Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
After fifty-five years rule of the wicked Manasseh, plus two years rule of his equally wicked son Amon, Judah’s spiritual condition was the worst it had ever been (see MANASSEH, KING OF JUDAH). Josiah became king when his father Amon was assassinated (640 BC) but, being only eight years old at the time, he was for some years under the direction of government officials (2 Chronicles 33:25; 2 Chronicles 34:1). At the age of sixteen he became a believer in the one true God, and at the age of twenty he began religious reforms that lasted many years (2 Chronicles 34:2-5).
One possible influence that led Josiah to begin his reforms was the preaching of the prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1). Another prophet, Jeremiah, began his ministry in the early years of Josiah’s reforms (Jeremiah 1:1-2; Jeremiah 3:6).
During the evil days of Manasseh, the temple in Jerusalem had been damaged and the law of God forgotten. In the sixth year of Josiah’s reforms, workmen repairing the temple found scrolls of this long-forgotten law. Josiah was shocked to find how far Judah had departed from God. He soon learnt that the nation was heading for judgment, but God encouraged him to continue his reforms, so that the people might turn to God and avoid the threatened judgment (2 Kings 22:3-20).
With this encouragement from God, Josiah gathered Jerusalem’s leading citizens together at the temple, where the law was read to them. He gained their support in renewing the nation’s covenant with God and in helping his ongoing reforms (2 Kings 23:1-3). An increasingly confident Josiah then destroyed all false shrines and other idolatrous objects throughout the country, and centralized the nation’s public worship in Jerusalem, where it was under his supervision (2 Kings 23:4-14; 2 Kings 23:24; 2 Chronicles 34:6-7). He burnt the bones of the false prophets on their altar, after which he destroyed it (2 Kings 23:15-20; cf. 1 Kings 13:1-3; 1 Kings 13:29-32).
Having removed idolatry, Josiah re-established the worship of Yahweh by keeping the Passover. This gave him the opportunity to organize the priests and Levites according to the order set out by David. He wanted to make sure that the entire worship procedure was conducted properly. The nation’s leading officials joined Josiah in providing large numbers of sacrificial animals for the festival. It was the most spectacular Passover ever seen in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 35:1-19).
One factor that assisted Josiah in carrying out such wide-sweeping reforms was the decline of Assyria. He was even able to extend his control into areas of the former northern kingdom that Assyria had conquered (2 Kings 23:15; 2 Kings 23:19; 2 Chronicles 34:6-7).
Assyria eventually fell to Babylon in 612 BC. Pharaoh Necho of Egypt, fearing this expansion of Babylonian power, set out to attack Babylon. In doing so he had to pass through areas of Palestine that Judah controlled, so Josiah tried to resist him. The result was that Josiah was killed in battle (609 BC) and Judah fell temporarily under the overlordship of Egypt (2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-27).
Josiah was only thirty-nine years old when he died (2 Kings 22:1). Those of his people who later suffered under the cruel hand of his son Jehoiakim looked back with gratitude on his compassion and justice (2 Chronicles 35:25; Jeremiah 22:15-19). Josiah won unqualified praise for his reforms (2 Kings 23:25), but few people were genuinely converted. Idolatrous ideas were so deeply rooted in the people’s hearts that judgment on the nation was inevitable (2 Kings 23:26-27).
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Josiah'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/bbd/j/josiah.html. 2004.