Josiah Renews the Covenant, 1-30

2 Kings 23:1 Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.

See also 2 Chron 34.

2 Kings 23:2 he went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets-all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD.

He read in their hearing – ‘Even after the invention of the alphabet, many of the people in the ancient Near East were illiterate, and thus the public reading of documents had an important function.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

The reading of the entire book of Deuteronomy would have taken 2-3 hours.

2 Kings 23:3 The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD-to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

All the people pledged themselves to the covenant – ‘As the Book of God’s Law was read to Josiah, he was shocked, frightened, and humbled. He realized what a great gap existed between his efforts to lead his people to God and God’s expectations for his chosen nation. He was overwhelmed by God’s holiness and immediately tried to expose his people to that holiness. The people did respond, but the Bible makes it clear that their renewed worship of God was much more out of respect for Josiah than out of personal understanding of their own guilt before God.’ (Life Application)

We do not get the impression that the people responded with wholeheartedness, enthusiasm, or even remorse. Just as an earlier generation had followed Manasseh too readily, so this generation followed Josiah, but not from the heart.

‘How would you describe your relationship with God? Are your feeble efforts at holiness based mostly on a desire to “go along” with a well-liked leader or popular opinion? Or are you, like Josiah, deeply humbled by God’s Word, realizing that great gap between your life and the kind of life God expects, realizing your deep need to be cleansed and renewed by him? Humble obedience pleases God. Good intentions, even reforms, are not enough. You must allow God’s Word to truly humble you and change your life.’ (Life Application)

2 Kings 23:4 The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel.

‘These verses (4-24) catalogue the removal and destruction of all the paraphernalia of the idolatrous practices introduced by Manasseh. The fact that the report of this follows the renewal of the covenant implies that all these actions were carried out in reponse to the lawbook. However, several of them involved the temple precincts (4, 6, 7, 11, 12), which were already being renovated when the book was found. It therefore seems likely that the writer has put together reforms which occurred both before and after the discovery of the lawbook (a view supported by 2 Chron 34:3-7).’ (NBC)

Josiah’s reforms deal with ten separate issues:-

  1. He orders the priests to remove from the temple all cultic vessels used in worship of other gods. When they complete the task, the king burns them all.
  2. “He causes to cease” the “pagan priests” who staff the high places where the people worship idols.
  3. He burns the Asherah pole Manasseh placed in the temple.
  4. He demolishes the living quarters of “male shrine prostitutes”.
  5. He desecrates the high places “from Geba to Beersheba,” Judah’s northern and southern boundaries.
  6. He demolishes shrines in the city gates.
  7. He defiles Topheth, where child sacrifices had been made in honor of Molech.
  8. He takes ornamental horses “dedicated to the sun” from the temple entrance.
  9. He removes altars on roofs, probably set aside for worship of astral deities (cf. 2 Kings 20:11; 21:3–5; Zeph 1:5).
  10. He desecrates, then smashes, the high places Solomon built for his wives.

(NAC, whose wording is closely followed here)

All the starry hosts – ‘Worship of the starry hosts refers to the worship of the celestial gods (sun god, moon god and Venus particularly; in Babylonia, Shamash, Sin and Ishtar respectively), who were primary in most ancient religions. Controlling the calendar and time, seasons and weather, they were viewed as the most powerful of the gods. They provided signs by which omens were read, and they looked down on all…Stamp seals from Israel in this period show that astral deities were very popular. There were many constellations recognized by the Mesopotamian astrologers (many, though not all, the same we recognize today, transmitted through the Greeks), but the Zodiac is not yet known at this time.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

‘Evidence of Josiah’s purge is found in the record preserved in Israelite stamp seals. The seals portraying familiar symbols of fertility gods, sun god and astral deities of earlier periods are replaced in this period with seals that contain only the inscription identifying the individual, with occasional decoration such as pomegranates.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

2 Kings 23:5 he did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem-those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts.

The pagan priests – ‘It is plausible that these priests mentioned here served the shrines of West Semitic deities such as Baal and Asherah, though some consider them renegade priests of Yahweh.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

2 Kings 23:6 he took the Asherah pole from the temple of the LORD to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people.

Burned…ground…scattered – indicating total destruction and desecration of the deity.

2 Kings 23:7 he also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the temple of the LORD and where women did weaving for Asherah.

The male shrine prostitutes – The underlying term refers to ‘sacred males’, and it is not clear that prostitution was involved. What is more clear is that they were devotees of foreign deities.

Women did weaving for Asherah – ‘The fashioning of woven and embroidered garments used to place on the statues of gods in Mesopotamia is well known.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

2 Kings 23:8 Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the shrines at the gates-at the entrance to the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which is on the left of the city gate.

From Geba to Beersheba – representing north and south respectively. Josiah purged the entire land of Judah of foreign worship practices.

The shrines at the gates – At Dan just such a shrine has been found just inside the city gate.

2 Kings 23:9 Although the priests of the high places did not serve at the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, they ate unleavened bread with their fellow priests.

2 Kings 23:10 he desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech.

Jeremiah also refers to Topheth (the name means ‘hearth’) as a place where human sacrifices occurred. (Jer 7:31)

2 Kings 23:11 he removed from the entrance to the temple of the LORD the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melech. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.

Horses…dedicated to the sun – ‘In Assyrian mythology the sun (god) was carried across the sky in a chariot driven by his charioteer Rakibil. In the syncretism referred to here, Yahweh was probably being worshiped as a sun god, and the chariot and horses represented his vehicle. Archaeological evidence is provided by Iron Age horse figurines with solar disks and by the Taanach cult stand, which portrays a horse with a sun-disk on its back.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

2 Kings 23:12 He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the LORD. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley.

2 Kings 23:13 The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption-the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the people of Ammon.

Solomon had provided altars and shrines for his wives to worship their own gods, 1 Kings 11:5-7.

2 Kings 23:14 Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones.

2 Kings 23:15 Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin-even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also.

2 Kings 23:16 Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things.

‘Josiah is fulfilling the prophecy in 1 Kings 13:2. In both Mesopotamia and Israel the worst criminals were not accorded a proper burial, and their bones were either burned or discarded. This was the worst possible thing for an individual, since one’s spiritual existence was intertwined with their physical existence (for more information see comments on Nu 3:12-13 and Jos 8:29). Thus if one’s bones were destroyed, the individual’s existence was also extinguished.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

2 Kings 23:17 The king asked, “What is that tombstone I see?” The men of the city said, “It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it.”

2 Kings 23:18 “Leave it alone,” he said. “Don’t let anyone disturb his bones.” So they spared his bones and those of the prophet who had come from Samaria.

2 Kings 23:19 Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed and defiled all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria that had provoked the LORD to anger.

‘Josiah goes beyond Bethel into the country of Israel and destroys the shrines the Israelites had built for their idol worship. He has the priests serving in these shrines killed. Josiah could move in Israelite territory quite freely to do this because Assyria, which had conquered Israel a century before, was declining in power and losing control of its outlying areas, and would soon be conquered by Babylon.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)

2 Kings 23:20 Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem.

2 Kings 23:21 The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”

‘Josiah next undertakes positive action. He calls for the celebration of the Passover. (see Ex 12:14 Le 23:4-5 Nu 28:16 Deut 16:2-3) The Passover had not been celebrated in full accordance with Mosaic law since early days in Canaan. Even David, Solomon, and Hezekiah had not done so completely.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)

‘Josiah’s Passover was not simply a jamboree to celebrate his reforms. The Passover itself was observed in obedience to the Book of the Covenant (21). These verses do not mean that no Passover had been celebrated at all during the Judges period or the monarchy; the point is rather that Josiah’s Passover was unique in its scope and the way it was observed. Instead of the family festival celebrated at home, as envisaged in Ex. 12-13, Josiah held a national festival focused on Jerusalem, in keeping with Dt. 16:1-8. (According to 2 Chron 30 Hezekiah had held a national Passover festival in Jerusalem, but that had been somewhat irregular since it had taken place in the second month instead of the first.)’ (NBC)

‘Josiah’s emphasis on the Passover is one more attempt on his part to take the covenant nation back to their roots. It is as if he believes the nation has a chance to survive if the people will return to basics like an emphasis on God’s Word, on covenant keeping, and on ceremonies that pass the faith from one generation to another. Despite Huldah’s prophetic message that predicts Judah’s doom, the king works to save the nation. In this way he acts like Moses, who serves God and Israel even after he knows that neither he nor his people will reach Canaan. Both leaders work to redeem the time and the remnant and to offer the witness that God is worth serving under any and all circumstances.’ (NAC)

2 Kings 23:22 Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed.

2 Kings 23:23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the LORD in Jerusalem.

2 Kings 23:24 Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the LORD.

This is in accordance with Deut 18:8-14.

2 Kings 23:25 Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did-with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.

2 Kings 23:26 Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger.

Could not good king Josiah’s thirty-year reign make up for all the wickedness of his grandfather Manasseh and his father Amon?

Manasseh himself had the advantage of being the son of a good king – Hezekiah. Indeed, it is likely that he was co-regent with his father for ten years. Nevertheless, he repeated all the sins of the Canaanites. ‘He murdered so many righteous men that there were too few to defend Jerusalem when the need arose; (2 Kings 21:10-15) all of which the people tolerated. This ruthless monarch ordered Isaiah “sawed in two.” (Heb 11:37) Manasseh’s idolatry and unrighteousness brought Judah and Jerusalem to unavoidable rejection by God’ (2 Kings 24:3 Jer 15:4) (HSB).

Manasseh did indeed have a ‘deathbed conversion’, 2 Chron 33:12-13. But it was too late to reverse the trends in his own household and in society. 2 Chron 33:23 points out that his son Amon ‘did not humble himself before the Lord.

From the beginning of his reign at the age of 8, Josiah walked in the ways of David and not those of his father and grandfather. He initiated a period of great reformation and revival. But it did not succeed in reversing the deep evil in society. Outward and gross forms of idolatry were abolished. The people followed their king – perhaps out of fear. ‘If the early chapters of Jeremiah reflect the conditions under King Josiah, then they describe the people’s deep inner apostasy, not only before Josiah’s reform and discovery of the Book of the Law, but also during and following it’ (HSB). The repentance and reformation were ‘too little, too late’, and the judgement that had been foretold was duly executed.

2 Kings 23:27 So the LORD said, “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘There shall my Name be.'”

2 Kings 23:28 As for the other events of Josiah’s reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?

2 Kings 23:29 While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the Euphrates River to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Neco faced him and killed him at Megiddo.

2 Kings 23:30 Josiah’s servants brought his body in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz son of Josiah and anointed him and made him king in place of his father.

Jehoahaz King of Judah, 31-35

2 Kings 23:31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah.

2 Kings 23:32 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as his fathers had done.

2 Kings 23:33 Pharaoh Neco put him in chains at Riblah in the land of Hamath so that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and he imposed on Judah a levy of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold.

2 Kings 23:34 Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim son of Josiah king in place of his father Josiah and changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz and carried him off to Egypt, and there he died.

2 Kings 23:35 Jehoiakim paid Pharaoh Neco the silver and gold he demanded. In order to do so, he taxed the land and exacted the silver and gold from the people of the land according to their assessments.

Jehoiakim King of Judah, 36-37

2 Kings 23:36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother’s name was Zebidah daughter of Pedaiah; she was from Rumah.

2 Kings 23:37 And he did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as his fathers had done.