Bible History Old Testament Vol. 7


Chapter 15: Josiah, (Sixteenth) King of Judah

Accession of Josiah—His Early Life—Arrangement of the Narrative—Collection for Repair of the Temple—The Remnant of Israel—Character of those Employed—The Reformation not the Outcome of a general Religious Revival—Temple Repairs—The Finding of the Book of the Law—The Prophetess Huldah—The Assembly and Covenant in the Temple—Destruction of the Emblems of Idolatry in Jerusalem, Judah, and in the Northern Tribal Possessions—Fulfillment of Ancient Prophecy regarding Bethel—The Great Passover in Jerusalem

(2 Kings 22; 23:1-23; 2 Chronicles 34; 35:1-19.)

JOSIAH was only eight years old when he succeeded to the royal dignity. As his extreme youth would withdraw him from the influences and temptations to which Manasseh had been exposed at his accession, so it must have necessitated the tutorship, or at least guidance, of men to whom, as generally venerated, a royal child would be entrusted. That such there were, we infer from the revival of prophecy, as represented by a Huldah, a Jeremiah, and a Zephaniah; 1 from the notices we have of some whom we afterwards find surrounding the king; and, lastly, from the bearing of the priesthood under their chief Hilkiah. BHOTV7 164.1

Nor, indeed, could the lessons of the reign of Hezekiah, and even of that of Manasseh, have been wholly effaced during the brief rule of Amon. Such men as they, under whose auspices afterwards the reformation of Josiah was carried out, could have had no difficulty in showing the youthful king how the brightest memories of the royal house of Judah were associated with the names of David, Jehoshaphat, and Joash, Uzziah, and Hezekiah, and that the times of greatest national prosperity had been those of faithful and earnest allegiance to Jehovah and His service. BHOTV7 164.2

These are indeed mainly inferences; but they are grounded on the facts of this history, and explain them. Nor can we help thinking that even the early birth of an heir to the crown, implying as it does a royal marriage at the early age of thirteen, 2 may here be of significance (comp. 2 Kings 22:1 with 23:36). But the whole history of Josiah’s reign is of such importance, and it raises so many questions, that, for clearnesssake, it seems better to discuss separately its religious and its political aspect, so far as this is possible. BHOTV7 164.3

First and foremost in this reign stand the measures of religious reformation inaugurated by Josiah. These comprise the preliminary abolition of idolatry; the repair of the Temple; the discovery in it of the Book of the Law; the consequent national reformation by the king; and, lastly, the solemn national observance of the Passover. We have stated the events in the order of their time, and as given in the Book of Kings, from which the arrangement in the Book of Chronicles differs only in appearance. Each of these two accounts relates, with different circumstantiality, one or other of the events mentioned—in each case in accordance with the different view-point of the writers, to which reference has frequently been made. Thus the main topic in the Book of Kings is the religious reformation, alike in its positive aspect as regarded the Temple, the Law, and national Religion (2 Kings 22:3; 23:3), and in its negative aspect in the abolition of idolatry (2 Kings 23:4-20). On the other hand, the chronicler records at greatest length, and with fullest detail, the Paschal observance (2 Chronicles 35:1-19), while he passes very briefly over what might appear as of graver importance (2 Chronicles 34:4-7). BHOTV7 165.1

This will explain what otherwise might have seemed a difficulty in the arrangement of the narrative. The account both in the Book of Kings and in Chronicles places the Temple restoration “in the eighteenth year of king Josiah.” But in the former the record of the religious reformation begins with this event, while the chronicler prefaces it by a very brief summary of what had previously been done for the abolition of idolatry (2 Chronicles 34:3-7). That something of this kind must have preceded the restoration of the Temple seems evident. It cannot be supposed that a monarch like Josiah should for seventeen years have tolerated all that Amon had introduced, and then, in his eighteenth year, suddenly proceeded to the sweeping measures which alike the writers of Kings and of Chronicles narrate. It is, therefore, only reasonable to accept the statement of the latter, that “in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young” [in his sixteenth year—when presumably he commenced personally to administer the government], king Josiah “began 3 to seek after the God of David his father,” and that “in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem” from their idolatry (2 Chronicles 34:3). BHOTV7 165.2

And then the chronicler, who, as we have stated, makes only briefest reference to the reformation described with such detail in 2 Kings 23:4-20, at once adds to the mention of the initial measures towards the abolition of idolatry a summary of what was finally done in that direction, after the restoration of the Temple and in consequence of the discovery of the Book of the Law (vers. 4-7). That such is really the purport of the narrative appears also from the reference at the close of the account of the Temple restoration in 2 Chronicles 34:33, which synchronizes with 2 Kings 23:4. BHOTV7 166.1

It was only natural that such preliminary measures as the chronicler relates should have been followed by, as indeed they must have stood in connection with, the restoration of the Temple and its services. This was done in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign. Nearly two and a half centuries had passed since the former restoration by Joash (2 Kings 12:4-16), and the sacred building must have greatly suffered under the idolatrous kings, especially during the late reigns of Manasseh and Amon. As the restoration was naturally on the same lines with the previous one under Joash, the two accounts are necessarily similar. The collections for the Temple repairs, to which reference is made, must have begun some years previously (2 Kings 22:4)—perhaps so early as the eighth year of the king’s reign. But what specially interests us is that contributions came not merely from Judah’, but from the Israelitish inhabitants of what had been the kingdomof Israel (2 Chronicles 34:9). This indicates not only a religious movement among them, such as previously in the time of Hezekiah, (Compare 2 Chronicles 30:1, 18.) but that politically also the remnant of Israel in the land was drawn into a hopeful alliance with Judah. Yet further insight into the character of the reformation now begun comes from the history of some of those whom the king employed, either now or later, in connection with it. Foremost among them is Hilkiah, the high priest, the father or grandfather of Seraiah 4 (1 Chronicles 6:13, 14; Nehemiah 11:11) who was high-priest at the time of the captivity (2 Kings 25:18), and an ancestor of Ezra (Ezra 7:1). Again, chief among those whom Josiah sent to Hilkiah, was Shaphan the Scribe (2 Kings 22:3), the father of Gemariah, 5 the protector of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:10, 19, 25), and grandfather of Micaiah (Jeremiah 36:20-13). 6 BHOTV7 166.2

Of the personages afterwards mentioned 1 Kings 22:14), we have definite notices about Ahikam (the son of another Shaphan), who protected Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24), and was the father of Gedaliah (2 Kings 25:22); and about Achbor, the father of Elnathan, one of those among “the princes of Judah” who vainly endeavored to prevent the burning of the prophetic roll dictated to Baruch by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:12). Scanty as these notices are, they leave the impression that Josiah had surrounded himself with men imbued, on the whole, with a true religious spirit. BHOTV7 167.1

This inference is the more important in view of the general state of the people. The whole history leads to the conviction that the reformation inaugurated by Josiah, although submitted to, and apparently shared in by the people, was not the outcome of a spiritual revival. It was a movement on the part of the king rather than of the nation. Of this we have only too much confirmation in the account which the prophets give of the moral and religious condition of the people, and of the evidently superficial and chiefly external character of the reformation. 7 BHOTV7 167.2

And as we derive our knowledge of it from the pages of Jeremiah, we bear in mind that the beginning of his prophetic activity, in the thirteenth year of Josiah (Jeremiah 1:2), synchronized with the commencement of the reformatory movement. Thus we further understand why the changes inaugurated, however extensive, could not avert, as the prophetess Huldah announced, the Divine judgment from the nation, but only from their king (2 Kings 22:14-20). A reformation such as this could be but transient, and the people hastened only the more rapidly to their final apostasy. BHOTV7 167.3

It was during the extensive repairs in the Temple that a discovery was made of the greatest influence on the movement about to begin, and which has, especially of late, been connected with some important critical questions regarding the Pentateuch. As we read in Holy Scripture, the high priest Hilkiah informed “Shaphan the Scribe,” that he had “found the book of the law (in 2 Chronicles 34:14: “the book of the law of the LORD, by the hand of Moses”) in the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:8). This book Hilkiah gave to Shaphan. Its perusal led Shaphan not only to inform the king of it, but to read the book to him. On this Josiah “rent his clothes,” in token of mourning for the guilt which Israel had incurred in their long absolute breach of its commandments. BHOTV7 167.4

Into the complicated questions, What was the exact compass of this special book (whether it comprised the whole Pentateuch, or what parts of it), and again, What was the date of this copy, and how it came to be found in the Temple—the present is not the place to enter. On some points, however, all sober-minded and reverent inquirers will be at one. Assuredly the finding of the book was not a fraud on the part of Hilkiah, 8 nor yet the book itself a forgery, either by Hilkiah or any priest or prophet of that or the immediately preceding period. BHOTV7 168.1

Assuming, as there is every reason to do, that certainly it contained the Book of Deuteronomy, and probably also other portions, if not the whole, of the Law, 9 we cannot imagine any reasonable motive on the part of the priesthood, and still less of the prophets, for the invention of such a book. 10 BHOTV7 168.2

And plainly it must have been accepted and its genuineness attested by Jeremiah, who at that time had already been five years in the prophetic office. The further question of the precise contents of the book is both difficult of discussion and not of great practical importance. Irrespective of the time 11 which the reading of the whole Pentateuch would have occupied (comp. here 2 Kings 23:2), the wording of Holy Scripture scarcely conveys in the first instance that the Book comprised the strictly historical portions of the Pentateuch (such as Genesis), but, as we expressly read, “the Book of the Covenant,” 12 and “the Book of the Law.” BHOTV7 168.3

The latter expression leads us in the present case to think, first of all, of that aspect of the law which specially affected the people, and the breach of which entailed the national judgment that Huldah had announced, and the apprehension of which had caused such consternation to the king. If so, we should perhaps not have to think in the first place of those ritual ordinances found in the central portions of the Pentateuch, which are now commonly called the “Priest Code.” These would chiefly affect the priesthood, nor perhaps could the people have followed with complete understanding the mere reading of their complicated ritual details. Besides, the previous history has furnished us with sufficient instances to show that, unlike the Law, the provisions and ordinances of the “Priest Code” must have been well known. 13 BHOTV7 169.1

On the other hand, the main contents of the Book of the Law read in hearing of the people must have concerned the whole fundamental relation between Israel and Jehovah. Hence we conclude that it must have contained, besides the Book of Deuteronomy, at any rate those portions of the Pentateuch which related to the same all-important subject. Beyond these suggestions, which are necessarily in the nature of conjectures, we cannot here discuss this question. But on the main points we cannot have any hesitation. In Deuteronomy 31:25, 26, we find directions for depositing the Book of the Law in the innermost Sanctuary, as indeed might have been expected. That in the various troubles, when during many reigns the Mosaic law and order of worship were so often set aside, “the book” should have been removed and hidden by pious hands, and so for a time have become lost, can as little surprise us as its finding during the thorough repairs of the Temple. 14 BHOTV7 169.2

And whatever the compass of this special book, the whole context shows, on the one hand, that it implies the embodiment of the Mosaic law in the Pentateuch, and, on the other, that the existence of that law was generally known and universally admitted as primitive, derived from the great Lawgiver himself, valid, and Divine. BHOTV7 170.1

We can now understand how, on hearing “the words of the Book of the Law,” the king had “rent his clothes” and “sent to inquire of the LORD” both concerning himself. and his people. For such breach of the covenant and the law, as he now knew Israel to have been guilty of, must involve signal judgment. In the execution of the king’s behest, they whom he sent, including the high-priest, addressed themselves to Huldah, “the prophetess,” the wife of Shallum, “the keeper of the wardrobe,” 15 who “dwelt in Jerusalem, in the second town.” 16 This part of the city is also designated 17 “the mortar” (Zephaniah 1:10, 11)—in the first place, probably, from its shape, being in the hollow of the valley, and surrounded by rising ground. BHOTV7 170.2

It probably formed the first addition to the old city which the increase of the population must have rendered necessary even in the time of Solomon. 18 BHOTV7 170.3

It occupied the upper part of the Tyropoeon valley west of the Temple area, and north of “the middle city,” and was the great business quarter, containing the markets, the bazaars, and homes of the industrial population. This may imply a comparatively humble outward position of “the prophetess.” Why a Jeremiah or a Zephaniah should not have been sought—whether they were not in Jerusalem or from other reasons it is impossible to conjecture. But that such a deputation should have unhesitatingly addressed itself at such a crisis and in a matter so important to a woman, not only indicates the exceptional position which Huldah occupied in general opinion 19—by the side of and even above the two other Old Testament prophetesses, 20 Miriam (Exodus 15:20) and Deborah (Judges 4:4)—but also casts light on the spiritual relations under the Old Testament, and on the religious conditions of the time. BHOTV7 171.1

Above all, it shows with what absolute freeness the Spirit of God selected the instruments which He employed in the execution of the Divine behests (comp. Joel 2:28, 29). BHOTV7 171.2

The plain and faithful words in which the prophetess announced the coming judgment (2 Kings 22:14-20) give a new and deeper meaning to the assembly of priests, prophets, and people from Jerusalem and from all parts of the land whom Josiah gathered to hear “the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 23:2). BHOTV7 171.3

Evidently in all that he did, the king was actuated by higher motives than merely the wish to avert punishment. In the Temple a solemn national “covenant” was made—no doubt, by the people expressing their assent to the law as binding upon them. In consequence of this, immediate measures were taken under the supervision of the high-priest and his subordinates 21 (2 Kings 23:4) for the removal of all the emblems of idolatry which had defiled the Temple. The various “vessels made for Baal and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven” were burnt (comp. Deuteronomy 7:25; 12:3), “in the fields of Kidron, north-east of the city 22 (comp. Jeremiah 31:40). Next, the Kemarim, 23 or non-Levitical priesthood, that officiated whether at the high places, or at the various shrines of idolatry, were “put down.” Thus the vile idol of Asherah was brought out from the sanctuary which it had desecrated, burnt by the brook Kidron, its ashes stamped to powder, and further to mark its profanation scattered over the common burying-place. 24 24Lastly, the houses erected in close proximity to the Temple itself, for the lowest form of frenzied heathen degradation, were broken down. BHOTV7 171.4

But these measures were not limited to the removal of idolatry from the Temple, and of the non-Levitical priesthood from office. Beside the Kemarim there were those of Levitical descent—Kohanim, or priests—who had celebrated an unlawful worship at the high places throughout Judah. 25 These unworthy members of the priesthood were brought to Jerusalem and declared unfit for strictly priestly service in the Temple, although not deprived of what to many must have been the only means of subsistence. 26 BHOTV7 172.1

At the same time any resumption of the former unlawful services was rendered impossible by the destruction of all the high places. Chief among these, as the common resort of those who passed in or came out of the city, were “the high places of the gates: that at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, [as well as] that at the left of a man, in the city-gate.” 27 BHOTV7 173.1

Similarly Topheth was permanently defiled. The sacred horses dedicated by previous kings to the sun, and perhaps used in processional worship, were “put away,” and the sun-chariots burned. The altars, alike those on the roof of the Aliyah of Ahaz, and those set up by Manasseh in the two courts of the Temple, were broken down, their debris “made to run down from thence,” 28 and the dust of them cast into the Kidron. BHOTV7 173.2

Nor was this all. Outside Jerusalem, on the southern point of the Mount of Olives, there appear still to have been remains of even more ancient idolatry, which dated from the time of Solomon. These were now removed, and the places desecrated. And beyond Judah proper the movement extended throughout the ancient kingdom of Israel, even to the remotest northern tribal possession of Naphtali (2 Chronicles 34:6). This again affords indication of an approximation between the Israelitish inhabitants left in what had been the northern kingdom and Judah. And in the increasing weakness of the Assyrian empire, alike Josiah and the Israelitish remnant may have contemplated a reunion and restoration under a king of the house of David. At any rate the rulers of Assyria were not in a condition to interfere in the affairs of Palestine, nor to check the influence which Josiah exercised over the northern tribes. On the other hand, we can understand that the measures against former idolatry should have been all the more rigorously carried out in the ancient Israelitish kingdom, which had so terribly suffered from the consequences of former apostasy (comp. 2 Kings 23:20). In Beth-el itself, the original seat of Jeroboam’s spurious worship, not only was the altar destroyed, but the high place—that is, the sanctuary there—was burned, as also the Asherah, which seems to have taken the place of the golden call But as they proceeded further publicly to defile the altar in the usual manner by burning upon it dead men’s bones, Josiah espied among the sepulchers close by—perhaps visible from where he stood 29—the monument 30 of the prophet of old sent to announce, in the high-day of the consecration of that altar, the desolation which should lay it waste (comp. 1 Kings 13:1, 2). BHOTV7 173.3

But while they rifled the graves of an idolatrous people, they reverently left untouched the sepulcher which held the bones of the man of God from Judah, and by their side those of his host, the prophet of Beth el. And so literally did the judgment announced of old come to pass, that the bodies of the idol-priests were slain upon the altars at which they had ministered. And not only in Beth-el, but in the furthest cities of Samaria—as the chronicler graphically and pathetically puts it (2 Chronicles 34:6), “in their ruins round about” 31—was judgment executed, and even more severely than according to the letter of the Deuteronomic law (Deuteronomy 17:2-5); for the representatives of the old idolatry were not only stoned, but slain “upon the altars.” BHOTV7 174.1

It is with almost a sense of relief that we turn from scenes like these 32 to the celebration of the Passover at Jerusalem by a people now at least outwardly purified and conformed to the Mosaic law. Of this festival, and the special mode of its observance, a full account is given in the Book of Chronicles 33 (2 Chronicles 35:1-19). This only need here be said, that whether as regards the circumstances of king and people, or the manner of the Paschal observance, BHOTV7 174.2

“surely there was not kept such a Passover from the days of the Judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah” (2 Kings 23:22). 34 BHOTV7 175.1