JOSIAH'S COVENANT AND JUDGMENT OF IDOLATRY
Being king in Judah and therefore the representative of all the people, Josiah realised his responsibility of involving them all in hearing the Word of God. Beginning with the elders, he called the people to the house of the Lord. Thus, elders, priests, prophets and the common people were gathered (vv.1-2). There Josiah himself read all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which would include the five books of Moses.
The king then made a covenant before the Lord to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments, testimonies and statutes with all his heart and soul, and to perform all that was written in the book. All the people also agreed to this covenant (v.3).
Making such promises was not forbidden under law, though Israel's many broken covenants should have warned Josiah that Judah would do no better in the future than they had done in the past. When the Lord Jesus came, however, He publicly declared, "Again, you have heard that it was said of those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is God's throne: nor by earth, for it is His footstool, nor by Jerusalem. for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your Yes be "Yes" and your No, "No". For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:33-37).
The Lord Jesus can swear by God's name, for His word cannot be broken, but Israel's history has proven to us that, no other human can be trusted to perform his vows or promises. This was ratified in the case of the covenant Josiah and Israel made, for Jehoahaz the son of Josiah led Israel back into the same idolatry they were delivered from in Josiah's day.
However, at this time there was energy of faith, predominantly in the case of Josiah, to get rid of the idolatry introduced by Josiah's fathers, Manasseh and Amon. Josiah gave orders to Hilkijah the high priest and priests under him as well as to the doorkeepers to bring out of the temple all the articles that were made for Baal and Asherah and other false gods. These were taken outside of Jerusalem and burned (v.4).
But there was much more to do in cleansing Judah from the overflowing tide of idolatry that had invaded the land. Josiah removed the idolatrous priests from the high places in the cities of Judah, and all those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon and to the constellations of stars in the whole heaven (v.5). Judah had multiplied her gods beyond measure. A wooden image had been put in the house of the Lord, just as many churches introduce images that look nice but are an insult to the Lord Jesus. Josiah burned the image at the brook Kidron and threw the ashes on graves (v.6), signifying that the idolatry was worthy only of the corruption of death.
Josiah broke down the houses of the Sodomites (v.7 JND trans.) that were in the house of the Lord where the women wove hangings for the wooden image. How bold had wickedness become to thus invade the house of the Lord!
Josiah, in firm decision for the Lord, brought all the priests from the cities of Judah and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, thus rendering the places unusable, from Geba to Beersheba, not a short distance (v.8). Other high places also he broke down.
The priests of the high places were thus dispossessed of their occupation, but did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem. They evidently had no energy of faith to change completely from their accustomed idolatry, but they ate unleavened bread among their brethren (v.9). Was this not an attempt to cover their sin by a show of religious zeal? For the unleavened bread symbolises a separation from evil, but the show apart from the reality of separation is hypocrisy.
Josiah also defiled Topheth, where idolaters practised the offering of their children to Molech by fire (v.10). How can people feel that they are spiritually zealous in carrying out such abominable practices? But they are totally deceived by Satan. Also there were horses and chariots dedicated to the sun at the entrance to the house of God. Josiah removed the horses and burned the chariots (v.11).
On the roof there were altars made by the kings of Judah, certainly an insult to God whose altar outside and that inside the temple both spoke of Christ. Other altars expose men's desire to have other gods. Beside these Manasseh had made altars in the two courts of the house of the Lord. All of these Josiah broke down and pulverised, throwing their dust into the brook Kidron (v.12).
Other high places east of Jerusalem and south of the Mount of Olives Josiah also defiled. It is called the mount of Corruption because Solomon had corrupted it by building high places for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites (v.13). We can well imagine people objecting to Josiah, saying that these were long established high places and had the dignity of King Solomon's approval. But Josiah was concerned about God's approval and what offended God must be destroyed. Josiah also broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images and filled their places with the bones of men (v.14). This may refer to those who defended the idolatry and suffered death for this.
Bethel, only 12 miles from Jerusalem, had been taken by Jereboam in his rebellion against Rehoboam, but of course the ten tribes had no authority left in Israel, so Josiah broke down the altar and the high place that Jereboam had introduced, crushing the high place to powder and burning the wooden image there (v.15). There also he saw graves on the mountain, evidently graves of those who had been engaged in the worship at the high place. He had the bones taken from the graves and burned on the altar. This was a fulfilment of the prophecy of the man of God who had come to Jereboam when he was at his idolatrous attar (1 Kings 13:1-2).
Seeing another gravestone, he asked about the person buried there, and was told this was the grave of the man of God who had prophesied of what Josiah had just done (v.17). So his grave was left unmolested. This involved too the bones of the prophet who lived in Bethel, but whom we are told here had come from Samaria (ch.18), for he had buried the first prophet in his own grave and told his sons to bury him there also (1 Kings 13:11-32).
Josiah's purging of the land extended to all the cities of Samaria from which he took away all the shrines of the high places introduced by the kings of Israel (the ten tribes). He executed all the priests of the high places and defiled their altars by burning men's bones on them (v.20). Thus, as far as it was possible, Josiah completely cleansed the land of Israel from their idolatry. We would likely expect the faith of this young king to so influence his son that he would follow his father's steps, but sadly Jehoahaz reverted to the same evil the previous kings of Judah had been guilty of (vv.31-52).
THE PASSOVER KEPT
But Josiah's energy was not limited to getting rid of evil. The positive character of his faith is seen beautifully in verses 21-23. He commanded all the people to keep the Passover to the Lord according to God's directions in the Book of the Covenant. The Passover was in remembrance of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, and looked forward to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on Calvary.
It is most striking that such a Passover had never been held in Israel throughout all the history of the kings of Israel or of Judah. Not even that in Hezekiah's time (2 Chronicles 30:1-27) could compare with this one carried out by Josiah. Though in Kings there are only three verses referring to the Passover, it is more fully described in 2 Chronicles 35:1-19. At this time Josiah was only 26 years old, yet it was his own energy of faith that initiated this wonderful Passover and carried it out in obedience to the word of God. This illustrates the fact that a young man may be a faithful example to believers, as Timothy, a young man, was told to be (1 Timothy 4:12).
UNUSUAL FAITH DID NOT AVERT GOD'S JUDGMENT
Verse 24 tells us how fully Josiah removed every form of idolatrous practice in Judah and Jerusalem, banishing all who consulted with mediums and spiritists, and not only public idols, but household idols, for he wanted nothing allowed to continue that was forbidden by the book Hilkijah had found in the house of the Lord.
It is therefore a wonderful commendation given him in verse 25. No king before him or after him had turned to the Lord so fully with all his soul and with all his might as did Josiah.
Yet God had told Josiah that His wrath had been aroused against Judah because of all their iniquity and that wrath would not be quenched. This is repeated in verse 26. The Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath against Judah. Josiah's faithfulness had only delayed the judgment during his own reign. Even though Manasseh had been converted in his later years, the evil he had been guilty of was enormous, and Judah had been greatly defiled by this. Though God's grace may triumph over man's sin to save him from eternal judgment, yet God's government requires the judgment of whatever evil has been done. Therefore God would remove Judah from their land, just as He had allowed Israel to be removed. Jerusalem, God's centre, and God's house in Jerusalem would be cast off, in spite of God's name having been established there.
JOSIAH'S SAD DEATH
Much more is written in the Book of Chronicles concerning the good reign of Josiah, but it is tragically sad that the end of his reign was not so bright as were the years before. Why was Josiah not content with his having honoured the Lord in those relationships in which God had placed him? It seems that he thought that since God had used him in great blessing to His people, the Jews, then God would also back him up in intervening in the disputes of other nations. If Pharaoh Necho had been coming to fight against Judah, Josiah would have had proper cause to go to war, but this was not the case. Perhaps he had not read Proverbs 26:17, "He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears." 2 Chronicles 35:21 quotes the warning of Pharaoh Necho to Josiah, not to interfere, but in spite of this Josiah persisted stubbornly, even disguising himself (2 Chronicles 35:22).
But his disguise did no good. The only person we hear of as dying in that battle was Josiah himself. God was acting behind the scenes, and He would not allow his otherwise faithful servant to get away with this unseemly conduct. He was killed at Megiddo, and his body taken by chariot back to Jerusalem, a long distance, and buried there. Chronicles tells us that all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him (2 Chronicles 35:24). He died at the early age of 39 years. His son Jehoahaz was then anointed king in Judah.
THE BRIEF REIGN OF JEHOAHAZ
Jehoahaz, at 23 years of age, reigned only 3 months. In that brief time he followed the evil that Manasseh and Amon had done (v.32), a sad contrast to the godliness of his father. Evidently also Josiah's assault against Pharaoh Necho had only drawn the ire of Pharaoh against Judah, and Pharaoh found Judah so vulnerable that he took Jehoahaz captive, putting him in prison at Riblah in the land Hamath and imposing a tribute on the land of 100 talents of silver and one talent of gold (v.33). Thus, though Israel had been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, Egypt came after them to Canaan to put them in bondage again!
Yet Judah was allowed to have a king, but a king of Pharaoh's choice (v.34). Eliakim was also a son of Josiah, but evidently one easier for Pharaoh to handle. Pharaoh changed his name to Jehoiakim. When Pharaoh returned to Egypt he took Jehoahaz with him, and Jehoahaz died there. He had become king at age 23, reigning only three months, so he was a younger brother of Eliakim, who was 25 when he took the throne. It was the people who made Jehoahaz king, no doubt because they preferred him to his older brother. But Pharaoh reversed the people's decision.
JEHOIAKIM'S EVIL REIGN
(23:35 to 24:6)
Having been appointed by Pharaoh as king over Judah, Jehoiakim was evidently fully subservient to Pharaoh, taxing the people of the land to pay the tribute of gold and silver that Pharaoh required (v.35). But he was not at all subservient to the Lord, rather he engaged in the same evil his fathers had done, Amon, Manasseh, etc., which involved the worship of idols and the oppression of the people.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany