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A King’s Heartfelt Reform

By Kyle Pope

The Holy Spirit says of Josiah:

Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him. (II Kings 23:25,NKJV).

This is high praise, particularly in light of the fact that Josiah’s short life lasted only thirty-nine years. These were not years of ease and leisure. Josiah was born into a kingdom of wickedness. His father Amon and his grandfather Manasseh had reversed all of the righteous reforms of his noble great-grandfather Hezekiah (II Kings 21). High places for idolatrous worship and altars to Baal stood throughout the land (II Kings 21:3). In the temple itself altars to pagan deities had been built (II Kings 21:5) and a wooden idol, called an Asherah (II Kings 21:7). Josiah’s fathers had practiced witchcraft, child sacrifice and consultation of spiritists and mediums (II Kings 21:6). Josiah came to the throne at the tender age of eight, after his father’s own servants had killed him (II Chronicles 33:24).

     Conventional wisdom would assume that Josiah would follow the same wickedness as his family. Yet, II Chronicles 34:3 tells us that in the eighth year of his reign, at sixteen years old, “he began to seek the God of his father David.” This spiritual quest took him to heights he would never have imagined. Four years later he began to purge Judah of idolatry, destroying the altars of Baal, pulverizing the molded, carved and wooden images and scattering the dust on the graves of those who had worshiped at their altars (II Chronicles 34:4). We must never assume that growing up in a difficult environment locks a person into a life of wickedness. Nor should we forget the great moral potential that rests in a young heart (even in a teenager’s heart).

     Second Chronicles makes it clear that Josiah began his first efforts to purge Israel’s idolatry with a relatively naive understanding of what it meant to “seek the God of his father David.” As is often the case someone may have religious fervor but not have a complete knowledge of God’s law. The challenge is not to be satisfied with following our own definition of righteousness, nor shrink back when we learn God’s. Six years later, in the eighteenth year of his reign, an event took place which changed Josiah forever (II Chronicles 34:8). After his initial purge, he commissioned a major restoration of the temple. In the course of this effort the High Priest, Hilkiah found “the book of the Law of the Lord [given] by Moses” (II Chronicles 34:14). A scribe named, Shaphan read the book to the king, and as he heard God’s instructions his heart was broken recognizing how his nation and his fathers had sinned against God. He tore his clothes in remorse and commanded that inquiry be made to the Lord, “because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book to do according to all that is written concerning us” (II Kings 22:13).

     The Lord revealed to Josiah that the He would destroy Judah and Jerusalem because of their wickedness (II Kings 22:16-17; II Chronicles 34:24-25). Yet, to Josiah, God promised “because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words” (II Chronicles 34:27) He would not bring this destruction during Josiah’s reign. God’s mercy motivated even more efforts on his part to cleanse Judah. God’s forgiveness must never lead us to take sin lightly, but encourage us to put sin far from us. Josiah destroyed the idols and booths for ritual homosexual prostitution that were inside the temple (II Kings 23:4-7). He burned the bones of dead idolatrous priests and scattered their ashes over former places of idolatry (II Chronicles 34:4,5). Josiah “defiled” the place of child sacrifice to Molech in the Hinnom Valley, outside of Jerusalem called Topheth, so that idolatry could not be practiced there again (II Kings 23:10). In fulfillment of a prophesy concerning him he destroyed the altar built by Jeroboam in Bethel, and burned the bones of its priests over it (II Kings 23:15,16; I Kings 13:1-34).

     Josiah also moved forward constructively to move the people to a restoration of true worship. It doesn’t matter if people forget what God has taught. It remains true when it is first given and to generations in the future who are drowning in falsehood and human tradition. Josiah led the people to observe the Passover in such a way as, “...had never been held since the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah” (II Kings 23:22). Josiah reigned thirteen years after finding of the book of the law (II Kings 22:1). He died when he was mortally wounded opposing Pharaoh Neco at Megiddo and he was lamented by all the people and the prophet Jeremiah (II Chronicles 35:20-27).

     God commanded the Israelites:“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus later taught that this is the “first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). II Kings 23:25 describes Josiah’s turning to the Lord with the same words, he turned, “with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might.” If we seek God, if we love God, if we appreciate God’s mercy, if we have learned what He asks of us, we must do no less.

Pope, Kyle. "A King's Heartfelt Reform" Biblical Insights 3.10 (October 2003): 22-23.  

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