While it might be disconcerting to witness a once godly nation stray so far from its roots and original moorings, the story of King Josiah and his amazing discovery gives hope to renewal and righteous reforms. ♦
Josiah was eight years old in Jerusalem when he became king and began his 31-year reign over the southern kingdom of Judah (640-609 B.C.). He was one of Judah’s greatest kings. Unlike many of his predecessors, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:2). In fact, he was the last Jewish king to faithfully serve God.
About halfway through his reign he oversaw the repair of the holy temple in Judah’s capital city of Jerusalem. The year was 622 B.C., a hundred years after the Assyrians had invaded and captured the northern kingdom of Israel. While this rehab work was being done, an old copy of the book of the law (actually a scroll, most likely a version of Deuteronomy given his response) was found and brought to the king. It was read in his presence. His reaction was dramatic. He tore his clothes (a known expression of grief and anger) after realizing how far from its teachings the people of Judah had strayed. Shortly thereafter the dire consequences for their national disobedience was spelled out to him by one of God’s prophets (2 Kings 22:12-20).
Undaunted, Josiah set in motion a comprehensive set of reforms (2 Kings 23:1-24). He started with a public meeting and scriptural reading of the text throughout the region of Judah and city of Jerusalem to unite and awaken the people to the darkness that had infiltrated their culture. The list below highlights how thoroughly the land had been corrupted and intertwined with pagan worship practices:
- They cleared the temple of all vessels used in the worship of Baal, Asherah and other gods.
- They tore down the pagan shrines of worship on the high places throughout the land and removed all their priests.
- They leveled the houses of the male cult prostitutes who practices in the temple.
- They removed from the temple the wooden pole and woven hangings devoted to Asherah.
- They destroyed Topheth, the place where child sacrifices were offered to the god Molech.
- They took away the horses devoted to the sun god and burned their chariots.
- They got rid of the altars in the royal palaces and the temples dedicated to pagan gods.
- They demolished the shrines devoted to Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Milcom, and Asherah.
- They destroyed the altar at Bethel erected 300 years earlier by Jeroboam.
- They rid the land of all the mediums, wizards, household gods and idols.
- They celebrated the full Passover feast for the first time since the days of the judges before the monarchies.
By the end of Chapter 23, Josiah is honored for the ages as a king like no king before him or after, 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.” Sadly, Josiah’s successors to the throne all rebelled against the Lord. It was during his second son’s reign, Jehoiakim, that Judah succumbed to savage destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, scattering the people, demolishing the temple in Jerusalem and taking the remaining Hebrew people into 70 years of captivity. Indeed, God’s specified Word of blessings and curses for His chosen people of Israel (see Deuteronomy) stands true whether the people buy in or not.
How Could This Happen?
I’ve always wondered how a people like the Hebrews with such a rich history and legacy of God’s amazing and fantastic rescue, provision and blessing from Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, David, to Solomon, etc., could ever forget their spiritual heritage. Would they not tell their children and grandchildren of the mighty works of God and instill reverence and awe and a heart of worship for the great and awesome God who has proven over and over again to be faithful, holy and righteous? Would they not reject foolish and self-serving leaders? Would they not despise anything that corrupted what was noble, good and right in God’s eyes?
Apparently not. As in Josiah’s time, 600 years later the Jews would even reject Christ the Messiah in their midst. And now centuries later as the Good News has been offered to both Jews and Gentiles, i.e., all the nations (as promised to Abraham), our own now secular nation has forgotten its deep roots of faith and spiritual heritage and its people and leaders have grown cold and callous toward God in their hearts and souls.
Where is the modern King Josiah whose heart aches when considering the Word of God and realizing the spiritual degradation of his nation?
“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. – 2 Kings 23:25