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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

2 Kings 23

Verse 2

The prophets - The suggestion to regard this word an error of the pen for “Levites,” which occurs in Chronicles (marginal reference), is unnecessary. For though Zephaniah, Urijah, and Jeremiah are all that we can name as belonging to the order at the time, there is no reason to doubt that Judaea contained others whom we cannot name. “Schools of the prophets” were as common in Judah as in Israel.

He read - The present passage is strong evidence that the Jewish kings could read. The solemn reading of the Law - a practice commanded in the Law itself once in seven years Deuteronomy 31:10-13 - had been intermitted, at least for the last 75 years, from the date of the accession of Manasseh.

Verse 3

By a pillar - Rather, “upon the pillar” (see 2 Kings 11:14, note).

Made a covenant - “The covenant.” Josiah renewed the old covenant made between God and His people in Horeb Deuteronomy 5:2, so far at least as such renewal was possible by the mere act of an individual. He bound himself by a solemn promise to the faithful performance of the entire Law.

With all their heart - “Their” rather than “his,” because the king was considered as pledging the whole nation to obedience with himself. He and they “stood to it,” i. e., “accepted it, came into the covenant.”

Verses 4-20

A parenthesis giving the earlier reforms of Josiah.

2 Kings 23:4

The priests of the second order - This is a new expression; and probably refers to the ordinary priests, called here “priests of the second order,” in contrast with the high priest, whose dignity was reviving (2 Kings 12:2 note).

The vessels - This would include the whole apparatus of worship, altars, images, dresses, utensils, etc., for Baal, etc. (2 Kings 21:3-5 notes).

The ashes of the idolatrous objects burned in the first instance in the “fields of Kidron” (i. e., in the part of the valley which lies northeast of the city, a part much broader than that between the Temple Hill and the Mount of Olives) were actually taken to Bethel, as to an accursed place, and one just beyond the borders of Judah; while those of other objects burned afterward were not carried so far, the trouble being great and the need not absolute, but were thrown into the Kidron 2 Kings 23:12, when there happened to be water to carry them away, or scattered on graves which were already unclean 2 Kings 23:6. Compare 1 Kings 15:13.

2 Kings 23:5

He put down … - or, “He caused to cease the idolatrous priests” (margin); i. e., he stopped them. The word translated “idolatrous priests” (see the margin) is a rare one, occurring only here and in marginal references. Here and in Zephaniah it is contrasted with כהן kôhên another class of high-place priests. The כהן kôhên were probably “Levitical,” the כהן kâhêm “non-Levitical priests of the highplaces.” כהן kâhêm appears to have been a foreign term, perhaps derived from the Syriac cumro, which means a priest of any kind.

Whom the kings of Judah had ordained - The consecration of non-Levitical priests by the kings of Judah (compare 1 Kings 12:31) had not been previously mentioned; but it is quite in accordance with the other proceedings of Manasseh and Amon.

The planets - See the marginal note, i. e., the “signs of the Zodiac.” Compare Job 38:32 margin. The word in the original probably means primarily “houses” or “stations,” which was the name applied by the Babylonians to their divisions of the Zodiac.

2 Kings 23:6

The ashes, being polluted and polluting, were thrown upon graves, because there no one could come into contact with them, since graves were avoided as unclean places.

2 Kings 23:7

By the house of the Lord - This did not arise from intentional desecration, but from the fact that the practices in question were a part of the idolatrous ceremonial, being regarded as pleasing to the gods, and, indeed, as positive acts of worship (compare the marginal reference).

The “women” were probably the priestesses attached to the worship of Astarte, which was intimately connected with that of the Asherah or “grove.” Among their occupations one was the weaving of coverings (literally “houses” margin) for the Asherah, which seem to have been of various colors (marginal reference).

2 Kings 23:8

Josiah removed the Levitical priests, who had officiated at the various high-places, from the scenes of their idolatries, and brought them to Jerusalem, where their conduct might be watched.

From Geba to Beer-sheba - i. e., from the extreme north to the extreme south of the kingdom of Judah. On Geba see the marginal reference note. The high-place of Beer-sheba had obtained an evil celebrity Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14.

The high places of the gates … - Render, “He brake down the high-places of the gates, both that which was at the entering in of the gate of Joshua, the governor of the city (1 Kings 22:26 note), and also that which was on a man‘s left hand at the gate of the city.” According to this, there were only two “high-places of the gates” (or idolatrous shrines erected in the city at gate-towers) at Jerusalem. The “gate of Joshua is conjectured to have been a gate in the inner wall; and the “gate of the city,” the Valley-gate (modern “Jaffa-gate”).

2 Kings 23:9

Nevertheless - Connect this verse with the first clause of 2 Kings 23:8. The priests were treated as if they had been disqualified from serving at the altar by a bodily blemish Leviticus 21:21-23. They were not secularised, but remained in the priestly order and received a maintenance from the ecclesiastical revenues. Contrast with this treatment Josiah‘s severity toward the priests of the high-places in Samaria, who were sacrificed upon their own altars 2 Kings 23:20. Probably the high-place worship in Judaea had continued in the main a worship of Yahweh with idolatrous rites, while in Samaria it had degenerated into an actual worship of other gods.

2 Kings 23:10

The word Topheth, or Topher - variously derived from toph, “a drum” or “tabour,” because the cries of the sacrificed children were drowned by the noise of such instruments; or, from a root taph or toph, meaning “to burn” - was a spot in the valley of Hinnom (marginal reference note). The later Jewish kings, Manasseh and Amon (or, perhaps, Ahaz, 2 Chronicles 28:3), had given it over to the Moloch priests for their worship; and here, ever since, the Moloch service had maintained its ground and flourished (marginal references).

2 Kings 23:11

The custom of dedicating a chariot and horses to the Sun is a Persian practice. There are no traces of it in Assyria; and it is extremely curious to find that it was known to the Jews as early as the reign of Manasseh. The idea of regarding the Sun as a charioteer who drove his horses daily across the sky, so familiar to the Greeks and Romans, may not improbably have been imported from Asia, and may have been at the root of the custom in question. The chariot, or chariots, of the Sun appear to have been used, chiefly if not solely, for sacred processions. They were white, and were drawn probably by white horses. The kings of Judah who gave them were Manasseh and Amon certainly; perhaps Ahaz; perhaps even earlier monarchs, as Joash and Amaziah.

In the suburbs - The expression used here פרברים parbārı̂ym is of unknown derivation and occurs nowhere else. A somewhat similar word occurs in 1 Chronicles 26:18, namely, פרבר parbār which seems to have been a place just outside the western wall of the temple, and therefore a sort of “purlieu” or “suburb.” The פרברים parbārı̂ym of this passage may mean the same place or it may signify some other “suburb” of the temple.

2 Kings 23:12

The upper chamber of Ahaz - Conjectured to be a chamber erected on the flat roof of one of the gateways which led into the temple court. It was probably built in order that its roof might be used for the worship of the host of heaven, for which house-tops were considered especially appropriate (compare the marginal references).

Brake them down from thence - Rather as in the margin, i. e., he “hasted and cast the dust into Kidron.”

2 Kings 23:13

On the position of these high-places see 1 Kings 11:7 note. As they were allowed to remain under such kings as Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah, they were probably among the old high-places where Yahweh had been worshipped blamelessly, or at least without any consciousness of guilt (see 1 Kings 3:2 note). Manasseh or Amon had however restored them to the condition which they had held in the reign of Solomon, and therefore Josiah would condemn them to a special defilement.

The mount of corruption - See the margin. It is suspected that the original name was Har ham-mishcah, “mount of anointing,” and that this was changed afterward, by way of contempt, into Har ham-mashchith, “mount of corruption.”

2 Kings 23:14

The Law attached uncleanness to the “bones of men,” no less than to actual corpses Numbers 19:16. We may gather from this and other passages 2 Kings 23:20; 1 Kings 13:2, that the Jews who rejected the Law were as firm believers in the defilement as those who adhered to the Law.

2 Kings 23:15

And burned the high place - This “high place” is to be distinguished from the altar and the grove (אשׁרה 'ăshêrâh ). It may have been a shrine or tabernacle, either standing by itself or else covering the “grove” (2 Kings 23:7 note; 1 Kings 14:23 note). As it was “stamped small to powder,” it must have been made either of metal or stone.

2 Kings 23:16

To burn human bones was contrary to all the ordinary Jewish feelings with respect to the sanctity of the sepulchre, and had even been denounced as a sin of a heinous character when committed by a king of Moab Amos 2:1. Joshua did it, because justified by the divine command (marginal reference).

2 Kings 23:17

What title is that? - Rather, “What pillar is that?” The word in the original indicates a short stone pillar, which was set up either as a way-mark Jeremiah 31:21, or as a sepulchral monument Genesis 35:20; Ezekiel 39:15.

2 Kings 23:19

The cities of Samaria - The reformation which Josiah effected in Samaria, is narrated in Chronicles. It implies sovereignty to the furthest northern limits of Galilee, and is explained by the general political history of the East during his reign. Between 632-626 B.C. the Scythians ravaged the more northern countries of Armenia, Media, and Cappadocia, and found their way across Mesopotamia to Syria, and thence, made an attempt to invade Egypt. As they were neither the fated enemy of Judah, nor had any hand in bringing that enemy into the country, no mention is made of them in the Historical Books of Scripture. It is only in the prophets that we catch glimpses of the fearful sufferings of the time Zephaniah 2:4-6; Jeremiah 1:13-15; Jeremiah 6:2-5; 2 Kings 23:20

Here, as in 2 Kings 23:16, Josiah may have regarded himself as bound to act as he did (marginal reference “b”). Excepting on account of the prophecy, he would scarcely have slain the priests upon the altars.

Verse 21

See 2 Kings 23:4 note. With this verse the author returns to the narrative of what was done in Josiah‘s 18th year. The need of the injunction, “as it was written in the book of this covenant,” was owing to the fact - not that Josiah had as yet held no Passover - but that the reading of the book had shown him differences between the existing practice and the letter of the Law - differences consequent upon negligence, or upon the fact that tradition had been allowed in various points to override the Law.

Verse 22

The details of the Passover are given by the author of Chronicles (the marginal reference). Its superiority to other Passovers seems to have consisted:

(1) in the multitudes that attended it; and

(2) in the completeness with which all the directions of the Law were observed in the celebration. Compare Nehemiah 8:17.

Verse 24

Perform - Rather, establish. Josiah saw that it was necessary, not only to put down open idolatry, but also to root out the secret practices of a similar character which were sometimes combined with the worship of Yahweh, notwithstanding that the Law forbade them (marginal references), and which probably formed, with many, practically almost the whole of their religion.

Verse 25

And like unto him … - See 2 Kings 18:5 note. We must not press the letter of either passage, but regard both kings as placed among the very best of the kings of Judah.

Verse 26

See the marginal references. True repentance might have averted God‘s anger. But the people had sunk into a condition in which a true repentance was no longer possible. Individuals, like Josiah, were sincere, but the mass of the nation, despite their formal renewal of the covenant 2 Kings 23:3, and their outward perseverance in Yahweh-worship 2 Chronicles 34:33, had feigned rather than felt repentance. The earlier chapters of Jeremiah are full at once of reproaches which he directs against the people for their insincerity, and of promises if they would repent in earnest.

Verse 27

It added to the guilt of Judah that she had had the warning of her sister Israel‘s example, and had failed to profit by it.

Verse 28

Josiah lived for 13 years after the celebration of his great Passover. Of this period we know absolutely nothing, except that in the course of it he seems to have submitted himself to Nabopolassar; who, after the fall of Nineveh, was accepted as the legitimate successor of the Assyrian monarchs by all the nations of the western coast. Josiah, after perhaps a little hesitation (see Jeremiah 2:18, Jeremiah 2:36), followed the example of his neighbors, and frankly accepted the position of an Assyro-Babylonian tributary. In this state matters remained until 608 B.C., when the great events happened which are narrated in 2 Kings 23:29.

Verse 29

Pharaoh-Nechoh - This king is well known to us both from profane historians, and from the Egyptian monuments. He succeeded his father Psammetichus (Psamatik) in the year 610 B.C., and was king of Egypt for 16 years. He was an enlightened and enterprising monarch. The great expedition here mentioned was an attempt to detach from the newly-formed Babylonian empire the important tract of country extending from Egypt to the Euphrates at Carchemish. Calculating probably on the friendship or neutrality of most of the native powers, the Egyptian monarch, having made preparations for the space of two years, set out on his march, probably following the (usual) coast route through Philistia and Sharon, from thence intending to cross by Megiddo into the Jezreel (Esdraelon) plain.

The king of Assyria - This expression does not imply that Nineveh had not yet fallen. The Jews, accustomed to Assyrian monarchs, who held their courts alternately at Nineveh and Babylon 2 Kings 19:36; 2 Chronicles 33:11, at first regarded the change as merely dynastic, and transferred to the new king, Nabopolassar, the title which they had been accustomed to give to their former suzerains. When, later on, Nebuchadnezzar invaded their country they found that he did not call himself “King of Assyria,” but “King of Babylon,” and thenceforth that title came into use; but the annalist who wrote the life of Josiah inmediately upon his death, and whom the author of Kings copied, used, not unnaturally, the more familiar, though less correct, designation.

Josiah went against him - Josiah probably regarded himself as in duty bound to oppose the march of a hostile force through his territory to attack his suzerain. For further details see the account in Chronicles (marginal reference). On Megiddo, see Joshua 12:21 note.

Verse 30

Dead - It appears from a comparison of this passage with 2Chronicles (marginal reference) that Josiah was not actually killed in the battle.

Jehoahaz - Or Shallum (the marginal note). He may have taken the name of Jehoahaz (“the Lord possesses”) on his accession. He was not the eldest son of Josiah (see 2 Kings 23:36 note). The mention of “anointing” here favors the view that there was some irregularity in the succession (see 1 Kings 1:34 note).

Verse 33

Pharaoh-Nechoh, after bringing Phoenicia and Syria under his rule, and penetrating as far as Carchemish, returned to Southern Syria, and learned what had occurred at Jerusalem in his absence. He sent orders to Jehoahaz to attend the court which he was holding at Riblah, and Jehoahaz fell into the trap Ezekiel 19:4.

Riblah still retains its name. It is situated on the Orontes, in the Coele-Syrian valley, near the point where the valley opens into a wide and fertile plain. Neco seems to have been the first to perceive its importance. Afterward Nebuchadnezzar made it his headquarters during his sieges of Jerusalem and Tyre 2 Kings 25:21; Jeremiah 39:5; Jeremiah 52:9-10, Jeremiah 52:26.

Verse 34

In the room of Josiah his father - Not “in the room of Jehoahaz his brother;” the phrase is intended to mark the fact, that Neco did not acknowedge that Jehoahaz had ever been king.

Turned his name to Jehoiakim - Compare 2 Kings 23:30 and 2 Kings 24:17. It seems likely, from their purely Jewish character, that the new names of the Jewish kings, though formally imposed by the suzerain, were selected by the individuals themselves. The change now made consisted merely in the substitution of יהוה yehovâh for אל 'êl (“God, Yahweh, will set up”). Both names alike refer to the promise which God made to David 2 Samuel 7:12 and imply a hope that, notwithstanding the threats of the prophets, the seed of David would still be allowed to remain upon the throne.

Verse 36

Twenty and five years old - Jehoiakim was therefore two years older than his half-brother, Jehoahaz 2 Kings 23:31. See his character in 2 Kings 23:37; 2 Chronicles 36:8; Ezekiel 19:5-7; Jeremiah 22:13-17; Jeremiah 26:20-23,36:

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.