2 Chronicles 34:14-33
If you were told that everything you knew and all the people you loved would be destroyed and taken captive after you died how would you live your life? If you knew that doom was on the horizon would you think it was still worth If you were told that everything you knew and all the people you loved would be destroyed and taken captive after you died, how would you live your life? If you knew that doom was on the horizon, would you think it was still worth doing the right thing, or would you throw your hands up in defeat? King Josiah was told precisely this early on in his reign as king of Judah, and we find that he still chooses to do right in the face of that information. Josiah’s life is preserved for us for our instruction and encouragement (Romans 15:4), so let us consider his life this morning and the lessons we can learn for us today.
King Josiah’s Lineage and Character:
We start with Josiah’s lineage and character. Josiah’s grandfather was king Manasseh, who, due to his wickedness (2 Kings 24:4; 2 Chronicles 33:9), the Lord allowed him to be taken captive in Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:10-11). There in Babylon, Manasseh humbled himself and repented and, as a result, was allowed to return to Jerusalem where he was able to rebuild part of the city (2 Chronicles 33:12-16) and ordered the people to worship God alone, which they did but in their way at the high places.
Josiah’s father, King Amon, learned nothing from his father, Manasseh, or his experiences. God says of him, “moreover, he did not humble himself before the Lord as his father Manasseh had done, but Amon multiplied guilt” (2 Chronicles 33:21-23). Amon led the people back to the evils of his father Manasseh. Of those evils, the texts say, “Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel” (2 Chronicles 33:9).
So, when Josiah becomes king after his father is assassinated (2 Kings 21:23-34), the moral situation is not good. And there was every reason to doubt that Josiah would be any different than his father or his grandfather. He had grown up in the king’s court in which God was not honored or listened to. But what we find is something else. We find that Josiah when he was sixteen, “began to seek the God of his father David” (1 Chronicles 34:3). God is summarizing Josiah’s life said this, “He did right in the sight of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Chronicles 34:2).
Juda Cleansed of Idolatry
The first thing that Josiah sets out to do is cleanse the land of idolatry. We are told this takes place in the eighth year of his reign when he is sixteen years old (2 Chronicles 34:3). We read in 2 Chronicles 34:3-7 that Josiah torn down all the places of idol worship (v.4, 7), burned the bones of the priest of the idols (v.5), burned the idols (v.4), and scattered the ashes over the graves of those who had sacrificed at the idols alters (v.4). Josiah sought to thoroughly purge the land by removing the high places or shutting them down but by destroying them and scattering any remnants of the idols over graves, thus making the ashes unclean.
In Josiah’s eighteenth year of his reign, he begins the restoration of the temple. 2 Chronicles 34:8-13 tells us how Josiah sent officials to the High Priest Hilkiah with the funds from all of Judah and the remnant of Israel to repair the temple (v.9). And it is amid the repairs that the high priest finds “the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses” (2 Chronicles 34:14).
Josiah’s response to the Law
The law had been neglected since the time of Manasseh and Josiah’s father Amon. One writer made this point as to why the Law of God had been ignored during those times. He said:
“It is easy to imagine (though again we are not told) why it may have been removed from its proper position beside the ark of the covenant (Deut. 31:26) during his [Manasseh] reign. It is a book whose laws Manasseh systematically infringed – whose authority over him he refuses, as king, to acknowledge (Deut. 17:18-20). It is not a book that he would want to have in the temple” (Provan 1995, 271).
The law was a reminder of their wickedness and failure to keep the law. Instead of those kings repenting and submitting to it, we find them, Harding, their hearts and doubling down on their sins. Granted, while Manasseh repented towards the end of his life, the damage was still done to the nation and his own son’s moral upbringing. And because the law had been removed, more or less, from the public, Israel was left to simply worship God by memory and tradition.
However, after the law is found, it is brought to Josiah, and it is read to him (2 Chronicles 34:16,18). And unlike his father and grandfather, we see a much different response to the law of God. Upon the completion of the reading, we read that, “When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes” (1 Chronicles 34:19). Not only is his response that of repentant anguish, but he immediately sends for a prophet to consult with God as to what to do. Josiah says to Hilkiah, the High Priest, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book which has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord which is poured out on us because our fathers have not observed the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:21).
The Words of the Prophet
The High priest immediately sends for a prophetess named Huldah. The oracle she speaks is recorded in 2 Chronicles 34:23-28, and God, through her, basically reiterates what he said through the unnamed prophets of 2 Kings 21. That because of Judah’s wickedness, judgment is coming, and it cannot escape.
While Judah received judgment, Josiah receives a blessing. The Lord tells the king, “Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God… your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place and, on its inhabitants” (2 Chronicles 34:27-28). Because Josiah sought the Lord earnestly and responded genuinely, God tells him that yes, judgment is coming, but it will be delayed until you have passed away.
Doing Right in the Face of Judgement
And now we come really to the only point I want to emphasize this morning. Putting ourselves in Josiah’s place, what would have been our response? Would it have been a negative fatalistic surrender, or would we have pressed on?
After the oracle is presented that he calls for the elders of Judah and all the people to meet him at the temple (2 Chronicles 34:29-30), there he read, king Josiah read the law to all the people. And before the people, he made a convent before God to keep all that was written in the law and made all those present make the same covenant (2 Chronicles 34:31-32). In the face of judgment, Josiah does right. Iaian Provan adds that “Since Josiah is a pious king, Huldah’s oracle about the future does not deflect Josiah from the path of reform. Reformation in the light of the law book is still the right thing to do, and Josiah is one who above all others does what is right” (Provan 1995, 272).
Do we look at the horizon and see nothing but doom and gloom for this country? Think for a moment, has your attitude about the future affected your work for God in the now? Josiah knew his kingdom would be destroyed after he was gone, but he still did good because it was the right thing to do. Are we determined to do the right thing no matter what the future holds?
Provan, Iaian W. 1 & 2 Kings. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 1995.