2 Kings 22:1-7, 10-23; 2 Kings 23:15-16, 21-28.
Josiah is a remarkable king, coming when he did in the history of Israel, starting out as such a young man — "eight years old when he began to reign", dealing so thoroughly with evil even to "the high place that Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin, had made", and setting on a passover of which there had never been seen the like in Israel or in Judah. He was a king who even, in a sense, surpassed David. It says, "Before him there had been no king like him that turned to Jehovah with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, ... neither after him arose there his like." But he lived at a time when God was about to judge Judah because of their history. Many kings had gone before Josiah. His grandfather, Manasseh, was a very wicked king, but one who prayed to God later in his life, and whom God heard, and who brought about a certain real measure of blessing under God's hand. Then Josiah comes in at the very extremity, the very end of God's dealing with Judah before they were taken captive, and God recognises Josiah's faithfulness. God says, 'I am still going to judge the people for their history of unfaithfulness', but He singularly blesses the people during Josiah's time and He honors Josiah's faithfulness, in spite of the history that had gone before.
Josiah began to reign when he was eight years old, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. I suppose he was only thirty-nine years old when he died. He was fairly young when he died, and he was from a generation that was, in the ways of God, given a fresh start. Kings had gone before, who perhaps had imbibed or learned the traditions and ways of the preceding kings, their fathers, but Josiah becomes king when he is eight years old. His father Amon, the preceding king, died when Josiah was very young.
So, in a way, there is a new beginning, a fresh start, in Josiah's time, and one thing that impresses me is that Josiah is not hindered by traditional teaching; he is not hindered by what has gone before, but he is exercised according to God. He is concerned about the breaches of the house, and he sets on the repair of the house of God, and as they were repairing God's house, they find this book. From the context, we can see that it's one of the books of Moses. I suppose it might be Exodus or Leviticus or Numbers or Deuteronomy. It doesn't tell us which one it is, but it has the covenant in it, and when the king heard the words of the book of the law, he rent his garments. The king, as hearing the inspired Word of God, as returning to the scriptures instead of the traditional teaching that had come down during the preceding kings' reigns, saw clearly the serious departure and idolatry which had come in among God's people. The people had gradually turned aside from Jehovah and had turned instead to idols and to Baal, to these terrible features which the enemy brought in so insidiously, and which started at a distinct point: "the high place that Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin, had made." When Jeroboam made that high place, it was a distinct turning point in the history of God's people. Many kings had gone before, after Rehoboam's and Jeroboam's time, who did what was right in the sight of Jehovah. But many of them, even though they did what was right in measure, did not judge that sin — the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. But Josiah goes back, and he judges what is wrong thoroughly. I believe that is a word for us, dear brethren, and I trust we are beginning to understand, to feel with God, and to have a thorough judgment as to the departure which has come in among God's beloved people.
So we go back to the sin of Jeroboam, wherewith he caused Israel to sin. You might say that Josiah was a young man, and that Jeroboam had sinned many years before; it was way in the distant past history of God's people. What responsibility did Josiah have to deal with that? He wasn't even a king of Israel; he was a king of Judah, and Jeroboam was a king of Israel! So you might ask even more skeptically, how was Josiah responsible? But he felt the responsibility of it. And I believe the way to God's blessing for us is to take on responsibility, as our brother Esli Forrest reminded us in that address at Stawell some months ago.
Then, as having thoroughly judged what was evil, "The king commanded all the people saying, Hold the passover to Jehovah your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant." Well, that reminds us of that precious verse in first Corinthians 11: "Let a man prove himself, and thus eat." How simple a verse that is, and how beautifully this principle works out in Josiah: "Let a man prove himself, and thus eat." It says as to this passover, "There was not holden such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, not of the kings of Judah, but in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this passover holden to Jehovah in Jerusalem."
That's a wonderful result from these deep exercises that the saints had gone through. And God expresses His approbation of Josiah for all this: the judging of what is wrong, and the holding of this wonderful passover. God says that "before him there had been no king before him that turned to Jehovah with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there his like." There is a suggestion of faithfulness and pureness of heart in Josiah, and of pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace. There is reality with Josiah, of which God takes such remarkable account.
Well, dear brethren, Josiah lived in a day of small things — at the end of a period of God's dealings with His people, when they are about to be taken captive into Babylon, and God brings in such a remarkable, although short, recovery and revival. May we be exercised, at a similar time in the assembly's history, to have part in real recovery and revival. Because the Holy Spirit is able for it. He is not diminished in any way, and He is available as we are ready, as we are ready for revival and recovery and quickening. He is ready to bring it in! But it is on the basis of self judgment, as we have read in this section about Josiah. May the Lord bless these few thoughts.
For His Name's sake.
S. E. Hesterman