Josiah

2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35

It is a dismal thing to see how often, in life and history, an ungodly son comes after a godly father. So Hezekiah, one of the most pious of the Jewish kings, was succeeded by Manasseh, undoubtedly the most impious who ever sat upon the throne of David. He was but a child of twelve years when his father died. Yet we may be sure that he had been well brought up, and fully instructed in the things of God; and as “the child is father of the man,” it is probable that the influences to which he is subjected before he is twelve years old have the most abiding influence upon his character. The seed sown may seem to have been lost—rotted in the ground; yet after many years it may germinate, and grow, and bear much fruit. So it was with Manasseh—who, after a long period of wickedness without example in Judah, fell into captivity and trouble, and in his bondage remembered the holy lessons of his childhood; and, turning to God, was forgiven, restored to his country and his throne, and spent the rest of his life in repairing, as far as he was able, the evil he had done.

The history of the war that led to his captivity is not given. But the Assyrians had recovered strength, in the course of years, under Sennacherib’s successor, Esarhadon, who eventually marched into Palestine, and sent away the remnant that still lingered upon the mountains of Israel, while his generals were dispatched against Jerusalem. The city was taken, and Manasseh was sent away in chains to Babylon, then belonging to Assyria. He returned to his throne as a sworn tributary of Assyria. On the same terms, his son Amon, who followed rather the evil than the good example of his father, reigned; and subject to the same conditions, Amon’s son, Josiah, mounted the throne, at the early age of eight years. 

Notwithstanding that difficulty of obtaining a good education upon a throne, which appears to have been the ruin of his grandfather Manasseh, this prince was the best and most beloved of kings who sat upon throne since David, and was approached by none in his zeal against idolatry and his devotedness to the Lord. He extirpated every trace of idolatrous abominations, root and branch, throughout the country—abolishing even all the high places, which previous kings had spared, and which even high-priests had tolerated. He extended his holy researches even into the neighboring territory—once of Israel; and at Bethel performed the task which had been, more than three hundred years before, by name allotted to him. And here note, that this king and Cyrus of Persia are the only personages in Scripture predicted by name long before their birth. The accomplishment of the prophecy against the altar of Bethel, delivered in the time of Jeroboam, was in all respects complete. At once to defile that altar, and to inflict posthumous dishonor upon the leaders of the corrupt worship there celebrated, he caused their bones to be taken from the sepulchres and burned thereon. In this labor a noticeable incident occurred. Observing an inscription upon one of the tombs, but not being near enough to read it, he asked what it was, and was told by the people of the place—“It is the sepulchre of the man of God who came from Judah, and proclaimed those things that thou hast done against the altar of Bethel.” Then he said—“Let him alone; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone; “and,” as the historian fails not to observe, “with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria;” justifying the worldly sagacity of the astute old knave in giving the order to his sons—“Lay my bones beside his bones,”—in the calculation that, besides the impossibility of distinguishing their remains after the lapse of so much time, all the contents of the sepulchre would be spared from defilement for the sake of the man of God. The notice taken of this inscription by the king would suggest that there were no inscriptions on the other sepulchres, and that it was not  usual for the Jews to put any inscriptions upon their tombs—nor, indeed, have any ancient tombs been found in Palestine with inscriptions upon them. This inscription was probably placed upon the tomb by the old prophet’s order, for the very purpose which it now accomplished, by indicating the tomb as that of “the man of God.”

The thorough search which was made in the temple for the removal of every relic of idolatry or superstition which former kings had introduced, brought to light the autograph copy of the law written by Moses; and, in opening it, the eye fell upon the passage, Deu_28:15-68, declaring the doom which awaited the nation if it fell into idolatry. Offered to the attention thus, in an old manuscript written by that holy and venerable hand, it made an extraordinary impression—which may in part, although still imperfectly, be understood by him who has been privileged to examine some one of the most ancient manuscripts of the Scriptures now existing; and whom the very oldness of the vellum, and the antique style of the writing, with the knowledge of the long ages through which its existence may be traced, seem to take back so much nearer to the time of the writer, and give a vividness to his impressions of ancient truth which no modern copy can impart. It is a curious feeling, which one must experience fully to appreciate. And if this be the case in respect of manuscripts which still fall far short of the time of the writers, how still more intense would it be in the presence of an autograph copy! Suppose, for instance, we had the autograph of St. John’s Gospel, and read on the last page the words—“This is that disciple that testifieth of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true;”—would not this, written under his own hand, give an intensity to our conviction of the truth of his testimony, such as we had never before been able to realize in the perusal of the printed copies, or even of the most ancient manuscripts? It is a matter of feeling or impression, which some will understand, and which some hard intellects will not. To ourselves, the impression made  upon the king’s mind by the denunciations under the hand of Moses, which he too well knew the nation had incurred, is very intelligible. His anxiety was so great, that—Jeremiah being doubtless absent at his home in Anathoth—the king sent at once to “Huldah the prophetess,” to inquire whether this judgment would indeed be executed. The answer was, Yes; that the sentence had already gone forth, and would soon be executed; but that his eyes should be spared from beholding it. He was spared: for he died.

The death of Josiah took place in consequence of the resistance which he offered to the march of the Egyptian king, Pharaoh-Necho, through his territories, with an intention to take advantage of the waning of the Assyrian power, by wresting from it some of its acquisitions west of the Euphrates. This put Josiah into a serious difficulty. If he allowed this march without opposition, he would be regarded by his Assyrian masters as unfaithful to his duty—as his engagements certainly bound him to regard the military resources of his kingdom as available for Assyrian objects. To suffer the unmolested passage of the Egyptians, would be to take his part with them against the Assyrians. It put him to deciding for the one power or the other; and he decided to adhere to his Assyrian allegiance, remembering how much the kingdom had formerly suffered for trusting to the Egyptians, and how strongly that trust had been denounced by the prophets.

The Egyptian king was sincerely desirous of avoiding a collision with Josiah, and sent to remonstrate against the opposition which he offered—urging that he had a divine commission, and that it would be perilous to interfere with him. Josiah, however, thought that he saw his duty clear, and persisted in opposing him by force of arms. He could doubtless see through Necho’s pretence of being sent by God; yet it did make so much impression upon him, and he had so much of misgiving, that he went disguised into the battle. He was defeated; and a commissioned arrow found him, and gave him a mortal wound. His end was much like  that of Ahab; and he was the only king of Judah who perished in battle. He died quickly of his wound; and his body was conveyed in his “second chariot” to Jerusalem, for burial. All the nation mourned deeply for him; and the prophet Jeremiah gave expression to the universal grief in the funereal lamentation which he composed for one so greatly beloved, and so truly mourned.

Much cause was there for weeping; for with Josiah terminated the peace, the prosperity, and the piety of Judah. With him all the hopes of the nation perished; and after him nothing is to be found but idolatry and desolation.