Life and Times of Josiah: Part 1

2 Chronicles 34‑35  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 10
2 Chronicles 34 and 35
Two thousand five hundred years have rolled away since King Josiah lived and reigned; but his history is pregnant with instruction, which can never lose its freshness or its power. The moment at which he ascended the throne of his fathers was one of peculiar gloom and heaviness. The tide of corruption, swollen by many a tributary stream, had risen to the highest point; and the sword of judgment, long held back in divine patience and long-suffering, was about to fall in terrible severity upon the city of David. The brilliant reign of Hezekiah had been followed by a long and dreary period of fifty-five years, under the sway of his son Manasseh; and, albeit the rod of correction had proved effectual in leading this great sinner to repentance and amendment, yet no sooner had the scepter fallen from his hand, than it was seized by his godless and impenitent son Amon, who "did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, as did Manasseh his father: for Amon sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them; and humbled not himself before the LORD, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more. And his servants conspired against him, and slew him in his own house.... and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his stead." 2 Chron. 33:22-2522But he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, as did Manasseh his father: for Amon sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them; 23And humbled not himself before the Lord, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more. 24And his servants conspired against him, and slew him in his own house. 25But the people of the land slew all them that had conspired against king Amon; and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his stead. (2 Chronicles 33:22‑25).
Thus, then, Josiah, a child of eight years, found himself on the throne of David, surrounded by the accumulated evils and errors of his father and his grandfather, yea, by forms of corruption which had been introduced by no less a personage than Solomon himself. If the reader will just turn, for a moment, to 2 Kings 23, he will find a marvelous picture of the condition of things at the opening of Josiah's history. There were "idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven."
Reader, ponder this! Only think of kings of Judah, successors of David, ordaining priests to burn incense to Baal. Bear in mind, too, that each of these kings of Judah was responsible to "write him a copy of this law in a book," which he was to keep by him, and in which he was to "read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them." (See Deut. 17:18, 1918And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: 19And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: (Deuteronomy 17:18‑19).) Alas! alas! how sadly had they departed from "all the 'words" of the law, when they could actually set about ordaining priests to burn incense to false gods!
But, further, there were "horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun," and that, moreover, "at the entering in of the house of the LORD," and "chariots of the sun," and "high places... which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon."
All this is most solemn, and worthy of the serious consideration of the Christian reader. We certainly ought not to pass it over as a mere fragment of ancient history. It is not as though we were reading the historic records of Babylon, of Persia, of Greece, or of Rome. We should not marvel at the kings of those nations burning incense to Baal, ordaining idolatrous priests, and worshiping the host of heaven. But when we see kings of Judah, the sons and successors of David, children of Abraham, men who had access to the book of the law of God, and who were responsible to make that book the subject of their profound and constant study—when we see such men falling under the power of dark and debasing superstition—it sounds in our ears a warning voice, to which we cannot, with impunity, refuse to give heed. We should bear in mind that all these things have been written for our learning; and although it may be said that we are not in danger of being led to burn incense to Baal, or to worship the host of heaven, yet, we may be assured, we have need to attend to the admonitions and warnings with which the Holy Ghost has furnished us in the history of God's ancient people. "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." 1 Cor. 10:1111Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians 10:11). These words of the inspired Apostle, though directly referring to the actings of Israel in the wilderness, may, nevertheless, apply to the entire history of that people—a history fraught with the deepest instruction from first to last.
But how are we to account for all those gross and terrible evils into which Solomon and his successors were drawn? What was their origin? NEGLECT OF THE WORD OF GOD. This was the source of all the mischief and all the sorrow. Let professing Christians remember this. Let the whole Church of God remember it. The neglect of the Holy Scriptures was the fruitful source of all those errors and corruptions which blot the page of Israel's history, and which brought down upon them many heavy strokes of Jehovah's governmental rod. "Concerning the works of men, by the word of Thy lips I have kept Me from the paths of the destroyer." Psalm 17:44Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer. (Psalm 17:4). "From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Tim. 3:15-1715And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:15‑17).
In these two precious quotations, we have the Word of God presented in its twofold virtue; it not only perfectly preserves us from evil, but perfectly furnishes us unto all good—it keeps us from the paths of the destroyer, and guides us in the ways of God.
How important, then, is the study, the diligent, earnest, prayerful study of Holy Scripture! How needful to cultivate a spirit of reverential submission in all things to the authority of the Word of God! Mark how continually and how earnestly this was impressed upon the ancient people of God. How often were such accents as the following sounded in their ears!
"Now therefore hearken, 0 Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.... Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we tall upon Him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons." Deut. 4:1-91Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you. 2Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. 3Your eyes have seen what the Lord did because of Baal-peor: for all the men that followed Baal-peor, the Lord thy God hath destroyed them from among you. 4But ye that did cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day. 5Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. 6Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? 8And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? 9Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; (Deuteronomy 4:1‑9).
Let it be carefully noticed here, that "wisdom and understanding" consist simply in having the commandments of God treasured in the heart. This, moreover, was to be the basis of Israel's moral greatness, in view of the nations around them. It was not the learning of the schools of Egypt, or of the Chaldeans. No; it was the knowledge of the Word of God, and attention thereto—the spirit of implicit obedience in all things to the holy statutes and judgments of the Lord their God. This was Israel's wisdom, this their true and real greatness, this their impregnable bulwark against every foe—their moral safeguard against every evil.
And does not the selfsame thing hold good with respect to God's people at the present moment? Is not obedience to the Word of God our wisdom, our safeguard, and the foundation of all true moral greatness? Assuredly! Our wisdom is to obey. The obedient soul is safe, happy, and fruitful. As it was, so it is. If we study the history of David and his successors, we shall find, without so much as a single exception, that those who yielded obedience to the commandments of God were safe, happy, prosperous, and influential. And so it will ever be. Obedience will always yield its own precious and fragrant fruits—not that its fruits should be our motive for rendering obedience. We are called to be obedient, irrespective of everything.
Now, it is obvious that, in order to be obedient to the Word of God, we must be acquainted with it; and in order to be acquainted with it, we must carefully study it. And how should we study it? With an earnest desire to understand its contents, with profound reverence for its authority, and with an honest purpose to obey its dictates, cost what it may. If we have grace to study Scripture, in some small degree, after this fashion, we may expect to grow in knowledge and wisdom.
But alas! there is a fearful amount of ignorance of Scripture in the professing church. We are deeply impressed with a sense of this; and we may as well, at this point, just tell the reader that our main object in calling his attention to the subject of Josiah and his times is to wake up in his soul an intense desire after a closer acquaintance with God's holy Word, and a more entire bowing down of his whole moral being—heart, conscience, and understanding—to that perfect standard.
We feel the commanding importance of this subject; and we must discharge what we believe to be a sacred duty to the souls of our readers, and to the truth of God. The powers of darkness are abroad. The enemy is succeeding to an appalling extent in drawing hearts after various forms of error and evil, in casting dust in the eyes of God's people, and in blinding the minds of men. True, we have not got Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom; but we have Ritualism, Infidelity, and Spiritualism. We have not to cry out against burning incense to Baal, and worshiping the host of heaven; but we have something far more ensnaring and dangerous. We have the ritualist with his sensuous and attractive rites and ceremonies; we have the rationalist with his learned and plausible reasonings; we have the spiritualist with his boasted converse with the spirits of the departed.
We speak plainly, and deal faithfully, with living facts around us. We must do so, even at the risk of giving offense to some. We certainly do not wish to offend anyone, but we must be true to our responsibility. We hold that one great object of ministry, whether oral or written, is to bring the Word of God to bear on hearts and consciences, with direct reference to the principles and influences abroad at the moment. No doubt, there are certain great cardinal truths—truths lying at the foundation of Christianity—the unfolding and application of which must always be in place, always important. But, at the same time, we believe that the public teacher or writer is called upon, at times, to deal with certain forms of error and evil actually at work, and to bring the edge of truth to bear thereon. This surely may be done in such a way as not to wound, needlessly, the feelings of individuals. But even though some should feel hurt, we can only say, It is far better to be wounded by a friend than destroyed by an enemy; and however it may be, we cannot withhold a word of solemn warning, when we contemplate the rising tide of evil- a tide augmented every hour by the influx of these three broad and rapid streams of Ritualism, Rationalism, and Spiritualism.
We doubt if the minds of Christians generally are alive to the real character and extent of these formidable influences. There are at this moment millions of souls throughout the length and breadth of the professing church, who are building their hopes for eternity upon the sandy foundation of ordinances, rites, and ceremonies. There is a most powerful revival of the superstitions of the middle ages—a return to the traditions of the Fathers, as they are called—an intense longing after those things which gratify the senses—music, painting, architecture, vestments, lights, incense, all the appliances, in short, of a gorgeous and sensuous religion. The theology, the worship, and the discipline of the various churches of the Reformation are found insufficient to meet the religious cravings of the soul. They are too severely simple to satisfy hearts that long for something tangible on which to lean for support and comfort—something to feed the senses and fan the flame of devotion.
Hence the strong tendency of the religious mind in the direction of what is called Ritualism. If the soul has not got hold of the truth, if there is not the living link with Christ, if the supreme authority of Holy Scripture be not set up in the heart, there is no safeguard against the powerful and fascinating influences of ceremonial religiousness. The most potent efforts of mere intellectualism, eloquence, logic, all the varied charms of literature, are found to be utterly insufficient to hold that class of minds to which we are now referring. They must have the forms and offices of religion; to these they will flock; round these they will gather; on these they will build.
It is painfully interesting to mark the efforts put forth in various quarters to act upon the masses and keep the people together. It is very evident to the thoughtful Christian, that those who put forth such efforts must be sadly deficient in that profound faith in the power of the Word of God, and of the cross of Christ, which swayed the heart of the Apostle Paul. They cannot be fully aware of the solemn fact that Satan's grand object is to keep souls in ignorance of divine revelation, to hide from them the glory of the cross, and of the Person of Christ. For this end he is using Ritualism, Rationalism, and Spiritualism, now, just as he used Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom, in the days of Josiah. "There is no new thing under the sun." The devil has ever hated the truth of God, and he will leave no stone unturned to keep it from acting on the heart of man. Hence it is that he has rites and ceremonies for one man; the powers of reason for another; and when men tire of both, and begin to sigh for something satisfying, he leads them into converse and communion with the spirits of the departed. By all alike are souls led away from the Holy Scriptures, and from the blessed Savior which those Scriptures reveal.
It is solemn and affecting beyond expression to think of all this, and not less so to contemplate the lethargy and indifference of those who profess to have the truth. We do not stop to inquire what it is that ministers to this lethargic state of many professors. That is not our object.. We desire, by the grace of God, to see them thoroughly roused out of it, and to this end it is that we call their attention to the influences that are abroad, and to the only divine safeguard against them. We cannot but feel deeply for our children growing up in such an atmosphere as that which at present surrounds us, and which will become yet darker and darker. We long to see more earnestness on the part of Christians in seeking to store the minds of the young with the precious and soul-saving knowledge of the Word of God. The child Josiah and the child Timothy should incite us to greater diligence in the instruction of the young, whether in the bosom of the family, in the Sunday school, or in any way we can reach them. It will not do for us to fold our arms and say, "When God's time comes, our children will be converted; and, till then, our efforts are useless." This is a fatal mistake. "He [God] is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:66But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)). He blesses our prayerful efforts in the instruction of our children. And further, who can estimate the blessing of being early led in the right way, of having the character formed amid holy influences, and the mind stored with what is true, and pure, and lovely? On the other hand, who will undertake to set forth the evil consequences of allowing our children to grow up in ignorance of divine things? Who can portray the evils of a polluted imagination, of a mind stored with vanity, folly, and falsehood, of a heart familiarized from infancy with scenes of moral degradation? We do not hesitate to say that Christians incur very heavy and awful responsibility in allowing the enemy to preoccupy the minds of their children at the very period when they are most plastic and susceptible.
True, there must be the quickening power of the Holy Ghost. It is as true of the children of Christians as of any other, that they "must be born again." We all understand this. But does this fact touch the question of our responsibility in reference to our children? Is it to cripple our energies or hinder our earnest efforts? Assuredly not. We are called upon, by every argument, divine and human, to shield our precious little ones from every evil influence, and to train them in that which is holy and good. And not only should we so act in respect to our own children, but also in respect to the thousands around us who are like sheep having no shepherd, and who may each say, alas! with too much truth, "No man cared for my soul."
May the foregoing pages be used by God's Spirit to act powerfully on the hearts of all who may read them, that so there may be a real awakening to a sense of our high and holy responsibilities to the souls around, and a shaking off of that terrible deadness and coldness over which we have all to mourn.