The nation of Israel was divided into two parts after the reign of King Solomon. The northern kingdom kept the name of Israel and the southern kingdom retained the name of it’s major tribe, Judah. This divided kingdom period began a slow decline for the overall nation into greater and greater idolatry and faithlessness toward Yahweh. Ultimately, each kingdom was taken captive by a foreign invader by the will of God in discipline for their wandering ways.
There were no good kings that ever reigned over the northern tribe of Israel. There were very few good kings that reigned over Judah. There were only two that were completely identified with the prototypical King David, Hezekiah and Josiah. Josiah was eight years old when he became king of Judah and he reigned for 31 years. The account of Josiah’s reign are recorded in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35. There are three discernible aspects to Josiah’s character that laid a strong foundation for his profitable rule.
1. He had a heart to seek God. 2 Chronicles 34:3 says, “For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father.” This is quite astounding, that such a young boy would already have an inclination to seek after God. We really do not know much about Josiah’s upbringing, only the names of his mother and grandfather. But both biblical accounts tell us that Josiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” This is surely a reference to King David who was not his biological father. But Josiah is aligned with King David, as is Hezekiah, who is revered as the greatest king Israel ever had and who was given the covenant promise that he would never lack an heir upon the throne. At this young age we can only suppose that both his mother and possibly his grandfather played a role in his spiritual formation. For whatever reason we are told that Josiah had this desire–and it served him well.
2. He dedicated himself to the eradication of the nation’s idols. The 2nd thing we are told about the character of Josiah is that “in the twelfth year (of his reign) he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images.” Judah had fallen into great sin through repeated syncretism with the gods around her. The people of Judah were worshipping the Asherah, which was an Amorite or Canaanite fertility goddess and included metal and wooden images. The “high places” were worship centers of convenience for the people of God, but not God sanctioned. God had clearly told the people of Israel and Judah that the one true place of worship for them was in Jerusalem. The people of Judah had fallen into worshipping the gods of comfort, fertility, and other metal or wooded images from the nations around them. All of this served to dilute and pollute their relationship and witness for Yahweh. Josiah had enough foresight and righteousness to know that this was wrong and needed correcting.
3. He humbly responded to the revealed will of God. Josiah, we are told in the text, also instituted an all out restoration of the temple in Jerusalem. He allocated funds, assigned a foreman, and hired able workers, that the temple might once again display God’s glory. In the midst of the repairs the book of the Law was rediscovered. This was the Law of Moses, God’s covenant with His people to instruct them in how to live. The priests and the king seemed to be truly surprised to find this book. But once it was read in Josiah’s hearing, he immediately tore his clothes in repentance and commanded that God’s counsel be sought. Now he clearly understood the depth of the nation’s sin. And as the leader he repented on behalf of his nation to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness. God responds in grace and mercy to this humble action of the young king. All of this was being done before Josiah turned 27.
What are the principles for us from this Old Testament narrative? It seems to me that this is all about the heart of a spiritual leader. Will we genuinely seek after God–for his own sake, not for what we need or can get from him? Will we continually repent of our own heart’s idols? Idolatry can be summarized as trusting in anything more than God himself. Leaders are most tempted to trust in their own power, authority, and abilities. Will we humbly respond and be obedient to the revealed will of God as it is brought to us in the Scriptures? We must be leaders of the Word–not just in communication, but in it’s claim on our lives.
What are your thoughts? Part two is coming as we look a little deeper into the life of this Old Testament leader.