Josiah
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Kings of Judah

Josiah

II Kings 23; II Chronicles  34-35

Lesson audio

Restoring the Land

2nd Kings 23:5-20

We come now to the last good king of Judah, named Josiah. He is the great grandson of Hezekiah. Between him came Manasseh, a man of evil who eventually repented – but only after conquest by the Assyrians. His son, Amon, was so bad that he was assassinated after only two years. It brings Josiah to the throne at the age of eight.

In the Temple

It took only two generations to drag Judah down from the heights to which Hezekiah raised it. Here’s what Josiah had to deal with in the Temple alone:

  • A very prominent Asherah pole. This would include temple prostitutes, a common part of the worship of Asherah.
  • Not your sexual preference? There are also male prostitutes (homosexual ones; it’s a male dominated society.)[1]
  • Tapestries are being woven to be sent out to hang in the sacred groves of Asherah. Some translations make this “tents” – meaning in effect a portable house of worship.
  • Bronze horses and wooden chariots for worship of the sun god – and the chief priest thereof.

No doubt they called it tolerance. This is the first thing Josiah cleans up; judgment begins with the house of the Lord.

Old problems

Josiah next turns to two problems which have plagued Judah for hundreds of years:

  • First, there are priests who worship God in the “high places” – up until this time, ignored. The command of God is to worship at the Temple, but all previous kings ignored this. Perhaps Josiah didn’t realize that nothing could be done about that.
  • More impressively, he gets rid of the shrines to Ashtoreth (Asherah), Chemosh and Molech (infant sacrifice) which were set up by Solomon, about 300 years earlier.
  • He even destroys (in accordance with prophecy) the altar at Bethel.

He has an interesting method of making sure no one uses these altars again. He slaughters the priests of the foreign gods, and burns human bones on the altar before shattering it. He scatters the ashes over the graves of common people. It wouldn’t mean much today, but it was very compelling then.

Rebuilding the Temple

Finally, he commissions the rebuilding of the Temple. We get a lot of detail on who the craftsmen were, and how the work went. But, like Hezekiah, the important thing is the beginning. We straighten out the house of God first.

Reaction to the reading of the Law

2nd Chronicles 34:14-33

Hebrews 4:12 NIV For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Reaction

It is difficult to estimate the power of the Scriptures. One of the consistent features in time of decay is that the Scriptures are neglected. When I was a young man it was not uncommon for a preacher to spend most of his time in exegetical preaching – that is, preaching directly from the word of God. It is almost unknown in our church today; Scripture is considered to be “not relevant” and worse: “not hip, cool and with it.” Contemporary practice seems to be a series of sermons that could also pass for business seminars. But see here the power of the Scripture!

Josiah tears his robes. It’s a symbolic gesture of great distress (and an expensive one; cloth was high priced stuff in those days.) It speaks of his utter conviction by the word of God. He is king; the nation is in deep trouble.

So what does he do? Note what he doesn’t do: he does not pronounce a course of action; that would be presumptuous. Instead, he inquires of the Lord for guidance – via a woman. In those days that would be a very humble gesture.

God’s reply

We may learn from God’s reply:

  • First, Josiah’s repentance and humbling himself does not remove the wrath of God from Judah. It just postpones it.
  • Josiah, in effect, is standing in the gap as Moses did. It has the effect of sparing Josiah from the effects of this evil – but not Judah.

Which leads us to a question: is God being fair here? After all, as we shall see, the nation repents. How then can God be just and pour out his wrath upon them? Just because my father sinned, shall I be punished?

  • First, we have (by our rugged individualism ethic) abandoned the concept that a nation may be guilty. But God tells us so, over and over.
  • Second, there are lessons to be learned – and therefore taught. What are we to conclude from this?
  • Finally, there is this: at heart, we are all sinners – and therefore deserve hell for it. The astounding fact is not that God punishes this nation; the astounding fact is that God hasn’t already sent them to hell. It’s this way:

Exodus 33:19 NIV And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Restoring the Passover

2nd Chronicles 35:1-19

For Indiana Jones fans

Note to the utterly stuffy scholar of the Scriptures: c’mon, we have to have a little fun sometimes.

2 Chronicles 35:3 NIV He said to the Levites, who instructed all Israel and who had been consecrated to the LORD : "Put the sacred ark in the temple that Solomon son of David king of Israel built. It is not to be carried about on your shoulders. Now serve the LORD your God and his people Israel.

This is the last mention of the physical presence of the Ark of the Covenant. Later, Jeremiah prophesies that men will no longer swear by it; John, in Revelation, portrays it as being in heaven. But here we have the last ordinary mention of the ark. So, Indiana Jones fans, what can we learn?

  • It wasn’t in the Temple at the time – but was being carried around. Around where? We don’t know, but it shows that the ark must have been taken from the Temple for safekeeping.
  • It was in the hands of the Levites – meaning, it’s been continuously in the possession of people who were at least somewhat devoted to God.

What this means for its current location I do not know. But this is the primary evidence for the idea that the Babylonians took it. It is also some evidence for the Ethiopian theory. Implications, Dr. Jones?

“such a Passover”

Like Hezekiah, Josiah now celebrates the Passover – to great praise from the chroniclers. It is the greatest Passover celebration in the history of Judah and Israel. Why? It is not nearly as large as that of Hezekiah – but it conforms strictly to the Law of Moses. Hezekiah had various expedients in his.

Does it matter how strictly you follow the rules? Hezekiah’s Passover evidently met with the Lord’s acceptance; this one is better. Perhaps God’s approval for you is related to how closely you follow his divine will. Could it be?

Death of Josiah

2nd Chronicles 35:20-27

It is a most curious thing: none of the commentators, ancient, mediaeval or modern, have any idea what possessed Josiah to interfere with Neco’s expedition. A glance at the map will reveal the puzzle:

 

map

Josiah has at best a shaky claim to the territory through which Neco marches. Neco is on his way to assist the Assyrians (who will shortly be conquered by the Medes and Persians) well to the north. The Scripture does not seem to condemn Josiah for this move; it does appear, however, that he forgot to inquire of the Lord as to whether or not Pharaoh was indeed sent by the Lord. Why he went this way at all is still a puzzle.

The battle was well known to historians of antiquity; Josephus and Herodotus both mention it. It happened at Megiddo, the location of the final battle at Armageddon. There Josiah is severely wounded – and then suffers the bone jarring trip in a two-wheeled chariot back to Jerusalem. If the wound didn’t kill him, the ride did.[2] They buried him, they mourned him – and then faced the wrath of God. Never again would Judah be independent, but a vassal to foreign kings – starting with the Babylonian captivity. After Josiah, the storm broke.


[1] Note that the NIV fuzzes over this. The sin is not just prostitution, but homosexuality. The translators of the NIV consistently refuse to label this a sin.

[2] Students of Civil War history can read accounts of soldiers riding twenty miles in a wagon with springs over similar roads which caused similar deaths.

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