1 - 3 The Covenant
1 Then the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. 2 The king went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. 3 The king stood by the pillar 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 all [his] soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant.
Neither the message of judgment concerning Jerusalem nor the reassuring message concerning himself leads to passivity with Josiah. As far as the message of judgment is concerned, he could have thought that it does not make sense to work anyway. As for the reassuring message, he could have been satisfied and thought that he will see it out. But no, both messages bring him to action.
He lets the elders of Judah and Jerusalem come to him. He wants to wake them up from their false rest and put them back into action. The upcoming judgment makes him extra zealous. He is working hard to implement the necessary reforms. He does not say that it makes no sense because everything will be destroyed anyway. The certainty that we will not come into judgment will not make us passive, but all the more zealous to reach people with the gospel. It will also increase our commitment to the Lord and His church.
When the elders are with him, he goes with them to the house of the LORD, the temple, the place where the book of the law was found. Not only the elders go with him, but the “all the people, both small and great”. It has become a general matter. Before this whole company Josiah reads “all the words of the book of the covenant”. He wants the people to hear the words by which he himself was so seized.
Nothing is more important to us than passing on God’s Word (cf. 1Tim 4:12-13). It is important that we do so as people who have been addressed by it themselves and also live by it. Otherwise the Word will not come across – although God is sovereign to let it do its work in heart and conscience of one or another.
When Josiah has read the book of the covenant, he makes a covenant between the people and the LORD. Although the revival is not deep, as the book of Jeremiah shows, Josiah makes this covenant. Perhaps many have joined this covenant because at that time they were very impressed by the Word, without the conscience having been touched. But although the mass may not really have been touched inward, it is often the case that there are a few in the mass with whom it is the case.
That is how we speak to all people, although perhaps only a few really listen. The Lord Jesus speaks of this situation in the parable of the sower (Mt 13:1-9,18-23). Every soul that we can still gain for God from the apostate whole makes every effort a valuable thing and worthwhile.
4 - 14 The Cleansing
4 Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5 He did away with the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, also those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and to the moon and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven. 6 He brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD outside Jerusalem to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and ground [it] to dust, and threw its dust on the graves of the common people. 7 He also broke down the houses of the [male] cult prostitutes which [were] in the house of the LORD, where the women were weaving hangings for the Asherah. 8 Then he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba; and he broke down the high places of the gates which [were] at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which [were] on one’s left at the city gate. 9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not go up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech. 11 He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which [was] in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 The altars which [were] on the roof, the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, the king broke down; and he smashed them there and threw their dust into the brook Kidron. 13 The high places which [were] before Jerusalem, which [were] on the right of the mount of destruction 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 sons of Ammon, the king defiled. 14 He broke in pieces the [sacred] pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones.
In verses 4-20 the cleansing is described in detail. Josiah starts and continues to do away with everything that is not good. And what a lot that is! There is an abundance of wickedness in Judah and Jerusalem, that is, in the area where one should be most familiar with God. Josiah is reigning for 18 years now and has set a good example to the people. Yet the depth and extent of the dunghill of the idolatry is enormous.
Josiah is not discouraged by the enormous amount of uncleanness to be cleared up. Every idolatry is to the LORD’s gross dishonor and must be eradicated. The work is not going fast. A lot of cleansing is required and thorough cleansing is required. Thorough cleansing is often difficult. A revival is not possible without cleansing. Cleansing is not just about the visible things. The visible things arise from the inner. Above all, it is about an inner cleansing, a cleansing of the heart.
We need a renewal of our thinking. Cleansing our thinking means above all that we examine how we think. Our children go to school and their thinking is shaped by the thinking of the world. The world does determine how they see everything. Parents are also influenced, especially by the mass media. It is through this channel that the opinion of the world is forced upon them. We can only keep ourselves clean of it if we do not take it in. If we sometimes take things from the world to us, let us then make up our mind not to take things to us that defile us. Daniel is an example in this (Dan 1:8-16). This is possible if we have a heart in which the Word of God dwells richly (cf. Col 3:16a).
The first task Josiah gives is to discard everything that has to do with Baal and has been brought into the temple (verse 4). First of all, we must consider what things of the world are permitted in the temple of today, that is, the church and our body, our thinking. Josiah gives this order to “Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers”. Cleansing is primarily a priestly activity. If uncleanness has entered our lives, it is above all at the expense of our service to God. He will no longer receive from our hearts and lives what He is entitled to and desires.
Josiah lets burn the objects sacrificed to the idols. This happens in Jerusalem, the city of God. The remains of these objects are brought to Bethel, a place in the ten tribes realm. This means that he brings the ashes to an unclean place.
The three idols mentioned here, Baal, Asherah and all the host of heaven, are seen as a picture of prosperity. That makes today’s application easy. After all, we live in a time of idolization of prosperity. We can sometimes check ourselves to see if we really only give God the honor in all things, or if we are committed to get as much of the cake of prosperity as possible.
He also deposed the idolaters “whom the kings of Judah had appointed” (verse 5). With the kings of Judah will undoubtedly be meant Manasseh and Amon. The idol priests sacrifice on the high places in Judah and around Jerusalem. They will have thought in their folly to sacrifice incense to the LORD. There are also direct idol priests, who bring incense to the Baal and other idols. Josiah also removes them.
The next action concerns the Asherah (verse 6), which Manasseh placed in the house of the LORD (2Kgs 21:7). Here Josiah does a very thorough job. First he burns it and then ground [it] to dust. The place of action is the brook Kidron. Then he throws the dust on the graves, an unclean place. By throwing the dust over the graves he also expresses his contempt for this god. Perhaps when we think of “the graves of the common people” we have to think of a kind of mass grave, where people are buried together because they could not afford their own grave.
The horrific defilement knows no bounds. In verse 7 there is talk of dwellings made in the house of the LORD for prostituting men. The most disgusting sexual acts were performed in God’s house. The women also played their roll in this horrific scene. They weaved hangings for the Asherah, the goddess of lust. Instead of denouncing these atrocities, they have, as it were, covered up these horrific practices with their hangings.
Then Josiah lets all the priests in his entire area, from Geba in the north of Benjamin to Beersheba in the south of Judah, come to him (verse 8). These priests are taken away from their defiled environment. He defiles the high places where those priests have brought incense. The high places of the gates are broken down. A precise specification of the location of these high places is given: “At the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which [were] on one’s left at the city gate.”
The priests called to Jerusalem by Josiah cannot offer there on the altar of the LORD (verse 9). However, they may eat unleavened bread with their brothers. They are in a situation similar to that of priests who, due to a physical defect, cannot participate in the service, but are allowed to eat from the holy place (Lev 21:17,22-23). Sometimes it is the case that someone who comes to conversion cannot do a certain service because of the life he has led. For example, a person who has two women, as occurs in certain countries, cannot be an elder after his conversion (1Tim 3:2).
He is always working. His work in verse 10 is the extermination of yet another unparalleled horror: the sacrifice of the own children to the Molech, the god of fire (cf. Jer 32:35). This happened in Topheth, in the valley of the son of Hinnom, which because of these practices is called “the valley of Slaughter” by the LORD (Jer 19:6). How terrible this place is, is clear from the fact that the name Hinnom is derived from the name ‘Gehenna’, which is ‘hell’.
Josiah defiles this place so that no one can let his son or daughter go through the fire anymore as a sacrifice for the Molech. In this verse there is a strong call to parents to think about the purpose of raising their children and what they should keep their children for.
The horses mentioned in verse 11 are dedicated to the sun by “the kings of Judah” – Manasseh and Amon. According to their idolatrous thoughts, these horses with their chariots must draw the sun along the sky. The horses are standing “at the entrance of the house of the LORD”. Thus they defy and insult the LORD in a gross way. We do not know who “Nathan-melech, the official” was. But the LORD knows him well. Was he a driver of the chariots of the sun?
To see the number of altars that Josiah cleans up, Jerusalem must have been full of idol altars. On every corner and every spot there was an altar. In verse 12 some altars are mentioned specifically. Josiah breaks down “the altars which [were] on the roof, the upper chamber of Ahaz”. These altars were also made by “the kings of Judah”. Also “altars which [were] on the roof, the upper chamber of Ahaz”, Josiah breaks down. The insults of the LORD by Manasseh have no end. He has done his utmost to transform the house of the LORD in all respects into an idol temple. Josiah takes away all the idols, turns them into dust and throws the dust into the brook Kidron.
It is shocking in this purification work, in which we encounter names like Ahaz and Manasseh, to suddenly come across the name of Solomon as someone who is also connected to the cult of idols (verse 13). We know from 1 Kings 11 that Solomon has departed from the LORD by his many wives and the gods that these women have brought along. We even read that he built high places for those gods (1Kgs 11:7-8). All these idols are meaningfully referred to here as “abomination” by which the contrast between the idols of Solomon and God’s judgment of them is strongly emphasized.
In verse 14 we read that Josiah cut down the sacred pillars that functioned as objects of worship. King Hezekiah has done this before (2Kgs 18:4). The fact that two generations later this is done again by Josiah shows how persistent this idolatry is. Josiah fills the vacant space with human bones. He probably does so in order to defile this area and thereby to make people fear that they will not fall back into this idolatry again.
15 - 20 The Altar at Bethel
15 Furthermore, the altar that [was] at Bethel [and] the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah. 16 Now when Josiah turned, he saw the graves that [were] there on the mountain, and he sent and took the bones from the graves and burned [them] on the altar and defiled it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. 17 Then he said, “What is this monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the grave of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” 18 He said, “Let him alone; let no one disturb his bones.” So they left his bones undisturbed with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria. 19 Josiah also removed all the houses of the high places which [were] in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made provoking the LORD; and he did to them just as he had done in Bethel. 20 All the priests of the high places who [were] there he slaughtered on the altars and burned human bones on them; then he returned to Jerusalem.
In these verses we are reminded of a history from 1 Kings 12-13. The name of Jeroboam is also mentioned here, with as so often before the addition of the negative characteristic “who made Israel sin”. In his audacity, Jeroboam had invented his own religion (two golden calves) and had erected his own altar (1Kgs 12:25-33). God tells him by a prophet from Judah He will judge this.
Verses 15-16 refer to this. In the announcement of that judgment the man of God from Judah mentions the name of Josiah as the performer of that judgment (1Kgs 13:1-2). The moment of fulfilment has now come. God does not let any of His words fall to the earth. Every word comes true, both in terms of blessing and judgment.
In verses 17-18, something else takes place which is related to the history which is recorded in 1 Kings 13. This time it concerns the bones of the old prophet. Josiah notices a monument and asks what it means. It is not clear why Josiah does not know this, but the people of the city know it. They tell him about what the man of God said and that Josiah did what the man of God announced.
It is nice that people remember this event in Bethel, but it is not nice to learn nothing from it. It is not so beautiful that Josiah apparently knows nothing about it, but it is beautiful that after the memory he acts as is said by the man of God. The bones of the old prophet also remain untouched.
In the same way as before in Bethel, Josiah “removed all the houses of the high places which [were] in the cities of Samaria” (verse 19). These houses were made by the kings of Israel to provoke the LORD. The priests who have served on these high places are slaughtered by Josiah (verse 20), something he has not done with the priests in Judah who have also sacrificed at high places (verse 8).
21 - 23 Josiah Celebrates the Passover
21 Then the king commanded all the people saying, “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.” 22 Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was observed to the LORD in Jerusalem.
The Passover is celebrated by order of king Josiah. The fact that the order to celebrate the Passover is given by a king is unique. The Passover is celebrated here during a revival. It has been celebrated more often (Exo 12:3-11; Num 9:5; Jos 5:10; 2Chr 30:1,15,18-20,26), but also often not. The Passover represents the Lord’s Supper. We can deduce this from the fact that the Lord Jesus institutes the Supper during the celebration of the Passover (Lk 22:7-8,13-20). The Lord’s Supper is often celebrated, but also for a longer time it was not. It has been there from the beginning.
Josiah celebrates the Passover because he has found it in Scripture and after he has cleansed the city and the land of the idols and their priests. Thus, the (local) church can only celebrate Lord’s Supper if the believers have discovered it in God’s Word and have removed from their lives what goes against God’s Word (1Cor 5:7-8).
After the days of the judges we read only of a celebration of the Passover by Hezekiah (2Chr 30:1). The Passover which Josiah celebrates also surpasses the Passover which Hezekiah celebrated, for it says: “Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah” (verse 22). Here we see that the greater the decay, the greater the LORD’s appreciation is when His institution of the Passover is kept. To celebrate it, Josiah did not think of any new things to make it attractive, but ordered that it be kept “as it is written in this book of the covenant”. Josiah keeps it because it is in God’s Word and he keeps it as it is in God’s Word.
It is a unique Passover, because it is the best feast ever in the land, better than in the times of David and Solomon and Hezekiah. It is so great because it is held at the end of the realm of Judah, which is about to be deported.
We too live in an end time and even now it is possible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a way that it has not been celebrated for a long time. That can happen now. The question is whether we participate. God has a meal for the end time, His Supper, prepared according to His thoughts, to take part in it as He wills. All believers who come together with cleansed, willing hearts can participate. If this happens without being sectarian – Josiah speaks to “all the people” – we too may know that, however great the decay may be, the appreciation of the Lord Jesus is great when His institution of His Supper is held.
24 - 25 Last Acts and Testimony of Josiah
24 Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. 25 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.
Josiah executes the words of the law to the last letter. The Word lives so powerfully in him because it is so fresh to him. He wants to obey it with all his strength and zeal. He can only be satisfied when everything that is an insult to God and disobedience to His Word has been removed. It seems that after the Passover he is even more impressed by God’s Word and God’s holiness, so he makes another tour through Judah and Jerusalem to see if there is anything else to clear up.
What may have escaped his attention will be seen and removed during this inspection round. These are the mediums and the spiritists who have kept themselves hidden as much as possible. They will have done their works of darkness as quietly as possible, but they will not escape the purification actions of Josiah, nor will the images they have used.
The testimony given of Josiah is very similar to that given of Hezekiah. It is also said of Hezekiah that before him and after him there is no one like him. How is that possible? The solution may be that they are both the best in different respects. Hezekiah has no equal when it comes to trust in God. Josiah has no equal when it comes to obedience to the Word of God, to which he has always acted. He has kept the Word of God and has not denied the Name of God.
His true and profound conversion “to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might” (verse 25; cf. Deu 6:5) has produced abundant works in keeping with repentance. This testimony of his conversion is also unique in Scripture. That no one like him rose up after him, becomes quickly clear in the kings who came after him. These kings have quickly brought God’s judgment over Judah and Jerusalem by deporting them to Babylon.
26 - 27 The Wrath of the LORD Must Come
26 However, the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. 27 The LORD said, “I will remove Judah also from My sight, as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the temple of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’”
Despite the revival which God has brought in His grace to His people, “the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath”. What has been for Josiah a profound work in his heart and conscience has been for the people only a superficial, temporary condition (Jer 25:3-7). They have not radically converted to God. The same we see in Christianity. If God were to give the greatest revival, this would not change the fact that the judgment of Christianity comes, as Judah stands here just before the deportation to Babylon. This has nothing to do with the failure of God's omnipotence, but with the incorrigibility of man.
God has to reject Jerusalem because of the provoking by Manasseh. What Manasseh has done to provoke God knows no limits. God owes it to His holiness to judge the people who, instead of calling to God, have joined Manasseh. We listen to the sorrow in the heart of the LORD in what He says in verse 27 about the removing of Judah and the rejection of Jerusalem.
28 - 30 Death of Josiah
28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. And King Josiah went to meet him, and when [Pharaoh Neco] saw him he killed him at Megiddo. 30 His servants drove his body in a chariot from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah and anointed him and made him king in place of his father.
At the end of his life Josiah also departed from the LORD. He has become stubborn. His authority becomes his trap. He is often a picture of the Lord Jesus, but he is not a perfect picture of Him. Josiah wants to be part of the great world politics and is crushed between the superpowers Egypt and Assyria. He interferes in a fight that does not concern him and dies.
His death is not honorable. His burial is not honorable either. His burial is done by his servants. They bring him, that is to say his body, to Jerusalem and bury him in his tomb. Josiah is succeeded by his son Jehoahaz who is anointed king by the people of the land.
Only Solomon and Jehoash are said to be anointed king to take their place on the throne immediately after that. In those cases, this was done to make meaningless any claim of others on the throne. That seems to be the case here too. Jehoahaz is not the eldest son of Josiah. The eldest son is Jojakim. Solomon’s and Jehoash’s anointing is justified, Jehoahaz’s anointing seems to have been preferred by the people because of his political position.
31 - 34 Jehoahaz King of Judah
31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 Pharaoh Neco imprisoned him at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem; and he imposed on the land a fine of one hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34 Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away and brought [him] to Egypt, and he died there.
From now on, until the end of the realm – that is, over a period of about twenty-two years – four kings are presented. In the time of these kings nothing happens that gives joy. The time of revivals like under Hezekiah and Josiah is over. None of the successors of Josiah is God-fearing.
The writer limits himself in his description of the kings will come to power, before Judah is taken away into exile. Through the book of Jeremiah, however, we learn a lot about the downfall of the realm. There we find encounters between some of the four kings with the prophet Jeremiah, about whom there is not a single word here.
Jehoahaz is a bad king. He reigns only briefly. But just like other bad kings who have reigned for a short time, in those three months he has proven what kind of king he is. Ezekiel compares him to a young lion (Eze 19:1-4). After three months God’s judgment comes upon him through Pharaoh, who is still the mighty ruler on the world stage. Pharaoh imprisoned him at Riblah, a priest city. Thereby his kingship is over. Pharaoh Neco also imposes a fine on the land. God seems to be on the side of Pharaoh and to give up the kings of Judah. It does not mean that they are more wicked than Pharaoh, but that they are much more responsible.
Pharaoh also shows his power over Judah by making a brother of Jehoahaz, Eliakim, king. Another proof of the power of Pharaoh is that he changes the name Eljakim to Jehoiakim. He does not make him king in the place of Jehoahaz, but in the place of Josiah his father. It is as if the whole kingship of Jehoahaz did not exist. It is possible that Jehoahaz pursued an anti-Egyptian policy and thereby aroused the anger of Pharaoh. It says it so explicitly, that Pharaoh imprisoned Jehoahaz “that he might not reign in Jerusalem”.
35 - 37 Jehoiakim King of Judah
35 So Jehoiakim gave the silver and gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land in order to give the money at the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and gold from the people of the land, each according to his valuation, to give it to Pharaoh Neco. 36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name [was] Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done.
Jehoiakim may have been made king by Pharaoh, but he has to pay Pharaoh a high tribute. To be able to pay that tax he applies the same method as Menahem did (2Kgs 15:20). Only he does not limit himself, like Menahem, to the financially strong, but demands his contribution from every member of the population. It has been assumed that he extorted the population of the land out of revenge, because they had chosen his brother above him to be king (verse 30).
The submission to Pharaoh does not make Jehoiakim a king who bows down under the judgment of God. During his eleven-year reign he does what is evil in the sight of the LORD. In this he follows his fathers, with whom Manasseh and Amon will be meant.
We see how Judah comes more and more into the power of other peoples, to eventually end up in the power of Babylon.