Josiah was one of the good kings of Judah. He was only eight years of age when he became king. It was said of him that he “…did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (2 Kings 22:2).
In his eighteenth year he gave orders for the house of the Lord, (the temple build by Solomon), to be repaired. It had been taken over by idol worshipers and had fallen into disrepair. During this repair, the high priest found a copy of the Law of the Lord in the temple.
“And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.” (2 Kings 22:8).
Can you imagine that? The word of God had been lost in the house of the Lord! Yet, it should come as no surprise to us – there are plenty of churches today where the word of the Lord has been lost!
When Josiah heard the book read, it caused him great distress.
“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.” (v. 11).
He knew the nation would be punished by God for forsaking the right way.
“Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13).
God assured the king that this punishment would not come until after he was gone because he had repented and torn his clothes in his anguish over the sins of his people. He has the book of the law read to the people and they join him in making a covenant with the Lord to do all the things written in the book of the Law.
Josiah then sets out on a crusade to remove every vestige of idolatry from the land, rendering the altars and the high places of their worship unusable. He removed the Ashera (fertility goddess) from the temple as well as the male prostitutes that had taken up residence in some of the rooms.
“And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. (2 Kings 23:10).
“And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south 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 Ammonites. (2 Kings 23:13).
Josiah then ordered the Passover be restored…
“And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.” (2 Kings 23:21-23).
All this is well and good. Josiah certainly is to be admired and respected for making a huge effort to rectify the wrongs that had been committed by his people. He didn’t just bemoan the terrible condition the nation and their religion were in – he did something about it!
There were a few problems with all this effort by Josiah though. It didn’t work! God’s anger against Judah was not assuaged. He still was going to punish them (vs. 26,27). And it didn’t work because after Josiah’s death in battle, his son, Eliakim (Jehoiakim) became king and returned to the evil ways of previous kings. Doing what was evil is another way of saying that he returned to idolatry. Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim also “did evil,” as also Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s uncle.
Why didn’t Josiah’s reforms succeed? Why did all the remaining kings of Judah revert to idolatry in spite of the fact that God had promised to destroy the nation? There may have been numerous reasons; I will suggest just a few.
- The people of Judah did not understand their God. To them, He was a God among many gods. In spite of the fact that He had revealed Himself numerous times and a multiplicity of ways over the history of their nation, they still did not “get it” as far as He was concerned. He alone is God. He is a jealous God who allows no rivalry in the affections hearts of men.
- They didn’t love God as they should have. The first commandment according to Jesus was: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37). This was a quote taken from Deuteronomy 6:5, so the people of Josiah’s day should have known what God required of them. We know they did not love God because had they done so they would have had no room for love of an idol. They could make all the promises in the world but if their hearts were not committed to God, they would unfailingly go back to the worship of idols.
- Josiah’s reformation was a top-down, external effort. By that I mean that it was imposed on the people by the king. It was not something they thought up and did on their own. They didn’t suddenly get sick of idolatry when they heard the Law read and decide to dump it. They were still holding on to their idols. Josiah attempted to stamp out idolatry by destroying and desecrating their altars and sacred places, but idolatry originates in the hearts of men.
- They were “wedded” to their idols. There are numerous attractions offered by idolatry. For example, the worship of the fertility gods offered sexual orgies by which the worshiper was promised bountiful crops and large families. Other gods offered different “blessings.” Molech was worshiped by killing and burning children in the arms of the idol. Perhaps these worshipers didn’t think the animal sacrifices God required were enough to atone for their sins, so they made human sacrifices. This is probably what the prophet Micah alludes to to illustrate the futility of attempting to appease God by human effort…
“Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:7).
Whatever the reason, God was not seen as sufficient for their needs. God was seen as less than He claimed to be, less able than the gods of the nations, so they supplemented His power with the “power” of the idols. In doing so they lowered themselves to the level of the lustful, bloodthirsty, immoral gods of man’s imagination.
For these reasons Josiah’s reformation did not work. It may have appeared to as long as he lived, but as soon as he was out of the picture, the nation reverted back to her old ways and within a few years was conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians.
PART II TOMORROW.