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Neither the message of judgment concerning Jerusalem nor the reassuring message concerning himself led to passivity with Josiah. As far as the message of judgment was concerned, he could have thought that it did not make sense to bring change anyway. As for the reassuring message, he could have been satisfied and thought that he would see it out. But no, both messages brought him to action.
He made the elders of Judah and Jerusalem come to him. He wanted to wake them up from their false rest and put them into action. The upcoming judgment made him extra zealous. He worked hard to implement the necessary reforms. He was not saying that it made no sense because everything would be destroyed anyway. The certainty that we will not come into judgment will not make us passive, but all the more zealous to reach people with the gospel. It will also increase our commitment to the Lord and His church.
When the elders were with him, they all went to the house of the LORD, the temple, the place where the book of the law was found. Not only did the elders go with him, but the “all the people, both small and great”. It had become a national matter. Before this whole company Josiah read “all the words of the book of the covenant”. He wanted the people to hear the words that so convicted him.
Nothing is more important to us than passing on God’s Word (cf. 1Tim 4:12-13). It is important that we do so as people who have themselves been challenged by it and also live by it. Otherwise the Word will not spread – although God is sovereign to let it do its work in heart and conscience of one or another.
When Josiah had read the book of the covenant, he made a covenant between the people and the LORD. Although the revival was not lasting, as the book of Jeremiah shows, Josiah did make this covenant. Perhaps many joined this covenant because at that time they were very impressed by the Word, without their conscience having been touched. But although the majority may not really have been touched inward, as is often the case, there were a few in the masses who were convicted.
That is why we speak to all people, although perhaps only a few really listen. The Lord Jesus spoke of this situation in the parable of the sower (Mt 13:1-9; 18-23). Every soul that we can still gain for God from the apostate world, makes every effort a valuable thing and worthwhile.
In 2Kgs 23:4-20 the cleansing is described in detail. Josiah started and continued to get rid of everything that was not good. And what a lot that was! There was an abundance of wickedness in Judah and Jerusalem, that is, in the area where one should be most familiar with God. Josiah had reigned for 18 years now and had set a good example to the people. Yet the depth and extent of the dunghill of the idolatry was enormous.
Josiah was not discouraged by the enormous amount of uncleanness to be cleared up. Every idol was to the LORD’s gross dishonor and had to be eradicated. The work was going slowly. A lot of cleansing was required to be done thoroughly. Thorough cleansing is often difficult. A revival is not possible without cleansing. Cleansing is not just about the visible things. Visible things arise from the inner being. Above all, it is about an inner cleansing, a cleansing of the heart.
We need a renewal of our thinking. Cleansing our thinking means above all that we examine how we think. Our children go to school and their thinking is shaped by the thinking of the world. The world determines how they see everything. Parents are also influenced, especially by mass media. It is through this channel that the opinion of the world is forced upon them. We can only keep ourselves clean of it if we do not take it in. If we sometimes take things to us from the world, let us then make up our mind not to take up things that defile us. Daniel is an example of this (Dan 1:8-16). This is only possible if we have a heart in which the Word of God dwells richly (cf. Col 3:16a).
The first task Josiah gave was to discard everything that had been brought into the temple relating to Baal (2Kgs 23:4). First of all, we must consider what things of the world are permitted in the temple of today, that is, the church and our body, our thinking. Josiah gave this order to “Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers”. Cleansing is primarily a priestly activity. If uncleanness has entered our lives, it is above all at the expense of our service to God. He will no longer receive from our hearts and lives what He is entitled to and desires.
Josiah orders the objects sacrificed to the idols to be burnt. This event was in Jerusalem, the city of God. The remains of these objects were brought to Bethel, a place in the Northern Kingdom. This meant that he brought the ashes to an unclean place.
The three idols mentioned here, Baal, Asherah and all the host of heaven, were seen as a picture of prosperity. That makes today’s application easy. After all, we live in a time of idolization of prosperity. We can sometimes check ourselves to see if we really only give God the honor in all things, or if we are committed to get as much of the cake of prosperity as possible.
He also deposed the idolaters “whom the kings of Judah had appointed” (2Kgs 23:5). The kings of Judah undoubtedly mean Manasseh and Amon. The idol priests sacrificed on the high places in Judah and around Jerusalem. They would have thought in their folly to sacrifice incense to the LORD. There were also exclusively idol priests, who brought incense to the Baal and other idols. Josiah also removed them.
The next action concerned the Asherah (2Kgs 23:6), which Manasseh had placed in the house of the LORD (2Kgs 21:7). Here Josiah did a very thorough job. First he burnt it and then ground [it] to dust. The place of action was the brook Kidron. Then he threw the dust on the graves, an unclean place. By throwing the dust over the graves he also expressed his contempt for this god. Perhaps when we think of “the graves of the common people” we have to think of a kind of mass grave, where people are buried together because they could not afford their own grave.
The horrific defilement knew no bounds. In 2Kgs 23:7 there was talk of dwellings made in the house of the LORD for prostituting men. The most disgusting sexual acts were performed in God’s house. The women also played their role in this horrific scene. They wove hangings for Asherah, the goddess of lust. Instead of denouncing these atrocities, they have, as it were, covered up these horrific practices with their hangings.
Then Josiah commands all the priests in his entire area, from Geba in the north of Benjamin to Beersheba in the south of Judah, to come to him (2Kgs 23:8). These priests are taken away from their defiled environment. He defiled the high places where those priests had brought incense. The high places of the gates were broken down. A precise specification of the location of these high places is given: “At the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which [were] on one’s left at the city gate.”
The priests called to Jerusalem by Josiah could offer there on the altar of the LORD (2Kgs 23:9). However, they were allowed to eat unleavened bread with their brothers. They were in a situation similar to that of priests who, due to a physical defect, cannot participate in the service, but are allowed to eat from the holy place (Lev 21:17; 22-23). Sometimes it is the case that someone who comes to conversion cannot do a certain service because of the life he has led. For example, a person who has two women, as occurs in certain countries, cannot be an elder after his conversion (1Tim 3:2).
He was always working. His work in 2Kgs 23:10 was the extermination of yet another unparalleled horror: the sacrifice of parents’ own children to Molech, the god of fire (cf. Jer 32:35). This happened in Topheth, in the valley of the son of Hinnom, which because of these practices was called “the valley of Slaughter” by the LORD (Jer 19:6). How terrible this place was, is clear from the fact that the name Hinnom is derived from the name ‘Gehenna’, which is ‘hell’.
Josiah defiled this place so that no one could offer his son or daughter through the fire anymore as a sacrifice for Molech. In this verse there is a strong call to parents to think about the purpose of raising their children and protecting them from evil.
The horses mentioned in 2Kgs 23:11 were dedicated to the sun by “the kings of Judah” – Manasseh and Amon. According to their idolatrous thoughts, these horses with their chariots were to draw the sun along the sky. The horses were standing “at the entrance of the house of the LORD”. Thus they defied and insulted the LORD in a gross way. We do not know who “Nathan-melech, the official” was. But the LORD knew him well. Was he a driver of the chariots of the sun?
To see the number of altars that Josiah cleansed, Jerusalem must have been full of idol altars. On every corner and every spot there was an altar. In 2Kgs 23:12 some altars are mentioned specifically. Josiah broke down “the altars which [were] on the roof, the upper chamber of Ahaz”. These altars were also made by “the kings of Judah”. The insults to the LORD by Manasseh had no end. He had done his utmost to transform the house of the LORD in all respects into an idol temple. Josiah took away all the idols, turned them into dust and threw the dust into the brook Kidron.
It is shocking amid this purification work, in which we encounter names like Ahaz and Manasseh, to suddenly come across the name of Solomon as someone who was also connected to the cult of idols (2Kgs 23:13). We know from 1 Kings 11 that Solomon had been led away from the LORD by his many wives and the gods that these women had brought along. We even read that he built high places for those gods (1Kgs 11:7-8). All these idols are meaningfully referred to here as “abomination” by which the contrast between the idols of Solomon and God’s judgment of them is strongly emphasized.
In 2Kgs 23:14 we read that Josiah cut down the sacred pillars that functioned as objects of worship. King Hezekiah had done this before (2Kgs 18:4). The fact that two generations later this was done again by Josiah shows how persistent this idolatry was. Josiah filled the vacant space with human bones. He probably did so in order to defile this area and thereby make people afraid to fall back into this idolatry again.
The Altar at Bethel
In these verses we are reminded of a history from 1 Kings 12-13. The name of Jeroboam is also mentioned here, as so often before, the addition of the negative characteristic “who made Israel sin”. In his audacity, Jeroboam had invented his own religion (two golden calves) and had erected his own altar (1Kgs 12:25-33). God had told him by a prophet from Judah He would judge this.
2Kgs 23:15-16 refer to this. In the announcement of that judgment the man of God from Judah mentioned the name of Josiah as the performer of that judgment (1Kgs 13:1-2). The moment of fulfilment had come. God does not let any of His words fall to the earth. Every word comes true, both in terms of blessing and judgment.
In 2Kgs 23:17-18, something else took place, related to the history which is recorded in 1 Kings 13. This time it concerned the bones of the old prophet. Josiah noticed a monument and asked what it meant. It is not clear why Josiah did not know this, but the people of the city knew of it. They told him about what the man of God had said and how Josiah had done what the man of God had announced.
It is nice that people remembered this event in Bethel, but it is not good that nothing was learnt from it. It is not so beautiful that Josiah apparently knew nothing about it, but it is beautiful that after the reminder he acted as was prophesied by the man of God. The bones of the old prophet also remained untouched.
In the same way as before in Bethel, Josiah “removed all the houses of the high places which [were] in the cities of Samaria” (2Kgs 23:19). These houses were made by the kings of Israel to provoke the LORD. Josiah slaughtered the priests who had served on these high places (2Kgs 23:20), something he had not done to the priests in Judah who had also sacrificed at high places (2Kgs 23:8).
Josiah Celebrates the Passover
The Passover was celebrated by order of King Josiah. The fact that the order to celebrate the Passover was given by a king is unique. The Passover was celebrated here during a revival. It had been celebrated at other times (Exo 12:3-11; Num 9:5; Jos 5:10; 2Chr 30:1; 15; 18-20; 26), but there were long periods when it was not. The Passover represents the Lord’s Supper. We can deduce this from the fact that the Lord Jesus instituted the Supper during the celebration of the Passover (Lk 22:7-8; 13-20). The Lord’s Supper is often celebrated, but for a longer time it was not. It has been there from the beginning.
Josiah celebrated the Passover because he had found it in Scripture and after he had cleansed the city and the land of the idols and their priests. Thus, the (local) church can only celebrate Lord’s Supper if the believers have discovered it in God’s Word and have removed from their lives what goes against God’s Word (1Cor 5:7-8).
After the days of the judges we read only of a celebration of the Passover by Hezekiah (2Chr 30:1). The Passover which Josiah celebrated surpassed the Passover which Hezekiah celebrated, for it says: “Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah” (2Kgs 23:22). Here we see that the greater the decay, the greater the LORD’s appreciation when His institution of the Passover is kept. To celebrate it, Josiah did not think of any new things to make it attractive, but ordered that it be kept “as it is written in this book of the covenant”. Josiah kept it because it was in God’s Word and he kept it as it was stated in God’s Word.
It was a unique Passover, because it was the best feast ever in the land, better than in the times of David and Solomon and Hezekiah. It was so great because it was held at the end of the realm of Judah, which was about to be carried away into exile.
We too live in an end time and even now it is possible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a way that it has not been celebrated for a long time. That can happen now. The question is whether we participate. God has a meal for the end time, His Supper, prepared according to His thoughts, to take part in as He wills. All believers who come together with cleansed, willing hearts can participate. If this happens without being sectarian – Josiah speaks to “all the people” – we too may know that, however great the decay may be, the appreciation of the Lord Jesus is great when His institution of His Supper is held.
Last Acts and Testimony of Josiah
Josiah executed the words of the law to the last letter. The Word lived so powerfully in him because it was so fresh to him. He wanted to obey it with all his strength and zeal. He could only be satisfied when everything that was an offence to God and disobedient to His Word had been removed. It seems that after the Passover he was even more impressed by God’s Word and God’s holiness, so he made another tour through Judah and Jerusalem to see if there was anything else to clear up.
Whatever may have escaped his attention the first time, was seen and removed during this inspection round. The mediums and the spiritists who have kept themselves hidden as much as possible, had come to his attention. They would have done their works of darkness as quietly as possible, but they did not escape Josiah’s purification actions, nor the images they had used.
The testimony given of Josiah is very similar to that given of Hezekiah. It was also said of Hezekiah that before him and after him there was no one like him. How is that possible? The solution may be that they were both the best in different respects. Hezekiah had no equal when it came to trust in God. Josiah had no equal when it came to obedience to the Word of God, which he had always followed. He had kept the Word of God and had not denied the Name of God.
His true and profound conversion “to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might” (2Kgs 23:25; cf. Deu 6:5) had produced abundant works in keeping with repentance. This testimony of his conversion is also unique in Scripture. That no one like him rose up after him, becomes clear in the kings who came after him. These kings had quickly brought God’s judgment over Judah and Jerusalem by carrying them away to Babylon.
The Wrath of the LORD Must Come
Despite the revival which God had brought in His grace to His people, “the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath”. What was for Josiah a profound work in his heart and conscience, had been only a superficial, temporary condition for the people (Jer 25:3-7). They had not radically converted to God. We see in the same in Christianity. If God were to give the greatest revival in our time, this would not change the fact that the judgment of Christianity is coming, as Judah presented just before the exile to Babylon. This has nothing to do with the failure of God's omnipotence, but with the incorrigibility of man.
God had to reject Jerusalem because of Manassah’s provoking Him. What Manasseh had done to provoke God knew no limits. God owed it to His holiness to judge the people who, instead of calling to God, had joined Manasseh. We hear the sorrow in the heart of the LORD when He says in 2Kgs 23:27 about removing Judah and the rejection of Jerusalem.
Death of Josiah
At the end of his life Josiah also departed from the LORD. He had become stubborn. His authority became his trap. He is often a picture of the Lord Jesus, but he was not a perfect picture of Him. Josiah wanted to be part of the great world politics and was crushed between the superpowers Egypt and Assyria. He interfered in a fight that did not concern him and so he died.
His death was not honorable. His burial was not honorable either. His burial was done by his servants. They brought his body to Jerusalem and buried him in his tomb. Josiah is succeeded by his son Jehoahaz who was anointed king by the people of the land.
Only Solomon and Jehoash are said to have been anointed king to take their place on the throne immediately after. In those cases, this was done to avoid any claim of others to the throne. That seemed to be the case here too. Jehoahaz was not the eldest son of Josiah. The eldest son was Joiakim. Solomon’s and Jehoash’s anointing was justified, Jehoahaz’s anointing seemed to have been preferred by the people because of his political position.
Jehoahaz King of Judah
From now on, until the end of the kingdom – a period of about twenty-two years – four kings are presented. During the time of these kings there are no more occasions bringing joy. The time of revivals like under Hezekiah and Josiah is over. None of the successors of Josiah is God-fearing.
The writer was very brief in his description of the kings who were about to come to power, before Judah was taken away into exile. Through the book of Jeremiah, however, we learn a lot about the downfall of the realm. There we find encounters between some of the four kings with the prophet Jeremiah, about whom there is not a single word here.
Jehoahaz was a bad king. He reigned only briefly. But just like other bad kings who had reigned for a short time, in those three months he proved what kind of king he was. Ezekiel compared him to a young lion (Eze 19:1-4). After three months, God’s judgment came upon him through Pharaoh, who was still the mighty ruler on the world stage. Pharaoh imprisoned him at Riblah, a city of priests. Thereby his kingship came to an end. Pharaoh Neco also imposed a fine on the land. God seemed to be on the side of Pharaoh and to reject the kings of Judah. It does not mean that they were more wicked than Pharaoh, but that they were much more responsible for their sin.
Pharaoh also showed his power over Judah by making Eliakim, a brother of Jehoahaz, king. Another proof of the power of Pharaoh is that he changed the name Eliakim to Jehoiakim. He did not make him king instead of Jehoahaz, but in the place of Josiah, his father. It is as if the whole kingship of Jehoahaz did not exist. It is possible that Jehoahaz pursued an anti-Egyptian policy and thereby aroused the anger of Pharaoh. It says it so explicitly, that Pharaoh imprisoned Jehoahaz “that he might not reign in Jerusalem”.
Jehoiakim King of Judah
Jehoiakim may have been made king by Pharaoh, but he had to pay Pharaoh a high tribute. To be able to pay that tax he applied the same method as Menahem had done (2Kgs 15:20). Only he didn’t limit charging the financially strong, like Menahem had done, but demanded a contribution from every member of the population. It has been assumed that he extorted the population of the land out of revenge, because they had chosen his brother above him to be king (2Kgs 23:30).
Submission to Pharaoh did not make Jehoiakim a king who bows down under the judgment of God. During his eleven-year reign he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He followed his fathers, meaning Manasseh and Amon.
We see how Judah became more and more controlled by other nations, to eventually end up in the power of Babylon.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Kings 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13