Josiah Brings Reform
2 Kings 22, 23
2 Kings 22:8–10; 23:1–3, 21–23
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
List the causes and outcomes of Josiah’s reform
2. Predict the conditions that would have to be present for a similar reform movement to occur in the church today.
3. Choose one area in his or her personal life in which to make a “Josiah reform.”
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Nov. 6—God Restores Us (Psalm 103:1–12)
Tuesday, Nov. 7—Renewal in the Lord (Psalm 32)
Wednesday, Nov. 8—Return to the Lord (Joel 2:12–17)
Thursday, Nov. 9—Josiah Made King of Judah (2 Kings 22:1–7)
Friday, Nov. 10—A Lost Book Is Found (2 Kings 22:8–13)
Saturday, Nov. 11—The People Renew Their Covenant (2 Kings 23:1–25)
Sunday, Nov. 12—The Passover Is Celebrated (2 Kings 23:21–25)
The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.
—2 Kings 23:3
Why Teach this Lesson?
I love my church family! One of the things I find attractive about it is the sign we have in front of our building: “A Place for New Beginnings.” That’s not just a catchy motto but a belief that our leaders and members hold firmly. What comfort we have knowing that God delights in our returning to him. This lesson is as relevant today as it was in Josiah’s time. No matter what failure, sin, or neglect are in your students’ lives, God will welcome back every repentant soul.
Reform and repentance happen when people take God’s Word seriously. Today’s lesson shows us just that. It wasn’t just luck that the high priest found the Book of the Law when God-fearing Josiah was on the throne of Israel. Forget luck; God intervened to assist Josiah in his reform efforts. God will also go to great lengths to help us with our efforts to please him yet today.
If we’re not watching expectantly, acknowledging God’s hand in the big and small events of our lives, we may miss the comfort of seeing his continual interaction with us. Coincidence, as some say, is God choosing to act anonymously.
A. “Accidental” Discoveries
One day in 1947 a young Bedouin goatherd left his companions in order to find a stray goat. Eventually, he came upon a cave with a small opening at its top. Suspecting that the goat may have fallen inside, he threw some stones into the opening. Instead of hearing the sound of a startled goat, he heard the sound of broken pottery.
The goatherd lowered himself into the cave and found some ancient clay jars containing various leather scrolls. He had discovered what came to be called the Dead Sea Scrolls—one of the foremost archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century. These scrolls have since shed significant light on life during the time between the testaments and on the history (and reliability) of the Old Testament text. It is an oddity that often the most important archaeological finds in the field of biblical studies have occurred quite unexpectedly.
Today’s Scripture text records another “accidental” discovery that was of enormous significance in the history of God’s people. The priest Hilkiah was assisting with the renovation of the temple when he came across a book. It was not just any book; it was the Book of the Law, which was then read to King Josiah.
Josiah was so moved by the book’s contents and by the nation’s failure to comply with the laws written therein that he intensified his efforts to turn Judah back to the Lord. Sometimes in God’s providence what appears to be a chance occurrence is actually a divine appointment.
B. Lesson Background
The incident covered in last week’s lesson (the contest on Mount Carmel) took place around 850 or 860 b.c. Today’s lesson moves us forward roughly 200 years. By this time the northern kingdom of Israel (over which the wicked duo Ahab and Jezebel had ruled) already had fallen to the Assyrians; that happened in 722 b.c. Judah likely would have suffered the same treatment from Assyria in 701 b.c. had it not been for the reign of godly King Hezekiah. It was his cries to the Lord that resulted in a miraculous deliverance (2 Kings 19:35, 36).
The first half of the seventh century bc was a spiritual nightmare for Judah. Most of those years were part of the reign of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah. He ruled from about 698 to 644 b.c., and he was as wicked as his father was righteous. Judah and Jerusalem’s eventual downfall is traced to the sinfulness of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:10–15; 24:1–4). There was, however, one last glimmer of hope for Judah—one Hezekiah-like king who sought to call the nation back to its spiritual roots. If he were successful, perhaps his country could avoid a tragedy such as that which befell the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. That king was Josiah, who reigned from 640 to 609 b.c.
Today’s lesson puts us into the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign. The lesson will focus on a period of revival in Judah that was given additional impetus by the discovery of the Book of the Law. We say additional impetus because it is clear that some spiritual renewal had occurred in Judah prior to this book’s discovery (2 Chronicles 34:3–7).
I. Discovering a Book (2 Kings 22:8–10)
Second Kings 22 begins with the account of King Josiah’s reign. Unlike the Chronicles account, the Kings account does not record the efforts of Josiah to promote righteousness in Judah prior to the discovery of the book of the law. It opens by mentioning Josiah’s age at becoming king (eight!) and provides a general analysis of his reign: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).
The account in Kings then notes how Josiah, in the eighteenth year of his reign, had initiated a program to renovate the temple in Jerusalem. (Most likely the temple had suffered from neglect during the reigns of Manasseh and his wicked son Amon, who was Josiah’s father.) The high priest Hilkiah had been instructed by Josiah, through the king’s secretary Shaphan, to make certain that the workers involved in the project were paid correctly. They were to be provided with the funds to purchase any materials necessary for the rebuilding.
Apparently, after Shaphan had conveyed these instructions to Hilkiah, the high priest informed Shaphan of a surprising discovery.
A. Hilkiah Informs Shaphan (v. 8)
8. Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.
As a scribe, Shaphan would be quite interested in the discovery we read about here. Just what constitutes the Book of the Law has been the subject of much discussion. Some believe it comprises all of Genesis through Deuteronomy (the Pentateuch). Others suggest that it was made up of a smaller portion of those five, specifically the book of Deuteronomy. The phrase Book of the Law is used in Deuteronomy 31:24–26 to refer to the contents of that particular book.
Visual for Lesson 11
Ask, “How does this picture illustrate how the Bible can be ‘lost’ today? What can we do to guard against this?”
A third possibility is suggested by 2 Kings 23:2, which states that Josiah read in the people’s hearing “all the words of the Book of the Covenant.” The term Book of the Covenant is used in Exodus 24:7 to describe (most likely) the material included in Exodus 20–23.
The contents of Deuteronomy certainly would be enough to generate the kind of intense response that Josiah later spearheaded. For example the references to the “Lord’s anger” (2 Kings 22:13) and to promises to bring correction (vv. 16, 20) would fit with the list of curses pronounced in Deuteronomy 28:15–68 as a punishment for disobeying God’s law.
Deuteronomy 31:26 says that a copy of the Book of the Law originally had been placed in the ark of the covenant. Deuteronomy 17:18 stipulates that a king, upon beginning his reign, should “write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.” Perhaps it is a copy of this law produced under these circumstances that was ignored by kings such as Manasseh and Amon. Now, by the providence of God, it has been discovered. Its discovery comes during the reign of a king who will take its message seriously.
“Losing” the Bible
In 1985 a church building in Braham, Minnesota, burned to the ground. The church’s brass bell, weighing 1,400 pounds, was sold to a scrap metal company as a result. Church members thought they had seen the last of the bell, and most of them forgot about it.
About 15 years later an employee at the scrap metal company discovered the bell hanging on the company’s property. The employee saw the inscription on the bell and recognized it for what it was. Communications between the church and the scrap company were interrupted when both went through reorganizations.
Thus the bell was forgotten about again. Everyone assumed it had been melted down for scrap. In 2004 the bell was “re-rediscovered” and returned to the church, nearly 20 years after it had first been “lost.”
Doesn’t it seem strange that something as significant as a church bell could be overlooked for so long? And doesn’t it strike us as unbelievable that a much more significant treasure—the Book of the Law—could get lost in ancient Judah? But here is something else that is amazing: churches and individuals who have abundant copies of the Bible, yet still disregard what it says when it comes to some of the moral issues of our time!
In effect, these churches and individuals have “lost” the Bible. How do you think such a thing can happen? —C. R. B.
B. Shaphan Informs Josiah (vv. 9, 10)
9. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.”
After reading the contents of the book (v. 8), Shaphan then returns to King Josiah and reports on his conversation with Hilkiah. Shaphan first mentions the matter that Josiah had instructed him to address concerning the money that was in the temple. This is to make sure that the workers and supervisors receive proper compensation for their labors.
10. Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
Though not included in our printed text, it is important to observe King Josiah’s reaction upon hearing the Lord’s Word: “he tore his robes” (2 Kings 22:11). This is worth noting because Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, will exhibit a brazen contempt for the Lord’s message that comes through Jeremiah by cutting it up, casting it into the fire, and refusing to tear his robes (Jeremiah 36:22–24).
II. Dedicating a People (2 Kings 23:1–3)
Following his anguished response to the law of the Lord, King Josiah tells some of his officials, including Hilkiah and Shaphan, to inquire of the Lord. Huldah the prophetess confirms the message of judgment found within the book. But she also promises that King Josiah will be spared from seeing all of this because of his desire to obey God and his law (2 Kings 22:14–20).
A. Rallying the People (vv. 1, 2a)
1. Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.
How easy it would be for King Josiah simply to allow the nation to continue on its downward path toward judgment, secure in the knowledge that at least he himself is going to escape the wrath of God! But Josiah is not one to rest on his laurels by focusing on himself. He determines, rather, that the entire nation needs to hear the same solemn message that he has heard.
So the king calls together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is singled out because of its status as the capital city of Judah. The elders are probably local leaders of towns or villages. Josiah knows that the support of these men is crucial. The king by himself cannot generate any renewal of interest in God’s law that will have a lasting impact.
2a. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest.
Various groups take part in this ceremony of rededication. The reference to the men of Judah may highlight the vital part that godly men must play in any effort to promote national spiritual renewal. The presence of the priests and the prophets at such a public ceremony testifies of their desire to obey God’s law.
Later, however, the prophet Jeremiah (who lives during the reign of Josiah) will lament over how corrupt the priests and the prophets had become throughout Judah (Jeremiah 5:30, 31; 6:13; 23:11). When the leaders are unstable spiritually, there is little hope that the general populace will be any better.
At this point, however, all the people from the least to the greatest are in attendance. Distinctions based on social class or income are meaningless on an occasion such as this. Everyone needs to hear what the law of the Lord says!
B. Reading the Book (v. 2b)
2b. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord.
The Book that had been found earlier by Hilkiah now is being “found” by the general populace through Josiah’s public reading of it. Since many people in the ancient world are illiterate, the public reading of documents is quite important for communicating vital information.
C. Renewing the Covenant (v. 3)
3. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.
The fact that the king stands by a pillar indicates a specific place to stand (compare 2 Kings 11:14; 2 Chronicles 23:13). The term pillar could refer to one of the two pillars that Solomon erected at the main entrance of the temple (1 Kings 7:15–22). Or, it may be a special pillar built for special occasions associated with royalty. Whatever the specific location is, from that place Josiah leads God’s people in a special ceremony of dedication. It is there that Josiah renews the covenant in the presence of the Lord. Here is the kind of leadership that God’s people so desperately need!
III. Declaring a Passover (2 Kings 23:21–23)
The passage between verse 3 and verse 21 (not in today’s text) gives an account of the various steps taken by Josiah in obedience to the law of the Lord. Pagan shrines of worship are destroyed. Pagan priests are removed from office. Josiah’s efforts include the fulfillment of a prophecy given some 300 years earlier by an anonymous man of God from Judah (2 Kings 23:15–18). That man of God had even mentioned Josiah by name: “O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you’ ” (1 Kings 13:2).
A. Command (v. 21)
21. The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”
Another important phase of Josiah’s rededication of all the people involves the observance of the Passover. Instructions may be found in Exodus 12:1–20, 43–49 and Deuteronomy 16:1–8. The Exodus passage deals with how families are to observe this feast, while the Deuteronomy passage deals more with observing the Passover on a national level. The latter of these two circumstances fits the occasion described in the passage before us. This may support the view that the book discovered in the temple was Deuteronomy.
B. Comparison (vv. 22, 23)
22. Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed.
These verses provide an assessment of the significance of this Passover observance under Josiah’s leadership. Josiah’s celebration surpasses any that has taken place since the days of the judges or during the time of the divided monarchy.
Why is this so? What is so special about the way Josiah observes the Passover? Second Chronicles 35:1–19 provides additional details about Josiah’s celebration and includes an evaluation similar to that found in 2 Kings: “The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem” (v. 18). Josiah’s compliance with the law’s requirements is especially noted; for example, the Chronicles account records that all the Passover lambs are slaughtered exclusively by the Levites, as the law stipulates (2 Chronicles 35:3, 5, 6).
Josiah’s devotion to the Law of Moses is also emphasized in 2 Kings 23:25. That passage provides this evaluation of one of Judah’s most godly kings: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.”
Such a one-of-a-kind tribute may appear to contradict what is said of Hezekiah, who receives similar praise in 2 Kings 18:3–5. Hezekiah, however, is specifically commended for his trust in the Lord, while Josiah’s scrupulous observance of the law of Moses is stressed. Each king is exemplary in a different area of devotion to the Lord. Such kings are a primary reason why Judah lasts approximately 130 years longer than the northern kingdom, Israel.
A One-of-a-Kind Celebration
Lakshmi Mittal, an Indian magnate in the steel industry, is listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest people in the world. As such, he was able to offer his daughter a one-of-a-kind celebration when he spent $60 million on her wedding just a couple of years ago.
The wedding took place in the environs of Paris and lasted for six days. There were 1,500 invited guests. One night a banquet and theatrical performance was held in the rented Tuileries (twee-luh-reez) Garden in Paris. Another venue for the celebration was a made-for-the-occasion castle that the proud father had erected in a Paris suburb. One dinner was held at the palace at Versailles (Ver-sigh) and another at the Vaux-le-Vicomte (Voh-luh-Vee-kohnt), considered by some to be one of the finest chateaus and gardens in all of France.
Mittal probably said to himself, “Now that’s the way to celebrate a wedding!” Perhaps it is, if one has unlimited wealth. But most of us would shy away from such an ostentatious display (even if we could afford it!).
Josiah’s elaborate celebration of the Passover was also a one-of-a-kind event. The difference was that its purpose was not to display one’s wealth, but to help a whole nation recommit itself to God. The world has a twisted sense of what makes a celebration! How should those who belong to the family of God demonstrate that they have a different set of priorities? —C. R. B.
23. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem.
This verse notes the time that this Passover celebration occurs: it is in the eighteenth year of King Josiah. Mentioning the timeframe at this point serves to call attention to the urgency of Josiah’s efforts at spiritual renewal in Judah since that was the same year that the book of the law was found (2 Kings 22:3, 8).
The discovery of the Book of the Law in that same eighteenth year, along with Josiah’s wholehearted commitment to its contents, gives Judah a reprieve from the judgment of God. Sadly, it is only a reprieve, for Josiah is the last of Judah’s godly kings.
Someone has wisely observed that the Bible has been given to us not merely for information but for transformation. The example of Josiah in today’s lesson provides a powerful illustration of that principle.
Transformation involves allowing the words of the Bible to come across in the language and conduct of our daily lives. It is one thing to know what the Bible says about its people, places, and events. It is quite another to know what the Bible says to me about the people, places, and events that are a part of my life today.
A little boy heard an announcement concerning the upcoming revival services at his church. Later he told one of his friends in the neighborhood, “We’re going to have a ‘re-Bible’ at our church!”
Although it’s clear that the young fellow hadn’t heard the original statement quite correctly, his unintended revision wasn’t bad! Let’s take a close look at our lives and ask whether we need to be “re-Bibled.” The need is urgent; the time is now.
New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati