Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, March 5th, 2024
the Third Week of Lent
There are 26 days til Easter!
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 22

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-20


B.C. 639-608

2 Kings 22:1-20; 2 Kings 23:1-37

Jos., "Ant.," X 4:1.

"In outline dim and vast

Their fearful shadows cast

The giant forms of Empires, on their way

To ruin: one by one

They tower, and they are gone."


IF we are to understand the reign of Josiah as a whole, we must preface it by some allusion to the great epoch-marking circumstances of his age, which explain the references of contemporary prophets, and which, in great measure, determined the foreign policy of the pious king.

The three memorable events of this brief epoch were,

(I.) the movement of the Scythians,

(II.) the rise of Babylon, and

(III.) the humiliation of Nineveh, followed by her total destruction.

I. Many of Jeremiah’s earlier prophecies belong to this period, and we see that both he and Zephaniah-who was probably a great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah himself, and prophesied in this reign-are greatly occupied with a danger from the North which seems to threaten universal ruin.

So overwhelming is the peril that Zephaniah begins with the tremendously sweeping menace, "I will utterly consume all things of the earth, saith the Lord."

Then the curse rushes down specifically upon Judah and Jerusalem; and the state of things which the prophet describes shows that, if Josiah began himself to seek the Lord at eight years old, he did not take-and was, perhaps, unable to take-any active steps towards the extinction of idolatry till he was old enough to hold in his own hand the reins of power.

For Zephaniah denounces the wrath of Jehovah on three classes of idolaters-viz.,

(1) the remnant of Baal-worshippers with their chemarim, or unlawful priests, and the syncretizing priests (kohanim) of Jehovah, who combine His worship with that of the stars, to whom they burn incense upon the housetops;

(2) the waverers, who swear at once by Jehovah and by Malcham, their king; and

(3) the open despisers and apostates.

"For all these the day of Jehovah is near; He has prepared them for sacrifice, and the sacrificers are at hand. {Zephaniah 2:4-7} Gaza, Ashdod, Askelon, Ekron, the Cherethites, Canaan, Philistia, are all threatened by the same impending ruin, as well as Moab and Ammon, who shall lose their lands. Ethiopia, too, and Assyria shall be smitten, and Nineveh shall become so complete a desolation that pelicans and hedgehogs shall bivouac upon her chapiters, the owl shall hoot in her windows, and the crow croak upon the threshold. ‘Crushed! desolated!’ and all that pass by shall hiss and wag their hands." {; Zephaniah 2:12-15}

The pictures of the state of society drawn by Jeremiah do not, as we have seen, differ from those drawn by his contemporary. Jeremiah, too, writing perhaps before Josiah’s reformation, complains that God’s people have forsaken the fountains of living water, to hew out for themselves broken cisterns. He complains of empty formalism in the place of true righteousness, and even goes so far as to say that backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. {Jeremiah 3:1-9} He, too, prophesies speedy and terrific chastisement. Let Judah gather herself into fenced cities, and save her goods by flight, for God is bringing evil from the North, and a great destruction.

"The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the nations is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant. Behold, he cometh as clouds, and his chariots shall be as the whirlwind." Besiegers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah. The heart of the kings shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder.

"For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end"-and, "O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved!" {Jeremiah 4:7-27}

"I will bring a nation upon you from far, O House of Israel, saith the Lord: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language"-unlike that of the Assyrians-"thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say. Their quiver is an open sepulcher, they are all mighty men. They shall batter thy fenced cities, in which thou trustest with weapons of war." {Jeremiah 5:15-17}

"O ye children of Benjamin, save your goods by flight: for evil is imminent from the North, and a great destruction. Behold, a people cometh from the North Country, and a great nation shall be raised from the farthest part of the earth. They lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war against thee, O daughter of Zion. We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble." {Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 6:22-24}

And the judgment is close at hand. The early blossoming bud of the almond tree is the type of its imminence. The seething caldron, with its front turned from the North, typifies an invasion which shall soon boil over and floor the land.

What was the fierce people thus vaguely indicated as coming from the North? The foes indicated in these passages are not the long-familiar Assyrians, but the Scytbians and Cimmerians.

As yet the Hebrews had only heard of them by dim and distant rumor. When Ezekiel prophesied they were still an object of terror, but he foresees their defeat and annihilation. They should be gathered into the confines of Israel, but only for their destruction {See Ezekiel 37:1-28; Ezekiel 39:1-29} The prophet is bidden to set his face towards Gog, of the land of Magog, the Prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him that God would turn him about, and put hooks in his jaws, and drive forth all his army of bucklered and sworded horsemen, the hordes of the uttermost part of the North. They should come like a storm upon the mountains of Israel, and spoil the defenseless villages; but they should come simply for their own destruction by blood and by pestilence. God should smite their bows out of their left hands, and their arrows out of the right, and the ravenous birds of Israel should feed upon the carcasses of their warriors. There should be endless bonfires of all the instruments of war, and the place of their burial should be called "the valley of the multitude of Gog."

Much of this is doubtless an ideal picture, and Ezekiel may be thinking of the fall of the Chaldaeans. But the terms he uses remind us of the dim Northern nomads, and the names Rosh and Meshech in justaposition involuntarily recall those of Russia and Moscow.

Our chief historical authority respecting this influx of Northern barbarians is Herodotus. He tells us that the nomad Scythians, apparently a Turanian race, who may have been subjected to the pressure of population, swarmed over the Caucasus, dispossessed the Cimmerians (Gomer), and settled themselves in Saccasene, a province of Northern Armenia. From this province the Scythians gained the name of the Saqui. The name of Gog seems to be taken from Gugu, a Scythian prince, who was taken captive by Assurbanipal from the land of the Saqui. Magog is perhaps Matgugu, "land of Gog." These rude, coarse warriors, like the hordes of Attila, or Zenghis Khan, or Tamerlane-who were descended from them-magnetized the imagination of civilized people, as the Huns did in the fourth century. They overthrew the kingdom of Urartis (Armenia), and drove the all-but exterminated remnant of the Moschi and Tabali to the mountain fortresses by the Black Sea, turning them, as it were, into a nation of ghosts in Sheol. Then they burst like a thunder-cloud on Mesopotamia, desolating the villages with their arrow-flights, but too unskilled to take fenced towns. They swept down the Shephelah of Palestine, and plundered the rich temple of Aphrodite (Astarte Ourania) at Askelon, thereby incurring the curse of the goddess in the form of a strange disease. But on the borders of Egypt they were diplomatically met by Psammetichus (d. 611) with gifts and prayers. Judah seems only to have suffered indirectly from this invasion. The main army of Scyths poured down the maritime plain, and there was no sufficient booty to tempt any but their straggling bands to the barren hills of Judah. It was the report of this over-flooding from the North which probably evoked the alarming prophecies of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, though they found their clearer fulfillment in the invasion of the Chaldees.

II. This rush of wild nomads averted for a time the fate of Nineveh.

The Medes, an Aryan people, had settled south of the Caspian, B.C. 790; and in the same century one of these tribes-the Persians-had settled southeast of Elam the northern coast of the Persian Gulf. Cyaxares founded the Median Empire, and attacked Nineveh. The Scythian invasion forced him to abandon the siege, and the Scythians burnt the Assyrian palace and plundered the ruins. But Cyaxares succeeded in intoxicating and murdering the Scythian leaders at a banquet, and bribed the army to withdraw. Then Cyaxares, with the aid of the Babylonians under Nabopolassar their rebel viceroy, besieged and took Nineveh-probably about B.C. 608-while its last king and his captains were reveling at a banquet.

The fall of Nineveh was not astonishing. The empire had long been "slowly bleeding to death" in consequence of its incessant wars. The city deemed itself impregnable behind walls a hundred feet high, on which three chariots could drive abreast, and mantled with twelve hundred towers; but she perished, and all the nations-whom she had known how to crush, but had with "her stupid and cruel tyranny" never known how to govern-shouted for joy-that joy finds its triumphant expression in more than one of the prophets, but specially in the vivid paean of Nahum. His date is approximately fixed at about B.C. 600, by his reference to the atrocities inflicted by Assurbnipal on the Egyptian city of No-Amon. "Art thou [Nineveh] better," he asks, than No-Amon, "that was situate among the canals, that had the water round about her, whose rampart was the Nile, and her wall was the waters? Yet she went into captivity! Her young children were dashed to pieces at the head of all the streets: they cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains. Thou also shalt be drunken: thou shalt faint away, thou shalt seek a stronghold because of the enemy." {Nahum 3:8-11}

All the details of her fall are dim; but Nineveh was, in the language of the prophets, swept with the besom of destruction. Her ruins became stones of emptiness, and the line of confusion was stretched over her. Nahum ends with the cry, -

"There is no assuaging of thy hurt; thy wound is grievous:

All that hear the bruit of this, clap the hands over thee:

For upon whom hath thy wickedness not passed continually?"

In truth, Assyria, the ferocious foe of Israel, of Judah, and all the world, vanished suddenly, like a dream when one awaketh; and those who passed over its ruins, like Xenophon and his Ten Thousand in B.C. 401, knew not what they were. Her very name had become forgotten in two centuries, "Etiam periere ruinae!" The burnt relics and cracked tablets of her former splendor began to be revealed to the world once more in 1842, and it is only during the last quarter of a century that the fragments of her history have been laboriously deciphered.

III Such were the events witnessed in their germs or in their completion by the contemporaries of Josiah and the prophets who adorned his reign. It was during this period, also, that the power to whom the ultimate ruin and captivity of Jerusalem was due sprang into formidable proportions. The ultimate scourge of God to the guilty people and the guilty city was not to be the Assyrian, nor the Scythian, nor the Egyptian, nor any of the old Canaanite or Semitic foes of Israel, nor the Phoenician, nor the Philistine. With all these she had long contended, and held her own. It was before the Chaldee that she was doomed to fall, and the Chaldee was a new phenomenon of which the existence had hardly been recognized as a danger till the warning prophecy of Isaiah to Hezekiah after the embassy of the rebel viceroy Merodach-Baladan.

It is to Habakkuk, in prophecies written very shortly after the death of Josiah, that we must look for the impression of terror caused by the Chaldees.

Nabopolassar, sent by the successor of Assurbanipal to quell a Chaldaean revolt, seized the viceroyalty of Babylon, and joined Cyaxares in the overthrow of Nineveh. From that time Babylon became greater and more terrible than Nineveh, whose power it inherited. Habakkuk {Habakkuk 2:1-19} paints the rapacity, the selfishness, the inflated ambition, the cruelty, the drunkenness, the idolatry of the Chaldaeans. He calls them {; Habakkuk 1:5-11} a rough and restless nation, frightful and terrible, whose horsemen were swifter than leopards, fiercer than evening wolves, flying to gorge on prey like the vultures, mocking at kings and princes, and flinging dust over strongholds. Nor has he the least comfort in looking on their resistless fury, except the deeply significant oracle-an oracle which contains the secret of their ultimate doom-

"Behold, his soul is puffed up it is not upright in him:

But the righteous man shall live by his fidelity."

The prophet places absolute reliance on the general principle that "pride and violence dig their own grave."

Verses 8-20


2 Kings 22:8-20; 2 Kings 23:1-25

"And the works of Josias were upright before his Lord with a heart full of godliness."

- #/RAPC 1 Esdras 1:23

"From Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem."

- Isaiah 2:3

IT is from the Prophets-Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Ezekiel-that we catch almost our sole glimpses of the vast world-movements of the nations which must have loomed large on the minds of the King of Judah and of all earnest politicians in that day. As they did not directly affect the destiny of Judah till the end of the reign, they do not interest the historian of the Kings or the latter Chronicler. The things which rendered the reign memorable in their eyes were chiefly two-the finding of "the Book of the Law" in the House of the Lord, and the consequent religious reformation.

It is with the first of these two events that we must deal in the present chapter.

Josiah began to reign as a child of eight, and it may be that the emphatic and honorable mention of his mother-Jedidah ("Beloved"), daughter of Adaiah of Boscath-may be due to the fact that he owed to her training that early proclivity to faithfulness which earns for him the unique testimony, that he not only "walked in the way of David his father," but that "he turned not aside to the right hand or to the left."

At first, of course, as a mere child, he could take no very active steps. The Chronicler says that at sixteen he began to show his devotion, and at twenty set himself the task of purging Judah and Jerusalem from the taint of idols. Things were in a bad condition, as we see from the bitter complaints and denunciations of Zephaniah and Jeremiah. Idolatry of the worst description was still openly tolerated. But Josiah was supported by a band of able and faithful advisers. Shaphan, grandfather of the unhappy Gedaliah-afterwards the Chaldaean viceroy over conquered Judah-was scribe; Hilkiah, the son of Shallum and the ancestor of Ezra, was the high priest. By them the king was assisted, first in the obliteration of the prevalent emblems of idolatry, and then in the purification of the Temple. Two centuries and a half had elapsed since it had been last repaired by Joash, and it must have needed serious restoration during long years of neglect in the reigns of Ahaz, of Manasseh, and of Amon. Subscriptions were collected from the people by "the keepers of the door," and were freely entrusted to the workmen and their overseers, who employed them faithfully in the objects for which they were designed.

The repairs led to an event of momentous influence on the future time. During the cleansing of the Temple Hilkiah came to Shaphan, and said, "I have found the Book of the Law in the House of the Lord." Perhaps the copy of the book had been placed by some priest’s hand beside the Ark, and had been discovered during the removal of the rubbish which neglect had there accumulated. Shaphan read the book; and when next he had to see the king to tell him about the progress of the repairs, he said to him, "Hilkiah the priest hath handed me a book." Josiah bade him read some of it aloud. It is evident that he read the curses contained in Deuteronomy 28:1-68. They horrified the pious monarch; for all that they contained, and the laws to which they were appended, were wholly new to him. He might well be amazed that a code so solemn, and purporting to have emanated from Moses, should, in spite of maledictions so fearful, have become an absolute dead letter. In deep alarm he sent the priest, the scribe Shapbah, with his son Ahikam, and Abdon, the son of Micaiah, and Asahiah, a court official, to inquire of Jehovah, whose great anger could not but be kindled against king and people by the obliteration and nullity of His law. They consulted Huldah, the only prophetess mentioned in the Old Testament, except Miriam and Deborah. She was the wife of Shaltum and keeper of the priests’ robes, {; Exodus 28:2, etc.} and she lived in the suburbs of the city. Her answer was an uncompromising menace. All the curses which the king had heard against the place and people should be pitilessly fulfilled, -only, as the king had showed a tender heart, and had humbled himself before Jehovah, he should go to his own grave in peace.

Thereupon the king summoned to the Temple a great assembly of priests, prophets, and all the people, and, standing by the pillar (or "on the platform") in the entrance of the inner court, read "all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the House of the Lord" in their ears, and joined with them in "the covenant" to obey the hitherto unknown or totally forgotten laws which were inculcated in the newly discovered volume.

Immediate action followed. The priests were ordered to bring out of the Temple all the vessels made for Baal, for the Asherah, and for the host of heaven; they were burnt outside Jerusalem in the Valley of Kedron, and their ashes taken to Bethel. The chemarim of the high places were suppressed, as well as all other idolatrous priests who burnt incense to the signs of the Zodaic, the Hyades, and the heavenly bodies. The Asherah itself was taken out of the Temple, and it is truly amazing that we should find it there so late in Josiah’s reign. He burnt it in the Kedron, stamped it to powder, and scattered the powder "on the graves of the common people." The Chronicler says "on the graves of them that had sacrificed" to the idols-but this is an inexplicable statement, since it is (as Professor Lumby says) very improbable that idolaters had a separate burial-place. It is equally shocking, and to us incomprehensible, to read that the houses of the degraded Qedeshim still stood, not "by the Temple" (A.V), but "in the Temple," and that in these houses, or chambers the women still "wove embroideries for the Asherah." What was Hilkiah doing? If the priests of the high places were so guilty from Geba to Beersheba, did no responsibility attach to the high priest and other priests of the Temple who permitted the existence of these enormities not only in the bamoth at the city gates, but in the very courts of the mountain of the Lord’s House? If the priests of the immemorial shrines were degraded from their prerogatives, and were not allowed to come up to the altar of Jehovah in Jerusalem, by what law of justice were they to be regarded as so immeasurably inferior to the highest members of their own order, who, for years together, had permitted the worship of a wooden phallic emblem, and the existence of the worst heathen abominations within the very Temple of the Lord? Every honest reader must admit that there are inexplicable difficulties and uncertainties in these ancient histories, and that our knowledge of the exact circumstances-especially in all that regards the priests and Levites who, in the Chronicles, are their own ecclesiastical historians-must remain extremely imperfect.

And what can be meant by the clause that the degraded priests of the old high places, though they were not allowed to serve at the great altar, yet "did eat of the unleavened bread among their brethren"? Unleavened bread was only eaten at the Passover; and when there was a Passover, was eaten by all alike. Perhaps the reading for "unleavened bread" should be (priestly) "portions"-a reading found by Geiger in an old manuscript.

Continuing his work, Josiah defiled Tophet; took away the horses given by the kings of Judah to the sun, which were stabled beside the chamber of the eunuch Nathan-Melech in the precincts; and burnt the sun-chariots in the fire. He removed the altars to the stars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, {See Zephaniah 1:5; Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29} and ground them to powder. He also destroyed those of his grandfather Manasseh in the two Temple courts-which we supposed to have been removed by Manasseh in his repentance-and threw, the dust into the Kedron. He defiled the idolatrous shrines reared by Solomon to the deities of Sidon, Ammon and Moloch, broke the pillars, cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with dead men’s bones. Traveling northwards, he burnt, destroyed, and stamped to powder the altars and the Asherim at Bethel, and burnt upon the altars the remains found in the sepulchres, only leaving undisturbed the remains of the old prophet from Judah, and of the prophet of Samaria. {; 1 Kings 13:29-31} He then destroyed the other Samaritan shrines, exercising an undisputed authority over the Northern Kingdom. The mixed inhabitants did not interfere with his proceedings; and in the declining fortunes of Nineveh, the Assyrian viceroy - if there was one-did not dispute his authority. Lastly, in accordance with the fierce injunction of Deuteronomy 17:2-5, "he slew all the priests of the high places" on their own altars, burnt men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.

It is very difficult, with the milder notions which we have learnt from the spirit of the gospel, to look with approval on the recrudescence of the Elijah-spirit displayed by the last proceeding. But many centuries were to elapse, even under the Gospel Dispensation, before men learnt the sacred principle of the early Christians that "violence is hateful to God." Josiah must be judged by a more lenient judgment, and he was obeying a mandate found in the new Book of the Law. But the question arises whether the fierce commands of Deuteronomy were ever intended to be taken au pied de la lettre. May not Deuteronomy 13:6-18 have been intended to express in a concrete but ideal form the spirit of execration to be entertained towards idolatry? Perhaps in thinking so we are only guilty of an anachronism, and are applying to the seventh century before Christ the feelings of the nineteenth century after Christ.

After this Josiah ordered the people to keep a Deuteronomic Passover, such as we are told-and as all the circumstances prove-had not been kept from the days of the Judges. The Chronicler revels in the details of this Passover, and tells us that Josiah gave the people thirty thousand lambs and kids, and three thousand bullocks; and his priests gave two thousand six hundred small cattle and three hundred oxen; and the chief of the Levites gave the Levites five thousand small cattle, and five hundred oxen. He goes on to describe the slaying, sprinkling of blood, flaying, roasting, boiling in pots, pans, and caldrons, and attention paid to the burnt-offerings and the fat; {2 Chronicles 35:1-19} but neither the historians nor the chroniclers, either here or anywhere else, say one word about the Day of Atonement, or seem aware of its existence. It belongs to the Post-Exilic Priestly Code, and is not alluded to in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Continuing his task, he put away them that had familiar spirits (oboth), and the wizards, and the teraphim, with a zeal shown by no king before or after him; but Jehovah "turned not from the fierceness of His anger, because of all the provocations which Manasseh had provoked Him withal." Evil, alas! is more diffusive, and in some senses more permanent, than good, because of the perverted bias of human nature. Judah and Jerusalem had been radically corrupted by the apostate son of Hezekiah, and it may be that the sudden and high-handed reformation enforced by his grandson depended too exclusively on the external impulse given to it by the king to produce deep effects in the hearts of the people. Certain it is that even Jeremiah-though he was closely connected with the finders of the book, had perhaps been present when the solemn league and covenant was taken in the Temple, and lived through the reformation in which he probably took a considerable part-was profoundly dissatisfied with the results. It is sad and singular that such should have been the case; for in the first flush of the new enthusiasm he had written, "Cursed be the man that heareth not the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Obey My voice."’ Nay, it has been inferred that he was even an itinerant preacher of the newly found law; for he writes: "And the Lord said unto me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them."’

The style of Deuteronomy, as is well known shows remarkable affinities with the style of Jeremiah. Yet it is clear that after the death of Josiah the prophet became utterly disillusioned with the outcome of the whole movement. It proved itself to be at once evanescent and unreal. The people would not give up their beloved local shrines. The law, as Habakkuk, {Habakkuk 1:4} became torpid; judgment went not forth to victory; the wicked compassed about the righteous, and judgment was perverted. It was easy to obey the external regulations of Deuteronomy; it was far more difficult to be true to its noble moral precepts. The reformation of Josiah, so violent and radical, proved to be only skin-deep; and Jeremiah, with bitter disappointment, found it to be so. External decency might be improved, but rites and forms are nothing to Him who searcheth the heart. {; Jeremiah 17:9-11} There was, in fact, an inherent danger in the place assumed by the newly discovered book. "Since it was regarded as a State authority, there early arose a kind of book-science, with its pedantic pride and erroneous learned endeavors to interpret and apply the Scriptures. At the same time there arose also a new kind of hypocrisy and idolatry of the letter, through the new protection which the State gave to the religion of the book acknowledged by the law. Thus scholastic wisdom came into conflict with genuine prophecy."

How entirely the improvement of outward worship failed to improve men’s hearts the prophet testifies. {Jeremiah 17:1-4} "The sin of Judah," he says, "is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the tablets of their hearts, and upon the horns of their altars, and their Asherim by the green trees upon the high hills. O My mountain in the field, I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in Mine eyes, which shall burn forever." While Josiah lived this apostasy was secret; but as soon as he died the people turned again to folly," {; Psalms 85:8} and committed all the old idolatries except the worship of Moloch. There arose a danger lest even the moderate ritualism of Deuteronomy should be perverted and exaggerated into mere formality. In the energy of his indignation against this abuse, Jeremiah has to uplift his voice against any trust even in the most decided injunctions of this newly discovered law. He was "a second Amos upon a higher platform." The Deuteronomic Law did not as yet exhibit the concentrated sacerdotalism and ritualism which mark the Priestly Code, to which it is far superior in every way. It is still prophetic in its tone. It places social interests above rubrics of worship. It expresses the fundamental religious thought" that Jehovah is in no sense inaccessible; that He can be approached immediately by all, and without sacerdotal intervention; that He asks nothing for Himself, but asks it as a religious duty that man should render unto man what is right; that His Will lies not in any known height, but in the moral sphere which is known and understood by all. The book ordained certain sacrifices; yet Jeremiah says with startling emphasis, "To what purpose cometh there to Me frankincense from Sheba, and the sweet calamus from a far country? Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasant unto Me." Therefore He bids them, "Put your burnt-offering to your sacrifices and eat them as flesh"-i.e., "Throw all your offerings into a mass, and eat them at your pleasure (regardless of sacerdotal rules): they have neither any inherent sanctity nor any secondary importance from the characters of the offerers." And in a still more remarkable passage. "For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices: but this thing I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice."’

Nay, in the most emphatic ordinances of Deuteronomy he found that the people bad created a new peril. They were putting a particularistic trust in Jehovah, as though He were a respecter of persons, and they His favorites. They fancied, as in the days of Micah, that it was enough for them to claim His name, and bribe Him with sacrifices. {Micah 3:11} Above all, they boasted of and relied upon the possession of His Temple, and placed their trust on the punctual observance of external ceremonies. All these sources of vain confidence it was the duty of Jeremiah rudely to shatter to pieces. Standing at the gates of the Lord’s House, he cried: "Trust ye not in lying words, saying, ‘The Temple of the Lord! the Temple of the Lord! the Temple of the Lord. are these!’ Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods; and come and stand before Me in this house, whereupon My name is called, and say, ‘We are delivered,’ that ye may do all these abominations? Is this house become a den of robbers in your eyes? But go ye now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I caused My name to dwell at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people. I will do unto this house as I have done to Shiloh; and I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out the whole house of Ephraim." {; Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 7:8-15} -Yet all hope was not extinguished forever. The Scythian might disappear; the Babylonian might come in his place; but one day there should be a new covenant of pardon and restitution; and as had been promised in Deuteronomy, "all should know Jehovah, from the least to the greatest."

At last he even prophesies the entire future annulment of the solemn covenant made on the basis of Deuteronomy, and says that Jehovah will make a new covenant with His people, not according to the covenant which He made with their fathers. {Jeremiah 31:31-32} And in his final estimate of King Josiah after his death, he does not so much as mention his reformation, his iconoclasm, his sweeping zeal, or his enforcement of the Deuteronomic Law, but only says to Jehoiakim:-

"‘Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice?- then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy: then it was well. Was not this to know Me?’ saith the Lord." {Jeremiah 22:15-16}

Whether because his methods were too violent, or because it only affected the surface of men’s lives, or because the people were not really ripe for it, or because no reformation can ever succeed which is enforced by autocracy, not spread by persuasion and conviction, it is certain that the first glamour of Josiah’s movement ended in disillusionment. A religion violently imposed from without as a state-religion naturally tends to hypocrisy and externalism. What Jehovah required was not a changed method of worship, but a changed heart; and this the reformation of Josiah did not produce. It has often been so in human history. Failure seems to be written on many of the most laudable human efforts. Nevertheless, truth ultimately prevails. Isaiah was murdered, and Urijah, and Jeremiah. Savonarola was burnt, and Huss, and many a martyr more; but the might of priestcraft was at last crippled, to be revived, we hope, no more, either by open violence or secret apostasy.

"Then to side with Truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,

Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ‘tis prosperous to be just;

Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,

Doubting in his abject spirit till his Lord is crucified,

And the multitude make virtue of the faith they have denied."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 22". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/2-kings-22.html.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile