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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 2 Kings 23

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The Reforms of Josiah

A. The covenant and the reforms of King Josiah.

1. (2Ki 23:1-3) The covenant is renewed.

Now the king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; 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 had been found in the house of the Lord. Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took a stand for the covenant.

a. The king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah: Josiah heard the promise of both eventual judgment and the immediate delay of judgment. He did not respond with indifference or simple contentment that he would not see the judgment in his day. He wanted to get the kingdom right with God, and he knew that he could not do it all by himself – he needed all the elders of Judah to join in broken repentance with him.

b. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book: The king did this himself. He was so concerned that the nation would hear the word of God that he read it to them himself.

c. The king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord: King Josiah stood before the people and publicly declared his commitment to obey the word of God to the very best of his ability (with all his heart and all his soul).

i. “[He] made a covenant is literally ‘[he] cut a covenant,’ which goes back to the practice of cutting the carcass of an animal and separating the parts so the contracting parties could seal their agreement by walking between them (cf. Genesis 15:17; Jeremiah 34:18).” (Dilday)

d. And all the people took a stand for the covenant: They did this in response to the example and leadership of King Josiah. We do not read of any command for the people to do this; they did it spontaneously as they followed the king’s example and leadership.

i. This kind of mass response and commitment to the Lord cannot be commanded, but that does not mean that there is no part for man to play. It was clearly the work of God among the people, but God worked through the example and leadership of King Josiah.

ii. The fact that this happened among all the people means that this was a special work of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that there are times when the Holy Spirit comes upon people as a group, which is a different work than the individual filling of the Spirit. There are times when the Holy Spirit seems to work on a group, and we should pray for such moving of the Holy Spirit today.

· Acts 2:4: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
· Acts 4:31: And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
· Acts 10:44: While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.

iii. “The ceremony compares with the basic Mizpah covenant (1 Samuel 8:11-17; 10:25) and the renewal of the covenant at Shechem (Joshua 24), both of which marked turning points in Jewish history.” (Wiseman)

2. (2Ki 23:4-14) The extent of King Josiah’s reformation in Judah.

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, the priests of the second order, and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the articles that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. Then he removed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places all around Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven. And he brought out the wooden image from the house of the Lord, to the Brook Kidron outside Jerusalem, burned it at the Brook Kidron and ground it to ashes, and threw its ashes on the graves of the common people. Then he tore down the ritual booths of the perverted persons that were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the wooden image. And 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; also he broke down the high places at the gates which were at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were to the left of the city gate. Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brethren. And he 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 to Molech. Then he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech, the officer who was in the court; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. The altars that 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 pulverized there, and threw their dust into the Brook Kidron. Then the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, which were on the south of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images, and filled their places with the bones of men.

a. To bring out of the temple of the Lord all of the articles that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven: This shows us how deep idolatry was in Judah. There were idols dedicated to Baal, to Asherah, and to all the host of heaven in the very temple itself. From this account, it seems that Josiah began the cleansing reforms at the center and worked outwards.

i. Threw its ashes on the graves of the common people: “Throwing the ashes of the idol on the graves of the common people outside the city was not intended to defile their graves, but the very opposite. Any contact with death was believed to be an act of defilement, so scattering the dust on the graves served to defile the idols.” (Dilday)

b. Then he removed the idolatrous priests: Josiah’s reforms did not only remove sinful things, but also the sinful people that promoted and permitted these sinful things. The idols that filled the temple did not get there or stay there on their own – there were idolatrous priests who were responsible for these sinful practices.

i. Any thorough reformation can not only deal with sinful things; it must also deal with sinful people. If sinful people are not dealt with, they will quickly bring back the sinful things that were righteously removed.

ii. The idolatrous priests: “Probably they were an order made by the idolatrous kings of Judah, and called kemarim, from camar, which signifies to be scorched, shriveled together, made dark, or black, because their business was constantly to attend sacrificial fires, and probably they were black garments.” (Clarke)

c. Then he tore down the ritual booths of the perverted persons: Supposedly sacred prostitution was an integral part of the worship of many of these pagan idols. The temple had become a brothel and King Josiah corrected this disgraceful perversion.

i. Perverted persons: “The Hebrew word basically denotes ‘holy, set apart’, here clearly for non-Yahwistic purposes.” (Wiseman) “We have already often met with these kedeshim or consecrated persons.” (Clarke)

ii. “The word translated ‘hangings’ likely refers to a fabric woven by idol worshippers for curtains behind which the ritual obscenities were practiced.” (Dilday)

d. He defiled Topheth... he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun... he burned the chariots of the sun... the king broke down and pulverized... he broke in pieces the sacred pillars: This passage reveals something of the extent of official idolatry in Judah. It was widespread, elaborate, and heavily invested in. Previous kings of Judah had spent a lot of time and money to honor these pagan idols. It took a long, dedicated commitment on the part of King Josiah to do this work.

i. “The utilization of the horse in the solar cultus was widespread in the ancient Near East, being attested particularly in Assyrian and Aramean inscriptional and artifactual sources.” (Patterson and Austel)

ii. “Since the symbolic wooden pole could be burned and pulverized the scattering of the ashes over peoples’ graves served to despise both the god and its worshippers (cf. Jeremiah 26:23).” (Wiseman)

iii. And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom: “Here it appears the sacred rites of Molech were performed, and to this all the filth of the city was carried, and perpetual fires were kept up in order to consume it. Hence, it has been considered a type of hell; and in this sense it is used in the New Testament.” (Clarke)

iv. “The rabbins say that Topheth had its name from toph, a drum, because instruments of this kind were used to drown the cries of the children that were put into the burning arms of Molech, to be scorched to death.” (Clarke)

3. (2Ki 23:15-20) Josiah extends his reformation to Bethel and Samaria.

Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and crushed it to powder, and burned the wooden image. As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs 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 words. Then he said, “What gravestone is this that I see?” So the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” And he said, “Let him alone; let no one move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria. Now Josiah also took away all the shrines of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger; and he did to them according to all the deeds he had done in Bethel. He executed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them; and he returned to Jerusalem.

a. Moreover the altar that was a Bethel: King Josiah was so diligent in his reforms that he took down altars located in the former Kingdom of Israel. He removed the pagan altar at Bethel that Jeroboam set up hundreds of years earlier.

i. Politically speaking, this was possible because the Assyrian Empire was weak in the days of Josiah. Josiah could intervene in this area that was subject to the Assyrian Empire because they were concerned with other things and could not stop him.

ii. “The altar at Bethel, which Josiah’s reform also reached, had been established by Jeroboam at Solomon’s death; but in the course of time a purely Canaanites worship had apparently replaced the earlier worship of the golden calf.” (Patterson and Austel)

b. What gravestone is this that I see: This is the remarkable fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier. The words of this anonymous prophet are recorded in 1 Kings 13:1-2: Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you. Josiah was careful to honor the gravestone of this anonymous prophet.

4. (2Ki 23:21-23) Josiah keeps the Passover on a national basis.

Then the king commanded all the people, saying, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” Such a Passover surely had never been held since the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was held before the Lord in Jerusalem.

a. Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant: Josiah could not command heart obedience to the word of God, but he could establish a national holiday to observe the Passover.

b. Such a Passover surely had never been held: The celebration of the Passover had become so neglected that this was a remarkable observance.

i. Passover remembered the central act of redemption in the Old Testament: God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the days of Moses. Their neglect of Passover proved that they had neglected to remember the Lord’s work of redemption for them. It was as if a group of modern Christians had completely forgotten communion or the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which remembers Jesus’ work of redemption for us.

5. (2Ki 23:24-25) The vast extent of Josiah’s reforms.

Moreover Josiah put away those who consulted mediums and spiritists, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.

a. Moreover Josiah put away: King Josiah also fulfilled the commandment of God to put away those who practiced the occult and spiritism. His passion was to perform the words of the law which were written in the book.

i. The great reformation in the days of Josiah is an example of simply going back to the word of God and seeking to base all thought and practice on what God has revealed in His word. It was an Old Testament example of the Reformation principle of sola scriptura.

b. There was no king like him: Josiah was one of the most remarkable kings of Judah, unique in the strength of his obedience and commitment. He stands as a wonderful example of what a leader can and should be.

i. There were other great kings of Judah and the united kingdom of Israel – such as David and Hezekiah. Yet one thing that made Josiah unique was his godliness in his day. He lived in a remarkably wicked time, so his godliness was remarkable against the backdrop of his times. “David was a greater but not a better man than Josiah.” (Clarke)

ii. Nevertheless, not long after his reign Judah was severely judged by the Lord. This shows that despite all Josiah’s efforts, there was an outward conformity among the people of Judah, yet their hearts were not really turned towards the Lord. “They pretended and professed to do so; but the most of them dissembled and dealt deceitfully, not turning to God with their whole hears, as good Jeremiah complaineth.” (Trapp)

iii. Jeremiah ministered in the days of Josiah, and his message to the people of Israel shows this. Through Jeremiah, God promised that if the people genuinely turned to Him that they would dwell in the land securely (Jeremiah 7:5-7). Nevertheless, God looked at the people of Judah and said: Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense. (Jeremiah 3:10)

6. (2Ki 23:26-27) God’s promise of judgment.

Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. And the Lord said, “I will also remove Judah from My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’“

a. Nevertheless the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath: God did not turn from His wrath because despite Josiah’s personal godliness, and his righteous example and leadership, the people of Judah still provoked Him, loving the sins introduced during the wicked days of Manasseh, Josiah’s father.

i. “From consultation with Huldah he knew that there would be no deep note or lasting value in their reformation. That fact, however, did not give him the right to refuse to follow the light which had come to him.” (Morgan)

b. I will also remove Judah from My sight: God promised to bring Judah low, conquering by another and sending them into exile.

B. Josiah’s end and his successors.

1. (2Ki 23:28-30) Josiah dies in battle against Egypt.

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? In his days Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt went to the aid of the king of Assyria, to the River Euphrates; and King Josiah went against him. And Pharaoh Necho killed him at Megiddo when he confronted him. Then his servants moved his body in a chariot from Megiddo, brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place.

a. In his days Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt went to the aid of the king of Assyria: This was part of the geopolitical struggle between the declining Assyrian Empire and the emerging Babylonian Empire. The Assyrians made an alliance with the Egyptians to protect against the growing power of the Babylonians.

b. King Josiah went against him... Pharaoh Necho killed him: 2 Chronicles 35:20-25 tells us more about this. Pharaoh warned Josiah against battling against him saying, What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I have not come against you this day. Josiah stubbornly refused to hear this warning (which was actually from God) and disguised himself in battle – yet he was still shot by archers and died. This was a sad end to one of the great kings of Judah.

i. “It was not of faith, else why ‘disguise’ himself? There is no record of any prayer before the battle, as in the case of so many of his godly ancestors; and this rash act of Josiah seems unaccountable.” (Knapp)

ii. “The exact place of the battle seems to have been Hadadrimmon, in the valley of Megiddo, for there Zechariah tells us, chapter 12:11, was the great mourning for Josiah.” (Clarke)

c. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place: “The regular succession to the throne of Judah ceased with the lamented Josiah. Jehoahaz was not the eldest son of the late king. Johanan and Jehoiakim were both older than he (1 Chronicles 3:15). He was made king by popular choice: it was the preference of the multitude, not the appointment of God.” (Knapp)

i. “Thus the people’s sins were the true case why God gave them wicked kings, whom he suffered to do wickedly, that they might bring the long deserved and threatened punishment upon themselves and their people.” (Poole)

2. (2Ki 23:31-34) The evil reign of Jehoahaz and his captivity to Egypt.

Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. Now Pharaoh Necho put him in prison at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem; and he imposed on the land a tribute of one hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. Then Pharaoh Necho made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in place of his father Josiah, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. And Pharaoh took Jehoahaz and went to Egypt, and he died there.

a. He did evil in the sight of the Lord: The reforms of King Josiah were wonderful, but they were not a long-lasting revival. His own son Jehoahaz did not follow in his godly ways.

i. “Jehoahaz (‘Yahweh has seized’) was probably a throne name, for his personal name as Shallum (Jeremiah 22:11; 1 Chronicles 3:15). The practice of primogeniture was overridden in view of his older brother (Eliakim) showing anti-Egyptian tendencies.” (Wiseman)

ii. “His name is omitted from among those of our Lord’s ancestors in Matthew 1.... which may imply that God did not recognize Jehoahaz, the people’s choice, as being in a true sense the successor.” (Knapp)

b. How Pharaoh Necho put him in prison: After the defeat of King Josiah in battle, Pharaoh was able to dominate Judah and make it effectively a vassal kingdom and a buffer against the growing Babylonian Empire. He imposed on the land a tribute and put on the throne of Judah a puppet king, a brother of Jehoahaz (Eliakim, renamed Jehoiakim).

3. (2Ki 23:35-37) The reign of Jehoiakim over Judah.

So Jehoiakim gave the silver and gold to Pharaoh; but he taxed the land to give money according to the command of Pharaoh; he exacted the silver and gold from the people of the land, from every one according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Necho. Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebudah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done.

a. He taxed the land according to the command of Pharaoh: Jehoiakim was nothing more than a puppet king presiding over a vassal kingdom under the Egyptians. He imposed heavy taxes on the people and paid the money to the Egyptians, as required.

i. “Nechoh had placed him there as a viceroy, simply to raise and collect his taxes.” (Clarke)

ii. “Yet at the same time Jehoiakim was wasting resources on the construction of a new palace by forced labour (Jeremiah 22:13-19).” (Wiseman)

b. He did evil in the sight of the Lord: Jehoiakim, like his brother Jehoahaz, did not follow the godly example of his father Josiah.

i. Jeremiah 36:22-24 describes the great ungodliness of Jehoiakim – how he even burned a scroll of God’s word. In response to this, Jeremiah received this message from God: And you shall say to Jehoiakim king of Judah, “Thus says the LORD: ‘You have burned this scroll, saying, “Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and cause man and beast to cease from here?”’ Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: ‘He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night.’” (Jeremiah 36:29-30)

ii. “To all his former evils he added this, that he slew Urijah the prophet (Jeremiah 26:20, 23).” (Trapp)

© 2006 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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