The Deuteronomistic History has been moving toward the reign of Josiah, which forms its theological high point. If the reign of Manasseh typified all that a king should not be, the reign of Josiah is a model of faithful obedience, repentance, submission to God's word, and cultic reform. Nevertheless, even Josiah's unrivaled faithfulness will not prevent God's destruction of the nation and the exile of the people to Babylon.
These years saw the rapid decline of Assyria's hegemony, and, while Egypt was beginning to assert itself politically, its days of military prowess were still in the future. This relative power vacuum encouraged Josiah's attempts to restore the glories of the Davidic ideal in Judah. The two accounts of his efforts in this regard (2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35) emphasize different aspects:
• Instead of Josiah beginning to seek God while still a boy in the eighth year of his reign and beginning his religious reforms in the twelfth year (2 Chronicles 34:3), Kings focuses upon only one year of his reign, his eighteenth, and mentions nothing prior to that (2 Kings 22:3).
• Kings devotes seventeen verses to Josiah's reforms (2 Kings 23:4-20) but only three to the Passover (23:21-23)-the reverse of the presentation in Chronicles, which devotes six verses to the reforms (2 Chronicles 34:3b-7, 33) and nineteen to the Passover (35:1-19).
Most would agree with Chronicles that the reforms began before 622 B.C.E., the finding of the law book, since other kings instituted reforms without such legal directives (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, and Hezekiah), and it is inconceivable that Josiah would cut a covenant with the Lord in the temple (2 Kings 23:1-3) in the presence of idols (vv. 4-7). This means that Kings has compressed Josiah's reforms into one year in order to present the reform as his pious response to the discovery of the law book (2 Kings 22:8).
As the Deuteronomistic presentation makes clear, while the temple was being repaired (2 Kings 22:3-7) Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered a book (scroll) of the law, almost certainly an early version of Deuteronomy (v. 8). Josiah was distraught upon reading the newly found scroll because of the disparity between the scroll's provisions (vv. 9-13) and present religious practice. Huldah, an otherwise unknown prophet, announced that while the city was doomed because the stipulations of the scroll had been ignored for so long, Josiah would not see the destructive wrath of the Lord against the kingdom (vv. 15-20). Undeterred, Josiah set about bringing the kingdom into conformity with the stipulations of the scroll, first by public assembly and reading of the scroll, then by a promise to institute the laws (23:1-3). The actual reforms are a virtual summary of the practices the editors have disparaged throughout Kings and are completely in line with the provisions of the book of Deuteronomy, including, the centralization of the cult that is required only in Deuteronomy. Furthermore, Deuteronomy concludes with curses placed upon violators of the covenant, which would explain Josiah's lament upon first hearing the scroll.
22Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned for thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mothers name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. 2He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.
3 In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, 4Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; 5let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, 6that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. 7But no account shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.
8 The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. 9Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord. 10Shaphan the secretary informed the king, The priest Hilkiah has given me a book. Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.
11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the kings servant Asaiah, saying, 13Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.
14 So the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the prophetess Huldah the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; she resided in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, where they consulted her. 15She declared to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16Thus says the Lord, I will indeed bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitantsall the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17Because they have abandoned me and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18But as to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. 20Therefore, I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place. They took the message back to the king.
23Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. 2The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. 3The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.
4 The king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5He deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who made offerings to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the host of the heavens. 6He brought out the image of* Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the Wadi Kidron, burned it at the Wadi Kidron, beat it to dust and threw the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. 7He broke down the houses of the male temple prostitutes that were in the house of the Lord, where the women did weaving for Asherah. 8He brought all the priests out of the towns of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beer-sheba; he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on the left at the gate of the city. 9The priests of the high places, however, did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but ate unleavened bread among their kindred. 10He defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, so that no one would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech. 11He 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 the eunuch Nathan-melech, which was in the precincts;* then he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12The altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, he pulled down from there and broke in pieces, and threw the rubble into the Wadi Kidron. 13The king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the Mount of Destruction, which King Solomon of Israel had built for Astarte the abomination of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 14He broke the pillars in pieces, cut down the sacred poles,* and covered the sites with human bones.
15 Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sinhe pulled down that altar along with the high place. He burned the high place, crushing it to dust; he also burned the sacred pole.* 16As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount; 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 that the man of God proclaimed,* when Jeroboam stood by the altar at the festival; he turned and looked up at the tomb of the man of God who had predicted these things. 17Then he said, What is that monument that I see? The people of the city told him, It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel. 18He said, Let him rest; let no one move his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria. 19Moreover, Josiah removed all the shrines of the high places that were in the towns of Samaria, which kings of Israel had made, provoking the Lord to anger; he did to them just as he had done at Bethel. 20He slaughtered on the altars all the priests of the high places who were there, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
21 The king commanded all the people, Keep the passover to the Lord your God as prescribed in this book of the covenant. 22No such passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, even during all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah; 23but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.
24 Moreover, Josiah did away with the mediums, wizards, teraphim,* idols, and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, so that he established the words of the law that were written in the book that the priest Hilkiah had found in the house of the Lord. 25Before 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 did any like him arise after him.
26 Still the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27The Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel; and I will reject this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.
28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? 29In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him; but when Pharaoh Neco met him at Megiddo, he killed him. 30His servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo, brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own tomb. The people of the land took Jehoahaz son of Josiah, anointed him, and made him king in place of his father.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011