The Word Made Fresh
1Josiah was eight years old when he was crowned. He ruled in Jerusalem for thirty-one years. 2He walked straight in the laws of the LORD, turning neither right nor left, just as his ancestor David had done. 3In his eighth year, while still a youth, he began to seek after the God of his ancestor David, and by the twelfth year of his reign he began to clear Judah and Jerusalem of the hilltop shrines, the totem poles and the idols. 4He watched as they pulled down the altars dedicated to the Baals, and he destroyed the incense altars on the heights. He broke down the totem poles and idols, beat them into dust and scattered them over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. 5He burned the bones of their priests on their own altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. 6In the towns of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, and even in the ruins scattered around, 7he tore down the altars and totem poles and idols, beat them all into dust and destroyed all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel, then returned to Jerusalem.
8In the eighteenth year of his reign when he had cleansed the land and the temple, he sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, Maaseiah governor of Jerusalem, and Joah son of Joahaz the recorder to make repairs to the LORD’s house. 9They delivered the money brought into the temple to Hilkiah the high priest, money that had come from Manasseh and Ephraim and those who remained in Israel, as well as from Judah, Benjamin, and Jerusalem. 10Those funds were made available to the workers who were responsible for the LORD’s house, and they used the money to repair and restore the building. 11The carpenters and builders used the funds to purchase quarried stone, plus timber for joists, as well as beams to be used in repairing buildings the kings of Judah had left in disrepair. 12They were all diligent in their work. The Levites, Jahath and Obadiah, descendants of Merari, along with Zechariah and Meshullam, descendants of Kohath, oversaw all the work. Other Levite musicians 13were in charge of the load bearers and provided direction for all the workers. Some of the Levites were also scribes, officers and gatekeepers.
14While they were rounding up the money that had accumulated in the LORD’s house, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law the LORD had given through Moses. 15He said to Shaphan, the king’s secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the LORD’s house.” He gave Shaphan the book. 16Shaphan in turn took it to the king. He reported that the workers were all doing their jobs, 17and that the money found in the LORD’s house had been given to the overseers and laborers. 18He then told the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book,” and he read it to the king.
19When the king heard the law being read he tore his clothes. 20He ordered Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan his secretary, and his servant Asaiah, 21“Go, ask the LORD for me and for all those left in Judah and Israel about the words in this book that has been found. The terrible anger of the LORD is surely poured out on us because our ancestors did not keep the LORD’s word, nor did they act according to what is written in this book.”
22So, Hilkiah and the others went to the prophetess Huldah, wife of Shallum, son of Tokhath, son of Hasrah. She lived in the second district of Jerusalem and was responsible for the royal wardrobe. They asked her about the warnings in the book. 23She told them, “This is what the LORD God of Israel says. Go and tell the one who sent you to me 25that the LORD says, ‘I will surely punish this place and its residents by bringing on them the curses that are written in the book that was read to the king of Judah. 25They have turned away from me and made sacrifices to other gods. Their deeds have made me angry, and my anger will consume this place.’ 26But you can tell the king of Judah, who sent you here to inquire of the LORD, that the LORD says ‘Because the words he has heard read from this book 27have made him penitent and humbled, and he has torn his clothes and wept, I have heard him, 28and I will join him with his ancestors, and he will die in peace. His eyes will never see the disasters I will bring on this place and its inhabitants.’”
They took the message to the king. 29Then the king summoned all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 30He went up to the LORD’s temple with the people of Judah and Jerusalem, the priests and Levites and all the people, young and old, and read in their hearing all the words of the book of the agreement that had been found in the LORD’s house. 31Then the king stood in his place and made a promise to the LORD, to obey the LORD’s rules and laws and commandments with all his heart and soul, and to carry out the instructions written in this book. 32Then he made everyone present promise to keep it. Then all the people who were gathered in Jerusalem accepted the agreement with the God of their ancestors.
33Josiah removed all the disgusting shrines from the territory that belonged to the people of Israel. He made everyone in Israel worship the LORD their God. As long as Josiah lived, they were steadfast in following the LORD God of their ancestors.
1-7. Amon only reigns two years and dies at the age of 24, so he was only 16 when his son Josiah was born. Josiah, now 8 years old, becomes king of Judah. When he is 16, unlike his father he begins to “seek the God of his ancestor David;” I wish we were given more information on how this came about. Four years later, when he is 20, he undertakes a rather violent and sweeping religious reform, destroying all the altars, idols and shrines dedicated to Baal and other pagan deities, grinding the idols to dust and scattering the dust over the graves of their worshipers (probably meaning that they have been put to death), and burning the bones of the priests of Baal on the altar of Baal prior to demolishing that altar. He carries his reform measures into Israel as well. Since the death of Sennacherib of Assyria the whole of the northern kingdom of Israel seems to have entered a time in which there was little foreign influence and no leadership.
8-13: Such is the nature of Josiah’s reforms that the people, even the folks up north in Israel, give generously (and perhaps under royal pressure) to the temple funds. The money is taken to the high priest Hilkiah who undertakes the needed repairs. Hilkiah organizes the Levites to oversee the rather extensive restoration.
14-18: Hilkiah finds the book of the “law of the LORD” – the Torah – and gives it to Shaphan the secretary to give to the king. Shaphan reports on the repairs to Josiah, then says, “Hilkiah has given me this book,” and proceeds to read it to the king.
(By the way, some scholars think Hilkiah may be the one who is responsible for the final form of the Torah. In other words, they think he didn’t just find the book; he pretty much wrote it based on records that were available to him.)
19-21: When people in the Old Testament were deeply affected, they tore their clothes to pieces. King Josiah is deeply affected by the reading of the law. He orders Hilkiah and some other leaders to go to the LORD and find out what they are to do now that they know they have offended God by not keeping the law.
22-28: We are perhaps surprised that they go, not to the temple, but to the house of a woman named Huldah who is a prophet, obviously revered for her wisdom and for her relationship with God. She tells them that the words of the scroll are true, that God is going to destroy Jerusalem because of the sins of the kings and the people who forsook the worship of God and went after pagan deities and their cults. She also tells them that God will reward Josiah’s penitent heart by delaying the inevitable until after his reign is complete. She tells them that Josiah will go to his grave in peace, but that part of her prophecy will not take place – see 35:23-24. They take this message back to the king.
29-33: Josiah leads a procession of the priests, Levites and people to the temple where he reads to them the words of the book of the law. He rededicates himself to the LORD and the people do the same. Josiah’s reform is extended to the whole land of Israel, at least that portion that is not under the control of some foreign power, and for the remainder of his reign it almost seems that the land is reunited under Josiah and the LORD.
As we read these accounts of the kings of Judah it becomes more and more apparent that, as the king goes so goes the country. That is true to some extent of all leaders. Employees will take their behavioral cue from executives. Parishioners from their priest or pastor. Citizens from the people elected to govern them. Take note of how you lead, and how you follow. Blind adherence to an elected official or to a political party is a recipe for disaster.