Key Texts: 2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chron. 34-35
In lesson #3 we documented the gradual nature of Josiah’s awakening. Those steps can be listed briefly again here:
- Josiah’s reign began in 639 when he was eight years of age, but he began to seek the Lord only at age sixteen in 631 (34:1-3a).
- At age twenty, in 627, in the twelfth year of his reign, Josiah began an active program of reform in Jerusalem and beyond (34:3b).
- At age twenty-six, in 621, in the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah sent workers to repair the temple (34:8ff).
- During the temple clean-up, the workers “found” the scroll of the law (34:14-15), mostly likely a copy of Deuteronomy.
The discovery of the law marked the year of Josiah’s great reform, 621 BCE, a great Passover and a cleansing of everything evil throughout the kingdom, even in the north. But what makes the story of his reform so fascinating is that we have two accounts of his reign, one in 2 Kings 22-23, and one in 2 Chronicles 34-35.
A certain exuberance marks the narratives in both books, but the historical background of each differs strikingly, for some 80 years earlier, Hezekiah had also celebrated a great reform and a great passover, but a passover that is not mentioned at all in the account in 2 Kings. In fact, the Chronicler takes three chapters to tell the story (2 Chron. 29-31) and makes the point that it was in the first month of the first year of his reign that Hezekiah “opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them” (2 Chron. 29:3). It had taken Josiah eighteen years to get that far!
The Chronicler makes this assessment of Hezekiah’s passover: “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon son of King David of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 30:26). The people were so excited that they decided to extend the feast of unleavened bread for a second week (2 Chron. 30:23).
But if Hezekiah’s passover was the best since Solomon (according to the Chronicler), the same author reports this glowing assessment of Josiah’s event: “No passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; none of the kings of Israel had kept such a passover as was kept by Josiah, by the priests and the Levites, by all Judah and Israel who were present, and by the inhabitants of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 35:18, NRSV).
But there is exuberance in the account in 2 Kings as well. After describing some of Hezekiah initial reforms, the author states: “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5, NRSV). In short, the best king of all time!
Yet the same author is equally enthusiastic about Josiah: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Kings 23:25, NRSV). In short, the best king of all time!
On balance, however, the Chronicler is more enthusiastic about Hezekiah than about Josiah, whereas the author of Kings is more enthusiastic about Josiah. This is not the place to note all the evidence for such a conclusion since the point here is to focus on Josiah in connection with Jeremiah. But two significant clues can be noted: 1) the Chronicler records Hezekiah’s great reform; Kings doesn’t even mention it. 2) the Chronicler records a damning assessment of Josiah’s behavior at the time of Josiah’s death at the hands of Pharaoh Neco. Kings records no such condemnation:
“But Neco sent envoys to him, saying, ‘What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I am not coming against you today, but against the house with which I am at war; and God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, so that he will not destroy you.’ But Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but joined battle in the plain of Megiddo.” (2 Chron. 35:21-22, NRSV)
In short, God was speaking through Neco, but Josiah wasn’t listening.
Questions for Discussion
1. Question: Does Jeremiah give us any clue as to why Israel had such a poor memory when it came to matters of religion?
2. Question: Does the fact that both Hezekiah and Josiah had to tear down idols and altars to Baal tell us something about the status of religion during the monarchy?
3. Question: Does Jeremiah’s famous temple discourse (Jer. 7:1-11) give us any clues to the status of official religion, even after Josiah’s reform?
4. Question: What is the link between religious apostasy and social sins?
5. Question: Can we make allowance for exuberance and prophetic overstatement, both on the positive and on the negative sides when looking at Israel’s experience?