Humble Josiah Had Jehovah’s Favor
FIVE-YEAR-OLD Prince Josiah of Judah must be frightened. His mother, Jedidah, is mourning. Jedidah has reason to cry because Josiah’s grandfather, King Manasseh, has died.—2 Kings 21:18.
Now Josiah’s father, Amon, will be Judah’s king. (2 Chronicles 33:20) Two years later (659 B.C.E.), Amon is murdered by his servants. The people strike down the conspirators and make young Josiah king. (2 Kings 21:24; 2 Chronicles 33:25) During Amon’s reign, Josiah had become accustomed to the smell of incense that filled Jerusalem’s air because of the many rooftop altars before which people prostrated themselves to false gods. Pagan priests could be seen parading about, and devotees—even some who claimed to be worshiping Jehovah—were swearing by the god Malcam.—Zephaniah 1:1, 5.
Josiah knows that Amon acted wickedly by worshiping false deities. Judah’s young king also comes to a better understanding of the proclamations of God’s prophet Zephaniah. By the time Josiah is 15 (652 B.C.E.), he is in the eighth year of his reign and has determined to heed Zephaniah’s words. While he is still a boy, Josiah begins to search for Jehovah.—2 Chronicles 33:21, 22; 34:3.
Josiah Swings Into Action!
Four years pass and Josiah begins to purge Judah and Jerusalem of false religion (648 B.C.E.). He destroys the idols, the sacred poles, and the incense altars used in Baal worship. Images of false gods are ground into powder that is then scattered on the graves of those who sacrificed to them. Altars used for unclean worship are desecrated and then demolished.—2 Kings 23:8-14.
Josiah’s purge is in full swing when Jeremiah, the son of a Levite priest, comes to Jerusalem (647 B.C.E.). Jehovah God has appointed young Jeremiah as his prophet, and how forcefully he declares Jehovah’s message against false religion! Josiah was about the same age as Jeremiah. Despite Josiah’s courageous purge and Jeremiah’s fearless proclamations, though, the people quickly relapse into false worship.—Jeremiah 1:1-10.
A Priceless Discovery!
Some five years pass. Twenty-five-year-old Josiah has been ruling for about 18 years. He summons Shaphan, the secretary; Maaseiah, the chief of the city; and the recorder Joah. The king commands Shaphan: ‘Tell Hilkiah, the high priest, to take the money that the doorkeepers of the temple have gathered from the people and hand it over to the workmen so that they may repair the house of Jehovah.’—2 Kings 22:3-6; 2 Chronicles 34:8.
From early morning, repairers of the temple work industriously. Surely Josiah is grateful to Jehovah that the workers are undoing the damage that some of his wicked ancestors did to God’s house. As the work progresses, Shaphan comes to make a report. But what is this? Why, he is carrying a roll! He explains that High Priest Hilkiah has found “the book of Jehovah’s law by the hand of Moses.” (2 Chronicles 34:12-18) What a discovery—undoubtedly the original copy of the Law!
Josiah is eager to hear every word of the book. As Shaphan reads, the king tries to see how each command applies to him and to the people. Especially is he impressed by how the book emphasizes true worship and foretells the plagues and exile that would come if the people engaged in false religion. Now realizing that not all of God’s commands have been carried out, Josiah tears his garments and gives Hilkiah, Shaphan, and others the order: ‘Inquire of Jehovah about the words of this book; for great is Jehovah’s rage set afire against us because our forefathers did not listen to the words of this book.’—2 Kings 22:11-13; 2 Chronicles 34:19-21.
Jehovah’s Word Is Relayed
Josiah’s messengers go to Huldah the prophetess in Jerusalem and return with a report. Huldah has relayed the word of Jehovah, indicating that the calamities recorded in the newly found book will befall the apostate nation. Because of humbling himself before Jehovah God, however, Josiah will not have to look upon the calamity. He will be gathered to his forefathers and be taken to his graveyard in peace.—2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28.
Was Huldah’s prophecy accurate, since Josiah died in battle? (2 Kings 23:28-30) Yes, for the “peace” in which he was gathered to his graveyard is in contrast with “the calamity” due to come upon Judah. (2 Kings 22:20; 2 Chronicles 34:28) Josiah died before the calamity of 609-607 B.C.E. when the Babylonians besieged and destroyed Jerusalem. And ‘being gathered to one’s forefathers’ does not necessarily exclude dying a violent death. A comparable expression is used with reference to both violent and nonviolent deaths.—Deuteronomy 31:16; 1 Kings 2:10; 22:34, 40.
True Worship Advances
Josiah gathers the people of Jerusalem at the temple and reads to them “all the words of the book of the covenant” that had been found in Jehovah’s house. He then makes a covenant “to walk after Jehovah and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all the heart and with all the soul by carrying out the words of this covenant that were written in this book.” All the people take their stand in the covenant.—2 Kings 23:1-3.
King Josiah now launches another and evidently more intensive campaign against idolatry. The foreign-god priests of Judah are put out of business. Levite priests involved in unclean worship lose their privilege of serving at Jehovah’s altar, and the high places built during King Solomon’s reign are rendered unfit for worship. The purge also takes in the territory of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, overthrown earlier by the Assyrians (740 B.C.E.).
In fulfillment of words spoken 300 years earlier by an unnamed “man of the true God,” Josiah burns the bones of priests of Baal on the altar that King Jeroboam I set up at Bethel. High places are removed there and in the other cities, and idolatrous priests are sacrificed on the very altars where they have officiated.—1 Kings 13:1-4; 2 Kings 23:4-20.
A Grand Passover Is Held
Josiah’s acts in promoting pure worship have divine backing. As long as he lives, the king will thank God that the people do “not turn aside from following Jehovah the God of their forefathers.” (2 Chronicles 34:33) And how can Josiah forget a wonderful event that took place in the 18th year of his reign?
The king commands the people: “Hold a passover to Jehovah your God according to what is written in [the recently found] book of the covenant.” (2 Kings 23:21) Josiah rejoices to see the fine response. For this observance, he himself contributes 30,000 Passover animals and 3,000 head of cattle. What a Passover! In its offerings, well-planned arrangements, and number of worshipers, it surpasses any Passover held since the days of the prophet Samuel.—2 Kings 23:22, 23; 2 Chronicles 35:1-19.
Greatly Lamented in Death
For the rest of his 31-year reign (659-629 B.C.E.), Josiah rules as a good king. Toward the end of his rule, he learns that Pharaoh Necho plans to pass through Judah on his way to intercept the armies of Babylon and thus help Assyria’s king at Carchemish on the Euphrates River. For some undisclosed reason, Josiah goes out to fight the Egyptian. Necho sends messengers to him, saying: “Refrain for your own sake because of God, who is with me, and do not let him bring you to ruin.” But Josiah disguises himself and tries to turn the Egyptians back at Megiddo.—2 Chronicles 35:20-22.
Too bad for the king of Judah! Enemy archers hit their mark, and he tells his servants: “Take me down, for I have been very severely wounded.” They remove Josiah from his war chariot, place him in another one, and head for Jerusalem. There or en route to the city, Josiah breathes his last. “Thus he died and was buried in the graveyard of his forefathers,” says the inspired account, “and all Judah and Jerusalem were mourning over Josiah.” Jeremiah chanted over him, and the king became the subject of dirges on special occasions thereafter.—2 Chronicles 35:23-25.
Yes, King Josiah made a regrettable mistake when he engaged the Egyptians in battle. (Psalm 130:3) Nevertheless, his humility and his firmness for true worship brought him God’s approval. How well Josiah’s life illustrates that Jehovah shows favor to his devoted servants of humble heart!—Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6.
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Young King Josiah earnestly searched for Jehovah
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Josiah destroyed the high places and promoted true worship