Today we pick up the narrative of 2 Kings. Israel has been conquered by Assyria (2 Kings 17). In the south, the righteous Hezekiah is dead and his son Manasseh reigns. The ministry of the prophet Isaiah has come to an end.1 And we see that Judah neither followed the lead of Hezekiah, nor heeded the warnings of Isaiah. Manasseh was wicked (21:2). He returned Judah to the pagan ways of the Canaanites. He rebuilt the pagan places of worship and worshiped Baal like Ahab did in Israel (v. 3). He also worshiped “all the host of heaven” – those false gods that are really demons. He was so evil that he built pagan altars in the Temple itself (vv. 4-5), and even offered his son as a sacrifice to Molech (v. 6) and put an Asherah pole in the Temple (v. 7).
In verse 8, we see the foreshadowing of the captivity of Judah. God has promised that Israel will never leave the place He put His name to dwell (the Temple in Jerusalem) if they would obey Him. But the writer then tells us that they did not obey, and that Manasseh was more evil than the Canaanites themselves (v. 9). So through His prophets (v. 10), God pronounces judgment on Manasseh and all of Judah (vv. 11-12). He will do to them what He did to Ahab and Israel (v. 13), and he will kill Manasseh and send Judah into captivity (vv. 14-15). Note that this is also for all of their sin since the Exodus. After killing Manasseh, Amon reigns (v. 19). He followed the lead of his father (vv. 20-21) and forsook YHWH (v. 22). After he is killed by his own servants, his son Josiah reigns.
In Josiah, we have the last righteous king of Judah. He obeyed God and is even compared to David himself (22:2). We see that the Temple had fallen into disrepair by Josiah’s day. Josiah trusts the priests and the workmen to handle the money in the treasury and pay for repairs to be done on the Temple (vv. 4-7). But we see it is more than just the Temple that has wasted away. The religion of Judah has. We see that the Law of God itself had been literally forgotten. When the book of the Law is found (v. 8), and it is read before the king (v. 10), Josiah realizes how far from God and His Law the people have fallen (vv. 11-13). So he sends his officials to inquire of God regarding the matter.
The officials inquire of the prophetess Huldah (v. 14). She confirms the word of YHWH from 21:10-15 (vv. 15-17). Because Judah has forsaken God, they will endure the curses detailed in the Law, culminating in exile (see Deut 28:49-68). In verses 18-20, we see that God does not change: as always, He saves those who repent, even if they live amongst evil people. God will save Josiah and judge all who do not repent.
And Josiah responds to this salvation. He restores proper worship in Judah. He reads the Law to all the people (23:1-2). He renews the covenant with YHWH (v. 3). He destroys all remnants of pagan worship (vv. 4-15), including pagan worship sites that had stood since the time of Solomon (v. 13) and Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom (v. 15)! Josiah is even purifying Israel in the name of God! In verses 16-20, we see that Josiah destroyed the bones of the pagan priests, and even the living pagan priests as far as Samaria. This is exactly what was predicted by the prophet in 1 Kings 13:1-3.
Josiah then restores the Passover celebration (v. 21). Notice, the Passover had not been celebrated since the time of the Judges! Not even under David or Hezekiah! Josiah then removes the household idols from all of Judah in an attempt to bring all the people in line with the Law of God (v. 24). In verse 25, we see high commendation for Josiah. But it is for him alone. His repentance was not the people’s repentance. God would still reject Judah, like He did Israel (vv. 26-27). While attending a meeting between himself, the king of Egypt, and the king of Assyria (historically, this was to form an alliance against Babylon), Josiah was betrayed by the king of Egypt and killed (v. 29). In God’s mercy, He spared Josiah from seeing the coming judgment.
1 Church tradition holds that Isaiah was martyred by being sawn in two, and therefore many believe that reference in Hebrews 11:37 refers to Isaiah.