The tragic reign of king Josiah (2 King 23)

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Illustration: Josiah, the boy king

Josiah’s reign (640-609 B.C.) began during difficult times. His father, Manasseh, had been an Assyrian vassal for the majority of his reign, all the while undoing Hezekiah’s reforms and introducing new forms of idolatry to Jerusalem. At age 16 (632 B.C.) Josiah began to seek the Lord and to rid Judah of Canaanite and Assyrian cultic practices. Assyrian power declined rapidly as did the health of its king, Ashurbanipal. During the same period the Noe-Babylonian empire arose under Nabopolassar, who united with the Medes against Assyria. Egypt, seeking to maintain a balance of power in Mesopotamia, allied with Assyria.

Against this political backdrop Josiah began a religious reformation in Judah. During repairs to the temple the Book of the Law was found. The prophetess Huldah predicted judgement on Judah, but not during Josiah’s reign. Josiah humbled himself before the Lord and increased his efforts at reformation by destroying pagan alters throughout his kingdom and centralizing sacrificial worship in Jerusalem. His efforts extended to the former northern kingdom; perhaps he was attempting to reunite all Israel within boundaries once held by king David. A covenant renewal ceremony and a Passover unlike any since the days of the judges were observed.

Josiah’s faithfulness seemed to be rewarded as Assyrian cities fell in quick succession: Asshur to the Medes (614 B.C.), Nineveh to the Babylonians (612 B.C.) and Haran to the Babylonians and Medes (610 B.C.). Egypt’s pharaoh Neco, however, advanced to assist the Assyrians at Carchemish (609 B.C.). Josiah opposed him at Megiddo but was mortally wounded. The failure of Josiah was, according to 2 Kings 23:26-27, not the result of shortcomings on his own part but due to the apostasy of the people and of his predecessor, Manasseh.


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