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Josiah, The Boy-King

(II Kings 22-23; II Chronicles 34-35) 


own through the centuries, rulers of nations have had either a positive or negative influence on the subjects they govern. During the period of the Divided Kingdom in Israel, there were more ungodly kings that “did evil in the sight of the Lord” than God-fearing kings. Following the lead of evil kings, many of the people adopted the pagan worship of Canaanite gods and wallowed in worldliness, being guilty of every conceivable form of perversity and immorality. It was almost as though each king was trying to outdo the evil ways of the one who preceded him (see I Kings 16:30). May God have mercy upon us and bless us with rulers who do what is right in the eyes of the Lord in their governance of our nation!

In the midst of Judah’s history of depravity, the Lord crafted a precious gem of a king who far outshone most of his predecessors. This king, named Josiah, is characterized by the Holy Spirit with these words, “And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (II Chronicles 34:2).

Succeeding his idolatrous and wicked father, Amon, Josiah ascended the throne at the tender age of eight. Upon hearing this, many might wonder and question how an inexperienced youth could rule a kingdom well and leave a legacy that is truly praiseworthy. According to God’s gracious plan, will, and purpose, at the youthful age of sixteen Josiah “. . . began to seek the God of his father David” (2 Chronicles 34:3). He looked to the true God of heaven and earth for guidance, wisdom, and courage to rule Israel according to the righteous ways of the Lord.

Upon reaching the age of twenty, and at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Josiah began a thorough purging of everything that had to do with idolatry, both in Judah and far beyond his kingdom’s boundaries. Other good kings had applied only half-measures in trying to eradicate idolatry. When in the church of God the infection of false teaching is detected, only a complete removal of the cancer will do. Otherwise it will spread and grow (see Galatians 5:9 and II Timothy 2:17), potentially causing spiritual and eternal death.

Marching on in his youthful reign, at the age of twenty-six Josiah began a major renovation of the temple in Jerusalem. Over the years, God’s house of worship had fallen into dreadful disrepair. This was the place where the Lord manifested His glory in the many different facets of worship. What a grievous slap in the face of a gracious and merciful God for His own chosen people to allow the temple to get so run down. Just as Josiah showed a high regard for the honor and glory of God by overseeing the upkeep of the temple, so also our congregations’ worship facilities are deserving of being kept in good repair.

During the process of rejuvenating the temple, Hilkiah the high priest discovered a long-forgotten divine Book, gathering dust on the shelf. It was the Holy Scriptures, referred to as the “Book of the Law” and the “Book of the Covenant.” Hearing this, each of us should ask ourselves whether our Bibles at home are left to gather dust on the shelf or coffee table.

When the Book was read to king Josiah, he humbled himself before the Lord by tearing his clothes in horror, grief, and sadness (illustration, opposite). Josiah was heartbroken, because the Word of God revealed how far the children of Israel had fallen away from God and His holy Word and will. The only suitable remedy Josiah could see was to have all this holy Book of God read to all his subjects in Judah. In the hope of restoring that precious covenant with God, which the Israelites had so drastically broken, Josiah called upon his people to recommit themselves to the covenant.

In the case of Josiah, his recommitment to the covenant of God was not merely empty words spoken from a hypocritical heart. He demonstrated this when he instructed the religious officials to conduct a celebration of the Passover Festival, faithfully following God’s instructions down to the smallest detail. The Bible reports the following about this extraordinary Passover observance: “There had been no Passover kept in Israel like that since the days of Samuel the prophet; and none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as Josiah kept, with the priests and the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem”
(II Chronicles 35:18).

With the help of God, Josiah carried out a very thorough religious reformation in Judah. What is sad to report is that it was short-lived. Why did the people of Judah lose so quickly what Josiah had delivered to them? Was it a case of the people drawing near to God with their lips, but their hearts being far from Him
(Matthew 15:8)?

Mark Gullerud is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bowdle, South Dakota, and Zion Lutheran Church in Ipswich, South Dakota.