2 Kings 22:1-23:30 – Josiah
SummaryJosiah (639-609) is the best king of Judah in the judgment of the Deuteronomistic editors. His reforms were carried out in full accordance with the book of the law (possibly an early form of Deuteronomy) discovered in the temple during his reign.
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.