Josiah (meaning, “healed by Jehovah”) was born six years before the end of his grandfather’s fifty-five year reign. Manasseh, his grandfather, did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, “after the abominations of the heathen” and even much worse before he later humbled himself (II Kings 21:1, 9). His son, Josiah’s father, Amon, was king in Jerusalem for two years before he was slain by his own servants (II Kings 21:23). He was also an evil king (II Kings 21:20). Given these two major male influences and the corrupt condition of Judah at the time, it is surprising to find that Josiah, very early in his life, turned to the Lord (II Chron. 34:8).
It would be nice to think that the greater influence in his life was his mother, just as Timothy in the New Testament was influenced by his mother and grand mother, the guiding women in his life (II Tim. 1:5; 3:15; Acts 16:1). But there is no way to know this. Perhaps it was the influence of the prophet Zephaniah who initially helped to mold the character of Josiah (Zeph. 1:1). Jeremiah seems a little late, since Josiah began to seek after the Lord in his eighth year and Jeremiah began prophesying in his thirteenth year of his reign, while he was yet young (Jer. 1:1,6). But it is still possible the two were then acquainted. Perhaps Huldah had some influence (II Kings 22:14).
Whoever else may be responsible for Josiah’s faith, Josiah himself must also be given credit. The Lord gives him this credit for He says of Josiah, “Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place…” (II Kings 22:19). To his great credit, Josiah started seeking after God “while he was yet young” (II Chron. 34:3). What is more, he “declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left” (II Chron. 34:2). He is such a great example of faith that there was no king before him or after him that turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and might (II Kings 32:25).
Not only did Josiah exhibit great personal fidelity to the Law of Moses and to God, but it was also manifested itself in the way he ruled. Josiah began a purge of the filth of paganism that had been allowed a place in Judah. The sources of paganism among God’s people ranged from Solomon even to his own father and grandfather but Josiah purged them all (II Kings 23:12,13).
The picture given of Judah at this time was ugly. God’s people had descended so far from Him and His Law that Judah more resembled the pagan nations they had displaced than the Covenant God had given them and under which they were bound. Judah was worse than the ten northern, backsliding tribes because Judah saw God’s wrath against sinners and did not repent of her sins (Jer. 3:1-9). Judah was a degenerate plant, playing the harlot under every green tree and upon every high hill (Jer. 2:20,21). There was seemingly a god for every city (Jer. 2:28). Even the sodomites had a place near the temple (II Kings 23:7). Josiah exhibited great courage in carrying out these restorations of the law in such a climate.
During the repairing of the Temple, Hilkiah the high priest found the book of the law of Moses (II Kings 22:8). It is a strange and sad situation that worship had so deteriorated in Judah that the word of God was not even available to the priests who served (though some say this was just the full copy of the law in the side of the ark that had been hidden during the reigns of Ahaz or Manasseh – Deut. 31:26). Some seventy-five years earlier, king Hezekiah had apparently had copies of scripture made and possibly distributed, but now those copies had disappeared (e.g., Prov. 25:1).
We must stand it awe of God’s providential preservation of His word (Psalm 12:7). But how many of God’s people today have no access to the word of God because they are using a bad translation or because they do not seek a “thus saith the Lord” for their actions (I Pet. 4:11)? How many preachers preach something other than His word? But the Lord continues to preserve His word even today (Matt. 24:35). When the law was found and read, Josiah feared and trembled (II Kings 22:11). He caused it to be read to all the people and heeded (II Kings 23:1-3). The people committed to once again following the law, as we should.
Josiah was the greatest of Judah’s kings. He purged Judah of her idols and of its sinners. He restored the Law to it’s rightful place of authority. He reinstituted scriptural worship in the observance of the Passover that had been neglected (II Chron. 35:1). And yet for all of that, God still was to execute His wrath upon His people for their sins. All that Josiah had done, as much as it was, was too little, too late for the sins which they had committed. This should frighten everyone who thinks they are faithful.
Eric L. Padgett