The Word Made Fresh
1Then Josiah declared a Passover to the LORD in Jerusalem. They slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the first month. 2He organized the priests and encouraged them to do their duties in the LORD’s house. 3He ordered the Levites, who were the educators of Israel and thus sacred to the LORD, “Place the sacred covenant chest in the temple Solomon son of David king of Israel built. There is no need to carry it on your shoulders. Place it there and then serve the LORD your God and Israel, the people of the LORD. 4Organize yourselves according to your ancestral records and follow the directions King David and Solomon his son wrote down for you. 5Take up your stations in the sacred area according to your ancestral heritage so that there will be Levites over each section of each family. 6Slaughter the Passover lamb. Make yourselves pure. For the sake of your relatives prepare for the observance as the LORD instructed Moses.”
7Josiah then provided Passover offerings for the people; thirty thousand lambs and kids from the royal flocks, and three thousand bulls from the king’s own herd. 8His governmental officers also gave willingly to the people and the priests and the Levites. Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, the chief priests in the LORD’s house, provided the Passover offerings for the priests: two thousand six hundred lambs and kids, and three hundred bulls. 9The Levitical leaders – Conaniah and his brothers Shemaiah, Nethanel, Hashabiah, Jeiel, and Jozabad – gave to all the Levites for the Passover five thousand lambs and kids and five hundred bulls.
10When all was prepared, the priests and Levites took their stations according to the king’s instructions. 11They slaughtered the Passover lamb and the priests dashed the blood against the altar while the Levites skinned the carcasses. 12Then they set aside the burnt offerings to pass them out to the family groups among the people as an offering to the LORD, as written in the book of Moses. They did the same with the bulls. 13They roasted the Passover lamb in the fire as instructed and boiled the sacred offerings in pots and kettles and pans and distributed them among the people quickly.
14After this, they provided for themselves and the priests, since the priests, who were descended from Aaron, were busy with all the burnt offerings until it was nighttime. 15The singers, who were descendants of Asaph, took up their positions as described by David, Asaph, Heman, and the king’s advisor Jeduthun. Gatekeepers were stationed at each gate. They were able to remain at their stations because their relatives the Levites provided for them.
16And that is how the Passover of the LORD was observed that day, keeping the traditions and offering sacrifices on the LORD’s altar as king Josiah had ordered. 17All the people of Israel who were there kept the Passover at the appointed time, and then observed the feast of unleavened bread for seven days. 18The Passover had not been observed so thoroughly since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of Israel’s kings had observed such a Passover as did Josiah. The priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there, along with the residents of Jerusalem, faithfully observed the Passover 19in the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah.
20After all this had taken place, King Neco of Egypt advanced to do battle at Charchemish on the Euphrates. King Josiah prepared to confront him. 21Neco sent ambassadors to him to say, “I have nothing against you, king of Judah. I am not at war with you today but am at war against another foe and God has ordered me to hurry. Don’t oppose God. God is with me and will destroy you if you interfere.”
22Josiah would not back down, though. He disguised himself to join the battle. He didn’t heed King Neco, whose words were from God, but attacked him in the plain of Megiddo. 23The Egyptian archers shot king Josiah, and he told his attendants, “Take me out of the battle; I am seriously wounded.” 24They lifted him from his chariot and transferred him to his officer’s chariot and brought him back to Jerusalem where he died. He was buried in the tombs of his ancestors, and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned.
25Jeremiah composed a lament for Josiah, and men and women singers have continued to mourn for him down to this day. It became a custom in Israel, as recorded in the Laments.
26The record of the reign of Josiah and his faithfulness to the law of the LORD 27and all his accomplishments from the beginning to the end of his reign, are recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah.
1-6: Josiah’s father Amon had only reigned two years, but apparently does a lot in those two years to nullify many of the reforms instituted by his father Manasseh and his grandfather Hezekiah. Josiah summons the priests and instructs them to replace the covenant chest in the temple of Solomon. In some unknown ritual change we are not told about, the covenant chest has been carried around on their shoulders, probably to be regularly included in some processional ritual at the temple. Josiah orders that the Passover be observed on its proper day, the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish year. He also orders them to organize themselves according to the instructions of David and Solomon.
7-9: The king, along with all his officials and the most prominent Levites, donates thousands of animals for the observance of the Passover
10-15: The Levites again play a key role in keeping everything in proper order, and the Passover sacrifices are made.
16-19: The observance of the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened bread is such as none of the kings of Israel (the northern kingdom is now defunct) have ever kept, and the clear implication is that this is the reason Israel has failed and Judah still stands. Indeed, many people from Israel are taking part in it along with the people of Judah. Josiah is only 26 years old.
20-27: A dozen years or so later war is raging between the major empires of the day. In 612 B.C. the Babylonians conquer the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh, forcing the Assyrians to move their capital to Harran (Harran is the city of Abraham’s people). Harran is captured in 610 B.C., and the capital is moved again, this time to Carchemish on the Euphrates River near what is now the southern border of Turkey. The Assyrians form an alliance with Egypt, and the deciding battle, one of the most famous in all history, is fought at Carchemish.
However, before Pharaoh Neco II and his army can join forces with the Assyrians they are delayed by the army of Josiah who meets them in battle at Megiddo (later called Armageddon). Neco tries to dissuade Josiah from the battle, telling him that he has no designs on Josiah’s territory but is off to fight the Babylonians. Josiah, however, is determined to fight. Verse 22 says that Josiah “disguised himself” in order to fight with Neco, which recalls the battle years before in which Ahab of Israel did the same so that the Aramean leaders wouldn’t recognize him (see 18:29). However, in this case the text hints that Josiah’s disguise is a ruse to entice Neco to commit his army to a battle and makes us wonder if perhaps he disguised himself in Babylonian garb.
In any case, Josiah is mortally wounded at Megiddo and is carried back to Jerusalem where he dies of his wounds. He is buried along with the other kings of Judah. His is eulogized by no lesser personage than the prophet Jeremiah, who makes lamentations for the king. (Our book of Lamentations, however, makes no mention of Josiah and is therefore not the record referred to here. Jeremiah did prophesy during Josiah’s reign, and Jeremiah 26-27 contains a number of references to Josiah.)
And so ends the record and the rule of Judah’s last great king. He was a good king and faithful to God. In the end, though, he seems to think more highly of himself than he should, and attacks a superior Egyptian army, apparently without prayerful consideration. We should never be so confident in our relationship with God that we risk our lives and the lives of others without prayerful guidance. There is much here to direct our elected leaders in the decisions they make on our behalf.