REFORMATION WITHOUT INWARD TRANSFORMATION CAN’T DIVERT GOD’S JUDGMENT
What an impressive list of worship reforms! It’s no surprise that the wrath of God was targeting a nation that had become so apostate and idolatrous. But despite all of the efforts of Josiah, it was not in time to salvage the fate of Judah. In fact the people did not show evidence of lasting repentance and conversion. God had already determined to scatter His people into captivity. Given that Josiah is characterized as the greatest king in the line of David when it comes to covenant obedience, including David himself, it is surprising that his life story is not given more play in Christian preaching and teaching.
Whitcomb: Truly, Josiah was a great and godly king; but it would take more than a Josiah to reverse the downward trend of the nation: “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind would not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth” (Jer. 15:1).
Peter Pett: The long list of Josiah’s reforms emphasizes 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.
Dale Ralph Davis: Chronicles is clear: Josiah’s reforms were both begun and to a large extent complete before Hilkiah’s discovery of the Book of the Law. Why does Kings relate them after that discovery, giving the impression that the Book of the Law drove those reforms? Is that not deceptive or misleading?
So we need to look at 2 Kings again.
– First, note that Kings implies that Josiah’s reforms were underway before Hilkiah’s discovery of the Law (22:3–7), for it would seem likely that repairing the temple also involved at least some purging of the temple.
– Secondly, note that the covenant renewal (23:1–3) and the Passover celebration (23:21–23) are specifically tied to the book that was found (23:2, 3, 21), as are the reforms of verse 24, but that nothing in the reforms of 23:4–20 is related to that book.
– Thirdly, anyone in a reflective mood might wonder whether all the reforms (and travel required) in 23:4–20 could have been carried out within the confines of one year (the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign).
Hence, I think the writer of Kings has left us clues about what he is doing in 23:4–20: he is giving us a topical survey of Josiah’s reforms out of strict chronological order (a perfectly legitimate practice, by the way).
Now why would he want to do that? Why would he insert 17 verses itemizing Josiah’s reforms along with the covenant renewal and Passover celebration? Because he is building up to the climax of his chapter in verses 26–27. He wants to beef up (and that truly) the record of Josiah’s reforms, to depict how very intense and massive and detailed those reforms were, so that verses 26–27 will slap his reader in the face with the greatest force. He wants to send us reeling and the way he does so is to pack the chapter full of all Josiah’s reforms so that verses 26–27 will deliver their maximum jolt to us.
William Barnes: Yet, great as Josiah was, he could not save his nation from destruction. Manasseh could doom the nation, but Josiah could not save it (Hens-Piazza 2006:389). As Seow (1999:287) concludes:
The most important lesson of all that the passage offers is a negative one. It teaches that human acts of righteousness, even those as thorough and as sincere as Josiah’s, are no guarantee of salvation.… Josiah initiated an ancient equivalent of a ‘back to the Bible’ movement, as it were, but the rediscovery of the law does not save. Despite his zealous adherence to ‘the book,’ there is no salvation for Judah. Salvation, if it comes at all, will be by the grace of God alone, through faith (Eph 2:8).
Sobering words, I submit, for any generation, including our own, which tries so hard to legislate morality.
I. (:1-3) INCLUSIVE COVENANT RENEWAL
A. (:1-2) Public Reading of the Book of the Covenant
1. (:1) Gathering the Leaders
“Then the king sent, and they gathered to him
all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem.”
Peter Pett: 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. (:2a) Assembling Everyone at the Temple
“And the king went up to the house of the LORD
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;”
3. (:2b) Reading the Book of the Covenant
“and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant, which was found in the house of the LORD.”
MacArthur: “book of the covenant” — Although this designation was used in Ex 24:7 with reference to the contents of Ex 20:22 – 23:33, it seems here to refer to a larger writing. Since the larger part of the Pentateuch focused on the Mosaic Covenant, these 5 books came to be called thusly.
Peter Pett: 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.
B. (:3) Profession of Covenant Renewal
1. Profession by the King
“And the king stood by the pillar
and made a covenant before the LORD,”
David Guzik: King Josiah stood before the people and publicly declared his commitment to obey the word of God to the very best of his ability.
2. Purpose of the Covenant Commitment
“to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul,
to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book.”
3. Profession by the People
“And all the people entered into the covenant.”
Wiersbe: We must never assume today that because our churches are growing and our ministry prospering that God’s people are necessarily at their best. There are times when corporate renewal of our dedication to Christ is the right thing to do.
II. (:4-20) IMPRESSIVE LIST OF REFORMS TO PURIFY NATIONAL WORSHIP – JOSIAH’S TWELVE STEP PROGRAM
A. (:4) Reform #1 — Removing Pagan Vessels from the Temple
“Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel.”
MacArthur: Josiah burned everything in the temple that was devoted to idolatry. This was done in the lower portion of the Kidron Valley, E of the city of Jerusalem (cf. v. 6).
Located about 10 mi. N of Jerusalem, Bethel was one of the two original places where Jeroboam I established an apostate worship center (1 Ki 12:28-33). Bethel was located just N of the border of Judah in the former northern kingdom, which was then the Assyrian province of Samaria. With a decline in Assyrian power, Josiah was able to exert his religious influence in the N. He used the ashes of the burned articles of idolatry to desecrate Jeroboam’s religious center (cf. vv. 15-20).
Peter Pett: 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. . .
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.
B. (:5) Reform #2 — Removing Pagan Priests Who Promoted Idolatry
“And he did away with the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, also those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and to the moon and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven.”
Peter Pett: vv. 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.
David Guzik: Josiah’s reforms did not only remove sinful things, but also the sinful people that promoted and permitted these sinful things. The idols that filled the temple did not get there or stay there on their own – there were idolatrous priests who were responsible for these sinful practices.
C. (:6) Reform #3 — Burning and Pulverizing the Asherah Image
“And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD outside Jerusalem to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and ground it to dust, and threw its dust on the graves of the common people.”
MacArthur: The Kidron Valley contained a burial ground for the common people (cf. Jer 26:23). Scattering ashes from the object of idolatry [Asherah] is said in 2Ch 34:4 to have been on the graves of those who sacrificed to that idol. The “common people” had followed their leaders to apostasy, defilement, and damnation – all symbolized by the act of scattering the ashes.
D. (:7) Reform #4 — Destroying the Houses of the Cult Prostitutes
“He also broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes which were in the house of the LORD, where the women were weaving hangings for the Asherah.”
Peter Pett: 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.
Dilday: The word translated ‘hangings’ likely refers to a fabric woven by idol worshippers for curtains behind which the ritual obscenities were practiced.
Wiseman: used by the priests or statues or to denote the ‘plaited cord’ round the head as worn by Babylonian women prostitutes.
William Barnes: vv. 6-7 — removed … took … outside … burned … ground … to dust … tore down . Here is a sampling of the forceful verbs used to describe Josiah’s thoroughgoing actions of cult cleansing and altar destruction. Other verbs include “defiled” (23:8); “destroyed” (23:12); “smashed … to bits” (23:12); “scattered” (23:12); “desecrated” (23:13); “smashed” (23:14); and “demolished” (23:19). This king certainly had his work cut out for him, and he certainly went at it with “all his heart and all his soul.”
E. (:8-9) Reform #5 — Defiling Judah’s High Places and Deposing Their Priests
“Then he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba; 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 one’s left at the city gate. 9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not go up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers.”
MacArthur: Geba was located about 7 mi. NE of Jerusalem at the far N of Judah and Beersheba was located ca. 45 mi. S of Jerusalem at the southern end of Judah. Thus, this phrase was an idiomatic way of saying “throughout all of Judah.”
F. (:10) Reform #6 — Defiling Topheth = Place of Child Sacrifice
“He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech.”
MacArthur: Topheth – Meaning “a drum” and identifying the area in the Valley of Hinnom where child sacrifice occurred (cf. Is 30:33; Jer 7:31, 32; 19:5, 6). Perhaps called “drum” because drums were beaten to drown out the cries of the children being sacrificed.
Peter Pett: ‘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.
G. (:11) Reform #7 — Destroying the Objects Associated with Sun Worship
“And he did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire.”
MacArthur: The horses and the chariots of the sun were probably thought to symbolize the sun blazing a trail across the sky and were a part of worshiping the sun. Recently, a religious shrine with horse figurines has been found in Jerusalem (cf. Eze 8:16).
H. (:12) Reform #8 — Destroying the High Profile Altars of Previous Kings
“And the altars which were on the roof, 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 the LORD, the king broke down; and he smashed them there, and threw their dust into the brook Kidron.”
I. (:13) Reform #9 — Defiling the Worship Sites Built by Solomon and Associated with Pagan Gods
“And the high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right of the mount of destruction 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 sons of Ammon, the king defiled.”
MacArthur: Solomon had built high places E of Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives, renamed after the desecration, to be used in worship of foreign gods, e.g., the fertility goddess Ashtoreth from Sidon, the Moabite god Chemosh, and the Ammonite god Molech (1Ki 11:7). These altars existed for over 300 years before Josiah finally destroyed them. The placing of human bones defiled them and, thus, rendered these sites unclean and unsuitable as places of worship.
Wiersbe: On the southern slope of the Mount of Olives, Solomon had provided special altars for his heathen wives where they could worship their gods (I Kings 11:5-6), and these altars and idols Josiah removed and destroyed. To make sure the area would never be used for idol worship again, he buried human bones there and defiled it (Num. 19:16).
J. (:14) Reform #10 — Destroying the Images Associated with Fertility Worship
“And he broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones.”
K. (:15-18) Reform #11 — Demolishing and Defiling Jeroboam’s Bethel Worship Center
1. (:15-16) Action
“Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah. 16 Now when Josiah turned, he saw the graves that were there on the mountain, and he sent and took the bones from the graves and burned them on the altar and defiled it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things.”
MacArthur: Seeing graves nearby, perhaps where idolatrous priests were buried, Josiah had their bones removed and burned on the altar at Bethel to defile it. This action fulfilled a prophecy given about the altar approximately 300 years before (1Ki 13:2).
2. (:17-18) Aside – Leaving Undisturbed the Grave of the Man of God and Prophet Who Denounced the Altar in Bethel
a. (:17) Grave of the Man of God
“Then he said, ‘What is this monument that I see?’ And the men of the city told him, ‘It is the grave of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.’”
b. (:18) Grave of the Prophet
“And he said, ‘Let him alone; let no one disturb his bones.’ So they left his bones undisturbed with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria.”
Dale Ralph Davis: We must go back and sneak a look at Josiah’s desecration of worship centers in the former northern kingdom, especially in Bethel. There stood Jeroboam I’s high place (see 1 Kings 12:25–33). Josiah pulls it down, burns it, beats it to dust (v. 15) and defiles the altar by burning human bones on it (v. 16a)—to which our writer adds: ‘in line with the word of Yahweh which the man of God had preached who had proclaimed these events’ (v. 16b). He refers to that fascinating story in 1 Kings 13 of the man of God from Judah who interrupted Jeroboam’s dedication service by preaching to the altar:
Altar, altar, here’s what Yahweh says: See! A son is going to be born to the house of David—Josiah his name—and he shall sacrifice upon you the priests of the high places who make offerings upon you, and they will burn human bones on you (1 Kings 13:2).
Here in 2 Kings 23:16 our writer is saying: ‘Well, there you have it; Josiah exactly fulfilled that “Bethel prophecy” from 300 years ago.’ Yahweh’s word never falls to the ground; it will infallibly come true.
This prophetic fulfillment packs a solid assurance. In the present context it bolsters Huldah’s prophecy of 22:15–20. If Yahweh’s word from 930 bc has come to pass, then surely his word through Huldah in 622 will as well. And if Yahweh’s centuries’ old prophecies come so clearly to pass, should we not count every syllable from God’s mouth as unquestionably reliable?
Let me add, however, that the prophecy of Josiah’s purging work carries the promise of still more. In 1 Kings 13:2 he is called ‘a son to be born to the house of David’.
De Graaf picks up the cue:
The son of David’s house had come as an avenger of the Lord’s rights, which had been violated. One day David’s great Son will also bring judgment. Then the claims of the Lord’s covenant will be fully restored.
What we see in Josiah signals that there is something more to come.
Mordecai Cogan: By eradicating the ancient cult center at Bethel, a symbol of Jeroboam’s rebellion, Josiah squared the account once and for all and reestablished Jerusalem’s centrality.
L. (:19-20) Reform #12 – Purge in Samaria of Pagan Worship Sites and Priests
“And Josiah also removed all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made provoking the LORD; and he did to them just as he had done in Bethel.”
“And all the priests of the high places who were there
he slaughtered on the altars and burned human bones on them;
then he returned to Jerusalem.”
MacArthur: These non-Levitical priests, who led apostate worship in the former northern kingdom, were idolaters who seduced God’s people into idolatry. They were put to death in accordance with the statutes of Dt 13:6-18; 17:2-7, and their graves were doubly defiled with burned bones.
Peter Pett: 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.
Iain Provan: vv. 15-20 — A marked feature of the Josianic reform is that he not only destroys but also desecrates (vv. 8, 10, 13), particularly by placing items considered to be holy in proximity with graves and human bones (vv. 6, 14; cf. Num. 19:1–22 for the idea of death as a pollutant, esp. v. 18). It has already been hinted in verse 4 that this procedure is to be extended to Bethel, where Josiah takes the ashes of the idolatrous vessels brought out from the temple, but it is only in verse 15 that this line of narrative is picked up. Jeroboam, it will be recalled, had started out as a new Moses and finished up instead as a second Aaron, fashioning calves for the people and instituting a new cult focused on Bethel (see the commentary on 1 Kgs. 12–13). Josiah now takes action against this cult, which has lived on in the activities of the new settlers in the land of Israel (cf. 2 Kgs. 17:24ff.). He does so in a way that recalls Moses’s own action against the first golden calf. He burns the high place (along with the Asherah pole) and grinds it to powder (cf. Hb. śrp̱, “to burn,” and ḏqq leʿāp̱ār, “to grind to powder,” in v. 15 and Deut. 9:21, noting also 23:6). He then defiles the altar with bones taken from the surrounding tombs, in accordance with the prophecy of the man of God in 1 Kings 13:2 (cf. also 13:11–32 for the background to vv. 17–18).
III. (:21-23) REINSTITUTION OF THE PASSOVER OBSERVANCE
A. (:21) Commandment to Celebrate the Passover
“Then the king commanded all the people saying, ‘Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.’”
Wiersbe: Josiah ruled at a time when Assyria was on the decline and Babylon hadn’t yet reached its zenith, the times were more peaceful, and the people could travel in greater safety. The celebration was indeed a great rallying time for the Jewish people from both Judah and Samaria.
Constable: Josiah also replaced pagan worship with revived Yahweh worship. He conducted his Passover celebration with more attention to the Law than anyone had done since the days of the judges.
Peter Pett: 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.
B. (:22) Neglect of Celebrating the Passover
“Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah.”
C. (:23) Observance of the Passover
“But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was observed to the LORD in Jerusalem.”
Whitcomb: Three points of special interest should be noted in this account:
– First, it appears that conditions had deteriorated so badly in the Temple since the days of Hezekiah that faithful Levites had removed and hidden the Ark of God! (II Chron. 35:3). Josiah ordered it to be returned, for there could be no proper observance of the Passover without it.
– Second, the Levites showed extraordinary zeal in preparing Passover lambs, not only for themselves, but also for the priest, the singers, and the porters
(II Chron. 35:11-15; cf. Ezra 6:20).
– Third, this was the greatest Passover since the days of Samuel the prophet 500 years earlier (II Chron. 35:18), because of the obstacles that had to be overcome and because it was done with such great zeal and according to the Law (Hezekiah’s Passover had to be held on the second month because so many were ceremonially defiled – II Chron. 30:2, 3, 17-20).
IV. (:24-30) OVERALL SUMMARY OF INCOMPARABLE REIGN OF JOSIAH
A. (:24) Removal of Spiritual Abominations
“Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.”
David Guzik: The great reformation in the days of Josiah is an example of simply going back to the word of God and seeking to base all thought and practice on what God has revealed in His word. It was an Old Testament example of the Reformation principle of sola scriptura.
B. (:25) Commendation as the Greatest King in Terms of Instituting Reforms
“And before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.”
MacArthur: Of all the kings in David’s line, including David himself, no king more closely approximated the royal ideal of Dt 17:14-20 than Josiah (cf. Mt 22:37). Yet, even Josiah fell short of complete obedience because he had multiple wives (cf. vv. 31, 36). However, even this righteous king could not turn away the Lord’s wrath because of Manasseh’s sin (vv. 26, 27). See chaps. 17, 18.
R. D. Patterson: The author of Kings approaches the end of Josiah’s just reign. The thought of Josiah’s strict piety in keeping the laws of the Passover leads to the further observation that he was ever consistent in his application of the law (v. 24). As Josiah had meticulously fulfilled the requirements of the law relative to Israel’s ceremonial worship with his many reforms, his repair of the temple, and his reinstitution of the Passover, so had he put away the evils of false personal religion. This included both those who dealt in spiritism and all sorts of objects of detestable idolatry. In summary, it could be said of Josiah that none of the kings of Israel and Judah was his equal in zeal for the law (v. 25). As Hezekiah had been unequaled in faith among the kings (18:5), so Josiah knew no rival in uncompromising adherence to the law of Moses.
C. (:26-27) Unrelenting Wrath of God in Judging Judah, Jerusalem and the Temple
“However, the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. 27 And the LORD said, ‘I will remove Judah also from My sight, as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the temple of which I said, My name shall be there.’”
Peter Pett: 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.
Dale Ralph Davis: As we have seen already, Manasseh (ch. 21) had put Judah beyond the line of hope. It is very sobering: there is such a thing as the hot heat of Yahweh’s anger that no amount of repentance or reform can dampen or douse. We’ve already known this but somehow the weight of the point falls on us far more heavily when stated after twenty-five verses describing perhaps Judah’s finest hour. Wrath is consuming and coming and certain.
But Josiah already knew all this. Huldah’s prophecy (22:16–17, 20) had made that clear. Yet he pressed on in fidelity to the covenant, in commitment (vv. 1–3), sacrament (vv. 21–23), and worship (v. 24). But why? Would it make any eventual difference? Would it last? Would it save the nation? Would it cool God’s wrath? No, to all these. But Josiah’s is a faithfulness that does not confuse obedience with pragmatism and so pushes on, not because it will change anything but simply because God demands it. Obedience without incentives is likely genuine. DeGraaf says it well:
Josiah knew that the judgment upon Judah was sure to come, but he wanted to press ahead with the reformation of Judah anyway. In this he showed a diligence unmatched by any king before or after him. He did not declare that there was no point in reformation since it could not save Judah anyway. He wanted to go ahead with the reformation solely for the sake of the honor and righteousness of the Lord. The Lord has a right to be served, even if our service does not bring about our salvation.
Josiah’s ‘nevertheless’ obedience conjures up Jesus’ defense of Mary of Bethany. She stirs a furor of supposedly righteous indignation by pouring expensive ointment on Jesus’ head. But Jesus commends her and says, among other things, ‘She has done what she could’ (Mark 14:8). One might say something similar of Josiah—and of any of the Lord’s people who remain faithful with no relief in sight.
D. (:28-30) Transition from Josiah to Jehoahaz
1. (:28) Recorded Deeds of Josiah
“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. (:29-30a) Death and Burial of Josiah
“In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. And King Josiah went to meet him, and when Pharaoh Neco saw him he killed him at Megiddo. 30 And his servants drove his body in a chariot from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb.”
Constable: The king seems to have preferred Babylon to Assyria in his foreign policy. When Egyptian armies moved up the Mediterranean coast to join Assyria in resisting Babylonian advance westward, Josiah intercepted Pharaoh Neco II (609-595 B.C.) at Megiddo and tried to stop him.2 Unfortunately for Judah, the Egyptians killed Josiah there in 609 B.C. Egypt continued north, united with Assyria, and battled Babylon at Carchemish on the upper Euphrates River. There Babylon defeated the allies and broke the domination of the Assyrian Empire over the ancient Near Eastern world. The Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. was one of the most important in ancient Near Eastern history for this reason.
Josiah died in battle (23:29-30). The promise of his dying in peace (22:20) therefore may mean that he would die before God ended the peace of Jerusalem by bringing Nebuchadnezzar against it. Some commentators have taken the promise as referring to the fact that Josiah evidently died at peace with God. I think that the prophecy that he would die in peace presumed that Josiah would continue to follow the will of Yahweh. But by going into battle against Pharaoh Neco, Josiah departed from God’s will and so nullified the prophecy (cf. the prophesied death of King Ahab; 1 Kings 21:19; 22:38).
Josiah was a strong influence for righteousness in his day and a very capable ruler. The success of his far-reaching reforms indicates his ability to overcome much popular opinion that must have opposed his convictions. His influence for good extended even into the fallen territory of Israel. The fact that his nation quickly abandoned the Lord after his death seems to indicate that Josiah’s reforms while official, did not result in a spiritual revival among his people. Unfortunately, this great king died prematurely as a result of his unwise decision to challenge Pharaoh Neco (cf. 2 Chron. 35:20-27). Josephus wrote that the prophet Jeremiah composed an elegy to lament Josiah, which was still extant when Josephus wrote. Unfortunately, it no longer exists.
Peter Pett: 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.
Iain Provan: vv. 26-30 — Yet Judah’s fate was already settled. The Lord had decided to remove Judah and to reject Jerusalem and its temple. Josiah’s reforms changed none of that, even though Deuteronomy 17:14–20 had promised a long-lasting dynasty to the king who turned from the law neither to the right nor the left (cf. 2 Kgs. 22:2). Even Josiah himself did not come to a happy end. Unwisely interposing himself between Egypt and Assyria, he was killed at Megiddo, suffering the same ignominious exit from the stage as his apostate ancestor Ahaziah (cf. 2 Kgs. 9:27–28): carried by chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried … in his own tomb (v. 30; cf. 22:20). That the best king of Judah should end his days in the same way as one of the worst indicates the way things are now going. The delay of judgment for Jerusalem and its kings is utterly at an end.
3. (:30b) Succession by Jehoahaz
“Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah
and anointed him and made him king in place of his father.”
Wiersbe: From the death of Josiah in 608 to the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 – a period of twenty-two years – four different kings sat on David’s throne, three of them sons of Josiah but not imitators of his faith. Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin each reigned for only three months. It was a sad time for the people of God, but there was still a believing remnant that followed the Lord and helped seekers in each new generation to know the Lord.