Fausset Bible Dictionary Josiah (“supported or healed by Jehovah”.)
1. Son of Amon and Jedidab; began to reign at eight years old (641 B.C.) and reigned 31 years, to 610 B.C. (2 Kings 22 to 24; 2 Chronicles 34-35). The first 12 chapters of Jeremiah may refer to this period. At the age of 16, “while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father.” Since Amon was wicked it is likely that Jedidah (“beloved”), like Lois and Eunice (2Ti_1:5), had early instilled into her child pious principles which bore fruit betimes, for in spite of the closing error which cost him his life the Holy Spirit, who remembers the graces and ignores the exceptional fails of believers, testifies “he declined neither to the right hand nor to the left.” At the age of 20, in the 12th year of his reign, he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places or Asherah, and images of the sun and Baal, and strewed their dust on the graves of their former worshippers.
The events of the purging out idolatry, the temple repair, and the finding of the law, in Kings are arranged according to subject matter; but in Chronicles chronologically. The repairing of the temple recorded 2Ki_22:3-7, in a period by itself, subordinate to the discovery of the law, in the 18th year of Josiah’s reign, must have been chronologically before that date, since in that year the builders were already repairing and the money for the work had been collected by the Levites who kept the door. The abolishing of the idols must have begun before the people made the covenant (2Ki_23:3). The discovery of the law Hilkiah quickened his zeal in abolishing them throughout the whole kingdom.(See HILKIAH.) In 2 Kings their suppression is narrated more minutely, the Passover celebration is summarized; in Second Chronicles their suppression is summarized (2Ch_34:3-7; 2Ch_34:33), but the Passover fully described (2Ch_35:1-19).
Josiah spared not even the high places which pious Hezekiah had left, nor those of Solomon in his apostasy, nor their priests (Chemarim), as Zep_1:4 foretold; also Manasseh his grandfather’s grove (Asherah) in the Lord’s house (2Ki_21:7; 2Ki_23:6). He defiled Tophot in the valley of the children of Hinnom, where the people used to make their children pass through the fire to Moloch; and burned the chariots of the sun, and took away the stored horses, and destroyed Ahaz’ altars on the housetop. (See HINNOM.) He fulfilled on the Bethel calf altar the prophecy of the man of God to Jeroboam, given three centuries before, and declaring his very name (as Isaiah did that of Cyrus ages before), but respected the prophet’s sepulchre (1 Kings 13). His purgation thus extended to northern Israel as far as Naphtali, as well as to Judah. It was in repairing the temple that Moses’ copy of the law, in his own handwriting, or at, least the original temple copy from his, was found. That the law was not previously unknown appears from the king’s conduct on its discovery.
He at once accepted its authority without mistrust as genuine and authentic; and read or caused it to be read in the ears of all the men of Judah, the priests and the prophets (“Levites” in 2Ch_34:30). These too all accepted it, evidently because they and he had always recognized its truths generally (as his extirpation of idolatry already implied), but now he and they are brought into immediate contact, as it were, with Moses himself, through the original temple copy. His tenderness of heart (conscience) and his humbling himself before God with tears and rent garments brought God’s promise through Huldah that he should be “gathered to his grave in peace,” and “should not see the evil God was about to bring on” Jerusalem. It is true he fell in battle; but his remains were (and were the last) buried in his fathers’ sepulchres “in peace,” before seeing the enemy overthrow his capital (compare Jer_34:5; Isa_57:1-2). “Because thou humblest thyself when thou heardest what I spake … I also have heard thee.” God is toward men what they are toward Him (Psa_18:25-26).
In this same year, the 26th of his age, the 18th of his reign, Josiah and his people entered into a covenant to keep the law of Jehovah with all their heart and all their soul (2Ki_23:3; 2Ch_34:31-33). His only fault was his supposition that by frustrating Necho’s expedition to the Euphrates against Assyria he might avert God’s predicted judgment on Judah. He scarcely realized the depth of Israel’s apostasy, and hoped his reformation would enlist God’s cooperation against the Egyptians. Nineveh was falling, if not already fallen. The Syrian princes, those independent as Josiah as well as Assyria’s vassals, hoped now to be free from every foreign yoke; it was therefore necessary now to check the Egyptian, for though Necho was not marching against Judah but against Carchemish by Euphrates, Josiah knew that if once the Egyptians gained Coelosyria his independence would be gone.
Necho appealed in vain to Josiah to leave him alone, as it was “against the house of his war” (his hereditary enemy) that he was marching, and that God commanded him, so that if Josiah interfered he would be “meddling with God.” He thought the reference to God would have weight with Josiah. Of course Pharaoh’s view of the Godhead was distinct from Josiah’s. Josiah forgot his ancestor Solomon’s inspired counsel (Pro_17:14; Pro_26:17). Josiah’s reformation had not removed the deep seated evil (as Jeremiah and Zephaniah testify), so that the deceased Manasseh’s sin, acting still far and wide though hiddenly now, awaited God’s fierce anger on Jerusalem, as he was warned by God through Huldah (2Ki_22:16-20). Hence Josiah was permitted, not without culpability on his part, to meddle in the ungodly world’s wars, and so to fall, and with himself to withdraw the last godly ruler from the people henceforth given over to punishment (2Ki_23:25-30).
Necho came by sea to Palestine, landing at Accho. If he had come by Philistia Josiah would have met him there, and not allowed him to advance to Megiddo. There, in the great battle field of Palestine, Esdraelon plain, Necho, when they met face to face, slew him. Josiah was carried wounded from Hadadrimmon to die before be reached Jerusalem. He was buried with every honour, and Jeremiah composed a dirge, annually chanted at Hadadrimmon (not the “Lamentations” over Jerusalem after its fall). Compare Jer_22:10 “weep not for the dead, neither bemoan him” (namely, Josiah slain at Megiddo or Magdolum in Herodotus); he is at peace.
Jamison, Fausset, and Brown
2Ki_22:8-15. Hilkiah finds the Book of the Law.
Hilkiah said … I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord, etc. — that is, the law of Moses, the Pentateuch. It was the temple copy which, had been laid (Deu_31:25, Deu_31:26) beside the ark in the most holy place. During the ungodly reigns of Manasseh and Amon – or perhaps under Ahaz, when the temple itself had been profaned by idols, and the ark also (2Ch_35:3) removed from its site; it was somehow lost, and was now found again during the repair of the temple [Keil]. Delivered by Hilkiah the discoverer to Shaphan the scribe [2Ki_22:8], it was by the latter shown and read to the king. It is thought, with great probability, that the passage read to the king, and by which the royal mind was so greatly excited, was a portion of Deuteronomy, the twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, and thirtieth chapters, in which is recorded a renewal of the national covenant, and an enumeration of the terrible threats and curses denounced against all who violated the law, whether prince or people. The impressions of grief and terror which the reading produced on the mind of Josiah have seemed to many unaccountable. But, as it is certain from the extensive and familiar knowledge displayed by the prophets, that there were numbers of other copies in popular circulation, the king must have known its sacred contents in some degree. But he might have been a stranger to the passage read him, or the reading of it might, in the peculiar circumstances, have found a way to his heart in a manner that he never felt before. His strong faith in the divine word, and his painful consciousness that the woeful and long-continued apostasies of the nation had exposed them to the infliction of the judgments denounced, must have come with overwhelming force on the heart of so pious a prince.
The words of the book of the law, i. e. the dreadful comminations against them for the sins still reigning among the people.
Quest. Did Josiah never see and read a copy of this book before this time? If he did not, how could he do so much towards the reformation of religion, as he did before? if he did, why was he not sooner convinced and humbled by it?
Answ. If Josiah had not yet seen a copy of this book, (which is not impossible,) yet there was so much of the law left in the minds and memories of many of the people, as might easily persuade and direct him to all that he did till this time; or if Josiah had seen and read it before, which seems more probable, yet the great reverence which he justly bore to the original book, and the strange, and remarkable, and seasonable finding of it, had very much awakened and quickened him to a more serious and diligent reading, and attentive consideration, of all the passages contained in it, than he used before.
Keil and Delitzsch
In his alarm at the words of the book of the law that had been read to him, Josiah rent his clothes, and sent a deputation to the prophetess Huldah, to make inquiry of Jehovah through her concerning the things which he had heard from the law. The deputation consisted of the high priest Hilkiah, Ahikam the supporter of Jeremiah (Jer_26:24) and the father of Gedaliah the governor (2Ki_25:22; Jer_39:14, etc.), Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the state-secretary (2Ki_22:3), and Asahiah the servant (i.e., an officer) of the king.
Enquire of the Lord – As inquiry by Urim and Thummim had ceased – apparently because superseded by prophecy – this order was equivalent to an injunction to seek the presence of a prophet (compare 2Ki_3:11; 1Ki_22:5).
Because our fathers have not hearkened – Josiah, it will be observed, assumes that preceding generations had had full opportunity of hearing and knowing the Law. He thus regards the loss as comparatively recent (compare 2Ki_22:8 note: 2Ki 22:8 Some have concluded from this discovery, either that no “book of the law” had ever existed before, the work now said to have been “found” having been forged for the occasion by Hilkiah; or that all knowledge of the old “book” had been lost, and that a work of unknown date and authorship having been at this time found was accepted as the Law of Moses on account of its contents, and has thus come down to us under his name. But this is to see in the narrative far more than it naturally implies. If Hilkiah had been bold enough and wicked enough to forge, or if he had been foolish enough to accept hastily as the real “book of the law” a composition of which he really knew nothing, there were four means of detecting his error or his fraud:
(1) The Jewish Liturgies, which embodied large portions of the Law;
(2) The memory of living men, which in many instances may have extended to the entire five books, as it does now with the modern Samaritans;
(3) Other copies, entire or fragmentary, existing among the more learned Jews, or in the Schools of the prophets; and
(4) Quotations from the Law in other works, especially in the Psalmists and prophets, who refer to it on almost every page.
The copy of the Book of the Law found by Hilkiah was no doubt that deposited, in accordance with the command of God, by Moses, by the side of the ark of the covenant, and kept ordinarily in the holy of holies (marginal reference). It had been lost, or secreted, during the desecration of the temple by Manasseh, but had not been removed out of the temple building.).
Keil and Delitzsch
Reading of the law in the temple, and renewal of the covenant (cf. 2Ch_34:29-32). Beside the priests, Josiah also gathered together the prophets, including perhaps Jeremiah and Zedekiah, that he might carry out the solemn conclusion of the covenant with their co-operation, and, as is evident from Jer 1-11, that they might then undertake the task, by their impressive preaching in Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, of making the people conscious of the earnestness of the covenant duties which they had so recently undertaken (see Oehler in Herzog’s Cycl.). Instead of the prophets, the Levites are mentioned in the Chronicles, probably only because the Levites are mentioned along with the priests in other cases of a similar kind. וַיִּקְרָא, he read, i.e., had it read; for the duty of reading the law in the temple devolved upon the priests as the keepers of the law (Deu_31:9.).
The prophets – The suggestion to regard this word an error of the pen for “Levites,” which occurs in Chronicles (marginal reference), is unnecessary. For though Zephaniah, Urijah, and Jeremiah are all that we can name as belonging to the order at the time, there is no reason to doubt that Judaea contained others whom we cannot name. “Schools of the prophets” were as common in Judah as in Israel.
He read – The present passage is strong evidence that the Jewish kings could read. The solemn reading of the Law – a practice commanded in the Law itself once in seven years Deu_31:10-13 – had been intermitted, at least for the last 75 years, from the date of the accession of Manasseh.
Stood by a pillar – He stood, על העמוד al haammud, “upon the stairs or pulpit.” This is what is called the brazen scaffold or pulpit which Solomon made, and on which the kings were accustomed to stand when they addressed the people. See 2Ch_6:13, and the parallel places.
Made a covenant – This was expressed,
1. In general. To walk after Jehovah; to have no gods besides him.
2. To take his law for the regulation of their conduct.
3. In particular. To bend their whole heart and soul to the observance of it, so that, they might not only have religion without, but, piety within.
To this all the people stood up, thus giving their consent, and binding themselves to obedience.
By a pillar – Rather, “upon the pillar” (see 2Ki_11:14, note).
Made a covenant – “The covenant.” Josiah renewed the old covenant made between God and His people in Horeb Deu_5:2, so far at least as such renewal was possible by the mere act of an individual. He bound himself by a solemn promise to the faithful performance of the entire Law.
With all their heart – “Their” rather than “his,” because the king was considered as pledging the whole nation to obedience with himself. He and they “stood to it,” i. e., “accepted it, came into the covenant.”
He defiled Topheth – St. Jerome says that Topheth was a fine and pleasant place, well watered with fountains, and adorned with gardens. The valley of the son of Hinnom, or Gehenna, was in one part; here it appears the sacred rites of Molech were performed, and to this all the filth of the city was carried, and perpetual fires were kept up in order to consume it. Hence it has been considered a type of hell; and in this sense it is used in the New Testament.
It is here said that Josiah defiled this place that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire. He destroyed the image of Molech, and so polluted the place where he stood, or his temple, that it was rendered in every way abominable. The rabbins say that Topheth had its name from תף toph, a drum, because instruments of this kind were used to drown the cries of the children that were put into the burning arms of Molech, to be scorched to death. This may be as true as the following definition: “Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, was a place near Jerusalem, where the filth and offal of the city were thrown, and where a constant fire was kept up to consume the wretched remains of executed criminals. It was a human shambles, a public chopping-block, where the arms and legs of men and women were quartered off by thousands.” Query, On what authority do such descriptions rest?
Perform – Rather, establish. Josiah saw that it was necessary, not only to put down open idolatry, but also to root out the secret practices of a similar character which were sometimes combined with the worship of Yahweh, notwithstanding that the Law forbade them (marginal references), and which probably formed, with many, practically almost the whole of their religion.
Like unto him was there no king – Perhaps not one from the time of David; and, morally considered, including David himself, none ever sat on the Jewish throne, so truly exemplary in his own conduct, and so thoroughly zealous in the work of God. David was a greater but not a better man than Josiah.
Keil and Delitsch
Conclusion of Josiah’s reign. – 2Ki_23:24. As Josiah had the passover kept in perfect accordance with the precepts of the law, so did he also exterminate the necromancers, the teraphim and all the abominations of idolatry, throughout all Judah and Jerusalem, to set up the words of the law in the book of the law that had been found, i.e., to carry them out and bring them into force. For הָאֹבֹות and הַיִּדְּעֹנִים see at 2Ki_21:6. תְּרָפִים, penates, domestic gods, which were worshipped as the authors of earthly prosperity and as oracular deities (see at Gen_31:19). גִּלֻּלִים and שִׁקֻּצִים, connected together, as in Deu_29:16, as a contemptuous description of idols in general. – In 2Ki_23:25 the account of the efforts made by Josiah to restore the true worship of Jehovah closes with a general verdict concerning his true piety. See the remarks on this point at 2Ki_18:5. He turned to Jehovah with all his heart, etc.: there is an evident allusion here to Deu_6:5. Compare with this the sentence of the prophet Jeremiah concerning his reign (Jer_22:15-16).