JOSIAH: Rediscovering the Word

Rediscovering the Word

Looking at the spiritual state of America today, we might have a good idea what the spiritual condition was in Judah by the time Josiah assumed the throne. Judah had forgotten the Word of God. In 2004, the Barna Research Group reported that a mere 4% of American adults have a “biblical worldview.” A “biblical worldview” is a way of viewing the world through the lens of Scripture; a way of life that demands faithfulness to the dictates of Scriptures while living in world that does not. What is disturbing is that the majority of those who identify themselves as “Christian” also do not have a “biblical worldview.” St. Jerome famously wrote:

Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

The mantra of far too many well-intentioned Christians today is “Christ is all you need,” and while that sounds good, it isn’t. Let’s face it, you can’t know Christ if you don’t know the Scriptures. And ignorance of the Scriptures is not without consequence.

Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed are those who heed wisdom’s instruction. (Proverbs 29:18)

That sounds a lot like modern America! Instead of a passion for right and justice, we have a culture that has “cast off all restraint,” where any kind freakish and abhorrent behavior is now considered “alternative.” There is even confusion among church leaders as to what is right and wrong, in spite of the fact that the Bible has already settled that issue. The consequence of not knowing Scripture! John Wesley once put into words a healthy passion for every Christian to pursue:

O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Here I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His Book.

King Josiah, like King Hezekiah before him, was praised by both the Historian in 2 Kings and the Chronicler in 2 Chronicles. Of Hezekiah, it is written:

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. (2 Kings 18:5)

Concerning Josiah, though, we read this:

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. (23:23)

Hezekiah was known for his trust in God and Josiah was known for his careful attention to knowing and obeying the Word of God. But in between these two godly kings were two extremely wicked and evil kings, Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, and Amon, father of Josiah.

1. A son unlike his father

Josiah was another king who began as a boy-king. Unlike Manasseh, Josiah was surrounded by godly men who were interested in promoting godliness and holiness in Judah. In contrast to his father, Josiah was a good and outstanding king; the last godly king Judah would have. No wonder both records of his reign read like this:

He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left. (2 Chronicles 34:2)

In many respects, in addition to being one of the godliest kings of Judah, Josiah was also one of the greatest kings of Judah, instituting the most thorough and far-reaching reforms of Judah’s history. Just how significant were the reforms of Josiah? Thanks to Josiah’s devotion to the Word of God, the Jews that eventually went into exile in Babylon had the Word of God to give them the hope they needed to remain faithful. Thanks to Josiah’s far-sighted commitment to the teachings of the Law, when the exiles returned home after 70 years, they had copies of the Word to guide them in rebuilding the Temple and their lives. Indeed, the influence of Josiah was felt from the Babylonian Captivity, throughout the centuries of rebuilding, through the silent years in between the Old and New Testaments, into the New Testament era and beyond.

1. Discovering God’s Word, 2 Kings 22:1—13

After having endured almost 60 years of utter paganism, it was time for a change.

(a) Repairing the Temple, verse 1—7

The Historian moves at lightening speed to give the most outstanding example of Josiah’s devotion to God—he repaired the Temple when he was 18 years old. According to what the Chronicler wrote, though, this act was preceded by successful attempts to purge the land of idols and idolatry, 2 Chronicles 34:3—7. In summary form, here is what he did:

  • Got rid of the high places, Asherah Poles, and idols;
  • Tore down altars built to honor Baal;
  • Smashed incense altars;
  • Burned the bones of priest on their very own altars;
  • Went in to the ruins of Israel and did the same things!

This man studied the reign of David and emulated him, but it was his devotion to the Word that propelled this young king to move ahead. Once he had rid the land of idols, Josiah turned his full attention to the neglected Temple. He would discover the long neglected Word of God later, but the first thing he did was bring the Temple into shape. Notice that Josiah did not depend on volunteer help to repair the Temple! Skilled workers and artisans were hired and paid a wage to do the work. Nothing was too good for the House of God. The work was done right and the work was done fast because Josiah refused to get bogged down bureaucratic nonsense:

But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings. (2 Kings 22:7)

The king delegated responsibility and trusted the people who did the work. Unlike the modern idea of leadership, Josiah did not micromanage his people or their work.

(b) The forgotten Torah, verse 8—13

Two people who were leaders in this massive restoration project, Hilkiah, who was the high priest, and Shaphan, the secretary, were responsible for telling the King about their discovery: the found the book of the Law in the rubble of the Temple. In all likelihood, this was the “official” Temple copy of the Law, which had been lost for a long, long time.

In spite of Josiah’s devotion to God, his reaction to reading the Law of God gives us a glimpse into his character:

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. (verse 11)

Why would he tear his robes? It was because it confirmed something he already knew in his heart: his people, his nation, and he himself were far, far from God. The act of tearing one’s robes was an act of contrition; a sign of remorse because of personal and national disobedience to God. The nation of Judah had sinned grievously in rebelling against the commands of the Law, both in its idolatry and its treatment of its citizens. When God’s Word is forgotten, everything in a society suffers!

2. Response to God’s Word, 22:14—23:3

(a) A difficult word, verses 14—28

One of the simple truths this section of the story conveys is that God’s Word is not always cheery and positive! Sometimes it is downright painful:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Josiah’s initial, personal response to hearing the Word was tearing his robe. But he didn’t stay there; he acted on what he heard by trying to find out more. He pursued God by inquiring of Him by going to see the prophetess Huldah. We don’t know why Josiah sent his men to see this godly, respected woman when he could consulted the likes of Jeremiah, Zephaniah and Habakkuk, all of whom were living and ministering in Judah at this time.

Huldah gave a message of good news and bad news to Josiah’s representatives. On the one hand, because Judah’s persistent idolatry and her stubborn refusal to repent and obey the Law God, her fate was already sealed:

This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. (22:24)

So the message for the nation was definitely bad news; Judah was to reap exactly what she had sown. On the other hand, Josiah was given an upbeat message:

Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here. (22:28)

Even though history tells us Josiah died in battle, he did not live long enough to see the decimation of his once-great kingdom in the face of Babylon.

(b) A historic reading, 23:1—3

Even though he was promised peace, the word from Huldah gave the king no peace. Despite the gloomy future of Judah, Josiah was now more determined than ever that his people repent and return to God. After calling for a meeting with the elders of the nation, he read to them and to all the people from the newly found scroll, and then he led the nation in a renewal of the covenant:

The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD—to follow the LORD and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. (verse 3)

Like Moses and Joshua, King Josiah assumed the place of mediator of the covenant between his people and their God. Notice the order of events. First, Josiah read the Word himself and dedicated himself to the covenant. Only after that did he give the people an opportunity to respond. This teaches us something of the nature of Scripture; it is communal. In other words, the Word of God was not and is not for just some; it is not just for church leaders. It is for all people. The Word is for all people because the blessings of God are for all and God desires to enter into a covenant relationship with all people. But all this begins with the Word. Spurgeon remarked,

No promise is of private interpretation. Whatever God has said to any one saint, He has said to all.

The moment the people heard the Word of God and responded, the real work began; the kingdom needed to be rebuilt. It would never be the same.

3. Living according to God’s Word, 2 Kings 23:4—25

There is a distinct pattern in spiritual growth that becomes apparent when we study Hebrew history, especially from the perspective of the Kings. The first step is knowledge, or we might say “information.” Josiah, for example, sprang alive spiritually when he was made aware of aspects of God’s character as disclosed in the Word. The second step is response; that is, people are given a chance to respond to what they have learned about God. Josiah had to respond and his people had to respond. The last step in spiritual growth is action. People must do something with what they now know about God. This is always hard work, and this is where a lot of Christians get stuck.

Here is what Josiah had to do because of what he learned about God.

(a) A spiritual purging, verses 4—20

It seems as though the spiritual reforms Josiah began early in his career continued for some time. This purging of idols and idolatry from Judah was a separate and distinct act from re-establishing the central worship at the Temple. It is one thing to get the faithful to come and worship together, but what about the rest of their lives? What about the ungodly influences? A spiritual leader needs to be concerned about them, and Josiah had proven to be more than just a king.

This purge was nationwide and all encompassing. So complete was this religious clean-up of Judah and the remnants of Israel, that we read this:

The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon. (verse 13)

Josiah was literally a man of fire! He was so on fire to set things right, he went right back to the very beginning of Israel’s trouble with idolatry; back to the days of Solomon. When God comes in to a person’s life, the only correct response is a complete, unfettered one.

(b) A holy Passover, verses 21—25

Josiah’s approach to spiritual reform wasn’t all negative; he didn’t just destroy evil. He also made sure Passover could be observed as soon as possible. Passover was the most important annual feast of Judah. It served as a reminder of God’s mercy toward His people in delivering them out of slavery into freedom. This feast reminded the people that they were His special possession and that they had a particular calling to fulfill. They were to be different from all other people on the earth. They were to be a light to the nations.

Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed. (verse 22)

Not even Hezekiah’s Passover could match that of Josiah’s.

At the close of the record of Josiah’s reforms, we see that the scope of the king’s reforms went far beyond just abolishing idols and idolatry from Judah and encouraging a return to God. Josiah tackled the occult and occult practices.

Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the LORD. (verse 24)

When the Word of God entered Josiah’s heart, it took over his life. He did not just commit to it half-way. The Word of God was not a convenience to Josiah, it was his passion. And because it was his passion, it was the rule of his life. It guided everything he did and every decision he made. It was his worldview.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd
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2 Responses to “JOSIAH: Rediscovering the Word”


  1. 1 Moses October 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Thank you very much for your wonderful insights. I have been really blessed by it. May God bless you.

  2. 2 OKOH October 29, 2012 at 10:55 am

    I am richly encouraged by this wise review of what can be called ”The great Inspirational revival acts of King Josiah. God bless you.


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