A boy king. That’s got to be intimidating. At eight, I was in the second grade. If I remember correctly, I was deeply enthralled by Sesame Street, Little Golden Books, and my huge desire to obtain a pink convertible for my Barbie and friends. Josiah was being crowned king of Judah.
God’s chosen people have a history of taking His gifts for granted. The Books of History (Joshua through Esther) shows God repeatedly saving His people because they’ve repeatedly turned their backs on Him. The Israelite nation was eventually split in two: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel never returns to God and eventually falls to Assyrian captivity. Judah fared somewhat better. While most of their rulers were unfaithful, one would occasionally pop up that would attempt to put the nation back on the right track.
Those were the minority though. Take Manasseh, who “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and invited idolatry and paganism into the country with open arms. In the temple God had chosen to “put [His] name forever”, he built altars for idols instead. He burned his own sons as offerings to different, created gods and replaced true worship with psychics and fortune-tellers. He led them to more evil than even the pagan nations who had been destroyed by God. He reigned for 55 years and spent the majority of that leading people away from God.
God was angry. Angry that these people He had loved and protected and forgiven over and over had decided to turn their backs on Him again and cared more about what their own pleasure-seeking than His mercy. He vowed to quit protecting them and would instead hand them over to their enemies.
Josiah was Manasseh’s grandson. His father, Amon, had followed in Manasseh’s path and was assassinated after two years. It makes sense that Josiah wouldn’t be much of a good guy. His dad wasn’t a good guy. His grandpa wasn’t a good guy. The entire country was in a state of self-serving idolatry rather than looking to God for any form of truth. (Sound familiar?) Humans are incredible social creatures and so much of who we are comes from those around us, especially as children. For the new king, the pickings were pretty slim.
Still, God provided a way. When Josiah was 16 he first started to seek God and at the age of 20 he began purging Judah of idolatry (2 Chron. 34:3). At 26, he ordered repairs to be done on the house of the Lord. While the work was being done, the Book of the Law that contained all the commandments God had passed down to Moses (Deut. 31:24) was found by the Hilkiah high priest, who gave it to Shaphan the secretary, who read it to the king.
Imagine that moment. Josiah has spent the last 10 years of his life working toward cleansing Judah. He sees the law outlining the way that God intended for His people to live. As much as Josiah has done, he’s still so far away from that. He still has so much to do. He’s heartbroken at where God’s chosen people have ended up when they had been given so much.
So what does he do?
He tears his clothes. He sends his priests and servants to a prophetess on a quest for the truth. She reiterates God’s promise of punishment, but says that Josiah will not see the destruction because he was penitent and humble. Josiah takes on the burden of not only his own sins, but the hearts and minds and entire way of life for his entire kingdom. He calls everyone together and reads the entire book out loud so that all could know the truth. He made a public testimony to follow God and all of his commandments. He destroys all of the idols and the priests that worshipped them and the places built to honor them and the altars made for sacrifices to them. He restored the Passover. We read that, “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.”
Josiah had excuses. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people justify any and every lifestyle because they believe that God doesn’t mean what He says. God will follow through. The people of Judah eventually turned away from God once again and were handed over to the Babylonians, just as God said He would do. Josiah knew enough to believe God. To not assume he knew better. To allow the truth of God’s word to actually cause a massive shift in the direction and purpose and daily behavior of his entire life and not just a momentary prick at his conscience.
(Unless otherwise noted, all material comes from 2 Kings 21-23. Please take the time to read this incredible account of faith in its entirety.)