Josiah reads the law, and renews the covenant. (1-3) He destroys idolatry. (4-14) The reformation extended to Israel, A passover kept. (15-24) Josiah slain by Pharaoh-nechoh. (25-30) Wicked reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. (31-37)
Verses 1-3 Josiah had received a message from God, that there was no preventing the ruin of Jerusalem, but that he should only deliver his own soul; yet he does his duty, and leaves the event to God. He engaged the people in the most solemn manner to abolish idolatry, and to serve God in righteousness and true holiness. Though most were formal or hypocritical herein, yet much outward wickedness would be prevented, and they were accountable to God for their own conduct.
Verses 4-14 What abundance of wickedness in Judah and Jerusalem! One would not have believed it possible, that in Judah, where God was known, in Israel, where his name was great, in Salem, in Zion, where his dwelling-place was, such abominations should be found. Josiah had reigned eighteen years, and had himself set the people a good example, and kept up religion according to the Divine law; yet, when he came to search for idolatry, the depth and extent were very great. Both common history, and the records of God's word, teach, that all the real godliness or goodness ever found on earth, is derived from the new-creating Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Verses 15-24 Josiah's zeal extended to the cities of Israel within his reach. He carefully preserved the sepulchre of that man of God, who came from Judah to foretell the throwing down of Jeroboam's altar. When they had cleared the country of the old leaven of idolatry, then they applied themselves to the keeping of the feast. There was not holden such a passover in any of the foregoing reigns. The revival of a long-neglected ordinance, filled them with holy joy; and God recompensed their zeal in destroying idolatry with uncommon tokens of his presence and favour. We have reason to think that during the remainder of Josiah's reign, religion flourished.
Verses 25-30 Upon reading these verses, we must say, Lord, though thy righteousness be as the great mountains, evident, plainly to be seen, and past dispute; yet thy judgments are a great deep, unfathomable, and past finding out. The reforming king is cut off in the midst of his usefulness, in mercy to him, that he might not see the evil coming upon his kingdom: but in wrath to his people, for his death was an inlet to their desolations.
Verses 31-37 After Josiah was laid in his grave, one trouble came on another, till, in twenty-two years, Jerusalem was destroyed. The wicked perished in great numbers, the remnant were purified, and Josiah's reformation had raised up some to join the few who were the precious seed of their future church and nation. A little time, and slender abilities, often suffice to undo the good which pious men have, for a course of years, been labouring to effect. But, blessed be God, the good work which he begins by his regenerating Spirit, cannot be done away, but withstands all changes and temptations.
2 Kings 23:1-3 . JOSIAH CAUSES THE LAW TO BE READ.
1-3. the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders--This pious and patriotic king, not content with the promise of his own security, felt, after Huldah's response, an increased desire to avert the threatened calamities from his kingdom and people. Knowing the richness of the divine clemency and grace to the penitent, he convened the elders of the people, and placing himself at their head, accompanied by the collective body of the inhabitants, went in solemn procession to the temple, where ordered the book of the law to be read to the assembled audience, and covenanted, with the unanimous concurrence of his subjects, to adhere steadfastly to all the commandments of the Lord. It was an occasion of solemn interest, closely connected with a great national crisis, and the beautiful example of piety in the highest quarter would exert a salutary influence over all classes of the people in animating their devotions and encouraging their return to the faith of their fathers.
2. he read in their ears--that is, "caused to be read."
3. all the people stood to the covenant--that is, they agreed to the proposals made; they assented to what was required of them.
2 Kings 23:4-28 . HE DESTROYS IDOLATRY.
4. the king commanded Hilkiah, &c.--that is, the high priest and other priests, for there was not a variety of official gradations in the temple.
all the vessels, &c.--the whole apparatus of idol-worship.
burned them without Jerusalem--The law required them to be consigned to the flames ( Deuteronomy 7:25 ).
in the fields of Kidron--most probably that part of the valley of Kidron, where lies Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. It is a level, spacious basin, abounding at present with plantations [ROBINSON]. The brook winds along the east and south of the city, the channel of which is throughout a large portion of the year almost or wholly dry, except after heavy rains, when it suddenly swells and overflows. There were emptied all the impurities of the temple ( 2 Chronicles 29:15 2 Chronicles 29:16 ) and the city. His reforming predecessors had ordered the mutilated relics of idolatry to be thrown into that receptacle of filth ( 1 Kings 15:13 , 2 Chronicles 15:16 , 30:14 ); but Josiah, while he imitated their piety, far outstripped them in zeal; for he caused the ashes of the burnt wood and the fragments of the broken metal to be collected and conveyed to Beth-el, in order thenceforth to associate ideas of horror and aversion with that place, as odious for the worst pollutions.
5. put down the idolatrous priests--Hebrew, chemarim, "scorched," that is, Guebres, or fire-worshippers, distinguished by a girdle ( Ezekiel 23:14-17 ) or belt of wool and camel's hair, twisted round the body twice and tied with four knots, which had a symbolic meaning, and made it a supposed defense against evil.
them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, &c.--or Baal-shemesh, for Baal was sometimes considered the sun. This form of false worship was not by images, but pure star-worship, borrowed from the old Assyrians.
and--rather, "even to all the host of heaven."
6. brought out the grove--that is, Asherah, the mystic tree, placed by Manasseh in the temple [ 2 Kings 21:5 , 2 Chronicles 33:5 ], removed by him after his conversion [ 2 Chronicles 33:15 ], but replaced in the sanctuary by his wicked son Amon [ 2 Kings 21:20 2 Kings 21:21 ]. Josiah had it taken to Kidron, burnt the wood, ground the metal about it to powder, and strewed the ashes "on the graves of the children of the people." The poor were buried in a common on part of the valley of Kidron. But reference is here made to the graves "of those that had sacrificed" ( 2 Chronicles 34:4 ).
7. brake down the houses of the sodomites--not solid houses, but tents, called elsewhere [ 2 Kings 17:30 ] Succoth-benoth, "the booths of the young women," who were devoted to the service of Asherah, for which they made embroidered hangings, and in which they gave themselves to unbridled revelry and lust. Or the hangings might be for Asherah itself, as it is a popular superstition in the East to hang pieces of cloth on trees.
8, 9. he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places, &c.--Many of the Levitical order, finding in the reigns of Manasseh and Amon the temple-worship abolished and the tithes and other offerings alienated, had been betrayed into the folly of officiating on high places, and presenting such sacrifices as were brought to them. These irregularities, even though the object of that worship was the true God, were prohibited in the law ( Deuteronomy 12:11 ). Those who had been guilty of this sin, Josiah brought to Jerusalem. Regarding them as defiled, he debarred them from the service of the temple, but gave them an allowance out of the temple revenues, like the lame and disabled members of the priesthood ( Leviticus 21:21 Leviticus 21:22 ).
from Geba to to Beer-sheba--the most northern and the most southern places in Judah--meaning all parts of the kingdom.
the high places . . . which were in the entering in of the gate of Joshua--The governor's house and gate were on the left of the city gate, and close by the entrance of that civic mansion house were public altars, dedicated, it might be, to the true God, but contrary to His own ordinance of worship ( Isaiah 57:8 ).
10. Topheth--so called from Toph--a "drum." It is the prevailing opinion among Jewish writers that the cries of the terrified children made to pass through the fire in that place of idolatrous horror were drowned by the sound of that instrument.
11. took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun--Among the people who anciently worshipped the sun, horses were usually dedicated to that divinity, from the supposed idea that the sun himself was drawn in a chariot by horses. In some cases these horses were sacrificed; but more commonly they were employed either in the sacred processions to carry the images of the sun, or for the worshippers to ride in every morning to welcome his rise. It seems that the idolatrous kings, Ahaz, Manasseh, and Amon, or their great officers, proceeded on these horses early on each day from the east gate of the temple to salute and worship the sun at his appearing above the horizon.
12. the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz--Altars were reared on the flat roofs of houses, where the worshippers of "the host of heaven" burnt incense ( Zephaniah 1:5 , Jeremiah 19:13 ). Ahaz had reared altars for this purpose on the oleah, or upper chamber of his palace, and Manasseh on some portion of the roof of the temple. Josiah demolished both of these structures.
13, 14. the high places . . . which Solomon . . . had
the right hand of the mount of corruption--The Mount of Olives is a hilly range on the east of Jerusalem. This range has three summits, of which the central one is the Mount of Corruption, so called from the idol temples built there, and of course the hill on the right hand denotes the southernmost peak. Josiah is said not to have destroyed, but only defiled, "the high places on the hill of corruption." It is most probable that Hezekiah had long before demolished the idolatrous temples erected there by Solomon but, as the superstitious people continued to regard the spot as consecrated ground, Josiah defiled it.
14. filled their places with the bones of men--Every monument of idolatry in his dominion he in like manner destroyed, and the places where they stood he defiled by strewing them with dead men's bones. The presence of a dead carcass rendered both persons and places unclean in the eyes both of Jews and heathens.
15-20. Moreover the altar that was at Beth-el, &c.--Not satisfied with the removal of every vestige of idolatry from his own dominion, this zealous iconoclast made a tour of inspection through the cities of Samaria and all the territory formerly occupied by the ten tribes, destroying the altars and temples of the high places, consigning the Asherim to the flames, putting to death the priests of the high places, and showing his horror at idolatry by ransacking the sepulchers of idolatrous priests, and strewing the burnt ashes of their bones upon the altars before he demolished them.
16. according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed--In carrying on these proceedings, Josiah was prompted by his own intense hatred of idolatry. But it is remarkable that this act was predicted three hundred twenty-six years before his birth, and his name also was expressly mentioned, as well as the very place where it should be done ( 1 Kings 13:2 ). This is one of the most most remarkable prophecies in the Bible.
17. What title is that that I see?--The king's attention probably, had been arrested by a tombstone more conspicuous than the rest around it, bearing on an inscription the name of him that lay beneath; and this prompted his curiosity to make the inquiry.
the men of the city--not the Assyrian colonists--for they could know nothing about the ancient transactions of the place--but some of the old people who had been allowed to remain, and perhaps the tomb itself might not then have been discoverable, through the effects of time and neglect, had not some "Old Mortality" garnished the sepulcher of the righteous.
21-23. the king commanded all the people, saying, Keep the passover unto the Lord your God, &c.--It was observed with great solemnity and was attended not only by his own subjects, but by the remnant people from Israel Jerusalem might have heard of, if they did not hear, the law read by Josiah. It is probable that they might even have procured a copy of the law, stimulated as they were to the better observance of Jehovah's worship by the unusual and solemn transactions at Jerusalem.
26. Notwithstanding, the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his wrath,--&c. The national reformation which Josiah carried on was acquiesced in by the people from submission to the royal will; but they entertained a secret and strong hankering after the suppressed idolatries. Though outwardly purified, their hearts were not right towards God, as appears from many passages of the prophetic writings; their thorough reform was hopeless; and God, who saw no sign of genuine repentance, allowed His decree ( 2 Kings 21:12-15 ) for the subversion of the kingdom to take fatal effect.
29. In his days Pharaoh-nechoh--(See 2 Chronicles 35:20-27 ).