the first occasion in Kings when an incident has been dated by reference to something external to Israel and Judah ‘in the eighth year of his (Nebuchadnezzar’s) reign’. It was a clear indication by the author that Judah was living on borrowed time. As far as he was concerned Nebuchadnezzar now ruled over Judah with YHWH’s authority. (Jeremiah has ‘the seventh year of his reign’ - Jeremiah 52.28. Jeremiah was omitting the accession year).
2.24.13 ‘And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of YHWH, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold, which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of YHWH, as YHWH had said.’
Nebuchadnezzar then cut up and removed from the Temple all that remained of the golden vessels which Solomon had made which were in the Temple of YHWH, together with all the treasures that remained in both the palace and the Temple. These would not be overlarge. We must remember that Jehoiakim had had to tax the ordinary people in order to pay tribute to Egypt, and that tribute had had to be paid to Babylon since then. The Babylonian Chronicle’s description of it as ‘heavy tribute’ was probably exaggerated. Jeremiah makes clear that some vessels remained in the Temple, together with certain other items (Jeremiah 27.18-20). They would follow later (25.13-17).
‘All the treasures of the house of YHWH, and the treasures of the king’s house.’ This has been a regular refrain throughout Kings (12.18; 14.14; 16.8; 18.15; 1 Kings 14.26; 15.18) as the author has demonstrated that disobedience to YHWH could only result in Judah regularly losing all that it had. There could be no continuing prosperity without obedience. Here the vessels of Solomon are mentioned along with the treasures in order to connect back to the original record of Solomon’s enriching of the Temple. These vessels had been continually spared as having great sentimental value, but now even they had been taken. Together with 25.13-17 it was stressing that all that Solomon had built up had finally gone. Nothing was left.
2.24.14 ‘And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten groups (ten alephim) of captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths, none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.’
Furthermore he carried off all the most important people in Jerusalem, including the civil servants, together with all the princes of the tribes. These comprised between them two recognisable units (alephim). Together with them were all the professional warriors comprising seven military units (alephim), and all the craftsmen and smiths who together comprised their own single unit (an eleph), being all members of the one guild. That made ten differing units (alephim) of people in all. Jeremiah 52.28 tells us that in all they amounted to three thousand and twenty three heads of families (‘Jews’). Alternately the three thousand and twenty three ‘Jews’ may refer to ‘all Jerusalem and all the princes, -- and all the craftsmen and smiths’ with the ‘mighty men of valour’ being mercenaries and not Jews, and therefore not included in Jeremiah’s figure. Only ‘the poorest sort of the people of the land’ were left behind. Judah was being stripped of its leaders and its fighting potential.
‘All Jerusalem’, when compared with the other groups, probably has in mind all the important people in Jerusalem, those who were seen as being typical Jerusalemites. These would include the civil servants, courtiers, chief priests, and many others, but not necessarily ‘everyone’. After all Zedekiah was excluded from the definition, and the ‘poorest sort of people’ would be ignored. Only a ‘residue of people’ would be left. The result would be that Zedekiah would have to build up a new civil service and re-inhabit Jerusalem as best he could, calling on experienced leaders from other major cities.
2.24.15-16 ‘And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king’s mother, and the king’s wives, and his officers, and the chief men of the land, carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon, and all the men of might, even seven thousand, and the craftsmen and the smiths a thousand, all of them strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.’
So Jehoiachin himself, the queen mother, all the king’s wives, his courtiers and officers, and the chief men of the land were all taken into captivity together with seven ‘thousand’ (seven military units) of warriors, and a recognised unit of craftsmen and smiths who crafted Judah’s armaments who would all be members of a guild. All were brought captive to Babylon, and among them was the young prophet Ezekiel. The comparatively small numbers, compared with what Judah had once been, bring out how low they had fallen.
2.24.17 ‘And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s father’s brother, king instead of him, and changed his name to Zedekiah.’
The king of Babylon then appointed as king Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah, (a son of Josiah), and renamed him Zedekiah, a change of name which indicated his vassalship. He remained behind to cope with what was left of Judah.
The Reign Of Zedekiah, King of Judah 597-587 BC (2.24.18-25.7).
It is a reminder of how quickly events were moving that it was a son of Josiah himself who now came to the throne as the last king of Judah, and that he was only twenty one years old, so short would be the time from the death of Josiah (609 BC) to the final destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC). Furthermore he was not helped by the fact that he was seen by many as only acting as deputy for Jehoiachin, who was still looked on as king of Judah, and expected to return (Jeremiah 28.4).
But as with his brother Jehoiakim before him he did not follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead he continued to encourage the syncretistic worship in high places, and in the Temple, for he ‘did evil in the eyes of YHWH’. It was clear that Josiah’s legacy had not been a permanent one. As we have learned above Judah had in fact fallen too far before he came to the throne. Thus YHWH’s anger continued to be directed against Judah with the result that in the end Zedekiah also foolishly rebelled against the king of Babylon and withheld tribute. We can only assume that it was largely at the instigation of Egypt, for it would have been obvious that Judah and her local allies would have had little chance alone.
However, the author of Kings was not interested in the detail. As far as he was concerned Zedekiah’s reign was doomed from the start. Thus he tells us nothing about what led up to the rebellion. In his eyes it was all due to the fact that the wrath of YHWH was levelled against His people so that He had determined to spew them out of the land. This was not without reason. As Jeremiah reveals the people had become totally corrupt, and the leadership were only out for themselves. And yet, incredibly, they were ridiculously optimistic and responsive to prophets who declared that there would be a quick end to Babylonian supremacy, and that it would be within two years from the commencement of Zedekiah’s reign (Jeremiah 28.1-11). Such was the certainty that they had that YHWH would not allow their desperate state to continue. They still remembered and held on to the earlier promises of the prophets about the final establishment of YHWH’s kingdom without recognising the need to fulfil the conditions which were required. The consequence was that Zedekiah also ignored the warnings of Jeremiah the prophet that he should remain in submission to the king of Babylon. But what they had one and all ignored was the fact that they were not walking in YHWH’s ways and that He had therefore deserted them. The promises of the prophets were not for them. They awaited a day when they would have been restored to full obedience.
This passage divides up into three sections:
1). Introduction (2.24.18-19).
This is the last use of the opening formula which has been common throughout Kings since 1 Kings 14.21, and it once more ends with the chilling words ‘and he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH’. It sums up what the house of David had finally come to. In spite of Solomon’s early promise the extravagance, pride and idolatry which began with Solomon had come to its final fruition. Such is ever the result of the outworking of the sinfulness of man. As the book has revealed, it was only due to God’s constant activity through the prophets that hope has been maintained. It is, however, the darkness before a new dawning in the ‘lifting up of the head’ of Jehoiachin (25.27-30), that will finally result in the coming of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1.11-17).
2.24.18 ‘Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.’
Zedekiah was twenty one years old when he began to reign and he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem ‘the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put His Name there’ for David’s sake (1 Kings 14.21). It was to be the last eleven years of Jerusalem’s existence. The name of the queen mother was Hamutal. Zedekiah was thus the full brother of Jehoahaz (23.31), and the half-brother of Jehoiakim.
2.24.19 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.’
He continued to walk in the same way as Jehoiakim had done, permitting the continuation of the worship of Baal and Asherah, as well as necessarily having to perpetuate the worship of the gods of Babylon. (Neither Jehoahaz nor Jehoiachin had reigned long enough to be seen as a pattern). All Josiah’s efforts had, in the long term, seemingly been in vain. He had given Judah its last chance and it had rejected it.
2). Zedekiah Rebels And Is Brought To Judgment (2.24.20-25.7).
It will be noted that as so often the prophetic author ignores the details of Zedekiah’s reign and concentrates on what to him was theologically important. It was Zedekiah’s rebellion and its consequences in the arrival of the king of Babylon that highlighted the fact that YHWH’s anger was directed against Jerusalem and Judah for it was an indication that He intended to cast them out of His presence, so that was what he concentrated on. What happened to Jerusalem was not to be the act of Nebuchadnezzar, but the act of YHWH.
Note that in ‘a’ YHWH would cast them out of His presence, and in the parallel they were carried off to Babylon. In ‘b’ Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon, and in the parallel he was brought before the king of Babylon for judgment. In ‘c’ the Babylonian army came and the siege of Jerusalem began, and in the parallel the Chaldean army pursued the king and he was taken and all his army scattered. Centrally in ‘d’ famine was so intense in the city that they sought to escape.
2.24.20a ‘For through the anger of YHWH did it come about in Jerusalem and Judah, until he had cast them out from his presence.’
The fact of YHWH’s anger against Judah and Jerusalem, and their removal from His sight has been a theme of these last few chapters (21.12-14; 22.13; 23.26; 24.2-3). It had been His continual purpose from the time of Manasseh. The warnings of Leviticus 18.25, 28; 26.28-35; Deuteronomy 29.28 were being fulfilled. And it was being brought about by YHWH Himself.
2.24.20b ‘And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.’
The result of YHWH’s anger against Judah and Jerusalem was that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. This rebellion appears to have been inspired as a result of news being received of an internal rebellion in Babylon in which many Jews were involved (there was constant contact with Babylon), and was no doubt partly stirred up by the continuing urgings of Egypt, who would indeed at one stage send an army to temporarily relieve Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37.5). Tyre and Sidon, Edom, Moab and Ammon all appear to have been involved (Jeremiah 27.1-11).
2.25.1 ‘And it came about in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and encamped against it, and they built forts against it round about.’
In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, came with all his army and encamped against Jerusalem, setting up siege forts around it. Nebuchadnezzar had once and for all lost patience with Jerusalem (as the Book of Daniel makes clear he suffered from a mental illness, and was probably a manic depressive).
2.25.2 ‘So the city was besieged to the eleventh year of king Zedekiah.’
The siege continued over a period of nineteen months, although at one stage possibly temporarily suspended as a result of the arrival of an Egyptian army (Jeremiah 37.5). It was clear that the city was doomed.
2.25.3 ‘On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land.’
As a result of the siege starvation became a problem in the city, for there was no food for ‘the people of the land’ who were now sheltering in Jerusalem. The city had been cut off from outside help for many months. (The word ‘fourth’ is not in the text but is introduced from Jeremiah 39.2; 52.6).
2.25.4 ‘Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king’s garden (now the Chaldeans were against the city round about), and the king went by the way of the Arabah.’
A breach being made in the wall by the enemy a desperate attempt was made to escape by night by using a small postern gate (the main gates would be closely guarded) which would have been identifiable at the time, and all the men of war fled from Jerusalem, along with the king who was making for the Jordan Rift Valley.
2.25.5 ‘But the army of the Chaldeans pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho, and all his army was scattered from him.’
However, the movement of such a large number of men could hardly fail to be detected, and the escape may well have involved some fighting, so when the Chaldeans realised that there had been an escape they pursued after the king, whose troops had scattered to find refuge where they could. It is possible that the hope was that this would aid the king’s escape as the Chaldeans would not know who to follow, but if so it failed, and he was captured in the plains of Jericho in the Arabah.
2.25.6 ‘Then they took the king, and carried him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah, and they gave judgment on him.’
He was then taken to Riblah in the region of Hamath on the Orontes where Nebuchadnezzar was stationed, and there given a form of trial. But the result could hardly have been in doubt. He had broken his oath of allegiance and was worthy of death.
2.25.7 ‘And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in fetters, and carried him to Babylon.’
Nebuchadnezzar’s penalty was severe. All his sons were slain before his eyes and he was then blinded, leaving the last sight that he had experienced before becoming blind as that of his sons being killed. Then he was bound in fetters and carried off to Babylon. His rebellion, into which humanly speaking he had been forced by the anti-Assyrian party in Jerusalem, had cost him dear. From the divine point of view his evil behaviour had brought its own reward.
3). The Final Destruction Of Jerusalem And The Death Of Its Leaders (2.25.8-22).
Kings began with a description of the building of the house of YHWH and of the king’s house (1 Kings 5.1-7.12), and of the making of the pillars of bronze and the brazen sea (1 Kings 5.13 onwards), and it now ends with a description of their destruction, along with all the larger houses in Jerusalem. And it all occurred because they had incurred the wrath of YHWH. The continual downward slide to this point, in spite of the constant efforts of the prophets, is one of the themes of the book.
At the same time the leading men of Jerusalem were brought to Riblah and there executed, while the remainder of the inhabitants of the city were transported (we are not told where but it may well have been to Babylon where they would join up with the previous exiles being ministered to by Ezekiel). Only the very poorest were left in the land to tend its vineyards and fields under the control of the newly appointed governor Gedaliah who took up his residence in Mizpah. (Jerusalem was uninhabitable although a kind of worship would continue to be conducted at the site of the ruined Temple).
Note that in ‘a’ all the recognised places of authority were destroyed, including Jerusalem itself, and in the parallel Gedaliah was made the authority of all who remained in the land. In ‘b’ the residue of the people in the city were carried away captive out of the land, and in the parallel Judah was carried away captive out of his land. In ‘c’ the poorest people of the land were left to live in the land, and in the parallel the most important people were executed. In ‘e’ the pillars of bronze and the brazen sea were broken up, and in the parallel the pillars and the sea are described. Centrally in ‘ f’ all the instruments of worship in the Temple were taken away. There would be no further worship in the Temple which Judah had defiled.
2.25.8 ‘Now in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, to Jerusalem.’
One month later Nebuzaradan the captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s guard arrived in Jerusalem, no doubt with strict instructions as to what he was to do. The city had rebelled once too often, and both YHWH and Nebuchadnezzar were sick of it. (Jeremiah 52.29 says it was in the eighteenth year demonstrating that he ignored the year of accession from his calculation).
2.25.9-10 ‘And he burnt the house of YHWH, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great house, he burned with fire, and all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls of Jerusalem round about.’
The book of Kings began with a description of the building of the house of YHWH and the king’s house, in all their splendour (1 Kings 5.1-7.12). Now those same houses were burned with fire, along with all the other large houses in Jerusalem (no one would bother about the hovels). The walls also of the city were broken down all round the city. Jerusalem was to be left a ruin, almost uninhabited and totally defenceless.
2.25.11 ‘And the residue of the people who were left in the city, and those who fell away, who fell to the king of Babylon, and the residue of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away captive.’
The whole of what remained of the repopulated Jerusalem (it had had to be repopulated following what happened in 597 BC) was transported, even those who had surrendered to the Babylonians during the siege (those who ‘fell away to the king of Babylon’). ‘The residue of the multitude’ probably refers to those who had taken refuge in the city before the siege began. All were carried away captive because of their connection with Jerusalem.
2.25.12 ‘But the captain of the guard left of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and husbandmen.’
The land was not, however, to be left totally deserted and the common and unimportant folk (and there would be many of them) were left in the land to maintain its agriculture. Thus while Jerusalem itself was now almost deserted and in ruins, the land around remained populated and was tended, although hardly initially in good condition. What was left of Judah still survived in the land, and they would no doubt be supplemented by those who came out of hiding in the mountains once the Babylonian forces had withdrawn. Thus it is wrong to think of Judah as totally deserted. Babylon’s purpose had been to draw Judah’s teeth, not to commit genocide. Furthermore as far as we know Lachish, and possibly other cities, had not been taken, and if so their inhabitants may have been treated more leniently. Gedaliah the new governor would come from Lachish.
2.25.13 ‘And the pillars of bronze which were in the house of YHWH, and the bases and the brazen sea that were in the house of YHWH, did the Chaldeans break in pieces, and carried the bronze of them to Babylon.’
Reference back to the first part of Kings continues (see 1 Kings 7.13 onwards). The pillars of bronze and the brazen sea which Solomon had made were broken in pieces and their bronze carried back to Babylon. The last remnants of their former glory were being removed. All that Judah had built up was being broken down. Such was the consequence of their disobedience.
2.25.14 ‘And the pots, and the shovels, and the snuffers, and the spoons, and all the vessels of bronze with which they ministered, they took away.’
Furthermore all the means of worship were ‘taken away’ for the sake of their valuable metallic content. They were possibly taken away as spoils by the soldiers in contrast to the gold and silver which was taken away by the ‘captain of the guard’. Theoretically at least all worship in Jerusalem had ceased.
2.25.15 ‘And the firepans, and the basins, that which was of gold, in gold, and that which was of silver, in silver, the captain of the guard took away.’
The silver and gold items that remained were especially taken charge of by Nebuzaradan himself, no doubt in the king’s name.
2.25.16-17 ‘The two pillars, the one sea, and the bases, which Solomon had made for the house of YHWH, the bronze of all these vessels was without weight. The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and a capital of bronze was on it, and the height of the capital was three cubits, with network and pomegranates on the capital round about, all of bronze, and like to these had the second pillar with network.’
Also torn down, and presumably broken up, were the two pillars of Solomon, together with the moulten sea and what remained of the bases. The weight of the whole was such that it was not calculable. They had lasted throughout all Judah’s tribulations without being called on for tribute purposes. But now even this reminder of Solomon’s glory would be no more. Judah was being left with nothing.
‘The height of the capital was three cubits.’ The loss of two cubits compared with 1 Kings 716 was probably due to the necessity for repair work on at least one of the pillars.
2.25.18 ‘And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and the three keepers of the threshold.’
The prominent people in Jerusalem were now to be called to account, and the first were the five ‘chief priests’. They would be seen as important supporters of the revolt.
2.25.19 ‘And out of the city he took an officer who was set over the men of war, and five men of those who saw the king’s face, who were found in the city, and the scribe, the captain of the host, who mustered the people of the land, and threescore men of the people of the land, who were found in the city.’
Together with the chief priests, Zedekiah’s captain of the standing army was taken, and five of his chief officials who had had access into the king’s presence, who were found to be still in the city, and the scribe, and the commander who was set over the general host (the muster of the men of Judah), and another sixty important people of the land who were also in the city. (Alternately we may read ‘the scribe of the captain of the host’).
2.25.20 ‘And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah.’
Nebuzaradan took all these leading people and brought them to the king of Babylon, who was stationed at Riblah.
2.25.21 ‘And the king of Babylon smote them, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath.’
And there at Riblah Nebuchadnezzar smote them and put them to death as rebels and traitors.
2.25.21b ‘So Judah was carried away captive out of his land.’
Meanwhile the remainder of Judah as previously described were carried away captive out of the land. It was by no means the first exile. Every invasion of Israel and Judah by Assyria and Babylon had resulted in exiles, thus ‘Jews’ were scattered around the known world.
2.25.22 ‘And as for the people who were left in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, even over them he made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, governor.’
A good number of poorer people were allowed to remain in the land and over them Nebuchadnezzar set a governor. Judah was now a Babylonian province. The governor’s name was Gedaliah. He was the son of the Ahikam who had served Josiah (22.12) and had sought to protect Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26.24), and thus in good standing in the Jewish community.
The Murder Of Gedaliah The Governor.
A more detailed version of this incident and the history that accompanied it can be found in Jeremiah 39.11-43.7. Here, as so often in Kings, we are given only the bare bones. It tells us of the captains of roving bands of commandos who had avoided the Babylonian invaders, and who on hearing that Gedaliah had been appointed governor came to see him in Mizpah. And there Gedaliah swore to them that if they would now faithfully serve the king of Babylon it would be well with them, and they would suffer no reprisals.
On the whole they were willing and responsive, but unfortunately Ishmael the son of Nethaniah (who was of the house of a David and was secretly in alliance with the Ammonites) wanted Gedaliah removed, and the result was that he came with ten men and murdered Gedaliah, along with certain Jews and Chaldeans who were with him. The Chaldeans would have been maintaining a watching brief. This terrified the remaining commandos, and the common people, who all feared that Nebuchadnezzar would seek revenge for the death of his governor, with the result that, in spite of Jeremiah’s protests, they fled to Egypt for refuge, leaving Judah even barer of inhabitants than before. (Another group of exiles. Later history would reveal large groups of Jews in Egypt).
Note that in ‘a’ the captains of the commandos came to Gedaliah and in the parallel they went to Egypt. In ‘b’ the list of captains includes Ishmael, and in the parallel Ishmael murders Gedaliah. Centrally in ‘c’ Gedaliah swore that those who faithfully served the king of Babylon would prosper and suffer no reprisals.
2.25.23 ‘Now when all the captains of the forces, they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah governor, they came to Gedaliah to Mizpah, even Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of the Maacathite, they and their men.’
The ‘captains of the forces’ were commando leaders, either of bands who had hidden in the mountains when Nebuchadnezzar first invaded, or of remnants of the army who had escaped from Jerusalem at the same time as Zedekiah had tried to make his escape, and had taken to the mountains. When they heard that Gedaliah had been appointed governor they came to him in Mizpah, probably hoping for a new beginning. With Jerusalem in ruins and their kings exiled in Babylon there was little left to fight for.
2.25.24 ‘And Gedaliah swore to them and to their men, and said to them, “Do not be afraid because of the servants of the Chaldeans. Dwell in the land, and serve the king of Babylon, and it will be well with you.’
Gedaliah then took an oath that if from now on they would faithfully serve the king of Babylon there would be no reprisals, and they would be able to dwell in the land and live safely and well.
2.25.25 ‘But it came about in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the seed royal, came, and ten men with him, and smote Gedaliah, so that he died, and the Jews and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah.’
Unfortunately Ishmael, one of the captains, who was of the house of David, (with the kings indulging in multiple marriages the house of David would have many descendants), collaborated with the king of Ammon and arrived with ten men and slew Gedaliah, and with him a number of prominent Jews and Chaldeans. The main aim of the author was to bring home to us the fact that by this means YHWH was fulfilling His promise that the whole of Judah would be driven from the land.
2.25.26 ‘And all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces, arose, and came to Egypt, for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.’
The result of the assassinations was that the people no longer felt safe in Judah because of the repercussions that might follow the slaying of Gedaliah, Nebuchadnezzar’s appointed governor, and a number of Chaldeans. Consequently they fled to Egypt for refuge. The land had truly ‘spewed out’ its inhabitants.
It may well have been in response to this that Nebuchadnezzar again invaded Judah, taking even more people into exile (Jeremiah 52.30).
The Partial Restoration of Jehoiachin, in Babylon (2.25.27-30).
There can be no question that the purpose of this final narrative is to indicate that YHWH’s hand was still on the house of David. It is demonstrating that He had not forgotten His promise of the continuation of David’s seed, and that Judah and Israel had therefore hope for the future. Though history had consigned Jerusalem to destruction, God still had His hand on history and was preparing for the fulfilment of His purposes in the coming of Jesus Christ. This comes out especially in that he was ‘set above the kings who were in Babylon’. The author probably had in mind the Psalm which speaks of the son of David as ‘the highest of the kings of the earth’ (Psalm 89.27; compare Psalm 2). It was a portent of what was coming.
Note that in ‘a’ Jehoiachin was released from prison and his head was ‘lifted up’, and in the parallel he changed his prison garments for others, and was sat at the king’s table. Centrally in ‘b’ his throne was set above the thrones of the kings who were with him in Babylon.
2.25.27 ‘And it came about in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, that Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah out of prison,’
Many Jews in exile reckoned time by Jehoiachin’s captivity (see Ezekiel 1.2). The thirty seventh year of his captivity would be around 561 BC, and Awel Marduk (Ewil Merodach) succeeded his father in October 562 BC. He only reigned for two years. The prison that Jehoiachin was in probably represented a kind of house imprisonment, and we do in fact have copies of records detailing provision supplied to him and his sons. The ‘lifting up of the head’ indicated more than just release. He was raised to an honoured position. This suggests that he benefited by more than just a coronation amnesty. It suggests a policy decision on behalf of Evil Merodach, which continued on with his successor, Nergal-sarra-usur
2.25.28 ‘And he spoke kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings who were with him in Babylon,’
Jehoiachin had clearly won Evil Merodach’s favour, and Evil Merodach demonstrated this by setting Jehoiachin’s throne above the thrones of the kings who were in Babylon. In other words he was given the highest status among captured kings. The author may well have seen in this the partial fulfilment of promises made to the sons of David that they would be the highest of the kings of the earth (Psalm 89.27). It was a reminder, in spite of the adverse circumstances, that YHWH was watching over the house of David as He had promised. It gave hope for the future..
2.25.29-30 ‘And changed his prison garments. And Jehoiachin did eat bread before him continually all the days of his life, and for his allowance, there was a continual allowance given him of the king, every day a portion, all the days of his life.’
From this point on Jehoiachin ceased to be treated as a prisoner and was dressed in a way worthy of a king, partaking of ample provisions supplied by the king of Babylon, and provided with regular allowances of food. As this continued ‘all the days of his life’ it indicates that Evil Merodach’s successors carried on his policy. In return, of course, Jehoiachin would have had to swear an oath of loyalty.
There is in this restoration a wonderful picture of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us. If we are truly His, He too has changed our garments, clothing us in His righteousness and feeding us daily at His table.
For Kings part 1 (1-4) click here
For Kings part 2 (5-8) click here
For Kings part 3 (9-11) click here
For Kings part 4 (12.1-16.28) click here
For Kings part 5 (16.29-2.1.18) click here
For Kings part 6 (2.1-8.15) click here
For Kings part 7 (8.16-14.22) click here
For Kings part 8 (14.23-17.41) click here
For Kings part 9 (18.1-21.26) click here
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