The King’s Response To Huldah’s Words In The Making Of A Covenant With The People Followed By A Detailed Descriptions Of Josiah’s Reforms (2 Kings 23:1-23).
On receiving Huldah's response Josiah called together the elders of the people, and then as a consequence summoned to the house of YHWH the whole assembly of Judah from greatest to least, including priests and prophets. It was specifically a ‘gathering of the congregation of Israel’, that is of all men who were submissive to his rule. And there ‘he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH’. The emphasis is on the fact that the whole stratum of people were represented, rather than on suggesting that all the people would be literally present and able to hear the words that would be read out. The point that is being stressed was that the covenant was being made by the whole people.
It is open to question whether it was the king himself who actually read the words aloud, or whether, as is more likely, he made use of experienced readers of the Law to do it for him once he had opened up the proceedings. The latter must surely be seen as more likely unless the king was so moved that he saw it as his responsibility to be directly involved throughout. The purpose of this was in order to ‘make a covenant before YHWH’, in a similar way to Moses in Exodus 20-24, and Joshua in Joshua 8:30-35; Joshua 24; and so on. Indeed such a reading of the whole Law regularly took place at crucial times in Israel’s history as the responsibility of the people was brought home to them. See for example Exodus 24:3; Deuteronomy 31:10-13; Deuteronomy 31:28; Joshua 8:33-35; 1 Samuel 10:25. The author, of course, wrote in full awareness of what would follow the death of Josiah when these same people and their descendants would again turn away from this Law, as Huldah had also warned, for the author lived at the other side of the investments of Jerusalem and the accompanying transportations.
The king then solemnly committed himself by covenant to observe, in its entirety from the heart, ‘all that is written in this book’, and this is later described in 2 Kings 23:25 as ‘all the Law of Moses’. 2 Kings 23:25 then goes on to explain that Josiah not only promised it but did in fact fulfil his covenant. He was not to be seen as being of those who said and did not do. Thus 2 Kings 23:3; 2 Kings 23:25 can be seen as a kind of inclusio for this whole passage, revealing how he performed what he had promised. All the people then ‘stood to the covenant’, in other words made their own solemn commitment on their own behalf to do themselves what the king had covenanted. This solemn commitment is then followed by a description of the ritual destruction of all the last traces of false worship which still remained in the Temple, namely the vessels that had been used in the worship of Baal and the Asherah.
This description of the ritual destruction of these vessels then became a signal for the prophetic author, (out of chronological order), to describe the whole of Josiah’s reforms from beginning to end, so as to demonstrate that he was faithful to his covenant. But many of these reforms would have occurred prior to this time, and others would take place some time in the future (it could hardly all have been done within a short period, but the intent had become focused as a result of finding the Book of the Law). So, as so often in Kings, his arrangement is to be seen as topical rather than chronological.
The long list of Josiah’s reforms emphasises how far Judah had sunk into ‘abominations’ of many kinds and does serve to demonstrate that, apart from a small remnant, it had outwardly become almost as pagan as the nations round about. Church history reveals how the same thing happened to the church. In both cases it was only due to the grace of God and the faithful remnant of His people who remained true that the truth was preserved. The list makes crystal clear that the palace, the Temple and the worship of the ordinary people had all been deeply affected. On the other hand the fact that the reforms were at least successful for the remainder of his reign indicates how much support they had among many of the common people. In their hearts many had still yearned after YHWH.
These reforms having been described we are then brought back to the covenant ceremony when the king called for a solemn observance of the Passover in accordance with ‘this book of the covenant’, something which duly occurred within the year in a way that exceeded all previous Passover celebrations, and was accompanied by the ridding of the land of all who practised the occult and idolatry. The genuineness with which Josiah had committed himself to ‘all the Law of Moses’ is then emphasised (2 Kings 23:25), and by this it is made clear that whatever we see ‘the book of the Law’ as consisting of, to the author was representing it as ‘all the Law of Moses’.
a And the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:1).
b And the king went up to the house of YHWH, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great, and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH. And the king stood by the pillar, and made a covenant before YHWH, to walk after YHWH, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book, and all the people stood to the covenant (2 Kings 23:2-3).
c And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the threshold, to bring forth out of the temple of YHWH all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven, and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried the ashes of them to Beth-el (2 Kings 23:4).
d And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem, those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven (2 Kings 23:5).
e And he brought out the Asherah from the house of YHWH, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and beat it to dust, and cast its dust on the graves of the common people (2 Kings 23:6).
f And he broke down the houses of the sodomites, which were in the house of YHWH, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah (2 Kings 23:7).
g And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beer-sheba, and he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand at the gate of the city. Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of YHWH in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened bread among their brothers (2 Kings 23:8-9).
h And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech (2 Kings 23:10).
i And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of YHWH, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts, and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire (2 Kings 23:11).
h And the altars which were on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of YHWH, did the king break down, and beat them down from there, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron (2 Kings 23:10).
g And the high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile (2 Kings 23:13).
f And he broke in pieces the pillars, and cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with the bones of men (2 Kings 23:14).
e Moreover the altar which was at Beth-el, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down, and he burned the high place and beat it to dust, and burned the Asherah (2 Kings 23:15).
d And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount, and he sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them on the altar, and defiled it, according to the word of YHWH which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. Then he said, “What is that monument which I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the sepulchre of the man of God, who came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that you have done against the altar of Beth-el. And he said, “Let him be. Let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria (2 Kings 23:16-18).
c And all the houses also of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke YHWH to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Beth-el, and he slew all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them, and he returned to Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:19-20).
b And the king commanded all the people, saying, “Keep the passover to YHWH your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant.” Surely there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah (2 Kings 23:21-22).
a But in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this passover kept to YHWH in Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:23).
Note that in ‘a’ all the elders of Jerusalem and Judah were gathered together in Jerusalem, and in the parallel the Passover to YHWH was kept to YHWH in Jerusalem. In ‘b’ all gathered to hear the words of the book of the covenant, and the covenant was made and confirmed by the people, and in the parallel all the people are called on to keep the Passover as it was written in ‘this book of the covenant’. In ‘c’ all the vessels of Baal, and the Asherah and the host of heaven were burned outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and their ashes carried to Bethel, and in the parallel all the houses of the high places in Samaria were destroyed and their priests were slain on the altars at Bethel, and men’s bones were burned on the altars. In ‘d’ all the idolatrous priests were slaughtered, and in the parallel the bones of the righteous prophets were preserved. In ‘e’ the Asherah was brought out, burned and beaten to dust, and in the parallel the high place at Bethel was burned and beaten to dust, and the Asherah was burned. In ‘f’ the houses of the sodomites where the women wove hangings for the Asherah were burned, and in the parallel the Asherim were cut down and their places filled with the bones of men. In ‘g’ the high places where the priests had burned incense were defiled, and the high places of the gates were broken down, and in the parallel the high places were defiled. In ‘h’ Topheth was defiled in order to prevent the possibility of child sacrifices to Molech, and in the parallel the special altars in the Temple/palace complex were destroyed. Centrally in ‘i’ the chariots of the sun representing the sun god were burned with fire. This was a final renunciation of Assyrian sovereignty.
The Reading Of The Law And The Making Of The Covenant (2 Kings 23:1-5).
2 Kings 23:1
‘And the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem.’
Deeply moved by the words of Huldah the prophetess the king sent and gathered to him ‘all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem’. This was preparatory to calling the whole congregation of Judah together. 2 Kings 23:21 would suggest that Passover was approaching and it would seem that the opportunity was to be taken to combine that in some way with a covenant ceremony in which a covenant would be made before YHWH, and the words of the book of the covenant would be read out. As Passover came fourteen days after the commencement of the religious new year on 1st of Nisan this may suggest that the covenant ceremony took place at the new year, prior to the Passover.
Note the distinction between the elders of Jerusalem and the elders of Judah. As the city of David Jerusalem was administratively separate from Judah. In Jerusalem the king had direct authority and could act as he wished, in Judah he had to consider local custom and respect the authority of the elders of Judah, the princes and the tribal aristocrats.
2 Kings 23:2
‘And the king went up to the house of YHWH, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great, and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH.’
All the men of Judah having arrived in Jerusalem in response to the summons of their elders, the king went up to the house of YHWH. And with him went all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, together with the priests and the prophets, ‘and all the people both small and great’, for a great covenant ceremony. This was a gathering of the ancient ‘congregation of Israel’ and the ceremony can be compared with that held by Moses in Exodus 24:3-8, and those held by Joshua in Joshua 8:33-35; Joshua 24:1-28, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the initial ‘conquest’ of the land. Note how in Exodus 24:7 ‘Moses -- took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people’, and how in Joshua 8:34-35 ‘Joshua -- read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women and the little ones and the strangers who were conversant among them’. And it should also be noted in the latter case that ‘the book of the Law’ included both the command in Exodus 20:25-26 (see Joshua 8:31) and ‘the blessing and the curse’ of Deuteronomy 11:26; Deuteronomy 30:1 (see Joshua 8:34). Thus it was more than just a part of Deuteronomy. Furthermore Moses had commanded that ‘this Law’ be read to the people every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).
We have in the above instances an indication of how the people were used to the idea of having ‘the whole Law’ read to them, and indeed Joshua made clear that none of it was omitted, and that in his case it certainly included at the very least a part of Exodus and a part of Deuteronomy as we know them today. Thus when Josiah read in their ears all the words of ‘the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH’ this would include all the Law records known in his time. (This would be expected by them no matter how long it took)
The description ‘the book of the covenant’ appears elsewhere only in Exodus 24:7 where it indicated at a minimum Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33, and possibly Exodus 19 as well. Here it refers to the book found in the Temple, which was described as such because it was seen as underpinning the covenant with YHWH. Had it not been considered that this book covered the whole covenant, including Exodus 20-23, other records of the covenant used at covenant feasts would surely also have been included. (It would be foolish to argue that up to this time Judah, YHWH’s covenant people, who laid such an emphasis on the Ark of the covenant, and on YHWH’s covenant with their fathers, had no records of such a covenant at all. See for example 2 Kings 17:13-15; and consider 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Kings 8:58; 1 Kings 9:4 etc. which assume such records). Thus in our view this ‘book of the Law’ must be seen as containing the whole of the recognised covenant, that is, the whole of the Book of the Law of Moses.
2 Kings 23:3
‘And the king stood by the pillar, and made a covenant before YHWH, to walk after YHWH, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book, and all the people stood to the covenant.’
Then the king stood by the royal pillar (compare 2 Kings 11:14), a pillar which by tradition was connected with the Davidic house. This may have been one of the two pillars erected by Solomon (1 Kings 7:15), or some other special pillar in the Temple recognised by custom as the king’s pillar. It was where kings stood to make official decrees, and there he made a covenant ‘before YHWH’ (before the Sanctuary and as in His presence) to walk after YHWH and to keep His commandments, and testimonies, and statutes, as they had come down to them from the past in the Law of Moses (compare 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Kings 8:58; 1 Kings 9:4; etc) with all his heart and with all his soul (compare 2 Kings 23:25; Deuteronomy 4:29; Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:12; etc: Joshua 22:5; Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Kings 8:48). He thereby firmly confirmed the covenant that was found in ‘this book’, and the people then themselves confirmed their part in it. To ‘stand to the covenant’ was probably recognised legal jargon indicating full acceptance and commitment.
2 Kings 23:4
‘And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order (i.e. next in rank), and the keepers of the threshold, to bring forth out of the temple of YHWH all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the Asherah, and for all the host of heaven, and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried the ashes of them to Beth-el.’
As a ritual seal on the covenant the leading priests (compare Jeremiah 52:24) were then called on to bring out all the vessels within the Temple that had been used in false worship so that they could be burned outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, after which their ashes were carried to Bethel to be disposed of, probably in order to defile the altar set up by Jeroboam I (compare 1 Kings 13:2). Whether Bethel was under Josiah’s jurisdiction at this time (which it probably was) is irrelevant. All that mattered was that they had access to it.
That it was only the vessels which were brought out at this stage emphasises the fact that all the more obnoxious symbols of idolatry must have been removed already, otherwise they would have been the first to be brought out. It suggests that the vessels were the last thing to remain, probably kept on one side for some suitable time when they could be used to express an aversion for idolatry. So while what then follows was an essential part of his reforms, what is described is not to be seen as taking place in chronological order, as though it followed the above. It is rather to be seen as a full description of all Josiah’s reforms, some of which had already taken place, but placed between the making of the covenant and its sealing at the Passover so as to bring out that even the earlier reforms had been in accordance with the covenant and the Law.
Kidron was the place where Asa had previously burned defiling effigies (1 Kings 15:13; compare 2 Kings 23:6 below and see 2 Chronicles 29:16; 2 Chronicles 30:14 under Hezekiah), and was clearly a place marked down for such activity, being already defiled by what Asa had done. Importantly it was outside Jerusalem so that Jerusalem would not be defiled by the activity.
Details of Josiah’s Reforms Which Took Place Throughout His Reign Over Many Years (2 Kings 23:5-20).
What is now described would have commenced well before Josiah’s eighteenth year as the Temple was purified preparatory to its being repaired and restored, and it would have continued on throughout his reign as he was able to establish his rule further and further afield because of the waning power of Assyria and his own growth in political power. It is thus a summary of the whole process of his reforms carried out throughout Judah and Samaria, not just a description of what he did in his eighteenth year. It will be noted that the author’s sole concentration is on Josiah’s reforming activity. The fact that Josiah had made Judah strong, independent, and prosperous, and had then extended his rule throughout Samaria with similar consequences, was seen as peripheral. What mattered to the author was the establishing of the Rule of YHWH, and the purifying of the means of worship throughout all areas under his control.
2 Kings 23:5
‘And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem, those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.’
One of Josiah’s first reforms had been to rid Judah of all the false priests (the chemarim) appointed by previous kings to serve at the idolatrous high places. These priests were not of the tribe of Levi (seen in the fact that they were not permitted to return to Jerusalem) and had burned incense in the false sanctuaries to Baal, and the sun, and the moon, and the planets, and all the host of heaven. Now they were being ‘put down’ in order to prevent worship at these high places.
The distinction between the sun, moon and planets and the host of heaven suggests that the latter phrase signified the host of stars visible in the night sky apart from specifically identified ones. ‘The planets’ probably refers to specifically identified stars (but probably not to the signs of the Zodiac which would be unknown at this time).
2 Kings 23:6
‘And he brought out the Asherah from the house of YHWH, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and beat it to dust, and cast its dust on the graves of the common people.’
No doubt around the same time the Asherah image (or pole) that had been set up in the house of YHWH by previous kings (Manasseh and Amon), was brought out from the Temple and burned in the Brook Kidron, outside Jerusalem. Then it was beaten to dust (as with the golden calf in Exodus 32:20), and that dust was thrown onto the graveyard used for burying the common people (see Jeremiah 26:23), who did not have their own family sepulchres. This would be in order to defile it by contact with ground containing the dead, and in order to reveal that the Asherah herself was ‘dead’.
2 Kings 23:7
‘And he broke down the houses of the sodomites, which were in the house of YHWH, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah.’
He also broke down the houses of the cult prostitutes (both male and female) which had been set up in the house of YHWH, in order to support the degraded worship of Canaanite gods, and was where women had woven hangings for the Asherah. The hangings may have been paraphernalia hung from the Asherah images, or robes for the Asherah priests, or cords to be placed round the heads of cult prostitutes.
2 Kings 23:8
‘And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beer-sheba,
These priests were genuinely of the tribe of Levi, but had engaged in false worship at syncretistic high places. Note that their major crime was of ‘burning incense’ to false gods. This was a direct repudiation of YHWH to Whom alone incense of a special kind could be burned. Their high places where they had burned incense were defiled throughout the whole of Judah, from north (Geba) to south Beersheba). He seemingly at this stage had no authority over the priests outside Judah.
2 Kings 23:8
‘And he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand at the gate of the city.’
He also broke down the high places set up at the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city. We have no other information about these high places, but they were clearly either fully idolatrous or syncretistic. It has been suggested that this was at the gates of Beersheba as ‘the city’ is not named, and the name Beersheba ended the previous verse. Remains of such a high place destroyed in the time of Josiah have been found at Beersheba.
2 Kings 23:9
‘Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of YHWH in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened bread among their brothers.’
But the levitical priest of the high places themselves (in contrast to the chemarim - 2 Kings 23:5) were not left without sustenance, for although they were not allowed to officiate at the Temple in Jerusalem, presumably because of their previous heretical activity (for otherwise it is contrary to Deuteronomy 18:6-7), they were allowed to partake of the unleavened bread (or ‘priestly food’) allocated to the priests (see Leviticus 6:16; compare and contrast Deuteronomy 18:6-8, and note 1 Samuel 2:36).
2 Kings 23:10
‘And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.’
Josiah also defiled ‘Topheth’. ‘Topheth’ means ‘fireplace’ or ‘hearth’ (the vowels deliberately connect the name with the Hebrew word for ‘shame (bosheth)). This was seemingly a sophisticated and gruesome set-up, either erected or dug in the ground, which was established in the Valley of Hinnom (compare Joshua 18:16) for the purpose of sacrificing children to Molech. The valley of Hinnom would later become Jerusalem’s rubbish dump (if it was not so already). That the actual sacrificing of children is in mind is confirmed in Jeremiah 19:5.
2 Kings 23:11
‘And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of YHWH, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts, and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire.’
It is clear that model horses and chariots for the sun had been erected by the kings of Judah within the Temple area ‘by the chamber of Nathan-melech (‘gift of Molech’, or ‘gift of the King’) the chamberlain, which was in the precincts’. Models of such horses, some with solar discs on their foreheads, have been found east of Ophel, and at Hazor (9th century BC) and other sites, which all bear witness to the cult of the sun described here, whilst an Assyrian title for the sun god was ‘chariot rider’ (rakib narkabti). Similar sun worship in the Temple is attested in Ezekiel 8:16. The horses were removed from the Temple and the chariots burned with fire. This would be a clear indication that Assyria had been once and for all repudiated, as Assur, the chief god of Assyria, was the sun god and had no doubt been associated with these chariots and horses.
‘The precincts.’ This may refer to the precincts west of the Temple, or to colonnades within the Temple area, or to open pavilions. The word is found in the singular (compare 1 Chronicles 26:18) in a Lydian Aramaic inscription, and may be related to the Sumerian for ‘burning house’ (indicating a place of sacrifice). A similar word in Persian means ‘pavilion’.
2 Kings 23:12
‘And the altars which were on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of YHWH, did the king break down, and beat them down from there, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron.’
Altars, probably to the sun (compare 2 Kings 20:11), but no doubt also honouring other sky gods, had been erected ‘on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz’, a sanctuary possibly built on the roof of the palace. Roof sanctuaries were especially suited for worshipping astral gods (compare Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29; Zephaniah 1:5). These altars were broken down, along with the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of YHWH for the worship of all the host of heaven (compare 2 Kings 21:5). These also were beaten down, and their dust cast into the Brook Kidron.
‘The two courts of the house of YHWH’ suggests that the original Temple court had been divided into two, one section for the worship of Baal and Asherah and the other for the worship of YHWH. Alternately it could refer to the court of the Temple, and the court leading from there to the place complex.
2 Kings 23:13
‘And the high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of the destroyer, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile.’
These idolatrous high places were built on the mountain to the east of Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7) to the right of the Mount of the Destroyer (either a section of the Mount of Olives, or a play on words between mashchith (destroyer) and mashchah (oil)). They were built by Solomon for his wives, and may well have been maintained since then in order to service the foreign treaty wives of later kings. Now at last Josiah defiled them, rendering them unusable. There would be no more such worship within the vicinity of Jerusalem.
Ashtoreth was the Phoenician (Canaanite) mother goddess connected with fertility, love and war. Chemosh was the national god of Moab. The name Milcom (which appears in Ugaritic texts) is the same as Molech (Melech), the fierce national god of the equally fierce, half-wild Ammonites, but also worshipped throughout the area of Palestine, and even beyond.
2 Kings 23:14
‘And he broke in pieces the pillars, and cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with the bones of men.’
Having defiled the high places, he also broke in pieces the pillars which represented Baal, and cut down the Asherah images, defiling their sites with dead men’s bones.
2 Kings 23:15
‘Moreover the altar which was at Beth-el, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down, and he burned the high place and beat it to dust, and burned the Asherah.’
By this time, probably some years after the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah’s reforms were reaching beyond Judah. This was because Assyrian control over the province of Samaria had become non-existent as a result of the fact that they were engaged in their death struggles elsewhere (Nineveh was finally destroyed in 612 BC by the triumphant Babylonians, Medes and Scythians). Meanwhile Josiah appears to have been extending his rule over large parts of Samaria, filling the vacuum left by the Assyrians. In consequence he was able to purify Bethel, by destroying and defiling the altar and high place which Jeroboam I had set up there (1 Kings 12:29-33). The altar and high place were broken down, burned and smashed to pieces. The accompanying Asherah image was also burned.
2 Kings 23:16
‘And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount, and he sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them on the altar, and defiled it, according to the word of YHWH which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things.’
As Josiah turned about, having given instructions concerning the destruction of the altar and high place, he spotted the tombs in the mountain, and the result was that he ordered that the bones be brought from them and burned on the altar as part of the process of defilement and destruction. This, as the author points out, was in accordance with what YHWH had declared through the man of God who had proclaimed these things in the time of Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 13:2). What YHWH had said, He now performed.
2 Kings 23:17
‘Then he said, “What is that monument which I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the sepulchre of the man of God, who came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that you have done against the altar of Beth-el.” ’
Then he spotted a gravestone and asked what it was. And he was told by the men of the city that it marked the sepulchre of the man of God (whose ministry is mentioned in the previous verse) who had come from Judah and prophesied what Josiah had now done, which is one reason why his sepulchre is given such prominence here. It was present proof of the faithfulness of YHWH to His promises.
“It is the sepulchre of the man of God, who came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that you have done against the altar of Beth-el.” The literal wording is more startling, ‘The grave! The man of God who came from Judah ---.’
2 Kings 23:18
‘And he said, “Let him be. Let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria.’
So Josiah immediately declared that his bones must not be touched. They were not to be used like the other bones had been as a method for defiling the altar and high place in Bethel. Rather they were to be left in peace, along also with the bones of the old prophet of Samaria. Of course ‘Samaria’ here is the equivalent of Israel (the ‘modern’ term being used). Thus the bones of prophets from both Israel and Judah were preserved.
2 Kings 23:19
‘And all the houses also of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke YHWH to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Beth-el.’
Josiah then went throughout all the cities of the region of Samaria, destroying all the sanctuaries with their accompanying ‘high places’ (high altars reached by steps) which had so provoked YHWH to anger. He treated them in the same way as he had the altar and high place in Bethel. This was an indication of the extent to which his kingdom now reached.
2 Kings 23:20
‘And he slew all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them, and he returned to Jerusalem.’
Furthermore he slew all the priests who had been involved with sacrificing and offering incense at the high places, and he did it on the altars of the high places, and also burned men’s bones on them in order to defile them further. The ashes of the dead would prevent anyone in those days from ever seeing them as sacred again. They were to be seen as religiously defiled beyond repair. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
We naturally react against the idea of the slaughter of these men, but we must remember they were at the time seen as traitors to YHWH and his covenant, and therefore as worthy of death. No one in those days would have doubted that their crimes were deserving of the death penalty, for they were seen as in direct rebellion against YHWH. Furthermore it is probable that at the time they were not seeking to submit to the king and pleading for mercy, but were fiercely seeking to defend their high places, which they saw as sacred, against the assaults of Josiah’s men.
The Observance of The Passover (2 Kings 23:21-23).
The making of the new covenant following the reading of the Law was then followed by an observance of the Passover. There are no grounds whatsoever for the suggestion that previously the Passover had been observed in people’s houses and that this was now changed so that it became an observance at the Central Sanctuary. As with the other major feasts Passover had always been observed at the Central Sanctuary since the time of Moses (see Exodus 23:14-17; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16). Deuteronomy 16:5 was simply confirming this. The reason therefore why this observance of the Passover was different from all others ‘since the time of the Judges’ had nothing to do with where it was held. It was to do with the magnificence of the offerings, and the genuineness of the worshippers, which were seen as paralleling the celebrations in the days of Moses and Joshua (see Numbers 9:5; Joshua 5:1-12). And it is significant that these offerings were not prescribed by Deuteronomy 16:1-8, but by Leviticus 23:4-8 and Numbers 28:16-25, demonstrating that the Book of the Covenant which had been discovered included at least one of these two passages.
The feast of the Passover, which celebrated the deliverance from Egypt, would have been seen as a very appropriate feast for celebrating the new deliverance from Assyria which was now being enjoyed and celebrated as the chains of Assyria were being flung off by the removal of all that was connected with the worship of Assyrian gods. No wonder that it was celebrated with such fervour.
2 Kings 23:21
‘And the king commanded all the people, saying, “Keep the passover to YHWH your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant.”
The making of the covenant following the full reading of the Law was now to be brought into effect ritually by the observance of the Feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread ‘to YHWH your God’, the feast which especially celebrated the deliverance from Egypt. It now celebrated their equally important deliverance from Assyria. Passover was thus to be a part of their rededication of themselves to YHWH. And it was to be observed ‘as it is written in this Book of the Covenant’. It was to be a return to the old ways. Passover may well have been neglected in the days of Manasseh and Amon, and even prior to Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:5) but now it was to be restored in all its glory.
2 Kings 23:22
‘Surely there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah.’
As pointed out above the point here is that it exceeded all previous Passovers since the time of the Judges in its magnificence, and in the purity with which it was observed. It was seen as taking ‘Israel’ back to the glory days of Moses and Joshua themselves. And that required following the prescriptions found in Numbers 28:16-25, which had possibly been neglected. This description was, of course, hyperbole, emphasising the magnificence of the way in which it was observed. It was seen as restoring them to the purity of their beginnings. (The literal following of the rather minimal requirements of Deuteronomy 16:1-8 could hardly be spoken of in these terms).
2 Kings 23:23
‘But in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this passover kept to YHWH in Jerusalem.’
And this Passover was observed to YHWH in Jerusalem in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, sealing the new re-establishment of the covenant in 2 Kings 23:2-3. Thus the making of the covenant, followed by the observance of the Passover, have here formed an inclusio within which we have had described the whole of Josiah’s reforming programme.
Josiah’s Obedience To The Law Would Prove To Be Insufficient To Prevent The Final Catastrophe For Judah Because Jerusalem’s Sin Had Been Too Great And Was Still Too Deeply Imbedded In The People (2 Kings 23:24-27).
With all his enthusiasm and godliness Josiah could only reform the outward trappings of Yahwism and demonstrate his own zeal and love for YHWH. What he could not do was force the people to follow his example in their hearts. The sins of Manasseh had brought out how willing the people had been to follow him in the path of idolatry. They had demonstrated what the people of Judah had really become in spite of God’s amazing deliverance in the time of Hezekiah.
2 Kings 23:24 sums up and puts the cap on the reformation, and includes the new element of the removal of all that was connected with the occult. From now on men would seek to YHWH only. The whole land was being swept clean, and it was in confirmation of the law which was written in the book which Hilkiah, the Priest, had found in the house of YHWH. For of all the kings of Judah there was none, not even Hezekiah, who so fully followed the Law of Moses with all his heart and with all his soul. Hezekiah had been the ultimate when it came to trusting YHWH, but Josiah was the ultimate in obeying Him.
Nevertheless Josiah’s obedience, like Hezekiah’s trust, while it averted YHWH’s wrath for a time, was not sufficient to totally remove that wrath, for Judah’s provocation was too great (and it is significant that just as Hezekiah’s trust had been seen to fail in his dealings with Babylon, so Josiah’s would be seen to fail in a similar way). It would not be until there came a Son of David whose trust and obedience was total that final deliverance for God’s people could come.
a Moreover those who had familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the teraphim, and the idols, and all the abominations who were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of YHWH (2 Kings 2:23-24).
b And like him was there no king before him, who turned to YHWH with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses, nor after him did there arise any like him (2 Kings 23:25).
a Notwithstanding, YHWH did not turn not from the fierceness of his great wrath, with which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him (2 Kings 23:26).
Note that in ‘a’ we have a summary of what Josiah had to put away from Judah and Jerusalem, and in the parallel it is YHWH’s anger over these thing that will result in the final destruction of Judah. Central in ‘b’ is the incomparability of Josiah.
2 Kings 23:24
‘Moreover those who had familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the teraphim, and the idols, and all the abominations who were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of YHWH.’
Josiah’s cleansing of Judah went further than just the sites involving pagan ritual. It also included those who sought to parallel the prophets as obtainers of information from the ‘other world’ by engaging in the occult. Those who ‘had familiar spirits’ were mediums who claimed to consult the dead. The ‘wizards’ too claimed contact with the ‘other world’. The teraphim are associated with divination (compare Judges 17:5 where they are paralleled with the ephod in Micah’s own personal sect, and see Ezekiel 21:26). The word possibly associates with the Hittite ‘tarpis’, indicating a type of evil or protecting spirit. All had idolatrous associations. So these were removed along with all the other idols and abominations, and it was in order to ‘confirm the words of the Law’ which were written in the Book of the Law which had been discovered.
Here again we have a number of indications that suggest that the Law Book consisted of more than Deuteronomy. We read, for example, of ‘those who have familiar spirits’. But this is a way of putting it which is paralleled only in Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6, (compare also Leviticus 20:27). Deuteronomy, in its only mention of familiar spirits, speaks of ‘consulters of familiar spirits’ (Deuteronomy 18:11). The terminology used here is thus totally unexpected if it was inspired by a section of Deuteronomy, but fully understandable if inspired by Leviticus. The teraphim are only mentioned in the Pentateuch in Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:34-35 (and then in Judges 17:5; Judges 18:14; Judges 18:17-18; Judges 18:20). The idea of the ‘putting away of idols (gilulim)’ is something found only in Leviticus 26:30 (where the idea is described in an even more forceful way). Deuteronomy 29:17 does speak of such ‘idols’ as something seen among the nations among whom they found themselves, but it contains no mention of putting them away. On the other hand ‘abominations’ are only mentioned in Deuteronomy 29:17 (although even then they are nowhere specifically said to need putting away). Yet here in Kings all these things are said to be put away ‘to confirm the words of the Law which were written in the book --- which was found in the house of YHWH’. This must again be seen as suggesting that the Book of the Law included a considerable portion of the Pentateuch over and above Deuteronomy.
2 Kings 23:25
‘And like him was there no king before him, who turned to YHWH with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses, nor after him did there arise any like him.’
As a result of his zealous activities to observe the Law in all its fullness Josiah is recommended in terms which deliberately remind us of his making of the covenant in 2 Kings 23:3. Here it is stressed that what he covenanted, he also carried into action. (Happy the person who can say the same). Note the addition of ‘with all his might’ which stresses this. He was not just a hearer, but a doer also. Thus while Hezekiah had been incomparable because he trusted in YHWH with all his might, Josiah was incomparable because he obeyed Him with all his might by seeking to fully observe His Law as discovered in the Temple, that is, ‘all the law of Moses’.
2 Kings 23:26
‘Notwithstanding, YHWH did not turn not from the fierceness of his great wrath, with which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.’
His activity was, however, too late to prevent God’s wrath being visited on Judah. Even his righteousness was not sufficient, and this was because Manasseh’s sin, and Judah’s sin, had been too great and was too firmly imbedded within the psyche of Judah. It was not, of course, that YHWH would not have forgiven them had they truly repented. And had every king who followed Josiah behaved like he did then the outpouring of God’s wrath would certainly have been continually delayed. But the fact was that YHWH knew the truth about men’s hearts, and was already aware of what Josiah’s sons would do, and what Judah would do. He was thus aware that within twenty five short years all would be over. (We must remember, however, that the book does not end with that, but with the raising up of the erring son of David to place of acceptance, something which had within it a germ of hope for the future. But we must also remember that His mercy revealed in that had not prevented the collapse of both Israel and Judah. God is not mocked).
In a sense we could say that Judah, as with Israel before them, had committed ‘the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’. They had resisted YHWH for so long that resistance had become so ingrained within them that even the revival under Josiah was insufficient to stem the tide. Thus although those who in the future would listen to the pleadings of Jeremiah would find salvation and hope in God, the majority of Judah would await only judgment and darkness (as the Jewish leaders also would in the time of Jesus). The truth is that God is very patient, and allows His light to burn on for so long, but if it is not finally heeded eventually He allows it to die out. (We can compare Revelation 2:5. The Ephesian church, along with its fellow churches in Asia Minor, which had enjoyed such great privileges, gradually lost their illumination and sank into formalism and error, and the result was that eventually the Muslim hordes came in and their future became one of darkness. They had grieved God once too often. We see the light similarly growing dim even now in the UK, a light which, unless it is revived, will slowly die out. And make no mistake about it, the USA, which is under grave spiritual attack, will be next).
2 Kings 23:27
‘And YHWH said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city which I have chosen, even Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, “My name shall be there”.’
YHWH’s verdict on Judah was now pronounced. His warning was that He would remove Judah out of His sight in the same way as He had removed Israel out of His sight. And this would even be true of the city and the Temple that, for David’s sake, He had chosen (1 Kings 11:13), and of which He had said, ‘My Name will be there’ (compare 1 Kings 8:16; 1 Kings 8:29). For within a few short years His prophet Ezekiel would visually witness His desertion of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 10:1-22 with Ezekiel 11:22-23), and the Ark which bore His name (2 Samuel 6:2) would be lost for ever.
As we know, Jerusalem would later be restored for a further probationary period, but old Israel would not have learned its lesson, and when the true Son of David came they would reject Him, bringing on themselves final destruction. But we must remember as we consider this that His final promise had not been the continuation of Jerusalem, but the continuation of the Davidic house out of which would one day arise the One Who would bring about salvation. That is why 2 Kings will end, not with the rising of Jerusalem from the ashes, but with the rise of the son of David from his captivity. And once Jerusalem was again destroyed the Temple would then be replaced by the new Temple, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the true people of God who have become one with Him in His salvation, and Jerusalem would become the one that was above to which His true people would look (Galatians 4:25-30; Hebrews 12:22), the Jerusalem which is the true city of God. The old has passed way, the new has come, and there is no going back.
The Closure of Josiah’s Reign (2 Kings 23:28-30).
Josiah’s glorious reign came to a sorry end when he made a fatal miscalculation without consulting YHWH. Assyria were by this time in dire straits after the sack of Nineveh and fighting for their very existence against the Babylonians, Medes and Scythians. The result of this was that Egypt decided in their own interests to aid Assyria’s survival in order that they might act as a barrier between Egypt and the aggressors, and so as to ensure their own control over the lands south of the Euphrates. They did not want a powerful Assyrian empire to be replaced by an equally powerful Babylonian one on their own doorstep. So with this in mind Pharaoh Necoh marched his troops northward to Assyria’s aid. But this meant that they passed through the plain of Esdraelon on Judah’s borders (Megiddo, on the western side of the Vale of Esdraelon was probably already in Egyptian hands and fortified by them, having been taken over from the Assyrians. It had been the administrative centre of the Assyrian province of Megiddo). We are given no reason why he made his decision, but we learn here that for some reason Josiah decided that he must prevent Egypt’s progress, evidently without consulting YHWH. This may simply have been a defensive move, with Josiah seeing Egypt’s aim as control of all the lands south of the Euphrates, but the more probable reason was that he had some form of treaty with the Babylonian alliance (otherwise why not consult YHWH?). If so it was a fatal move. As Hezekiah had before him Josiah was dallying with major players who could swallow Judah up whole.
As so often in Kings the author tells us what happened historically but does so with a theological motive. He expects his readers to recognise in what happened the hand of YHWH, and clearly saw Josiah’s action as a sin against YHWH, especially in view of YHWH’s promise of peace in Josiah’s day. The result would be the death of Josiah at a time when Judah could least afford it, surrounded as it was by powerful nations combating each other. Furthermore his decision to fight the Egyptians would give Egypt the excuse (if any were needed) to be the first to swallow up Judah.
a Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (2 Kings 23:28).
b In his days Pharaoh Necoh king of Egypt went up to meet the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates, and king Josiah went against him (2 Kings 23:29 a).
c And Pharaoh Necoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him (2 Kings 23:29 b).
b And his servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulchre (2 Kings 23:30 a).
a And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king instead of his father (2 Kings 23:30 b).
Note that in ‘a’ we have the usual closing formula in which we are referred to the royal annals of the kings of Judah for the remainder of the acts of Josiah’s reign, and in the parallel the description of the cessation of his reign. In ‘b’ Josiah’s aggression against Egypt is described and in the parallel we are informed of its consequence. Centrally in ‘c’ we have described the death of Josiah, because he chose war and not peace.
2 Kings 23:28
‘Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’
In accordance with the usual closing formula we are referred for the other activities of Josiah’s reign to the official royal annals of the king’s of Judah. This included the expanding of his kingdom by taking in much of what had been Samaria.
2 Kings 23:29
‘In his days Pharaoh Necoh king of Egypt went up to meet the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates, and king Josiah went against him; and Pharaoh Necoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.’
As always in Kings any mention of an incident has theological reasons. It is clear therefore that the author did not approve of Josiah’s action as described here and saw it as a sin against YHWH, a sin which resulted in his violent death. That is something confirmed in 2 Chronicles 35:20-25. As mentioned above Pharaoh Necoh was marching northward in order to assist the Assyrians in their rearguard action against the Babylonian/Medan alliance, no doubt with a view to ensuring Egypt’s control over the lands south of the Euphrates, and so as to ensure that the alliance did not become too powerful. No reason is given for Josiah’s action in opposing him, but it was either because he saw Egypt’s advance through the Plain of Esdraelon as a major threat to Judah’s future (which it may well have been), or because he was actually in alliance with the Babylonians and was acting on their behalf. Either way there is no suggestion that he consulted YHWH, in spite of the fact that YHWH had promised peace in his day. The result was that he was wounded in the subsequent battle, and later died of his wounds. His successful reign had culminated in an ignominious death.
‘Went up ‘al the king of Assyria.’ At this time ’el and ‘al were virtually interchangeable. Thus ‘to meet with’ rather than ‘against’. The Babylonian Chronicle makes clear that he was going to Assyria’s assistance, simply in order to obtain control of lands south of the Euphrates (which in the past Egypt had always seen as within her sphere of influence), and because he wanted to stem the Medo-Babylonian tide which might then overflow on Egypt.
2 Kings 23:30
‘And his servants carried him in a chariot dying from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulchre. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king instead of his father.’
Josiah’s followers bore their mortally wounded king in a chariot from Megiddo and brought it to Jerusalem, and there he died and was buried in his own sepulchre. And the consequence was that ‘the people of the land’ anointed Jehoahaz as king instead of his father. Jehoahaz was not the eldest son and may well have been chosen because of his anti-Egyptian attitude. The people of the land would not want to find themselves once again under Egyptian rule without a fight. Or it may simply be because he was seen as more suitable than Jehoiakim who would later prove so disreputable.
The Last Days Of Judah (2 Kings 23:31 to 2 Kings 25:26).
As Huldah had forewarned the death of Josiah signalled the beginning of the end for Judah, and in fact within twenty five years of his death (in 609 BC) Jerusalem would be no more. Jehoahaz (nee Shallum), who succeeded him, only lasted three months before the inevitable Egyptian punitive invasion consequent on Josiah’s precipitate action resulted in his being taken into exile in Egypt, to be replaced by his brother Eliakim, who was renamed Jehoiakim as a sign that he was Pharaoh’s vassal. And yet even within that three month period it is apparent that Josiah’s reforms had begun to collapse without Jehoahaz even lifting a hand to prevent it. The violent death of Josiah was seemingly seen as a signal to the Baalists that they could return to their old ways. Indeed Jehoahaz apparently approved of the moves, for the verdict delivered against him was that he had done evil in the eyes of YHWH. The truth was that the reforms had been mainly external, and had not really changed the hearts of the people, who could not wait to backslide.
For a few years Jehoiakim ruled as a vassal of Egypt, who now for a while controlled the land south of the Euphrates, but Egypt’s control over this area was not to last for long, and it was eventually lost to the new rising power of Babylon under first Nabopolassar, and then his son Nebuchadnezzar. The result of Nebuchadnezzar’s advance was that Jerusalem was invested and taken, and a number of important people, including Daniel and his three friends, transported to Babylon ‘in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim King of Judah’ (Daniel 1:1). Jehoiakim himself became a vassal of Babylon (2 Kings 24:3), whilst Egypt retreated behind its own borders, and remained there unable to do anything about it (2 Kings 24:7). It may have been at this stage that Jehoiakim was bound in fetters to be carried off to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:6), before finally being restored to his throne.
Unfortunately, like his brother, Jehoiakim also ‘did evil in the sight of YHWH’, and whilst this might partly have been forced on him by Nebuchadnezzar, as he insisted on the gods of Babylon being introduced into the Temple, it was clearly seen as going beyond that. In line with what we have seen previously it indicated that he allowed the syncretistic and false high places to flourish again. Jeremiah tells us that Jehoiakim also ‘shed innocent blood’ like Manasseh (2 Kings 24:4), thereby demonstrating his total disregard for the Law of YHWH. This included the blood of Uriah the prophet (Jeremiah 26:23). The Chronicler further speaks of ‘his abominations which he did’ (2 Chronicles 36:8), a description which demonstrates his full participation in idolatry. Thus he fully earned the description which was applied to him. All Josiah’s efforts were proving to have been in vain. Again we see that idolatry had not been removed out of the hearts of the people.
The failure of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Egypt in 601 BC, which resulted in heavy losses for both sides, meant that he had to retire back to Babylon to lick his wounds, and it was probably this that encouraged Jehoiakim to rebel, relying on Egypt for support. But Nebuchadnezzar’s reverse would only be temporary, and when he returned with his armies in greater force and besieged Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 25:1-12) Jehoiakim was seemingly only saved from humiliation by his death, which may well have been at the hands of assassins who were seeking to appease Nebuchadnezzar. He was replaced by his eighteen year old son Jehoiachin who almost immediately surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and was carried away to Babylon, along with many prominent people (including Ezekiel), being replaced by his uncle Mattaniah, who was given the throne name of Zedekiah. Jehoiachin was, however still seen as king, even though absent, with Zedekiah merely acting as his regent. Under such circumstances it would have required a much more charismatic man than Zedekiah to hold Judah together. But Judah was in ferment and Zedekiah was unequal to the task, and lacking in his response towards YHWH.
The destruction of Assyria had brought great relief to the world and been hailed by all as the end of an era, and Judah still could not reconcile itself to the idea that Babylon had taken over Assyria’s mantle. Who did Babylon think they were? Zedekiah therefore ruled over a people in constant ferment who felt that Babylon’s yoke could be overthrown, and he was encouraged in this by ‘false prophets’. This comes out very strongly in the prophecy of Jeremiah, where Jeremiah is seen as standing almost alone in warning that Babylon must not be opposed (Jeremiah 27:12 onwards). The final consequence was that Zedekiah foolishly rebelled, and the consequence was that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took it, and later destroyed its walls and burned it to the ground, carrying the cream of the people away to Babylon. Jerusalem was no more. All that remained of Judah was a devastated country, devoid of its most prominent people, and ruled over from Mizpah by a governor, Gedaliah (2 Kings 25:22-23).
The Reign Of Jehoahaz King of Judah (609 BC) - (2 Kings 23:31-35).
Jehoahaz, who was Josiah’s fourth son, was given the unenviable task of replacing Josiah, knowing full well that the wrath of Egypt would inevitably fall on Judah as a result of Josiah’s action against Pharaoh, and sure enough within three months, having himself approached Pharaoh Necoh at Riblah, he found himself in bonds and carried off to Egypt as a royal hostage, with the land of Judah being put to harsh tribute. And yet even in that short time he had revealed that he would not be following in his father’s footsteps, for he is recorded as having ‘done evil in the eyes of YHWH even as his fathers had done’. In other words on the death of Josiah Baalism immediately re-established itself in Judah, with Jehoahaz’ support.
One of the problems with kings having multiple wives was that they did not have a close rapport with their sons, and the result was that the major influence in their bringing up was in the hands of their mothers and their advisers (note the constant importance of the queen mother in the narrative). This would partly explain why Josiah’s godliness had not been passed on to his sons, and why on his death his sons reverted back to Baalism. Such kings did not choose their wives because of their spiritual status, but because of their political influence.
Jehoahaz may well have been chosen by the people of the land (2 Kings 23:30) over his brothers because they recognised his potential to be king, and because they were hoping through him to establish their independence. He may have been seen as anti-Egyptian. Or it may simply be that they saw him as the best candidate for negotiating with Egypt. Alternatively it may have been that he was the only one willing to offer himself to be the scapegoat in view of the inevitable reprisals of Egypt. Whichever way it was he would know that he had little option, when he was summoned to Riblah by Pharaoh Necoh (or went there of his own volition seeking peace terms) but to attend and accept his fate. What had happened to Josiah had already brought home the folly of armed resistance against such a powerful foe. Once there he was put in chains and carried off to Egypt as a royal hostage, where he remained until he died. (see here Ezekiel’s vivid picture in Ezekiel 19:3-4; and compare Jeremiah 22:10-12). There is no closing formula to his reign because he did not die in office. He just disappeared from the scene. And in the author’s eyes it was because he ‘did evil in the sight of YHWH’.
a Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah, and he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, according to all that his fathers had done, and Pharaoh Necoh put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and put the land to a tribute of a hundred talents of silver, and a talent of gold (2 Kings 23:31-33).
b And Pharaoh Necoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim, but he took Jehoahaz away; and he came to Egypt, and died there (2 Kings 23:34).
a And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation, to give it to Pharaoh Necoh.’
Note that in ‘a’ the land of Judah was put to tribute, and in the parallel the tribute was paid. Centrally in ‘b’ Eliakim was made king with the throne name of Jehoiakim.
2 Kings 23:31
‘Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.’
Jehoahaz was twenty three years old when he began to reign. Jehoahaz was his throne name. His birth name was Shallum (Jeremiah 22:11). The three months of his reign is confirmed by the Babylonian Chronicle which states that Pharaoh Necho’s campaign in the north lasted from the month Tammuz to the month Elal (roughly July to September). It was at that point, once he had consolidated his position, that Pharaoh summoned Jehoahaz to Riblah. Jehoahaz’ marriage to the daughter of an influential inhabitant of Libnah was probably intended to help to cement Libnah’s association with Judah (compare 2 Kings 8:22).
2 Kings 23:32
‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, according to all that his fathers had done.
Even though his reign was short it was apparently sufficiently long to indicate the direction of his intentions. Josiah’s death, which they had no doubt hoped for, would have been a signal to the would be worshippers of Baal and Asherah that they could now make some attempt to restore Baalism, and it would appear that Jehoahaz raised no objection, and possibly even connived in it. It is clear from this that Josiah’s faith and obedience was not seen as reflected in the attitude of his sons. This may well have been because his multiple marriages resulted in the sons being more influenced by their less godly mothers.
2 Kings 23:33
‘And Pharaoh Necoh put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and put the land to a tribute of a hundred talents of silver, and a talent of gold.’
The prophetic author therefore saw what happened to Jehoahaz as part of YHWH’s punishment on him for his apostasy, for when he was summoned to Riblah to meet with Pharaoh Necoh he was put in chains and carried off as a hostage to Egypt, no doubt as a guarantee of Judah’s good behaviour, and as a lesson to Judah as to what happened to those who opposed Pharaoh. As the appointee chosen by Judah he was not to be allowed to reign. (He may well have been the only son of Josiah who had been brave enough to accept the throne, knowing precisely what would happen). For a poetic description of this incident see Ezekiel 19:3-4. Pharaoh then put the land of Judah to a tribute of a hundred talents of silver, and one talent of gold, a considerable sum for a small country to have to find, although possibly not large enough to be seen as excessively punitive.
Pharaoh Necoh had previously at last joined up with the remnants of the Assyrian forces and had stayed the advances of Nebuchadnezzar. Now he had established himself at Riblah and saw himself as overlord of the area south of the Euphrates, including Carchemish, Aram, Hamath and Palestine, and it was as such that he no doubt summoned Jehoahaz to present himself before him and exacted tribute on Judah. Alternatively Jehoahaz may have decided that his wisest move in view of what his father had done, was to seek peace terms with Egypt and have gone voluntarily. If so, as far as he was concerned, it was a misjudgment, for he became a permanent hostage from then on.
This Egyptian dominance of the area would in fact continue for some years, but it would end when Nebuchadnezzar advanced once more and Egypt was crushingly defeated by his forces at Carchemish, and then again at Hamath, thus having to fall back to its own borders where it did succeed in stemming the Babylonian advance.
Riblah was in the district of Hamath on the River Orontes in Aram. It commanded the main route from Egypt to the Euphrates, and was easily defended, which is why Pharaoh Necoh, (and Nebuchadnezzar after him), chose it as his headquarters. The neighbouring valleys and forests provided ample supplies for his troops.
2 Kings 23:34
‘And Pharaoh Necoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim, but he took Jehoahaz away; and he came to Egypt, and died there.’
Pharaoh Necoh meanwhile made Eliakim, an older half-brother of Jehoahaz and a son of Josiah, king in his father’s place, and changed his name to Jehoiakim (the name of YHWH replacing El in Eliakim). This change of name may have been intended to indicate that Jehoiakim was now Pharaoh’s vassal, and that Pharaoh was his god. The introduction of the name of YHWH may have been cynical, indicating that YHWH should be seen as submissive to Osiris and Horus (Pharaoh being seen as the personification of Horus and destined to be Osiris) or it may have been a genuine attempt to win over the people of Judah, and to give them the (false) impression of a kind of independence.
2 Kings 2Ki_23:35
‘And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation, to give it to Pharaoh Necoh.’
Jehoiakim then set about gathering the tribute required by the Pharaoh by means of levying taxation on the people of the land ‘according to the commandment of Pharaoh’. The phrase is significant. It was no longer YHWH’s commandments that were being observed in Judah, but Pharaoh’s. As a result each man in Judah was assessed, and was then called on to contribute in accordance with his ability to pay. It would appear from this that while the Temple had been restored it had few treasures in it of which it could be stripped. Such poverty, the author wants us to know, was the consequence of its history (it is in total contrast to the wealth of Solomon with which the book began).
Throughout the book of Kings the prophetic author has constantly and deliberately emphasised the source from which tribute was paid. Initially and regularly it was paid from the Temple and palace treasuries (2 Kings 12:18; 2 Kings 16:8; 1 Kings 14:26; 1 Kings 15:18) then by stripping the Temple of its gold (2 Kings 18:16). Now it was down to everyone making a contribution. The royal treasuries were finally empty. This was the consequence of disobedience to YHWH.
The Reign Of Jehoiakim, King of Judah - 609-597 BC (2 Kings 23:36 to 2 Kings 24:6).
Nothing good is said about Jehoiakim in either Kings or Chronicles, whilst Jeremiah portrays him as an oppressive and covetous ruler (Jeremiah 22:17) who presided over a period of religious decay during which the syncretistic high places were restored (e.g. Jeremiah 25:5-7; Jeremiah 26:5-6; Jeremiah 35:14-15). He also introduced hideous Egyptian rites and filled the land with violence (Ezekiel 8:5-17; compare Jeremiah 22:17), capping it by murdering Uriah the prophet for opposing him (Jeremiah 26:20-23). Unlike his father, who had ruled justly and wisely, his thoughts were only for himself, and he built himself a palace without adequately paying his workforce (Jeremiah 22:13-16), thinking to aggrandise himself, but only thereby revealing his folly and that he had little regard for others. But none of this is described here in Kings in detail. Rather it is brought out by the prophetic author in his usual indirect way by referring to the fact that he ‘did evil in the eyes of YHWH’ (always an indication of a restoration of idolatry) and then describing the judgments that came on him as a result of YHWH’s hand at work. This was then followed by bringing out that this was because he was following in the footsteps of Manasseh. But he was not to be seen as being alone in being judged, for YHWH’s judgment was to fall on Judah as a whole, in fulfilment of the words of the prophets which portrayed the depths of sin into which they had fallen (2 Kings 24:2). This time they had gone too far. Manasseh had not been alone in his sinfulness. His people had shared in his sin with him. And that was why YHWH would not pardon, and why they would therefore share in the consequent judgment.
We note especially that the author avoids mentioning the arrival of the main Babylonian army to besiege Jerusalem because he wants us to see that the build up of YHWH’s judgment is occurring stage by stage (2 Kings 24:2). But he makes crystal clear that the end of it will be the destruction of Judah, because YHWH’s hand is against them, and that meanwhile there is no help to be had from Egypt. Judah will be left isolated, to stand, and fall, alone. It is in fact only when we get to the reign of his son Jehoiachin that we learn that calamity is awaiting Jerusalem, and had already been threatening in the final days of Jehoiakim.
a Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah (2 Kings 23:36).
b And he did what as evil in the sight of YHWH, according to all that his fathers had done (2 Kings 23:37).
c In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him (2 Kings 24:1).
d And YHWH sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, and bands of the Aramaeans, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by his servants the prophets (2 Kings 24:2).
c Surely at the commandment of YHWH this came on Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did, and also for the innocent blood that he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and YHWH would not pardon (2 Kings 24:3-4).
b Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (2 Kings 24:5).
a So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned instead of him. And the king of Egypt did not come again any more out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken, from the brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates, all that pertained to the king of Egypt (2 Kings 24:6-7).
Note that in ‘a’ Jehoiakim began his reign and in the parallel his reign ended. In ‘b’ he did (religiously) what was evil in the sight of YHWH and in the parallel the remainder of what he did can be found in the official annals of the kings of Judah. In ‘c’ Nebuchadnezzar came on the scene (Jeremiah tells us that he came as the servant of YHWH) and in the parallel it was because YHWH had planned to remove Judah out of His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, which were being repeated by both Jehoiakim and Judah. Centrally in ‘d’ YHWH has Himself sent destroyers against Judah in accordance with His own word which He had spoken by the prophets. The word of YHWH has gone out against Judah and will not be called back.
2 Kings 23:36
‘Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah.’
Jehoiakim, who was a year or two older than his half-brother Jehoahaz, began to reign when he was twenty five years old, and reigned for eleven years. The queen mother, Zebidah, came from Rumah. If this was Khirbet al-Rumah, thirty five kilometres (twenty one miles) inland from Mount Carmel, it may indicate how far Josiah had extended his rule, the marriage being in order to establish his hold in the area. It would be a reign full of turmoil because of his sinfulness.
2 Kings 23:37
‘And he did what as evil in the sight of YHWH, according to all that his fathers had done.’
Jehoiakim continued to allow, and even approved of, the outbreak of Baalism that had begun during the short reign of Jehoahaz, on the death of Josiah. Once again the syncretistic high places for the worship of both Baal and YHWH were being re-established (turning YHWH into simply another nature God. See e.g. Ezekiel 6:3-4; Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 16:16-39), and altars to Baal and Asherah and even probably to the Sun, were being introduced into the Temple (see Ezekiel 8:16).
2 Kings 24:1
‘In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years.
The arrival of Nebuchadnezzar (Nabu-kudurri-usur) of Babylon in 605/4 BC put an end to Egyptian supremacy, with the result that, on Egypt’s withdrawal behind its borders, Jehoiakim had to submit to him as his vassal. This took place in the third year of his reign (Daniel 1:1), when Jerusalem was invested and prominent men were taken as hostages to Babylon, including among them Daniel and his three compatriots. It may have been at this time that Jehoiakim was himself taken in chains to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:6) where he would be forced to make an oath of allegiance. We can compare how similar ignominious treatment, followed by restoration, had been meted out to Manasseh without being mentioned by the author, whilst a similar thing had happened to Pharaoh Tirhakah under Assyrian rule.
This arrival of Nebuchadn(r)ezzar in force, followed subsequently by two further raids, is described in the Babylonian Chronicle as follows:
“In the twenty first year the king of Babylon (Nabopolassar) stayed in his own country while the crown-prince Nebuchadrezzar, his eldest son, took personal command of his troops and marched to Carchemish which lay on the bank of the River Euphrates. He crossed the river against the Egyptian army -- they fought with each other and the Egyptian army retreated before him. He defeated them, annihilating them. As for the remains of the Egyptian army which had escaped from the defeat so that no weapon touched them, the Babylonian army overtook and defeated them in the district of Hamath, so that not a single man got away to his own country. At that time Nebuchadrezzar captured the whole land of Hatti (which included Aram, Samaria and Judah). --- In his accession year Nebuchadrezzar went back again to the Hatti-land and marched victoriously through it until the month of Sebat. In the month of Sebat he took the heavy tribute of the Hatti-land back to Babylon. --- In the first year of Nebuchadrezzar (the year after the accession year) he mustered his army in the month of Sivan and went to the Hatti-land. He marched about victoriously in the Hatti-land until the month of Kislev. All the kings of the Hatti-land (including Damascus, Tyre and Sidon, and Judah) came before him and he received their heavy tribute. He marched to the city of Ashkelon and captured it in the month of Kislev.”
2 Kings 24:1
‘Then he turned and rebelled against him.’
Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to invade Egypt three of four years after his succession (i.e. in c 601 BC) resulted in a set back for his army and he had to return to Babylon to recoup. This may well have been what caused Jehoiakim to rebel, probably with promises of support from Egypt. To him things were beginning to look promising.
2 Kings 24:2
‘And YHWH sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, and bands of the Aramaeans, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by his servants the prophets.’
Being in no position to return immediately to Judah himself, Nebuchadrezzar nevertheless arranged for Judah to be attacked by marauders (who would be tributaries of Babylon) from all sides. The Chaldeans (Babylonians) were possibly occupying troops stationed in Aram and were effective enough to make people take refuge in Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 35:11). They were supported by bands of Aramaeans. The Moabites and Ammonites would harry the land east of Jordan, and possibly also cross the Jordan looking for spoils as they had done in the days of the Judges (Judges 3).
But in the eyes of the author the main cause for this activity was not Nebuchadnezzar, but the word of YHWH (after all, unknown to Nebuchadnezzar, he was YHWH’s servant - Jeremiah 25:9). Thus in the author’s view it was primarily because of Judah’s sins that these attacks were being carried out, in accordance with the words of YHWH’s servants the prophets. History was being seen as subject to His will.
2 Kings 24:3-4
‘Surely at the commandment of YHWH this came on Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did, and also for the innocent blood that he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and YHWH would not pardon.’
The author then again stressed that all that was happening was ‘at the commandment of YHWH’. And this was because He had determined to remove Judah out of His sight as He had warned as long ago as Leviticus 18:28. He was sick of them. And this situation had come about because of the sins of Manasseh and what he had done, and because of the innocent blood which he had shed, and the fact that he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. It had been so bad that it was something that YHWH could not overlook because, although the reign of Josiah had at first altered the picture, Judah had turned back to the same behaviour as before, something evidenced by the slaying of Uriah the prophet by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:20-23). Josiah’s death had resulted in YHWH’s covenant being openly slighted on a continual basis and it revealed Judah’s permanent hardness of heart, something which even Josiah had been unable to remedy. That was why Judah was doomed. Compare Deuteronomy 29:20.
2 Kings 24:5
‘Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’
As usual the author was not interested in political activities which were not relevant to his case and in respect of them refers his readers to the official annals of the kings of Judah (for the last time).
2 Kings 24:6
‘So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned instead of him.’
The closing formula is also used for the last time, for the author is now moving into a description of ‘current affairs’ concerning which he was fully informed. It is significant that we are not told how or where Jehoiakim was buried, leaving us to infer that there was something unusual about it, and indeed his end as a whole is shrouded in mystery. Jeremiah 22:18-19 tells us that he would be buried ‘with the burial of an ass’ and that his body would be thrown unmourned outside Jerusalem. (Josephus tells us that he sought to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, but was put to death and his body tossed ignominiously outside the walls of Jerusalem, although that may simply be an inference from the words of Jeremiah). However, 2 Chronicles 36:6 ff. tells us that he was bound in fetters in order to be carried off to Babylon, although it is not said that that actually happened. Perhaps he died while in custody outside the walls of Jerusalem and never actually commenced the journey to Babylon. Daniel 1:1-2 is also equally ambiguous.
2 Kings 24:7
‘And the king of Egypt did not come again any more out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken, from the brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates, all that pertained to the king of Egypt.’
In typical fashion the author added to the closing formula an appropriate comment concerning events. Compare 2 Kings 15:12; 2 Kings 15:16; 2 Kings 15:37; 1 Kings 15:23; 1 Kings 15:32. In this case it was a summary as to the situation with regard to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar’s control of the land south of the Euphrates, down almost to the borders of Egypt (to the Wadi of Egypt, just north of the border), had become such that the king of Egypt did not venture beyond his borders. All that he had previously gained had been lost and any assistance that he may have promised to Judah would thus come to nothing. He was no match for the forces of Nebuchadnezzar.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany