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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

2 Kings 23

Verses 1-3

Second Kings - Chapter 23 AND Second Chronicles - Chapter 34 (Cont’d)

Covenanting with God – Commentary on 2 Kings 23:1-3 AND 2 Chronicles 34:29-33

King Josiah did not resign himself to the inevitable decree of God, that judgment must fall on Judah for their sins irrevocably. The king knew the graciousness and mercy of God and His readiness to lift the sentence of judgment against those who would repent (see Jonah 4:2; Exodus 34:6-7). He determined to do all within his royal power to reverse the downward trend of Judah and save them from destruction. He began by gathering the elders from throughout the kingdom, with all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

They met in the temple, where the king stood by one of the pillars to address the convention. The priests and prophets were made a special part of the meeting also. The king read to them the "book of the covenant."

This is a very strong intimation that the book which had been lost was the fifth of the Pentateuch, that of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, chapters 29 and 30, Moses delivered to Israel what is called the Palestinian Covenant. It is not the same covenant as that called the Mosaic Covenant, which included the ten commandments (De 29:1), but was "beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb." It was the covenant whereby the Lord would bless Israel in the land of Canaan (Palestine). It stated what He expected of them and warned them of His certain judgment for their disobedience.

It was Josiah’s purpose, to have the people of Judah and Jerusalem renew the covenant. He took the initiative and bound himself with all his heart and soul to keep all the commandments, testimonies, and statutes demanded by the covenant. The Kings account concludes, "And all the people .stood to the covenant." However, the Chronicles account indicates that there may have been a great deal of coercion on the part of the king to gain the agreement of the people to renew the covenant.

There is not the spontaneous response which occurred in the days of Hezekiah, when the people turned back to the Lord (2 Chronicles 29:36).

Josiah proceeded to put feet to his vow by renewing his campaign to eradicate all idolatry and cultism from the kingdom. Not content with that he also extended it to all countries where he had power. This included the former northern kingdom, which as has been seen, was mostly forgotten by the Assyrian conquerors while they struggled against powerful enemies out of the east.

Verses 4-14

Reformation Continued - 23:4-14

The chronology of the present passage in relation to that previously studied at 2 Chronicles 34:1-7 is not clear. Verse 3 of the Chronicles passage states that Josiah began in his twelfth year to purge Judah and Jerusalem of their idolatry. The passage proceeds to relate many of the things found in the present passage from Kings. It is probable that the Chronicles account is a summary of the things undertaken of that nature in all of Josiah’s reign. If not so, then the early purging of the king was far from completed. For in this passage it is seen that the king launched a campaign of complete removal of pagan corruption after the renewal of the covenant in which much corrupt practice was ended.

The cleansing began with the house of the Lord, the command going to Hilkiah the high priest and the common priests to bring out all that remained of paganistic import from the temple precincts. This included things which had been left there from the time of Ahaz and Manasseh. They included vessels dedicated to Baal, the grove, the host of heaven. They were carried out of the city to the fields in the Kidron valley and burned to ashes. The ashes were carried to the pagan calf shrine in Bethel and dumped there. The priests of all these pagan groups were "put down," the manner not being told. The grove of prostitution which was in the temple was brought out, burned, and the ashes strewed on the graves of its victims. A house of sodomy, which had been erected alongside the temple, was destroyed and the women employed there in weaving hangings to hide the lewd performances in the grove were removed.

Josiah collected all the pagan priests out of the cities, defiled their high places from Geba in the north to Beer-sheba in the south. A notable site of idolatry stood by the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, where it seems that official was worshipping. However the priests of the high places never came to the temple and its altar, though they professed to be serving the Lord. Piously they partook of the unleavened bread just as the shewbread of the temple.

The king defiled the valley of Topheth where the children had been sacrificed to the heathen god Molech in direct disobedience to the Lords explicit command (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2). The horses which were used in the worship of the sun, and their chariots, were destroyed. The altars Ahaz had erected atop the chambers and those of Manasseh in the court were beaten down, their dust dumped in the Kidron. Some high places, such as the mount of corruption, in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, had been there since they were erected by Solomon. Here were shrines to the Zidonian Ashtoreth, the Moabite Chemosh, and the Ammonite Milcom. Everywhere Josiah found any vestige of idolatry he sought to purge it.

Verses 15-23

Prophecy Fulfilled - 23:15-23

These verses are the detailed relation of Josiah’s venture into the tribes of the former northern kingdom, summarily mentioned in the former Chronicles passage. He came to Bethel, where centuries earlier Jeroboam, the first king of the divided kingdom of Israel, had erected the calf altar to keep his people from returning to Jerusalem to worship (1Kings chapter 13). Note again the sad epithet ascribed to that wicked man, "who made Israel to sin." At long last the altar was destroyed. Josiah stamped it to powder and burned its grove.

Around the altar were numerous sepulchres of those who had served the calf temple, or were otherwise considered religiously connected. Josiah glancing around him noted these and commanded his men to empty them of their bones and to burn them on their false altar, thus polluting it so that even a pagan would no longer be willing to offer sacrifices on it. All of this was in fulfillment of the prophecy of the man of God from Judah who came to Jeroboam in those earlier times and told him what would happen to his altar. The name of the king who would do it, Josiah, was even revealed (1 Kings 13:2). This prophecy was delivered nearly three hundred years before it was fulfilled. Unbelieving skeptics and modernists do not believe such a forecast is possible, but he would be less than a God who did not foreknow the future and be able to reveal it if within His plan and purpose.

The king’s attention was drawn to one particular sepulchre and its epitaph. When he inquired about it he was told by the local men that it was the tomb of the unnamed prophet who came from Judah and foretold the very things Josiah was now doing to the altar. For this reason Josiah would not disturb his bones, but left them, along with the old prophet who deceived the prophet of Judah into returning to Bethel contrary to the Lord’s command. He had made specific command that his sons bury him in the same tomb with the young prophet, for the things he foretold would surely come to pass (1 Kings 13:11 ff). God’s words may be long in coming to pass, but they will certainly be fulfilled (Habakkuk 2:3).

Josiah went throughout the Samaritan country tearing down altars, burning idols, destroying high places everywhere the wicked kings of the northern kingdom of Israel had erected them. He put the heathen priests to death and burned human bones on their altars. This is especially interesting inasmuch as the people then living there were of mixed blood, being descendants of those the Assyrian kings had brought in to resettle the land after the people of the northern kingdom were deported to far away lands. The reaction of these heathen people to Josiah’s boldness is not revealed.

When this was accomplished Josiah gave command to observe the Passover again. The inspired chronicler of this passage was so impressed by the magnitude of this Passover observance that he supposed there had not been so great a one since the days of the judges, nor even in the times of the kings. The reference to the observance of the Passover in Josiah’ eighteenth year further implies that these are the detailed events summarized in 2 Chronicles 34:17.

Let the student consider these lessons: 1) He is a wise and honorable ruler who leads his people in serving God; 2) reformation should be complete and unequivocal to obtain the most good in God’s sight; 3) every promise of God will be fulfilled exactly at His intended time;4. God’s people should exercise their influence for good in every place possible.

2 Chronicles 35:1

Second Kings - Chapter 23 (cont’d.) AND Second Chronicles - Chapters 35,36

Josiah Sponsors Passover , 2 Chronicles 35:1-19

Josiah’s revival and attempted reformation went all the way. He prepared to keep the Passover as it had never been kept before, since the times of the judges. He was a stickler for doing all according to the law which had been forgotten so long. He planned the celebration of the Passover at the proper time in the fourteenth day of the first month. He began with the command to the priests to re-arrange the furniture of the temple as Moses had designated by command of the Lord. So the ark, which seems to have been removed from the holy of holies and possibly conveyed around the country, was taken back to its rightful place, and was not to be carried about anymore. They were to regroup themselves according to their Levitical orders and duties appointed them in the time of David and Solomon.

When these had prepared themselves they were to proceed with the observance of the Passover. They were to prepare themselves and their own houses and then to officiate for the people. For the Passover Josiah himself contributed thirty thousand lambs and kids and three thousand young bulls. A Iamb or a kid was to be offered for the Passover feast, while the bullock served as a sin offering for the priests and others of Israel’s leaders. The princes of Judah also made contribution of twenty-six hundred lambs and kids and three hundred oxen. The Levites contributed through their chieftains five thousand small cattle (sheep and goats) and five hundred oxen. So when the Passover date arrived these all stood in their places prepared to begin killing and preparing the Passover.

The priests took the blood and sprinkled it at the altar as the law required. The Levites took the carcasses and flayed (or skinned) them. It seems that the Passover lamb was roasted at the temple, taking precedence over the burnt offering. The other offerings were sod (or boiled) in pots, caldrons, and pans, and divided to the people. When the people had all been attended they turned to their own houses. The priests were occupied with the offerings of the people until late that night, burning the fat of their offerings on the altar in accord with the law’s requirement. Therefore the Levites prepared the lamb for themselves and for their brethren, the priests. Thus they did also for the singers and the porters who could not leave their positions in the choir and at the gates where they served in the office for which the Lord intended they should.

Thus the Passover was kept on its official day in strict aocord with the law they had neglected so long. All this was according to the commandment of the king. Once again it is notable that there is not the spontaneous enthusiasm among the people as had appeared in the time of Hezekiah. It seems obvious that people conformed because it was the command of the king. They did keep the Passover and feast of unleavened bread, which followed for seven days, in unprecedented manner since the times of Samuel the prophet, more than four hundred years before. Josiah’s observance outstripped those of David and Solomon, and that of Hezekiah, in magnitude, but evidently not in genuine spirituality.

Verses 24-30

Josiah’s Death – Commentary on 2 Kings 23:24-30 AND 2 Chronicles 35:20-27

While the two passages now under study are parallel they complement each other by relating details differently. The Kings account continues a notice of the reform efforts of Josiah. Everywhere he saw anything that smacked of the pagan or cultic the king had it destroyed in a determined effort to bring his kingdom into compliance with the law of Moses as found in the rediscovered book. Josiah knew that Judah faced divine judgment and ruin, but he also believed that God would relent and not destroy the nation in keeping with his mercy and grace if they would repent. And he was correct in that thinking.

The Kings account goes on to evaluate the noble attempt of Josiah and to show why it failed. It is a great lesson for all believers to follow in this day. Josiah was altogether right in what he attempted to do, for the Scriptures extol him as unsurpassed by any king in the matter of strict adherence to God’s law. He put his whole heart, soul, and strength into his constant effort. He stands alone in all history in his great effort. Not even David, or Hezekiah, surpassed him in this, though it was said of Hezekiah, "He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him" (2 Kings 18:5). At first this might seem contradictory to what is said of Josiah, but it is not. The statement of Hezekiah concerns his trust in the Lord and his humility in repentance, like his forefather David. The statement about Josiah pertains to his rigid attempts to keep the law of Moses, to impose it on Judah, so that his people might escape the judgments written in the book of Moses.

It is sad that such devoted effort as that of Josiah should fail. But the seeds were sowed long before, chiefly in the time of Manasseh, and the people were not sincere in their renewal of the covenant at the king’s insistence. The terrible sins of Manasseh had provoked the wrath of God, and they must be judged. When the people did not honestly respond to Josiah’s call to renewal of the covenant there was nothing left but judgment. Even though Manasseh turned late in life to the Lord and was saved he was unable to turn the people from the sins in which he had formerly encouraged them. It is of the wonderful grace of God that such a wicked old reprobate sinner could be saved, but it is tragically deplorable that many wound up in judgment and hell because of his long influence before his conversion (Isaiah 3:8).

As has been several times noted in this commentary Assyria was in her decline during the reign of Josiah. All the larger subject nations, such as Egypt, Babylon, and Persia were bent on throwing off her yoke and destroying her. It was this which brought the army of Egypt into Palestine. Pharoh-necho was bound for Carchemish, a notable place on the Euphrates River far to the north. It was the eastern capital of the old Hittite empire on one of the finest fords of the upper Euphrates. Pharaoh was to engage in one of the decisive battles of world history there, for it was here that Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Assyrians and turned the power of empire to Babylon instead of Assyria.

Josiah resented this incursion of the Egyptian army into what he considered his domain, although the invaders probably stayed well away from Jerusalem, and the king did not confront them until they were well within the area of the former northern kingdom. Megiddo was one of the fortified cities of Solomon and was so continued by the northern kings. It was located in the tribe of Issachar on a high hill overlooking the valley of Jezreel, the site of the future battle of Armageddon.

The retort of Necho when Josiah confronted him is interesting. He says that his battle is not with Josiah, and he has no desire to combat him. His claim that he comes by command of God raises questions. Would God actually send a message to a heathen king telling him to go and fight another heathen king? One might think that his reference to God is merely to "God" in the sense of divine power, except that verse 22 of Chronicles says Josiah did not hearken to the words of Necho from the mouth of God, leaving little doubt that they were of God.

Though Josiah disguised himself and entered the contest against Necho he was mortally wounded. His dead body was returned to Jerusalem and buried in his own sepulchre. Great lamentation was made for the good king, joined in by the prophet-Jeremiah. The lamentations were written down and preserved in the literature of Judah. A probable reference is that of La 4:20. The people made Josiah’s son Jehoahaz king after him.

Verses 31-37

Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim – Commentary on 2 Kings 23:31-37 AND 2 Chronicles 36:1-5

The people of Jerusalem chose Jehoahaz, one of the younger sons of Josiah to succeed his father. He is also called Shallum (1 Chronicles 3:15; Jeremiah 22:11). His mother’s name and that of his grandfather are given, but neither of them are further known. He is characterized as an evil man like his fathers, excluding Josiah, of course. Jehoahaz was dethroned when Pharaoh returned to Jerusalem, having reigned only three months. Pharaoh took him to Riblah in Hamath and eventually to Egypt. Riblah was a campsite of armies on the Orontes River north of Phoenicia and Palestine. Jehoahaz died in Egypt, how long after his imprisonment is unknown. He may have lived on for some time, as it seems from Jeremiah’s prophecy there were some who hoped for his return. Jeremiah informed them he would die in Egypt (Jeremiah 22:10-12).

Necho made Eliakim, the older brother of Jehoahaz, king in his place, changing his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was twenty-five years of age when his reign began and he lasted for eleven years. Necho also exacted a tribute of the land in amount of a hundred talents of silver (about $2,184,000 in present values) and one talent of gold (about $1,100,000 in present values). To get tribute money to pay the continuing exaction of Pharaoh Jehoiakim laid a heavy taxation upon the land. This burden would figure in future maneuvering of the young king. His character, like his brother, was one of evil. Judah had had her last God-fearing king and was on the downward plunge to destruction which Josiah had tried so diligently to prevent.

Lessons for this section of study: 1) God’s people should go into His service wholeheartedly; 2) when the Lord’s day comes all His servants should be found ready and in their places; 3) the work of the Lord will be accomplished more fully when worshipers are co-operative; 4) righteousness in a people cannot be imposed by legislation; 5) one must be careful lest he go against the will of God through his faulty human judgment; 6) sinful people usually get sinful rulers.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-kings-23.html. 1985.