Humble Yourself Before the Lord
2 Kings 21:1–23:30
Main Idea: Two kings are contrasted: Manasseh rejects the Lord; Josiah, the greatest of the kings, honors the Lord by valuing God’s word.
I. Manasseh’s Idolatry (21:1-26)
A. The perversions he pursued (vv. 2-9)
B. The privileges he rejected (vv. 4, 7-9)
C. The disaster he brought (vv. 10-15)
D. The legacy he left (vv. 16-26)
II. Josiah’s Obedience (22:1–23:30)
A. Value the Word (22:1-10).
B. Humble yourself before the Word (22:11-20).
C. Obey the Word (23:1-30).
1. Covenant renewal (vv. 1-3)
2. Comprehensive reform (vv. 4-20)
3. Celebration of Passover (vv. 21-30)
Last week in our small group we were discussing the discipline of “serving.” When the subject of gifts and abilities came up, I told them I don’t have the gift of musical leadership. (That surprised no one.) I have tried to lead musical worship before. My first attempt was at “Baptist Men’s Day.” I was a relatively new Christian, eager to glorify God. While my intentions were good, my voice and guitar playing weren’t. After singing three songs, playing a total of about six chords on my guitar, I sat down beside my encouraging mother, who put her arm around me and said, “You did your best, honey.” That was a nice way of telling me, “Try something else.” But I wouldn’t be denied. About a year after my disastrous attempt at leading corporate worship, Dr. Shaddix invited me, along with my friends David and Landon, over to his house for a prayer group and encouraged me to bring my guitar. I thought, “You know, maybe small groups, not large groups, are more my thing.” So I went to the group meeting prepared to lead a few choruses. I chose the short chorus “Humble Thyself” as my first selection. The only problem is I had great trouble shifting through the chords in this very difficult song (hint: it’s not). Instead of playing, “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, humble thyself in the sight of the Lord. . . . And he will lift you up.” I decided to just sing “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord” over and over. The guys were locked in for the first two “humble thyselfs,” but after I kept repeating it, they just burst into laughter. After receiving their mockery, I told them it was for effect. I was giving the emphasis on this phrase because they needed to hear it!
“You humbled yourself in the sight of the Lord” isn’t a phrase uttered often about the kings of Judah and Israel, despite the admonition from Deuteronomy concerning the kings: “His heart will not be exalted above his countrymen” (17:20). Even the best of kings, like Uzziah and Hezekiah, fell to pride (2 Chr 26:16). The other idol-worshiping kings definitely acted in pride against Yahweh. But in these chapters we find a king who humbled himself before the Lord (2 Kgs 22:19)—Josiah. At the end of the story of Josiah, we read,
Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his mind and with all his heart and with all his strength according to all the law of Moses, and no one like him arose after him. (23:25)
By contrast we have a king who lived in prideful rebellion against God—Manasseh. Let’s consider his idolatry that we must avoid, and then consider the obedience of Josiah that we need to pursue.
2 Kings 21:1-26
Following the noble reign of Hezekiah, we read of this faithless reign of Manasseh. In the last chapter we noted how Hezekiah led a reformation despite having a wicked father (just as Josiah will do). Here we read how Manasseh led the nation into idolatry despite having a faithful father. He apparently reigned alongside his father a few years as well, so he had seen what a faithful leader looks like up close. Nevertheless, he’s as evil as they come.
Your father doesn’t have to be the determining factor in your spiritual journey (see Ezek 18). Undoubtedly fathers influence their children. But being the son of a Christian doesn’t mean you will be a Christian too. On the flip side, being the son (or daughter) of an unbelieving, wicked father doesn’t mean you have to be wicked. The book of Kings shows us the importance of personally making a decision to follow the living God.
We can break down Manasseh’s idolatry into four parts: the perversions he pursued, the privileges he forsook, the disaster he brought, and the legacy he left.
The Perversions He Pursued (vv. 2-9)
From verse 1 we find that this king reigned for 55 years. This makes him the longest reigning king in Israel’s or Judah’s history. During a period of 55 years, he utterly exhausted God’s patience (23:26-27). He inflicted massive damage on the nation, so much so that even the reform of Josiah couldn’t quench God’s wrath; it could only delay it. Manasseh followed in the legacy of the evil kings. A good slogan for his reign would be, “Anything you can do, I can do worse.”
However, instead of God sending a prophet to speak or an avenger to act, we read of little adversity in his life and then a nice burial in a “garden” (21:26). Why did God allow this king to reign 55 years? I don’t know the answer. One possibility is that his reign itself was a time of judgment (Davis, 2 Kings, 310–11n5). But I wouldn’t fight for this position.
We don’t always know the answers to the mysteries of God’s world. It appears that internally the leaders in Judah were OK with his practices. Moreover, the writer goes on to tell us that the perverted acts of Manasseh aren’t his alone; he leads the people into more sin than the Amorites who lived there before them (vv. 9,11).
What did Manasseh do? He was the son of “Hephzibah,” and he “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, imitating the detestable practices of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites” (v. 2). He rebuilt what Hezekiah tore down, namely, “the high places.” He then reinstituted fertility worship, erecting altars for “Baal and Asherah.” The author speaks of him as another “King Ahab of Israel.”
Manasseh’s paganism went beyond Ahab. He instituted astral worship. He “worshiped the whole heavenly host and served them” (v. 3, cf. v. 5). He built altars to the sun, moon, and stars in the temple.
Astral worship is explicitly forbidden in Deuteronomy (4:19; 17:3). Believing that the heavenly bodies influenced the events on earth was common among surrounding nations (Olley, Message of Kings, 340). Many today are still attracted to this practice. How opposite this is from Micaiah’s vision of Yahweh being worshiped by the host of heaven, not as one among other gods (1 Kgs 22:19).
God is the Creator of moon, stars, and sun, and we aren’t to worship them (Isa 40:26). Isaiah says the Babylonian astrologers who make predictions are powerless (47:13). This practice is folly, whether it’s done on a popular level of a horoscope, or done for leaders seeking the heavenly hosts for determining major decisions (Olley, Message of Kings, 340–41). While creation is amazing, Paul warns us against worshiping creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1:25). The better a thing is, the more likely we are to make it an idol. God’s creation is good and majestic, and we tend to make created people (especially those in relationship with us) or God’s created nature an idol. These things cannot give you what only God can give you, namely salvation, provision, satisfaction, and meaning.
Manasseh proved to be another Ahaz. He burned his own son as an offering, violating God’s word (Deut 18:10-11). He also went further than Ahaz by putting a carved Asherah pole in the temple (vv. 6-7; cf. 16:3-4). In so doing he was endorsing the worship of Asherah as the consort to Yahweh. If all of this were not enough, he also gave himself to the consultation of dark powers: he “practiced witchcraft and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists” (v. 6). “Spiritists” involved mortals communicating with chthonic deities of the underworld (1 Sam 28:7). The author summarizes, “He did a great amount of evil in the Lord’s sight, provoking Him” (v. 6). This evil was “greater evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites” (v. 9).
What does all this tell us? It may tell us something about Manasseh’s politics. Did he think behaving like the surrounding nations would give Judah more favor in the eyes of the nations, including Assyria? Perhaps. Did he think his father did harm to the nation? Maybe. What we definitely learn from this story is how the human heart works. Humanity is incurably religious, but Nietzsche said, “There are more idols in the world than there are realities” (Twilight, n.p.). We are a worshiping people. We ponder the meaning of life. Animals don’t do this. So the question is not will you worship, but what will you worship? Will you give yourself to myths, superstitions, the goddess of sex, or to the living God?
The Privileges He Rejected (vv. 4,7-9)
The sad reality of turning from the living God is that you are turning away from the greatest privileges you could ever enjoy. In verse 4 the writer says, “Jerusalem is where I will put My name,” and then this privilege is expanded in verses 7-9.
Notice the privilege of God’s presence. God says He will establish His name there. He will put Himself there. When you turn to idols, you are turning from the most satisfying relationship available and from a peace that cannot be found elsewhere. The presence of God now, in the new covenant, isn’t found in a temple but in His people. God dwells within us, through Christ by faith (Rom 8:9).
By rejecting Yahweh, Manasseh and the people were also turning from His favor. God promised them security, land, and stability if they would keep His commands, but “they did not listen” (v. 9).
God has promised us a land too. Because of the work of Christ, those who are new creations in Christ are waiting for the dawning of a new creation, in which the glory of God covers the earth like the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). He will give us a land we didn’t labor for or deserve (cf. Josh 24:13), if we will follow His Word, repenting and turning to Christ for salvation. Don’t forsake the privilege offered to you.
Tragically, many trade the glory of God and His gracious privileges for their idols. In the words of Jeremiah, they have “abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer 2:12-13). Idolatry is forsaking a thirst-quenching fountain for that which cannot satisfy. Think of this picture in the temple: trading the place of atonement for goddess worship; trading the bread of the Presence, a picture of God’s sustaining power, for Baal; trading a prayer-hearing God, symbolized at the altar of incense, for fortune-tellers, mediums, and necromancers (Davis, 2 Kings, 314). Manasseh says, “No thanks. I prefer the broken cisterns to the living water.” And it was not because Manasseh had not been taught better or, for that matter, shown better. His dad was Hezekiah. Manasseh simply didn’t care who God is. If you want to avoid the sins of Manasseh, remember that God is your greatest joy and your highest good, and you have nowhere to go outside of Him to find what your heart longs for.
The Disaster He Brought (vv. 10-15)
Judgment against Jerusalem draws near. Manasseh’s sins are briefly summarized in verse 12 as the reason for the devastation. Four word pictures are used to describe the coming wrath of Yahweh. First, Yahweh says the disaster will make peoples’ ears “shudder,” signaling a terrible judgment (v. 12). Second, “the measuring [plumb] line used on Samaria” is a graphic image used by the prophets to describe God’s standard of judgment (v. 13a; see also Amos 7:7-8). The divine architect will assess Judah as He has Samaria and Ahab. Third, He speaks of the comprehensive nature of His judgment with the image of “wiping” Jerusalem like a dish (v. 13b). Finally, Yahweh announces that He will “abandon the remnant of My inheritance”—the faithful followers found during Hezekiah’s reform—“and hand them over to their enemies” (v. 14). This image speaks of the helplessness of Judah in judgment (Davis, 2 Kings, 316).
Verse 15 reminds us of the sadness of it all. God brought this people out of bondage in Egypt, but they had a history of provoking Yahweh to anger. Manasseh put them over the top, beyond the hope of recovery (Davis, 2 Kings, 316). Not even the reforms of Josiah could hold God’s wrath back ultimately. The writer later reflects back on Manasseh, saying, “In spite of all that, the Lord did not turn from the fury of His great burning anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had provoked Him with” (23:26).
The Legacy He Left (vv. 16-26)
The writer cannot document all of the evil of this 55-year king, but he indicates that he “shed so much innocent blood.” This often refers to abusing the poor, a great offense for anyone but particularly awful for a people who themselves used to be slaves (Isa 1:15-17). Josephus records that Manasseh slaughtered the prophets daily (Antiquities, 10.3). Justin Martyr claims that he was the one responsible for putting Isaiah to death by sawing him in half, as possibly alluded to in Hebrews 11:37 (Dialogue with Trypho, § 120). At this point we aren’t surprised, for when someone thinks he isn’t accountable to God, his depravity has no limits.
Manasseh’s son Amon takes after him, and the nation has two more years of an idol-worshiping king. Amon’s reign ends when his servants assassinate him. But this death doesn’t lead to the end of David’s line, for the people rise up and make Josiah, his son, the king. Fascinating. For whatever reason, the people don’t abandon Davidic succession. They suffered for 55 years under Manasseh and two years under Amon. Would you blame them for choosing a king from a different family? But they don’t. Thus we have a delay in the judgment on Judah, and we are introduced to one of Judah’s greatest kings in Judah’s darkest time.
But before we move on to Josiah, there’s one more note on the legacy of Manasseh. He devastated the land with wickedness. He passed it on to his son. But he also passed down hope to sinners. Yes, Manasseh should give sinners hope. How so? In 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 the Chronicler tells us that Manasseh repented. The Assyrians captured him with hooks, bound him with chains, and took him to Babylon. Then we read these surprising words:
When he was in distress, he sought the favor of Yahweh his God and earnestly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. He prayed to Him, so He heard his petition and granted his request, and brought him back to Jerusalem, to his kingdom. So Manasseh came to know that Yahweh is God. (2 Chr 33:12-13; see also v. 19)
Then he tried to undo the damage he had done. Remarkable! The reason Kings doesn’t mention this repentance is because it didn’t ultimately change the course of Judah’s history. Judgment was irreversible. And apparently, his conversion didn’t have much of an impact on Amon. Nevertheless, he repented personally. The Chronicler reminds us that God’s grace can reach the worst of idolaters. Even Manasseh was not beyond the reach of God’s transforming grace. While his previous acts had an enduring negative effect, he himself experienced God’s mercy.
How do you receive such grace? Notice our theme of humility: “When he was in distress, he sought the favor of Yahweh his God and earnestly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors” (2 Chr 33:12).
Manasseh reminds us that in one sense it’s never too late to turn to God in repentance. A friend this week told of a man who tried to kill himself with a shotgun after his wife left him. Somehow, despite shooting himself in the neck, he didn’t die. My friend had been witnessing to this man for some time. After God spared his life, he eventually became a Christian. God’s grace reaches the Manassehs. How? A person must humble himself or herself. Peter writes, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Pet 5:5-6). Perhaps the testimony of Manasseh in Chronicles encouraged the exiles to remember that if they would humble themselves and repent, God would hear and restore them too.
2 Kings 22:1–23:30
Judgment is coming to Judah, but it’s delayed due to the stellar leadership of King Josiah. He is like a “second Moses,” similar to Hezekiah, “a second David.” Josiah is pictured as the ideal king as described in Deuteronomy, where we read that the king must not “turn from this command” (Deut 17:20). At the end of Josiah’s reign, he indeed turned to the Lord with all his heart, obeying the Shema. The Shema is named for the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4-5—“Listen”—and it goes on, “Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This confession has been echoed through the centuries by Jews, every morning and evening, and it was reinforced by Jesus, who also added that wholehearted love for God cannot be separated from love for one’s neighbor. Josiah follows the Shema wholeheartedly, surpassing even Hezekiah in his devotion to the teaching of Moses. Provan summarizes Josiah’s reign well: “[Josiah] is the best of all kings, but he is a king come too late” (1 and 2 Kings, 271).
Despite reigning after the dark spiritual days of Manasseh, Josiah leads the people into a time of reformation, much like Hezekiah led a reformation after the wicked leadership of Ahaz. Once again we see how God often uses unlikely people (the grandson of Manasseh in this case), in an unlikely time, to lead a time of reformation. God in His grace gave this generation a godly leader. How kind of Yahweh!
In the introduction of Josiah (22:1-2), we see what kind of king he is. He’s a young king who took the throne at age eight. This young king is known for doing “right in the Lord’s sight.” The Chronicler emphasizes his passion for God at a young age: “In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a youth, Josiah began to seek the God of his ancestor David” (2 Chr 34:3).
How early can you begin to start seeking God? Here it is: while you are “still a youth.” If you are a young person reading this, begin seeking God now! Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isa 55:6). We have a host of examples in Christian history of young people seeking the Lord—like David Livingstone who memorized Psalm 119 at age nine! Don’t fail to seek God because your peers aren’t doing so. You seek the Lord, taking a cue from those in the past.
The writer draws our attention to the eighteenth year of his reign in verse 3 and proceeds to tell the story of this significant year. Josiah takes the initiative in providing spiritual leadership. Consider how he “sent” or “commanded” in chapters 22–23:
- “the king sent” (22:3),
- the king “commanded” (22:12),
- “the king sent” (23:1),
- “the king commanded” (23:4),
- “The king commanded” (23:21),
- and we may add 23:24, “Josiah removed.”
Josiah faithfully sets out to follow Yahweh, giving us a marvelous example of obedience to God’s word. Let me point out three challenges for all of us: value the Word, humble yourself before the Word, and obey the Word.
Value the Word (22:1-10)
Josiah has much work to do, and he begins with repairing the temple, similarly to young Joash (vv. 3-7; 2 Kgs 12:1-16). As the work is being done, Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan, “I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple” (v. 8). Then Shaphan returns to report to Josiah about the financial matters of the repair, and also relays, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book” (v. 10). Shaphan and his family stand as an example of the importance of giving the word to people. Olley reports:
[H]is son: Ahikam (12, 14) later was a protector of Jeremiah (Jer 26:24), and Ahikam’s son Gedaliah was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar as governor of Judah after the destruction and looked after Jeremiah (2 Kgs 25:22; Jer 39:13; 41:3); another son, Elasha, was entrusted with Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon (Jer 29:3); yet another, Gemariah, provided the room from which Baruch read Jeremiah’s scroll to the people, which was heard by Gemariah’s son, Micaiah, who urged the king not to burn the scroll [Jer 36:10-17,25] (Message of Kings, 349).
Quite a legacy! Those of us who have the Word have a stewardship of getting it to people who don’t have access to it.
After reading the book for himself, Shaphan proceeds to read it to Josiah. Two questions emerge: What book was found? And how long had it been missing? The answer to the first is probably Deuteronomy. Provan notes that the phrase “book of the law” is used in the Pentateuch only of Deuteronomy (Deut 28:61; 29:21; 30:10; 31:26; Josh 1:8; 8:30-35; 23:6; 24:26) (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 271). As previously pointed out, Deuteronomy is the key book for the kings of Israel. What about question number two? We know that previous kings had access to it, so it must have disappeared under the long reign of Manasseh. It was apparently removed from its place beside the ark (Deut 31:26) in this period. That Manasseh wanted nothing to do with God’s Word shouldn’t surprise us.
God’s Word got lost in God’s temple, and no one seemed to care until Josiah was made aware of it. How similar to our contemporary mood! My friend, have you put the Word away, or are you valuing it? Josiah is commended because he “humbled [himself] before the Lord” (22:19), and he did so by humbling himself before God’s Word. He believed God Himself spoke through His Word. If we have such a high view of Scripture, then surely we would want to read it and hear it, right?
An agnostic professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Bart Ehrman, points out the fact that many professing Christians claim to believe that God breathed out His Word (2 Tim 3:16-17), but mysteriously they don’t read it. I have heard him explain the following story in a debate on the Bible:
I’m teaching a large undergraduate class this semester on the New Testament, and of course, most of my students are from the South; most of them have been raised in good Christian families. I’ve found over the years that they have a far greater commitment to the Bible than knowledge about it. So this last semester, I did something I don’t normally do. I started off my class of 300 students by saying the first day, “How many of you in here would agree with the proposition that the Bible is the inspired word of God?” Voom! The entire room raises its hand. “OK, that’s great. Now how many of you have read The Da Vinci Code?” Voom! The entire room raises its hand. “How many of you have read the entire Bible?” Scattered hands. “Now, I’m not telling you that I think God wrote the Bible. You’re telling me that you think God wrote the Bible. I can see why you’d want to read a book by Dan Brown. But if God wrote a book, wouldn’t you want to see what he had to say?” So this is one of the mysteries of the universe. (The Textual Reliability of the New Testament, 13–14)
We shouldn’t need an agnostic to persuade us to read the Bible. If we believe God speaks presently through His Word, will we not want to read it? Are you like these students, denying your belief by your practice? May it not be so! May God give us a heart like the psalmist: “My heart fears only Your word” (Ps 119:161). And let us value it so much that we get it into the hands of as many people as possible.
In light of hearing the Word, the focus shifts from temple repair to spiritual repair. On hearing the Word, Josiah “tore his clothes” (v. 11) as a sign of humility. This humility is affirmed later, when the prophetess tells Josiah, “Because . . . you humbled yourself before the Lord,” judgment will be delayed (v. 19).
Consider three expressions of responding humbly to God’s Word from Josiah’s life. First, notice his humble tenderness. In verse 19 the writer says that his heart was “tender” (v. 11), or “responsive” (NIV), or “penitent” (ESV). The Chronicler uses the word tender as well (2 Chr 34:27 HCSB, ESV).
Don’t respond to the word with hardness of heart but with tenderness of heart. In the New Testament James says, “Humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you” (1:21). Softheartedness is the good soil, which bears fruit (Mark 4:20).
Josiah exemplifies Isaiah’s words: “I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at My word” (Isa 66:2). Here’s a king, trembling at the King’s words.
Second, look at his humble openness to learn the Scriptures. Immediately he seeks to know what “the words of this book” mean for him and the nation (vv. 12-13). He doesn’t simply put the book back on the shelf. He recognizes the gravity of its message and wants someone to explain it to him. Huldah explains the meaning to him in two aspects. On the one hand there is no hope. Judgment is coming to Judah. But on the other hand, judgment will be delayed because of the responsiveness of Josiah, who will go to his grave in peace and will not see the coming disaster.
Do you have a teachable spirit? Do you seek to know the meaning of God’s Word? When someone teaches the warnings in it, do you get mad at them and reject it, or do you humbly repent and seek mercy? Imagine for a moment that the apostle Paul or Isaiah was coming to preach at your worship gathering next week. Do you think people would show up? Now, I know the apostle and prophet may be more gifted than your pastor, but we get to read from the prophets and the apostles every week in God’s inspired Word. Do you value this privilege?
Third, notice his humble blessedness. God honors Josiah by granting him relief from His judgment in his lifetime. God truly looks with favor on those who honor His Word. Psalm 1 begins by saying,
who does not follow the advice of the wicked
or take the path of sinners
or join a group of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night. (Ps 1:1-2)
Psalm 119, that amazing chapter on God’s Word, opens with “How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the Lord’s instruction!” (Ps 119:1). Experience rich spiritual blessings by walking in God’s Word.
Obey the Word (23:1-30)
What happens next illustrates the goal of receiving and understanding God’s Word: obedience to it. Josiah shines at this point. His reforms are impressive, and they lead to the conclusion that he “turned to the Lord with all his mind and with all his heart and with all his strength” (23:25).
Covenant renewal (vv. 1-3). What did he do? We first read of his covenant renewal. He gathers everyone together to read the book of the Law to them. God’s people have a long history of the public reading of Scripture (Exod 24; 31; Josh 8:30-35; Neh 8; Luke 4; 1 Tim 4:13; Col 4:16). God gives life to His people through His word. The reading sets up the covenant renewal, in which Josiah promises to follow the Lord wholeheartedly (see Deut 6:17; Josh 24:1-27). Then the people follow his lead.
Comprehensive reform (vv. 4-20). Next, Josiah follows the Word. It’s one thing for me to tell my kids to do their chores, but it’s another thing for them to do it. I don’t explain their chores so they can go have small groups about it and discuss the Greek words for “mowing the lawn” and “sweeping the porch.” I give them instructions, expecting them to “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (Jas 1:22). These words in James’s epistle are important. James says those who are just hearing it are deceiving themselves. It’s possible to deceive oneself in thinking that taking in information is sufficient. Obedience must follow.
Allow me to summarize Josiah’s reforms, with thanks to Dr. Davis for providing the following “12-step ‘de-Manassehfication’ program”:
- removing pagan vessels from the temple (v. 4),
- deposing pagan clergy (v. 5),
- pulverizing the Asherah image (v. 6),
- wrecking the male prostitutes’ temple apartments (v. 7),
- defiling Judah’s high places, deposing their priests (vv. 8-9),
- desecrating Tophet, the place of child sacrifice (v. 10),
- removing and destroying sun worship paraphernalia (v. 11),
- smashing royal idolatrous altars (v. 12),
- eliminating Solomon’s folly (v. 13),
- destroying the props of fertility worship (v. 14),
- pulling down/defiling Jeroboam’s Bethel worship center (vv. 15-16),
- and instituting a purge throughout the northern cities (vv. 19-20). (Davis, 2 Kings, 328)
Provan calls this reform “comprehensive and thorough” (1 and 2 Kings, 273).
Among Josiah’s acts is the fulfillment of Yahweh’s word to Jeroboam I. Josiah beats the altar at Bethel to dust and defiles it by burning bones on it, which was done “according to the word of the Lord proclaimed by the man of God who proclaimed these things” (v. 16). Once again God’s word is proven true. This time it’s 1 Kings 13:2 coming to pass some 300 years later.
The man of God cried out against the altar by a revelation from the Lord: “Altar, altar, this is what the Lord says, ‘A son will be born to the house of David, named Josiah, and he will sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who are burning incense on you. Human bones will be burned on you.’” (1 Kgs 13:2)
Here’s another reason to value the Word and humble yourself before it: it is totally trustworthy. Soon, Judah will see that Huldah’s word will also come to pass.
Getting back to the concept of obedience, here’s Josiah’s example of doing the Word. Such obedience will require sacrifice, attacking idols, and reorienting our lives, and it might involve pain. But it’s worth it. If you’re going to remove cancer, it will involve some pain (Olley, Message of Kings, 353), but it will also bring healing.
Celebration of Passover (vv. 21-30). After Josiah purifies worship, he reinstitutes the Passover, following Deuteronomy 16:1-8. In celebrating the festival, he outdoes Hezekiah and even David. Judah remembers the blood of the lamb that saved them from God’s wrath. The last mention of the Passover was in Joshua 5:10-12.
Despite all of these efforts, however, the wrath of God continues to burn against Judah because of the acts of Manasseh. Judgment was certain.
Consider this application. Josiah knew that his reforms could not turn away Yahweh’s wrath; he could only delay it. His reformation couldn’t ultimately save the nation, yet he obeyed anyway. Here’s what we need to learn: “Obedience without incentives is likely genuine” (Davis, 2 Kings, 330). He obeyed out of love for Yahweh, not for what obedience might bring practically.
The book of Job opens with a question that Josiah answered rightly, and we must seek to answer rightly. Satan asks, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Or to put it another way, “Will Job serve God if he gets nothing out of it?” (Olley, Message of Kings, 351). Have you ever said, “Why should I obey now?” Perhaps you think, “I’m not going to obey God because I can’t undo the past.” “I won’t obey, since I’m not in a position of ministry.” “I’m not going to obey God, since it will never bring me out of debt.” If you’re considering obedience for your own self-centered reasons, then it isn’t obedience. Why do we obey? Is it for what we can get in this life? No! That’s prosperity theology. How many people reject prosperity theology in theory but practice it in real life? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15). That’s why we obey Jesus—we love Him. Period. We love Him because He first loved us, and those who truly love Him will obey Him. So, will you? Are you making the most of your situation right now?
Josiah eventually gets killed at Megiddo in a needless battle with the Egyptians, and his son Jehoahaz reigns in his place. The Chronicler reports that Josiah apparently tried to seek the favor of Babylon by opposing the Egyptians, but this indicated his turning from God’s word, which God actually spoke through the Egyptian king Neco (2 Chr 35:22). Even the best of kings had problems. His reign ends, and now we’re left to wait on the coming judgment.
Six centuries later a descendant of Josiah, Jesus, lived a life better than Josiah. His obedience was perfect. He would pray in the garden, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matt 26:39). He obeyed out of love to the Father, even though it would not ease His present suffering; He experienced agony on a wooden cross. Because of His perfect obedience in dying in our place, as the ultimate Passover Lamb, and rising from the dead, we have eternal life and the power to live out the Great Commission of teaching them to obey everything He has commanded (Matt 28:20).
Josiah is a wonderful example in this story. He’s an example of humility and obedience; but Jesus is the ultimate hero of the story, demonstrating incomparable humility and total obedience. He’s the King we need to lead us to turn away the coming wrath of God. This King can forgive the worst of sinners, those who live like Manasseh, if they will humble themselves and repent. Will you humble yourself before the King? If you will, grace is yours. If you refuse, then a judgment worse than exile is yours. You can be hidden in Christ, protected from wrath, secured forever, if you will trust in Him.
Reflect and Discuss
- What about Manasseh makes him so evil?
- What does it mean that Judah did more evil than the pagan nations around them?
- Discuss ways in which severe affliction might lead God’s people to question His goodness.
- How does Christ’s crucifixion illustrate God’s goodness in the midst of His wrath?
- Does God use impending judgment to warn His people anywhere else in Scripture?
- How is Josiah’s commitment to the Lord different from that of many of the kings before him? What key discovery defined his reign?
- Josiah hears the word of the Lord, is convicted by the word of the Lord, and acts according to the word of the Lord. Discuss how each of these steps is important for the godly life.
- How does Jesus embody the characteristics of Josiah?
- Is it important for God’s people today to value the Word of God? How might it affect their lives?
- How does God respond to Josiah’s reforms?