When Society Abandons Godly Ways

Biblical Truth: God can transform societies when His people respond properly to His Word.

Desire Righteousness:  2 Kings 22:1-5.

[1]  Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. [2]  He did right in the sight of the LORD and walked in all the way of his father David, nor did he turn aside to the right or to the left.

[3]  Now in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan, the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam the scribe, to the house of the LORD saying, [4]  “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest that he may count the money brought in to the house of the LORD which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people. [5]  Let them deliver it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD, and let them give it to the workmen who are in the house of the LORD to repair the damages of the house.   [NASU]

[1-2]  From the start the author summarizes Josiah’s life favorably. Like Hezekiah [see 2 Kings 18:3], this man acts like David. He resolutely follows in his ancestor’s footsteps. Given the religious climate Manasseh and Amon have created, and given the fact that Hezekiah’s similarity to David led to reform, readers may expect some sort of renewal to ensue. World politics shifted during Josiah’s reign. Ashurbanipal’s death in 627 B.C. left Assyria with a leadership struggle that cost them control of Babylon in 626 B.C. From that year forward the Babylonians and their allies the Medes pressed Assyria. Nineveh fell in 612 B.C., despite the help of Egypt, and by 609 B.C. Assyria was finished. Thus, Josiah rules during years in which Assyria fades but also those in which Babylon is not yet ready to rule as far west as Judah and in a time when Egypt does not yet attempt to rule the smaller nations north of the border. Judah thereby gets a rest from its constant role as political football.

[3-5]  Serious reform begins in Josiah’s eighteenth year of rule around 622 B.C. His desire to serve the Lord surfaces even earlier according to the Chronicler, who states that Josiah begins to seek the God of his father David in the eighth year of his rule when he was just sixteen years old (around 632 B.C.) and starts removing some high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images in about 628 B.C., his twelfth year as king [2 Chron. 34:3]. Therefore, it is not strange that in his eighteenth year the king senses an obligation to repair the temple, an impulse felt by Joash years earlier (see 2 Kings 12:1-16). Though the text does not divulge his motives for the repair, perhaps Josiah intends to promote worship at the central sanctuary. Whatever his reasons, this project provides the impetus for greater reforms later.

Elevate God’s Word: 2 Kings 23:2-3.

[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.   [NASU]

To his credit Josiah is not content with waiting for his own peaceful death. Rather, out of gratitude for God’s mercy in his own life he determines to attempt to lead the whole nation to true conversion to the Lord, and thereby avert as far as possible the threatened curse of rejection, since the Lord in His word had promised forgiveness and mercy to the penitent. This attempt begins with a covenant renewal ceremony that stands in the tradition of great renewals such as the one Deuteronomy itself represents and the one Joshua initiates [Joshua 24:1-27]. The scene of the covenant renewal closely resembles Solomon’s dedication of the temple (see 1 Kings 8:1ff). As in Solomon’s ceremony the king, elders, priests and people join together in the service. One new group is represented, however, the prophets. Once in place the king and the people listen to all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. Now the assembly knows the privileges and obligations inherent in the relationship with the Lord. First, Josiah promises to keep the covenant, then the people follow his example. Each person pledges to obey God’s commandments, testimonies and statutes, a diverse enough list of types of laws to suggest they have heard a law code of some scope and substance.

Yet the people’s commitment was not sincere. It was in the case of Josiah, but not in the case of the people generally. They honored God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him. The movement was not a spontaneous one originating in the hearts of the people themselves, but came down to them from above through the king’s command. The formal ceremonies of covenanting were gone through, and some temporary, and perhaps genuine, enthusiasm was awakened. But there was not real heart-change of the people. Their goodness was like the morning cloud and the early dew [Hosea 6:4].

The general consensus is that this book of the covenant was the book of Deuteronomy. There are seven elements that favor this conclusion. (1) Deuteronomy’s emphasis on centralization of worship at the place chosen by God, that is, the temple in Jerusalem [Deut. 12]. (2) The destruction of the high places and all rival cultic installations [Deut. 12]. (3) The strong emphasis on curses [Deut. 27:9-26; 28:9-22] including the threat of exile. (4) The character of the Passover observance [Deut. 16]. (5) A prophet consulted to know the will of God [Deut. 18:9-22]. (6) The Deuteronomic flavor of the Book of Kings. (7) The covenant nature of Deuteronomy in view of the designation “the Book of the Covenant” in 34:30. How the book came to be lost can only be a matter of speculation, although it is conceivable that during the threat of invasion in Hezekiah’s time or during the apostasy under Amon and Manasseh it was hidden in the temple.

Walk in God’s ways:  2 Kings 23:4,24.

[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. [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.   [NASU]

[4]  Because of their renewed dedication to the Lord, the king and people remove foreign worship sites and implements, first from Judah, then from the old Israelite territory. Ten separate items or issues are dealt with here. First, Josiah 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. Second, he does away with the pagan priests who staff the high places where the people worship idols. Third, he burns the Asherah pole Manasseh placed in the temple. Fourth, Josiah demolishes the living quarters of male shrine prostitutes where materials for Asherah are also made. Since the text mentions both males and females, perhaps all these individuals engage in sacred prostitution, a common element in Baalism. Next, the narrative recounts Josiah’s efforts outside the temple area. Thus, his fifth act is to desecrate high places from Geba to Beersheba, Judah’s northern and southern boundaries. Sixth, he demolishes shrines in the city gates. Seventh, he desecrated Topheth, where child sacrifices had been made in honor of Molech. The three remaining actions occur near the temple and just outside the city. Josiah’s eighth reform is to take ornamental horses dedicated to the sun from the temple entrance. Ninth, altars on roofs, probably set aside for worship of astral deities, are removed. Tenth, Josiah desecrates, then smashed, the high places Solomon built for his wives. With this last act Josiah rolls back the clock, so to speak, to preidolatry Jerusalem to the glory days of David when images were not welcome in the capital city of the Lord’s people. Monotheism is once again at least the official theology, whether or not the people in fact embrace what is, to them, a novel concept.

[24]  One last reform remains. Josiah rids the land of mediums and spiritists, individuals skilled in the art of alleged communication with the dead. This was, to judge from the condemnatory passages, a common problem in Israel (see Lev. 19:31; 20:27; Deut. 18:11). He also expunges idols used in the practice of divination. These actions remove not merely idolators but those who, because of their divination practices, compete with true prophets. The way is now clear for God’s Word to flow directly to the people. Josiah’s reason for undertaking these reforms serves as his legacy to all readers of the text. He changes Judah so that they can fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book found in the house of the Lord. Thus, he provides an example of what Davidic kings should do as the  leaders of the Lord’s people. He demonstrates proper motivation, proper sensitivity to God’s Word, and proper obedience to the Lord.


Realize Judgment may still come:  2 Kings 23:26-27.

[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.’”  [NASU]

Sadly, Josiah acts as Judah’s last righteous king, and his death must have come as a great shock to his followers. The Lord’s decision to judge Judah does not change. Huldah’s words will come true. Any questions about the justness of this eventuality are answered by the future. The people revert to the worst parts of their past rather than continue in Josiah’s ways. National suicide has been averted for a time by the sheer determination of the king and prophets, but the people go back to their old habits as soon as Josiah dies.

Manasseh is mentioned here and at 24:3 and Jer. 15:4 as the person who, by his idolatry and his unrighteousness, with which he provoked God to anger, had brought upon Judah and Jerusalem the unavoidable judgment of rejection. It is true that Josiah had exterminated outward and gross idolatry throughout the land by his sincere conversion to the Lord, and by his zeal for the restoration of the lawful worship of Jehovah, and had persuaded the people to enter into covenant with its God once more. But a thorough conversion of the people to the Lord he had not been able to effect. For, although the king was most religious, and the people obeyed him through fear, yet for all that the mind of the people was not changed, as is evident enough from the reproaches of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and other prophets. With regard to this point compare especially the first ten chapters of Jeremiah, which contain a resume of his labors in the reign of Josiah, and bear witness to the deep inward apostasy of the people from the Lord, not only before and during Josiah’s reform of worship, but also afterwards. As the Holy One of Israel, therefore, God could not forgive any more, but was obliged to bring upon the people and kingdom, after the death of Josiah, the judgment already foretold to Manasseh himself [21:12 ff.].

Questions for Discussion:

1.      Describe the character of Josiah. Who is he compared to? Why? Why do you think God raised up Josiah as king at this point in Judah’s history?

2.      What great event did God use to bring about reform during Josiah’s reign? What does this teach us about where true revival must begin? Why was this revival eventually a failure?


1, 2 Kings, Paul House, NAC, Broadman.

The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament , Warren W. Wiersbe.

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