What characterizes the revival under Josiah is the great emphasis on the Word of God. The book of the law, the Word of God, is rediscovered. This causes a great shock to Josia. We can see that in the Reformation, which creates the break with Rome. Despite the Reformation, much remains that is contrary to Scripture. A new Reformation is needed, for their “deeds” are “not found … completed” (Rev 3:2).
1 - 7 Josiah King of Judah
1 Josiah [was] eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. 2 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. 3 For in the eighth year of his reign while he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images. 4 They tore down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars that were high above them he chopped down; also the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images he broke in pieces and ground to powder and scattered [it] on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. 5 Then he burned the bones of the priests on their altars and purged Judah and Jerusalem. 6 In the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, even as far as Naphtali, in their surrounding ruins, 7 he also tore down the altars and beat the Asherim and the carved images into powder, and chopped down all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
Josiah, when he is only eight years old, becomes king in place of his wicked father Amon (verse 1). It is a great miracle that a boy like Josiah grows up in the house of the wicked Amon. However, in the first years of his reign everything will have remained in the line of his wicked father, because he is still too young to do anything himself. Yet from an early age he grew up in the things of the LORD.
Being young and staying in or being interested in the sanctuary are more often found together in Scripture. We see this for example also with Joshua, Samuel and Solomon. In Josiah we see a sensitive heart that is subject to the Word and a conscience that takes into account the thoughts and the will of God.
Josiah means ‘supported by the LORD’ or ‘for whom the LORD cares’ or ‘given by the LORD’. He reigned thirty-one years, from 640-609 BC. That is in the end time of Judah, eight hundred years after Moses and four hundred years after David. As said, his father, Amon, was a wicked man. Possibly Josiah has only experienced his grandfather Manasseh in his good times and that has had a blessing in his life. Besides his mother, Timothy also owes much to his grandmother (2Tim 1:5). Grandparents can contribute substantially to the development of their grandchildren.
The general characteristic of his life is that he does what is right in the sight of the LORD (verse 2). The LORD looks at him with pleasure. Here he sees one who reminds of David, the man after His heart. No spiritual helper is mentioned, as once with Joash (2Chr 24:5). It seems that Josiah has a personal relationship with God.
A child who becomes king is not directly a proof of God’s grace, but rather a judgment about the faithlessness of the people (Ecc 10:16a; Isa 3:4). However, if God gives a wise child, it is better “than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction” (Ecc 4:13). Josiah is such a wise child. He is wise because he fears the LORD.
His walk is compared to that of his father David, as is also mentioned of Hezekiah (2Chr 29:2). He is balanced in his faith and serving the LORD. He does “not turn aside to the right or to the left” (Deu 5:32). It is always a great danger for every child of God that he deviates either to the right or to the left.
We deviate to the right when we apply the truth of God’s Word without love; we deviate to the left when we only talk about love without applying the truth of God’s Word. It is important that we have a walk in which we do not fall into sectarian narrow-mindedness on the one hand, which is to deviate to the right, and carnal freedom on the other hand, which is to deviate to the left.
In the eighth year of his reign (verse 3a), he is then sixteen years old, he makes the personal choice to seek the God of his father David. The childhood years are then over. There is growth to adulthood. At the important age of sixteen he begins to seek God. He does not seek God as a sinner, but as someone who consciously wants to involve Him in all his activities.
First Josiah walks in the ways of his father David (verse 2). Now he begins to seek the God of his father David. With young people it is first the example that makes them walk, then they look for the source of strength for that walk. The example of David refers Josiah to God. Thus, the walk of the elders must refer to the Lord Jesus. Then young people will not go looking for the elderly, but for Him.
In the twelfth year of his reign (verse 3b), when he is twenty, he begins to clean up. This is probably not possible earlier because of his dependence on others. When he begins the cleansing of the land, the book of the law has not yet been found. This indicates that someone who lives with the Lord has the desire that things are in agreement with Him. Conscience is then practiced in His presence and feels what is right, without an explicit word from God’s Word. What happens, however, is completely in agreement with it.
Then the Holy Spirit gives an account of the courageous deeds of Josiah (verses 4-7). Josiah wants to cleanse Jerusalem and Judah from places that express contempt for the center God has chosen. He will be surrounded by people who cannot appreciate his work. In any case, he will not receive much support. And although the people do not oppose him, their hearts are not with him either. It is a work of individual faith.
The variety of objects that Josiah destroys (verse 4) gives an impression of the arsenal of deceptions that Satan has to make God’s people unfaithful to his God. Often we, too, have to tidy up several things from our lives in order to make room again for the Lord Jesus. If one form of evil has entered our lives, it provides an opening for other forms of evil.
Josiah seeks God first, then he goes to work. It is important for young believers to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus in secret and to be taught and brought up by Him. Only when this is present an open task can be performed. First the roots must be driven deep into the Word of God, then the growth and the bearing of fruit will come. This is what Josiah needs, because he has an enormous work to do.
In Hezekiah this cleansing takes place at the end of his reign as the consequence of the inner cleansing. Josiah begins with the outer cleansing. Thereby he proceeds more thoroughly than his grandfather Manasseh after his conversion, for he not only breaks but also pulverizes. He destroys everything that is contrary to God’s statute that there is only one altar, His altar, and that there is only one house, His house. These are things that tolerate no competition. There is no compromise in holy things for Josiah.
He sprinkles the ashes of the idols upon the graves of the idolaters. It is an example that when someone dies, his works follow him in judgment (cf. 1Tim 5:24; cf. Rev 14:13). It is not over with death. By burning the bones of the priests on the altar (verse 5) he fulfils the prophecy of the man of God from Judah (1Kgs 13:2).
The second phase of his cleansing is that he even goes to cities of the ten tribes (verse 6), while those tribes have already been deported. Only a handful of people will live there. However, for him it is also the holy land. He breaks all the incense altars “throughout the land of Israel” (verse 7). It speaks of him cleansing the whole personal, daily life.
In addition, we see that, just as with Hezekiah, every sectarian thought is strange to him. For us, New Testament believers, the unity of the church, the one body, is the starting point of coming together and living together. That foundation is not limited to those who think alike, but is for everyone who belongs to the church. Josiah has a message for the whole people, not just for Judah. Whom we can still reach with God’s Word, we may show what that Word says about the church.
Josiah does not come with a message that feels good. He comes to eradicate the altars! He doesn’t come with a cheap message. He comes to tell them what is contrary to God’s Word. He tells them all this, even though he doesn’t have a Bible, because the Bible won’t be found until later. Yet he can tell them all this because he is aware of God’s holiness.
8 - 13 Care for the House of the LORD
8 Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah an official of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the LORD his God. 9 They came to Hilkiah the high priest and delivered the money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the doorkeepers, had collected from Manasseh and Ephraim, and from all the remnant of Israel, and from all Judah and Benjamin and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 10 Then they gave [it] into the hands of the workmen who had the oversight of the house of the LORD, and the workmen who were working in the house of the LORD used it to restore and repair the house. 11 They in turn gave [it] to the carpenters and to the builders to buy quarried stone and timber for couplings and to make beams for the houses which the kings of Judah had let go to ruin. 12 The men did the work faithfully with foremen over them to supervise: Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites of the sons of Merari, Zechariah and Meshullam of the sons of the Kohathites, and the Levites, all who were skillful with musical instruments. 13 [They were] also over the burden bearers, and supervised all the workmen from job to job; and [some] of the Levites [were] scribes and officials and gatekeepers.
In these verses we see the third phase of the revival and that is the restoration of the temple. After the cleansing, what we can call negative, something is removed, now comes the restoration, what we can call positive, something is built up. We are “in the eighteenth year of his reign” (verse 8). Josiah is then twenty-six and no longer a new convert (1Tim 3:6). He can take care of the temple. Josiah has his own relationship with God, who is called “his God”.
He who knows and loves God in this way also loves His house. Such a person will listen to the instructions about his behavior in the house of God. Restoring the house of God has to do with behaving in God’s house in a way that befits Him of Whom the house is and Who has set His rules of conduct for His house (1Tim 3:15). Confusion in the house of God is the result of people making rules. Where that is the case, it must be corrected.
This behavior in God’s house concerns all of us. Correcting what has gone wrong is the concern of all. For example, the Levites collected money from all over the land to restore the temple (verse 9). The house of God is not the property or the care of a small group in Judah.
This also applies to us. The spiritual health of a local church depends on what the individual members contribute. If everyone provides a good contribution, the temple as the dwelling place of God will be fully dedicated to God again.
Faithful people go to work to restore the house of the LORD. There are two kinds of executors (verse 10). There are executors who supervise and there are executors who repair and restore. These two categories can be recognized in the New Testament in the overseers or shepherds and the teachers. These executors provide the craftsmen and builders with the necessary materials (verse 11).
The temple has fallen into decay. The kings of Judah are responsible for this (verse 11b). For us, the temple is a picture of the church (1Cor 3:16) and of the body of the believer (1Cor 6:19). From both must be removed everything that contradicts Him Who dwells in it, that is God the Holy Spirit. After the cleansing of the land - daily life - the meeting of the believers as a church and the heart of the believers must be cleansed.
The materials are hewn stones and wood. In the stones we can see a picture of the believers, which are called “living stones” (1Pet 2:5). They are incorporated into the temple. It indicates that believers are being taught about their place in the church. The wood is used for “the joints”. Here we can see a picture of the growth of the believers in connection with other believers.
The wood is also used to “decorate” decayed houses. This points us to the way we think. As kings – that is what we have become by faith (Rev 1:6) – we have to have an eye for the open spots in our thinking. It is about recognizing the danger that evil powers from the heavenly places influence our thinking. That is why we must put “the helmet of salvation” (Eph 6:17) on our heads, on our thinking.
The decay of God’s house has been caused by man’s unfaithfulness. Only faithful people can provide a valuable contribution to the restoration of God’s house (verse 12). The apostle Paul is such a faithful worker. He can say that the Lord “considered me faithful” (1Tim 1:12). Timothy is also such a faithful worker. Paul calls him his “faithful child in the Lord” (1Cor 4:17).
The leaders are Levites “who were skillful with musical instruments”. Here we see a beautiful harmony between the service to God - honoring Him in a melodious way – and the service to the saints – leading them in their occupation of God’s house. These Levites with their melodious music are especially connected with “the burden bearers” and “all the workmen from job to job” (verse 13). Heavy burdens and all kinds of work become lighter when we think about Who we are doing our work for. When the Lord Jesus stands before us in our work, we become happy and thankful that we may serve Him. We then experience the truth of His words: “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mt 11:30).
Levites do not only give guidance. There are also those who are directly involved in the ministry as “scribes and officials and gatekeepers”. Some write down everything that happens, others supervise the building, and others guard. It is the tragedy of Christianity that the overseership has become a status above other believers. We see this in the church hierarchy in both protestantism and roman-catholicism. Overseers have a task in the midst of or among God’s people and not above them (Mt 23:9-10; Acts 20:28; 1Pet 5:2-3).
14 - 18 The Book of the Law Found
14 When they were bringing out the money which had been brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the LORD [given] by Moses. 15 Hilkiah responded and said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan. 16 Then Shaphan brought the book to the king and reported further word to the king, saying, “Everything that was entrusted to your servants they are doing. 17 They have also emptied out the money which was found in the house of the LORD, and have delivered it into the hands of the supervisors and the workmen.” 18 Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, “Hilkiah the priest gave me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
The fourth phase in the revival is the finding of the book of the law. This discovery is made while they are busy with the money for the house of the LORD (verse 14). When we are busy with the interests of God’s house, God will open our eyes to His Word, that is, He will speak to our hearts through His Word. The Word is going to live for us.
The finder of the book, the priest Hilkiah, gives the book to Saphan with the words: “I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD” (verse 15). In the application to us, this testimony can be recited by many. Many believers have discovered the truth of God’s Word through teaching in the local church. This is the customary ‘finding place’ of the Word. In the church the Word is proclaimed and explained. It does not mean that the church teaches, because the teaching is given by the teachers whom the Lord Jesus has given, while everyone who listens to it has to examine the Word to see whether those things are so (Acts 17:11).
“The apostles’ teaching” is taught in the first church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42). In one of the first churches of the Gentiles in Antioch, teaching is also given for one year from God’s Word (Acts 11:26). Teaching God’s Word in a church is important in order to grow in faith. This in no way excludes the personal study of God’s Word, but rather promotes it.
Saphan takes the found book of the law to Josiah (verse 16a). First he reports on the work (verses 16b-17). He reports of the servants that they do obediently what they have to do. That is a beautiful testimony. Hopefully it can also be testified of us before the Lord Jesus and others that we are doing what is “delivered into our hands” (cf. 1Tim 4:15). It is important that we work with what the Lord has entrusted to us. This is noticed by others.
After the account of the faithfulness of the workers, Saphan tells Josiah about the book that the priest Hilkiah has given him and begins to read from it (verse 18). It is the first time in his life that Josiah hears God’s Word. Here he comes for the first time into contact with the power of the Word, which has a tremendous effect on him. How important it is for us every time we read God’s Word to do it so, as if it were for the first time. Then we will experience the power of it each time and it will have the same effect that it has on Josiah.
19 - 22 The Effect
19 When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. 20 Then the king commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Abdon the son of Micah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, 21 “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.” 22 So Hilkiah and [those] whom the king had told went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, the keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter); and they spoke to her regarding this.
When Josiah hears the Word of God, he is immediately impressed (verse 19). Josiah shows the true spirit of the Reformation. He who has been touched by the Word will ask what he should do (Acts 2:37). If the Word of God comes to us and we see that there are things in our lives that are not right, let us not respond as Josiah’s son, Jojakim, does. He cuts the Word into pieces, he tears the Word and not his clothes (Jer 36:23-24). Josiah reacts differently. He tears his clothes. The Word works in him (1Thes 2:13).
The Word given eight hundred years ago by Moses (verse 14) has lost nothing of its power. It has its full effect on Josiah. That is because Josiah bows down before it. He does not say: ‘This is no longer of our time, it has nothing more to say to us.’ No, it convinces him and he knows it still has its full meaning.
Josia takes immediate action. If God’s Word comes to us and we are aware of it, it will move us to action. Josiah wants to know what the LORD wants and gives some servants the command to go and consult Him (verses 20-21a). We read his motivation (verse 21b). Josiah sees that God must judge because of the unfaithfulness of the people. That unfaithfulness is the result of not paying careful attention to God’s Word. Because judgment is spoken of, it may be they have read from the book of Deuteronomy (cf. Deu 31:16-19; 32:16-43).
The judgments are no reason for Josiah to be down. There is a way of restoration. He knows this can be pointed out to him by the prophetess Huldah (verse 22). The spiritual strength lies with a woman, as in the time of the Judges with Deborah (Jdg 4:4-5). If that is the situation, it means that God’s people have deviated far from Him.
Huldah lives in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, probably in an inconspicuous house, perhaps in what we call a “terraced house”. She is married to “the keeper of the wardrobe”. Garments speak of our customs, what people see of us. Doesn’t this speak of how the Word of God is to become visible in our lives, that Christ is manifested in our lives? It is God’s intention that we adorn the doctrine of God our Savior through in every respect of our lives (Tit 2:10b).
23 - 28 Message From Huldah
23 She said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, 24 thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am bringing evil on this place and on its inhabitants, [even] all the curses written in the book which they have read in the presence of the king of Judah. 25 Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place and it shall not be quenched.”‘ 26 But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus you will say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel [regarding] the words which you have heard, 27 Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and [because] you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. 28 Behold, I will gather you to your fathers and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, so your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place and on its inhabitants.”‘“ And they brought back word to the king.
Huldah begins her message by pointing directly to the origin of her message (verse 23). What she says are not her words, but the words of “the LORD, the God of Israel”. That can only be said by someone who really speaks the words of the LORD. Unfortunately, it often happens today that those words are uttered by people who are only seeking their own benefit (Eze 13:7).
Huldah addresses the words of the LORD to “the man who sent you to Me”. Josiah is spoken of as a ‘man’, not as a king. In the presence of the LORD there is no place for the importance of man.
In verse 24 Huldah pronounces the words “so says the LORD” for the second time. Now they are the introduction to what the LORD is going to do and why he is going to do it (verse 25). Although Josiah restored the temple, the people did not convert to the LORD from their hearts and with repentance for their idolatry. The people have forsaken the LORD, and therefore the judgment is unavoidable.
Then she has a personal word for Josiah (verse 26). She notes that Josiah sent his servants “to inquire of the LORD”. Such actions are greatly appreciated by the LORD, and He notes them with joy. The personal word for Josiah is introduced with the words Hulda has already spoken twice before. The LORD not only appreciates the fact that Josiah wants to inquire of Him, but He also sees the mind of his heart (verse 27; cf. 1Kgs 21:20-29).The mind of Josiah became manifest when he heard the words of the LORD. It has brought him to humble himself before God. Of this he has shown the outward sign in the tearing of his clothes and weeping before God. A heart that has grown soft before Him also shows that softness and humiliation. We can tear our clothes and cry without real repentance. With Josiah everything is real.
For this reason the LORD Josiah gets a personal promise (verse 28). That promise is that he will see nothing of all the mischief that the LORD is going to bring upon Jerusalem (cf. Isa 57:1-2 ; 2Chr 32:26). Before the judgments come, Josiah will be united with his fathers by the LORD, and will be buried in peace. We can apply this to the rapture of the church from the earth before God will let His judgments come over the earth (Rev 3:10 ; 1Thes 1:9-10).
When Huldah has finished speaking, the servants report Josiah. This brings him to act again. From this we see that Josiah accepts the words of Hulda as the words of the LORD. She has said “so says the LORD” three times and Josiah acknowledges that.
29 - 33 Reaction of Josiah
29 Then the king sent and gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 30 The king went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the Levites and all the people, from the greatest to the least; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. 31 Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant written in this book. 32 Moreover, he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand [with him]. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. 33 Josiah removed all the abominations from all the lands belonging to the sons of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel to serve the LORD their God. Throughout his lifetime they did not turn from following the LORD God of their fathers.
The effect of the divine message on the heart of Josiah is that he leads the whole people to renew the covenant relationship with the LORD. He calls all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to come (verse 29). Then he, the king, goes first to the house of the LORD (verse 30). All the people, in all their ranks and of all ages, follow him.
Josiah reads the whole Word that is found. He takes the time for it, and so do the people. Again it is emphasized that the book “was found in the house of the LORD”. The time before the final judgments is characterized by organizing meetings around the Word (Heb 10:25). Everyone, young and old, always needs the Word, but especially in times of crisis. The house of the LORD is not only the place of worship but also the place of teaching (cf. Lk 21:37a).
After reading in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant, the king stands “in his place” (cf. 2Kgs 23:3), where we may think of the platform made by Solomon (2Chr 6:13). First Josiah himself makes a covenant before the LORD (verse 31). In doing so he commits himself to follow the LORD and to obey Him with all his heart and with all his soul. Then he involves Jerusalem and Benjamin in the covenant (verse 32) and also obliges everyone who dwells in Israel to serve the LORD (verse 33). The origin of the revival is in the heart of Josiah. The people are obliged by him to take a stand and to serve. The difference between the heart of Josiah and the heart of the people becomes clear after the death of Josiah.
It is always Josiah who acts for the people. He brings all of the twelve tribes under his authority into that covenant. However, it only works for as long as he lives. In the book of Jeremiah it becomes clear that the reformation of Josiah only did an outward work in the lives and homes of the members of God’s people. That the people do not deviate is not a matter of their hearts. They are hypocrites. In reality they are far away from the LORD (Jer 3:10). Josiah therefore represents in his person the remnant that remains faithful in a time of apostasy.
Yet an outward restoration is better than no restoration. An outward restoration has an impact on public life. We see that Josiah removes all abominations from Israel. As long as Josiah’s inspiring leadership is there, the people follow. After his death it becomes clear how even his own family has not been touched by God’s Spirit. Good kings are a picture of the great Son of David. In them we also see examples of true spiritual leadership to bring the people to a walk in agreement with God.