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Passage: 2 Chronicles 34:1-36:1

2 Chronicles 34:1-36:1 – Josiah

Summary

Josiah is another of the Chronicler's model kings. Much more space is allotted to his faithfulness in seeking God, his extensive reforms, and his Passover celebration than in 2 Kings.

Analysis

In 2 Kings, Josiah is a model king, second only to David and Solomon, who reunites the people, divided since the days of Rehoboam, and restores worship in the temple following the apostasy of Amon. In Chronicles, however, Hezekiah is the reforming king who reunites the people. Thus, while Josiah is praised, he is not as significant a ruler in Chronicles as he is in 2 Kings. Many of his earlier accomplishments, such as his celebration of the Passover, are seen as merely organizing and systematizing the innovative work of Hezekiah. Significantly, of the three-pronged religious reforms of 2 Kings 23:4-20--the cleansing of the temple, the destruction of the high places in Jerusalem and the south, and the smashing of the northern sanctuaries--the Chronicler has already transferred the cleansing of the temple back into Manasseh's reforms (33:15-16); consequently, there is little mention of Josiah's cleansing of the temple in Chronicles. Since the impact of the discovery of the "book of the law" (some form of Deuteronomy) is very similar to the account in 2 Kings, three characteristic features of the Chronicler's presentation follow--the early dating of Josiah's reform, the expanded description of the Passover, and the curious nature of Josiah's death:

  • The most conspicuous difference is the Chronicler's earlier dating of Josiah's reforms. Immediately following the accession formula, 2 Kings moves to the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign and his initial repairs to the temple (v. 3) that led to the discovery of the "book of the law," which in turn led to Josiah's purge of the land and purification of the temple. The Chronicler may have wondered why such a pious king (as portrayed in 2 Kings 22:2) would wait so long to begin temple repairs. This would account for his introduction of Josiah's cultic reforms in the eighth year of his reign (2 Chronicles 34:3a), while he was still a boy. The purging of the land continued in his twelfth year (v. 3b), and then in his eighteenth year (v. 8a) the law book is discovered, which leads to a renewal of the covenant and the Passover celebrations. While effectively presenting Josiah as a faithful king from his youth, this sequence destroys the connection between Josiah's cultic reforms and the discovery of the book that is so important in 2 Kings.
  • The Chronicler takes nineteen verses to describe Josiah's Passover (2 Chronicles 35:1-19) where 2 Kings had taken only three (23:21-23). The expansions are mostly due to the increased prominence of the Levites and the Chronicler's concern to establish their importance in his own postexilic temple hierarchy, as well as references to the prior work of David and Solomon. Since Hezekiah had already reinstituted the Passover and invited all Israel to attend, Josiah's task is portrayed as one of organizing the proceedings.
  • The death of Josiah posed theological problems for the Chronicler. How could a pious, reforming king die in battle, especially after Huldah had prophesied that he would die in peace? He found a partial answer in Josiah's failure to heed God's word (2 Chronicles 35:21-22). The artificial nature of this rationale, however, is evident from a number of points: In this instance, God's word was delivered by Pharaoh Neco with no indication as to how Josiah might have known that Neco was speaking for God (vv. 20-21). Josiah's ruse, disguising himself in order to engage Neco in battle, a random arrow that kills the king, and Josiah's plea to remove him from battle because of his wounds, are obviously drawn from the Ahab story (2 Chronicles 18:28-34).

Nevertheless, Josiah's refusal to heed God's word does not diminish the Chronicler's respect for him. The lament offered by Jeremiah (35:25)--while not the book of Lamentations, which deals with the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon--is unparalleled in Chronicles and testifies to the high esteem in which Josiah was held.