Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 23

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-30

D. Josiah’s Good Reign 22:1-23:30

Since Josiah was eight years old when his father died at age 22, he must have been born when Amon was only 14. It was very common, both in the ancient Near East generally and in Israel, for kings to marry very young and to father children when they were early teenagers. [Note: Nadav Na’aman, "Historical and Chronological Notes on the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the Eighth Century B.C.," Vetus Testamentum 36 (1986):83-91.]

The years Josiah ruled were 640-609 B.C., 31 years. During his reign Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell in 612 B.C., as did the Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C., to Babylon. Thus world leadership passed from Assyria to Babylon during Josiah’s reign. [Note: For a detailed study of the chronology of this period, see A. Malamat, "The Last Kings of Judah and the Fall of Jerusalem," Israel Exploration Journal 18:3 (1968):137-56.]

Verses 3-27

2. Josiah’s reforms 22:3-23:27

Josiah began to seek Yahweh when he was 16 years old and began initiating religious reforms when he was 20 (2 Chronicles 34:3-7). His reforms were more extensive than those of any of his predecessors. One of them involved the repair of Solomon’s temple (2 Kings 22:5; cf. 2 Kings 12:4-16). He began this project when he was 26.

". . . Josiah rules during years in which Assyria fades but also those in which Babylon is not yet ready to rule as far west as Judah and in a time when Egypt does not yet attempt to rule the smaller nations north of the border. Judah thereby gets a rest from its constant role as political football." [Note: House, p. 382.]

It seems probable that Manasseh or Amon had destroyed existing copies of Israel’s covenant constitution since there is every reason to believe that Hezekiah knew the Mosaic Law (cf. chs. 18-20). This would not have been difficult because in ancient times there were few copies of even official documents.

Some scholars have interpreted 2 Kings 22:8-10 as meaning that Hilkiah found the Book of Deuteronomy, but it was not the writing of Moses. They have hypothesized that someone in Josiah’s day composed this Deuteronomy about 621 B.C. to encourage centralization of worship in Jerusalem. Conservative scholars have rejected this late date theory of Deuteronomy for several reasons. The laws peculiar to it, and the nature of the commands that presuppose a wilderness wanderings context and anticipation of entrance into the Promised Land, argue against a late date of composition. Furthermore, the names of deity used in it, the detailed geographical data, and the anachronism of stressing centralization of worship in Jerusalem after the fall of the Northern Kingdom make this theory unlikely. "The book of the law" here seems to refer to the entire Torah (Pentateuch), not just the Book of Deuteronomy.

Josiah’s shock at hearing the Law read points to the fact that people had been unfamiliar with it for a long time. 2 Kings 22:13 is especially helpful in understanding Josiah’s perception of and response to God’s will. He was a genuinely humble man who trembled at the Word of the Lord. Josiah made monotheism the official theology again, but it is hard to say how many of the people abandoned other gods. The prophets who wrote in that time bewailed the lack of true godliness in the nation.

Other prophets beside Huldah lived in and around Jerusalem at this time: Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1), Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1), and perhaps Nahum and Habakkuk. Nevertheless, for reasons unexplained in the text, the king sought the prophetess Huldah in her residence in Jerusalem’s Second Quarter (2 Kings 22:14; i.e., the southern, lower part of the city topographically). His willingness to seek guidance from a woman demonstrates Josiah’s humility. God would judge Judah, but He would spare Josiah because he humbled himself under Yahweh’s authority (2 Kings 22:19). The king would die in peace (2 Kings 22:20). His death in 609 B.C. was four years before King Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack on Jerusalem in 605 B.C.

Josiah died in battle (22:29-30). The promise of his dying in peace therefore probably means that he would die before God ended the peace of Jerusalem by bringing Nebuchadnezzar against it. Some commentators have taken the promise as referring to the fact that Josiah evidently died at peace with God. [Note: E.g., Patterson and Austel, p. 284.]

Josiah did not wait for the completion of the temple renovation before he assembled the people and personally read some parts of the Mosaic Law to them (2 Kings 23:2). Perhaps he read the portions that dealt with God’s covenant with Israel (i.e., Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28-30) or perhaps Deuteronomy 12-26 or 5-30. [Note: Auld, p. 222.] He then rededicated himself to Yahweh, and the people renewed their commitment to the covenant as a nation (2 Kings 22:3; cf. 2 Kings 2:3; Exodus 19:8; Joshua 24:21-24).

Putting the ashes, which burning the relics connected with Baal worship created, on the Bethel altar would have made it unclean (2 Kings 22:4). Evidently Josiah scattered more ashes on the graves of the common people because they had been idolaters (2 Kings 22:6). Male prostitutes had apparently been living in the side rooms of the temple (2 Kings 22:7). The king excluded the Levitical priests who had offered sacrifices on the high places from serving at the rededicated altar. Nevertheless he permitted them to eat the unleavened bread the worshippers brought to the temple (2 Kings 22:9; cf. Leviticus 6:9-10; Leviticus 6:16). Topheth was the place where child sacrifice had taken place (2 Kings 22:10; cf. 2 Kings 16:3; Joshua 15:8). The people had also used horses and chariots to honor the sun (2 Kings 22:11). This was a common practice in the ancient Near East. [Note: Patterson and Austel, p. 287.] The Mount of Destruction was the hill on the southern portion of the Mount of Olives, later known as the Hill of Corruption (cf. 1 Kings 11:5; 1 Kings 11:7).

Josiah finally destroyed Jeroboam’s altar at Bethel (2 Kings 22:15) and desecrated the site. The young prophet from Judah had predicted Josiah’s actions back in Jeroboam’s day (2 Kings 22:16; cf. 1 Kings 13:2-3). The king even extended his purges into formerly Israelite territory (2 Kings 22:19-20).

Josiah also replaced pagan worship with revived Yahweh worship. He conducted his Passover celebration with more attention to the Law than anyone had done since the days of the judges. Teraphim (v. 24) were household gods that some people connected with oracles and sources of prosperity. Josiah was Judah’s most careful king regarding the Mosaic Covenant (22:25). He is the only king described with the exact wording of Deuteronomy 6:5: he turned to the Lord "with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might." Hezekiah was praiseworthy for his great trust in Yahweh (2 Kings 18:5), and Josiah excelled in his obedience to Yahweh.

Notice that in the sequence of reforms that the writer narrated, the discovery of the Law (2 Kings 22:8-13) that took place during the repairing of the temple (2 Kings 22:3-7) led to the other reforms. This order is another indication of the writer’s purpose. He emphasized the centrality of the Law in Israel’s life. [Note: See Lyle Eslinger, "Josiah and the Torah Book: Comparison of 2 Kings 22:1-23:28 and 2 Chronicles 34:1-35:19," Hebrew Annual Review 10 (1986):37-62.]

Verses 28-30

3. Josiah’s death 23:28-30

The king seems to have preferred Babylon to Assyria in his foreign policy. When Egyptian armies moved up the Mediterranean coast to join Assyria in resisting Babylonian advance westward, Josiah intercepted Pharaoh Neco II (609-595 B.C.) at Megiddo and tried to stop him. Unfortunately for Judah, the Egyptians killed Josiah there in 609 B.C. Egypt continued north, united with Assyria, and battled Babylon at Carchemish on the upper Euphrates River. There Babylon defeated the allies and broke the domination of the Assyrian Empire over the ancient Near Eastern world. The Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. was one of the most important in ancient Near Eastern history for this reason. [Note: See the map "The Babylonian Empire" in Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., p. 434.]

Josiah was a strong influence for righteousness in his day and a very capable ruler. The success of his far-reaching reforms indicates his ability to overcome much popular opinion that must have opposed his convictions. His influence for good extended even into the fallen territory of Israel. [Note: See the map of his kingdom in Wiseman, p. 295.] Unfortunately, he died prematurely as a result of his unwise decision to challenge Pharaoh Neco (cf. 2 Chronicles 35:20-27).

Verses 31-35

E. Jehoahaz’s Evil Reign 23:31-35

Jehoahaz, whose other name was Shallum, was the middle of Josiah’s three sons, all of whom ruled Judah after Josiah. Jehoahaz was the people’s choice (2 Kings 23:31), but he reigned for only three months in 609 B.C.

When Pharaoh Neco defeated Josiah at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29), Judah fell under Egyptian control. Neco summoned Josiah’s successor Jehoahaz to meet him at Riblah. This town stood about 65 miles north of Damascus in central Aramea. The meeting took place before the battle of Carchemish. Neco found Jehoahaz obstinate, as his father had been, so he imprisoned him and sent him back to Egypt (2 Kings 23:34) where he died later (Jeremiah 22:10-12). Neco also imposed a heavy tax on Judah (2 Kings 23:33) and installed Jehoahaz’s older brother Eliakim on Judah’s throne as his puppet. The naming of a person shows superiority over that person. Neco was declaring his sovereignty over Judah’s king by renaming him Jehoiakim.

F. Jehoiakim’s Evil Reign 23:36-24:7

Jehoiakim, formerly named Eliakim, reigned as a puppet king for 11 years (609-598 B.C.). He was a weak ruler who did not stand up for Judah’s interests against her hostile enemies.

In 605 B.C. Prince Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian army of his father Nabopolassar against the allied forces of Assyria and Egypt and defeated them at Carchemish. This victory, as previously explained, gave Babylon supremacy in the ancient Near East. With Babylon’s victory Egypt’s vassals, including Judah, came under Babylon’s control. Shortly after that event, in the same year that Nabopolassar died, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded him. Nebuchadnezzar then moved south and invaded Judah (605 B.C.). He took some captives to Babylon including Daniel (Daniel 1:1-3). This was the first of Judah’s three deportations in which the Babylonians took groups of Judahites to Babylon.

Jehoiakim submitted to Nebuchadnezzar for three years but then rebelled. He appealed to Egypt for help unsuccessfully (2 Kings 24:1; 2 Kings 24:7). Foreign raiders who sought to take advantage of her weakened condition besieged Judah (2 Kings 24:2). The Babylonians then took Jehoiakim to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:6). Later they allowed him to return to Jerusalem where he died (Jeremiah 22:19).

Jehoiakim did little to postpone God’s judgment on Judah for her previous sins. The prophet Jeremiah despised him for his wickedness (Jeremiah 22:18-19; Jeremiah 26:20-23; Jeremiah 36).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.