November 23-24 sermon resource

Josiah’s Reforms

  • Main Text: 2 Kings 22:1-10 (11-20); 23:1-3
  • Accompanying text: Luke 24:30-32

What this passage means to us

At first read the story of Josiah is both encouraging and yet confusing. At long last a king of Judah arrived who did the right thing and yet his reign ended in tragedy, and was followed by the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem and the Temple. The prophetess Huldah, one of the unsung heroines of the Old Testament, had been sent by God to tell the repentant Josiah that the foretold captivity would not be reversed. “Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people – that they would become a curse and be laid waste – and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place”’ (2 Kings 23:18-20).

“For the writers of Kings, Josiah’s career shows that Judah’s judgment was inescapable…At the same time, the writers stress that certain doom did not eliminate all hope of God’s grace. Repentant Josiah enjoyed Yahweh’s favor despite the coming judgment. Finally, Josiah’s death symbolizes the often puzzling ways of divine sovereignty. God reserves the right to deviate from his own patterns; wicked Manasseh lived to a ripe old age; righteous Josiah was cut off in his prime” [1].

We may think that, if we pray enough and/or are repentant enough, then we might change the trend of history or cause a divine intervention of some sort. Of course, God may intervene, but it’s not because of our spiritual works or our effectiveness — it’s a matter of grace.  Prayer is not about trying to twist God’s arm to achieve a desired result. Josiah was spared from witnessing the horrors of the captivity but, bearing in mind his untimely death following a battle against the Egyptians, his end was anything but peaceful. In fact, it might seem ironic that the nation of Egypt, which in the Bible becomes a metaphor for oppressive captivity, slays the liberating king of Judah. How could God let this happen?

When Josiah was in his twenties, he began to get rid of the pagan altars in Judah and beyond. His zeal was like that of King David in doing so.  Did he want to restore the Kingdom of Israel by incorporating the northern tribes into his jurisdiction and by restoring Jerusalem as the centre of worship for all the tribes of Jacob? It could be so inferred from Scripture. “In the towns of Manasseh, Ephraim and Simeon, as far as Naphtali, and in the ruins around them, he tore down the altars and the Asherah poles and crushed the idols to powder and cut to pieces all the incense altars throughout Israel. Then he went back to Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 34:6-7). He knew that religion could play a part in unifying the north and south once again. Therefore, when a copy of the law was found during restoration work on the Temple, this reinforced his drive to bring the nation of promise together under a descendant of David. Isaiah had prophesied of a son of David, to be called “Immanuel”, who would “reject the wrong and choose the right” (Isaiah 7:14-16) and to whom “the nations will rally”? (Isaiah11:10). Could Josiah be this prophesied deliverer?

Josiah’s revival suggests ideas for us. He began with a personal commitment, and he went on to prepare the temple so that it might become a more suitable place for worship. The problem was that, although Josiah was fervent in his beliefs, this did not change the hearts of the people. Surely any modern-day revival of Christianity begins with our relationship with God, and with preparing the church, which is the Temple of the Spirit? “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives among you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

In a sense Josiah was an imperfect physical type of the Saviour who would come. Isaiah’s prophecies had pointed not to Josiah, but to the promise of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the true Immanuel, “the Root of Jesse” who “will stand as a banner for the peoples” (Isaiah 11:10), as referred to by Paul, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope’ (Romans 15:12).

Context and Story Line

“Josiah was following the example of Hezekiah in drawing the northern Israelites back to Jerusalem. The Assyrian governors were apparently unable to oppose him. In the year of Asshurbanipal’s death (627 BC), Jeremiah began his twenty-three years of prophecy (Jeremiah 1:2; 25:1-3) and by the time Nabupolassar was firmly established in Babylon (623 BC), the kingdom of Judah was ready to seal its covenant of independence. Josiah’s great covenant ceremony and national reform were inaugurated in 622 BC (2 Kings 22:3-24:8; 2 Chronicles 34:8-35:39). Only the Jerusalem cadre of priests and Levites were allowed to function (2 Kings 23:9)…Just how firm was his control over ‘all of Israel’ is uncertain but he seems to have been well on the way to re-establishing the Israelite kingdom with Jerusalem as the capital” [2].

Perhaps it was because he saw Pharaoh Necho II as a threat to his territorial ambitions that Josiah blockaded the Egyptian advance against the Babylonians but, whatever his motivation was, his decision was ill-advised. Necho himself warned Josiah to get out of the way, saying that he was speaking on behalf of God, but Josiah went stubbornly ahead with his plan and took matters into his own hands instead of relying on God. The ensuing battle was on the plain of Megiddo. It’s one of history’s battles of Armageddon — others include Deborah’s victory in Judges 5:19, the siege of Pharaoh Thutmose III in the late fifteenth century BC, and one of Napoleon’s battles against the Ottoman Empire.

Josiah was fatally wounded by an Egyptian arrow and taken back to Jerusalem. His death became the stuff of legend. “Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the male and female singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments” (2 Chronicles 35:25). The reference to Megiddo became associated with defeat and shame “like the weeping…in the plain of Megiddo” (Zechariah 12:11). Did this tradition contribute to the Apostle John’s inspired choice of Revelation 16:16, “Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon”?

After Josiah’s death things went from bad to worse, culminating in the Babylonian invasion of Judah, the destruction of the Temple, and the captivity. Was there any hope for the future? Some prophets, notably Jeremiah, proclaimed that there was.

Scripture Resources

  • 2 Chronicles 34 & 35
  • 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Other GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. William Sanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic Wm. Bush, Old Testament Survey (Second Edition), (Cambridge, UK, Wm. B Eerdman Publishing Co: 1982, 1996). 218.
  2. Yohanan Ahoroni, Michael Avi-Yonah, Anson F Rainey, Ze’ev Safrai, The Carta Bible Atlas (Fourth Edition), (Jerusalem, Israel, Carta: 2002). 121.
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