Extent of Josiah's reforms (23:1-27)
Josiah was not discouraged by the prophecy of judgment on Judah. Rather he intensified his efforts to change his people. His greater reformation would now begin. To gain the cooperation of all the leading citizens, he explained to them the contents of the book on which he was basing his reforms, and invited them to join with him in renewing the covenant with God (23:1-3).
With uncompromising zeal, Josiah removed all idolatrous priests and destroyed all shrines and sacred objects associated with other gods, whether in Judah or in former Israel. After the removal of the country shrines, he centralized Judah's worship in Jerusalem where it could be properly supervised. Although most priests came to live in Jerusalem, some refused (4-14; 2 Chronicles 34:6-7). At Bethel he burnt the bones of the false prophets on their altar and then destroyed it, as foretold by a godly prophet of an earlier era. But he was careful not to damage the tomb where the bones of the godly prophet lay (15-20; cf. 1 Kings 13:1-3; 1 Kings 13:29-32).
On the positive side, Josiah re-established the worship of Yahweh by keeping the Passover. The festival had added significance at this time, as it symbolized a fresh deliverance from bondage (21-23; for details of this Passover see 2 Chronicles 35:1-19). He also ordered the removal of all private household gods, and prohibited all forms of spiritism and fortune telling. Apart from Hezekiah, Josiah was the only king of Judah to receive unqualified praise from the writer of Kings (24-25; cf. 18:5).
Nevertheless, Josiah's reforms were not enough to remove the idolatrous ideas deeply rooted in the minds of the people. Few were genuinely converted, and God did not remove his earlier sentence of judgment (26-27).
Warnings from Jeremiah
Jeremiah was from a priestly family, but God called him to be a prophet. His prophetic work began about 627 BC, during the reforms of Josiah (Jeremiah 1:1-2; cf. 2 Chronicles 34:3; 2 Chronicles 34:8). But Jeremiah says little about the reforms. This was no doubt because he saw there had been no basic change in the hearts of the people, and therefore the changes in the external forms of the religion would have no lasting effect. Although Jeremiah did not discourage the zealous king from the good work he was doing, he pointed out to the people that if they did not change their behaviour and attitudes, they would not escape God's judgment (Jeremiah 11:15; Jeremiah 14:12).
After the death of Josiah, Jeremiah's warnings became more urgent. He assured the people of Judah that because of their persistent rebellion against God, they would be taken captive to Babylon (Jeremiah 21:2-7). Jeremiah became a prominent national figure during the time of Judah's later kings, and his ministry lasted till after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. He was violently opposed by leaders and common people alike, and on occasions imprisoned (Jeremiah 20:1-6; Jeremiah 26:1-11; Jeremiah 28:1-17; Jeremiah 37:1-21; Jeremiah 38:1-28). The significance of Jeremiah and his protests will become clear as the story moves on.
Nahum and the destruction of the Assyrians
While Josiah was reigning in Judah, great changes were occurring among the more powerful countries of the region. Most important of these changes was the decline of Assyria and the rise of Babylon. This was foreseen by the prophet Nahum, whose short book is wholly concerned with the destruction of the Assyrian capital Nineveh and the end of Assyrian power (Nahum 1:1-2; Nahum 2:8). Nahum rejoiced that at last a fitting divine judgment was going to fall on such an arrogant and brutal oppressor (Nahum 2:13; Nahum 3:1; Nahum 3:7; Nahum 3:18-19).
Egypt and Babylon (23:28-30)
During the years of Assyria's declining power, Egypt took the opportunity to extend its influence. But Babylon had now risen to power, and in 612 BC it conquered Nineveh. Pharaoh Necho of Egypt, fearing this Babylonian expansion, went to help what was left of Assyria to withstand Babylon. He no doubt hoped that Assyria might yet form some sort of defence barrier between Egypt and Babylon.
Josiah apparently saw this Assyrian-Egyptian alliance as a threat to Judah's independence. He preferred Assyria to remain weak and tried to stop Egypt from helping it. This proved to be a fatal move. Judah was defeated and Josiah killed in battle (609 BC). By a decision of Judah's leading officials, Josiah's second son Jehoahaz (or Joahaz) was made the new king (28-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-25). Meanwhile, as Babylonian power expanded, Assyria collapsed, and its national identity disappeared.
Habakkuk's problem concerning Babylon
God was preparing Babylon to be his instrument to punish Judah. The prophet Habakkuk was puzzled when he learnt of this, because he knew that the people of Babylon were even worse sinners than the people of Judah. In his book he records how he argued with God about this matter, and how God reassured him that any of the people of Judah who remained faithful to him would enjoy his favour. The Babylonians, however, because of their pride at conquering God's people, would themselves suffer God's punishment (Habakkuk 1:6; Habakkuk 1:13; Habakkuk 2:4; Habakkuk 2:16).
End of Judah's independence (23:31-37)
Pharaoh Necho now considered himself to be the controller of Judah, and would not accept the king chosen by the people of Judah. The unfortunate Jehoahaz was thrown into prison and later taken to Egypt, where he eventually died. Necho made Jehoahaz's older brother Jehoiakim king instead, and placed a heavy tax on Judah (31-37).
It soon became clear why the people of Judah had not chosen Jehoiakim as king. He was a proud, cruel and oppressive ruler, who murdered those who opposed him and insultingly rejected the advice of God's prophets (see 24:4; Jeremiah 26:20-23; Jeremiah 36:1-32). In spite of the heavy taxes his country had to pay Egypt, he built himself luxurious royal buildings, forcing people to work on his selfish projects without payment (Jeremiah 22:13-17).
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week of Lent