Strengthening the Remnant for the time of Purification

I. The striking goodness of the reign of Josiah becomes all the more stunning when one views the perversions that had permeated the reigns of Manasseh and Amon (2 Kings 21). Severe treatment at the hands of the Lord and severe warning from the prophets of God brought Manasseh to repentance. In spite of his attempts at reform, his son reverted to Manasseh’s earlier corruption.

A. Manasseh pursued an aggressive apostasy from anything that resembled the true worship of the Lord who delivered Jacob from Egypt (2 Kings 21:2).

    1. He restored the high places for the purpose of Baal worship and made Asherah poles mimicking the errors of Ahab in Israel. In conjunction with this he worshipped and served “all the host of heaven” (3). A practice peculiarly characteristic of the Gentile moral decline was enthusiastically embraced by one who had the pure revelation of truth from the God who created the host of heaven (Romans 1:20-25).
    2. He profaned the temple with idolatry and astrology (4, 5). The very place intended as a perpetual witness to a coming Messiah who would give his life as an atonement for sin became a place of worship. The pure grace of God’s promise, “In Jerusalem, I will put my name” was smothered with gross idolatry. The extent of this perversion is emphasized again in verse 7.
    3. Rather than look into the law of God and seek help from God’s prophets, Manasseh consulted mediums and spiritists (6). He had promises given by God himself of security and prosperity for hm and the people of Israel if they would do what God had revealed through commandments given to Moses (8). These are the books discovered, read, and obeyed by Josiah.
    4. Having ignored the promise set forth in the sacrificial provisions made in the law of God for forgiveness of trespasses, he burned his son as a sacrifice to Molech (6).
    5. Because he was worse than even the pagan and brutal Amorites, Manasseh received frightening warnings from the Lord’s prophets and incurred God’s wrath against Israel (10-16; 23:26 cf. Jeremiah 15:1-4; 19:1-9).

B. After the prophetic warnings and being handled brutally by the Assyrians, Manasseh repented and sought to initiate reform upon his being returned to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 33:10-17). In addition to the peculiarly strong prophetic warning, he was taken by Assyria to Babylon with a hook in his nose and in chains (11). He sought to repair the city (14) as well as restore true worship of Jehovah (15, 16). The recovery was partial for the high places still were used for sacrifices, but “only to the Lord their God” (17).

C. For two years, Manasseh’s son, Amon, ruled in Jerusalem and returned Judah to idolatry. The early influence of his father stayed with him and he reinstituted all the perverse idolatry of the pre-captivity years of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:19-26). He was assassinated by his servants in his own house (23). These assassins were hunted down and executed.

II. Josiah began reigning when he was 8; He was fathered by Amon when Amon was 16.

A. “Early Let us Seek Thy Favor” ( 2 Chronicles 34:1-7)

    1. At 16, the eighth year of his reign, he began to seek the Lord in accordance with his understanding of David’s life (3).
    2. At 20, in the twelfth year of his reign, he began to purge Judah of all the abominations reestablished by Amon (3b-7). Evidently what he began at this time was completed when he was 26 and the book of the law had been discovered in the temple.
    3. The destruction of all that had led Judah astray and had defiled the land and dishonored the worship of the God of Israel was rooted out with aggressive policy. Not only were idols, Asherim poles, altars of Baal, carved and molten images removed, they were ground to powder and then the dust was distributed over the graves of those who sacrificed to them. He dug up and burned the bones of the idolatrous priests. Josiah even journeyed into the northern kingdom and in several places did the same order of destruction on the items of false worship there. He recognized, that though the vast majority of the people were in captivity in Assyria, the land still belonged to the Lord and the remnant remaining needed a strong impetus to return to the worship of the one true God.

B. “Early Let us Do Thy Will”

    1. At age 26, in the eighteenth year of his reign, he began a massive restoration project of the Temple. Much like during the early days of Joash at the restitution of the Temple (2 Kings 12:9-16), the people contributed generously and the workers worked and purchased material with utmost integrity (2 Kings 22:5-7).
    2. Contribution came from all Judah and even the remnant of Israel. Josiah’s visit to Israel and his aggressive action there had uncovered a remnant of true worshipers who now wanted to participate in the restoration project (2 Chron 34:9).

C. “My Heart is Leaning on the Word, The Written Word of God”

    1. In the Temple they found both money and a book; The money was delivered to those in charge of purchasing materials for the temple; the book was read to Josiah (2 Kings 22:10). Hilkiah the priest discovered the book and Shaphan the scribe read it to Josiah.
    2. Josiah heard the Law and tore his clothes in repentance (11). Josiah’s reforms were being done on the basis of his knowledge of David’s reign and his unstinting devotion to the Lord and purity of worship before him. His impressions seemed to have been true, but now he hears the words of the law for himself, and he is stunned by their power, clarity, purity, and force (Hebrews 4:11-13). What should be done in light of this, knowing that the word of God condemned Judah for its pattern of disobedience, required another word from the Lord. He sent the priest, the scribe, the son of the scribe, a servant and another to consult with Huldah.
    3. He consulted with a prophetess, Huldah, concerning the mind of God because he knew that the people had not “listened to the words of this book.”

D. Huldah’s Message – Why Jeremiah was not consulted we don’t know, but perhaps even under Josiah there was enough prejudice against him that he was avoided; or to confirm his words

    1. Judgment is coming on Judah for their many and long provocations of God’s anger (16, 17). The words of judgment that were in the book would certainly descend on Judah. Their many idolatries and their sins had been so often renewed and such a large number had retained the idolatrous propensities that the stored-up wrath of God will only be quenched by an execution of justice.
    2. Josiah’s prayer and repentance were seen by the Lord, and Josiah would not see during his reign the devastation soon to be wrought (18-20).

E. Josiah in a public ceremony instituted a renewal of covenant according to the Scripture (23:1-3). He himself read “all the words of the book of the covenant,” renewed his personal covenantal relationship with the Lord and brought the people to stand in this covenant with him (23:3).

F. What he had begun when he was twenty (2 Chronicles 34:3) he now continued with renewed zeal and commitment thoroughly to purge Judah of all symbols of their many years of unfaithfulness. He continued to seek a thorough Reform and purging of Judah and the temple of any pockets of unfaithfulness (2 Kings 23:4-20).

    1. The idolatrous abominations introduced by Solomon were included (13).
    2. The altars and high places of Jeroboam in Israel were destroyed and desecrated. (15).
    3. He honored the grave of the prophet that had prophesied against Jeroboam I (17; see 1 Kings 13:1-3, 30, 31).
    4. Reinstituted the Passover even more purely than Hezekiah had done earlier (21-23; cf. 2 Chron. 35 esp. 16-19).
    5. He acted foolishly in pursuing a battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt and was killed. His life ended by this unwise intrusion into a battle not his.

IV. In the midst of threats for exile of Israel, God pledged his faithfulness to his covenant with Jacob. Hosea in particular records both: the massive exile of Israel to Assyria during the days of Hoshea (17:6) and the promise of his faithfulness to his covenant. We find evidence of a remaining remnant in Israel in the work of Josiah’s venture into Israel to purge much of it of idolatry. That Israelites remained is seen in the knowledge that “men of the city” had of the prophet who warned Israel of its coming judgment (23:17).

A. Jesus’ trip to Samaria to present himself to a Samaritan woman and indeed the entire city in John 4 shows God’s faithfulness to the remnant in Samaria.

B. The conversion of Samaritans in Acts 10 continues this witness to his remembrance of the covenant with Israel.

C. James 1:1 mentions the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.”

D. Revelation 7 lists all the tribes of Israel with the exception of Dan.

E. Romans 9, 10, and 11 give assurance that the natural limbs will at some point be grafted back into the olive tree (11:24), which is Israel, for God has not “cast away his people” (Romans 11:1). “Concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (11:28).

F. Paul indicates that the inclusion of the Gentiles by the gospel is a sign that Israel in the end is composed of a remnant from all the sons of Jacob as well as people of every tongue, and tribe, and nation (Romans 11:26; Galatians 6:16; Revelation 7:5-10).

V. Biblical Principles

A. We must see in Manasseh the depths of sinful rebellion resident in each of us. How far a fallen image bearer can go in rebellion and in expression of the perversity of heart that rules within our depravity is teased out in the aggressive rebellion he pursued.

B. We may be greatly encouraged with the patience of God in bringing Manasseh to repentance. Is anyone beyond the saving grace of God? This is even more striking and encouraging when we see the price of redemption (1Timothy 1:12-17).

C. Biblical principles, known generally, may instruct in a course of right action, but the words of Scripture have a power far beyond the general impressions of truth in other forms.

E. Consider: Manasseh allowed to repent; Amon assassinated after two years; prophecies of exile were given even during the time of Josiah.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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