Just as a godly king like Hezekiah could have a godless son like Manasseh, a godless king like Amon, by God’s grace, could have a godly son like Josiah. The final four kings of Judah and the devastating destruction of Jerusalem will be described relatively briefly in the final chapter of the book; despite the gloomy end to the story, though, our writer seems to have deliberately dwelt on encouraging times of renewal as the book draws to its close – Hezekiah, Manasseh and Josiah. It seems he wants his readers to put their hope in the God who saves and renews and revives. Here’s another story to encourage us.
Whilst still a teenager, Josiah is converted. Verse 3 speaks of him beginning to seek the LORD, language we might use of someone not yet a Christian but trying to find out more, but in Scripture refers to someone living as a believer; it implies trust and commitment and devotion. However wonderful Manasseh-type conversions are, how much more wonderful when God saves someone when still young before they have done such appalling things, how much greater the impact they can often have on others. (When you do this study, summer camps will be underway – just a reminder to pray that many teenage Josiahs might be saved on camps this summer!)
On reaching the age he could rule without a regent and so apply his faith to his public duties, he does so. First he sets about rooting out idolatry, and he does so with vigour and real thoroughness (nb the strong verbs in vv.4ff – “torn down … cut to pieces … smashed … purged … crushed …”). This was no half-hearted attempt to root out sin – we are often much gentler with the idols and high places of our hearts! Next he sets about restoring the temple and true worship, in the course of which there is a second key turning point in his life: the rediscovery of God’s Word. God’s Word (probably the book of Deuteronomy) would be the catalyst for further and deeper renewal in the nation. His response to hearing God’s Word, which God explicitly commends him for (v.27), was to humble himself, knowing God’s warnings were not idle warnings and recognising God’s righteous anger as their just desserts. He then gathered the people to hear God’s Word, and publicly committed himself to obey it, and called on them to do so too.
The celebration of the Passover was both an example of his obedience to God’s Word (there are frequent references to how things were done “as was written in the Book of Moses” or “according to the directions written by David”), but it also speaks a message of hope. Judgment hung over them (eg 34:24), as it had done at the time of the Passover, but God then had worked deliverance for them. Back then He had rescued them from exile in Egypt, and the next chapter (36) will describe how He sent them into exile in Babylon, so this Passover celebration therefore anticipates a greater redemption God would yet do for them. The God who had rescued them from exile in the past, would surely rescue them from the exile that was coming. There may well not be time to read these verses, but you might nevertheless ponder with your groups why the writer might have included this in his account of Josiah’s reign.
The writer adds something to the much briefer account of Josiah’s death in Kings, showing us that, like all the others he had feet of clay and blew it at the end of his life. Pharaoh Neco tells him “God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you” (v.21). One might think a pagan king can scarcely be relied upon to deliver God’s word, but it seems in this instance Josiah should have done (maybe one of the prophets confirmed it in some way). The echoes of Ahab in ch.18 – disguising himself, being shot by an arrow – suggest he was deliberately defying what he knew to be God’s word. Without doubt he was a great king, and yet … In the Hebrew Bible Chronicles was the last book, and it leaves us looking for a better king, who might inaugurate a better covenant and bring about a new redemption.