Click to donate today!
The Reign Of Josiah, King Of Judah c. 640/39-609 BC.
Josiah came to the throne as a young child when the powers of Assyria were beginning to wane. Babylon and Media were on the ascendant, Egypt’s power was reviving and the Assyrians were being kept busy elsewhere. And while he could do little to begin with, it was a situation of which Josiah would take full advantage. Set on the throne at a young age by ‘the people of the land’, (the clan leaders, landed gentry, landowners and freemen of Judah who clung more to the ancient traditions), and advised by the godly Hilkiah (the high priest), and at some stage by the prophets Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:3), he grew up concerned to restore the true worship of God, and remove all foreign influence from the land. This being so we would certainly expect initial reform to have begun early on, and to have gathered pace as he grew older, the moreso as Assyrian influence waned, for there is no hint in the description that we have here of Josiah that he was any other than faithful to YHWH from his earliest days.
The fact that reform did take so long initially must be attributed firstly to the continuing influence of Assyria, whose representatives would for some years still hold undisputed sway in Judah’s affairs, secondly, to the king’s youthfulness, and thirdly to the strength of the opposition parties who clearly encouraged the worship of local deities. All these would mean that Josiah had to walk carefully.
On the other hand the fact that silver had already been gathered for the repairs to YHWH’s house (2 Kings 22:4-5) was an indication that prior to Josiah’s eighteenth year general inspections had already been made of the Temple with a view to its repair. That would be why an appeal for ‘funds’ had previously gone out to the people prior to this time. That in itself would have taken some time (compare the situation under Joash - 2 Kings 12:4-12). Nor would this work have proceeded without some attempt to ‘purify’ the Temple, for whilst we in this modern day might have thought first about the fabric, they would have thought first as to whether it was ‘clean’, and whether all that was ‘unholy’ had been removed. So as Josiah became more firmly established on his throne and began to take the reins into his own hands, and therefore well before his eighteenth year, (as in fact the Chronicler informs us), reforms would have begun to take place which would have resulted in the removal of the grosser and more obvious examples of the apostasy of previous kings. This is what we would have expected (such things would have stuck out like a sore thumb to a true Yahwist), even though not all that the Chronicler spoke of would have taken place immediately because of the strength of opposition.
Jerusalem and its environs would be the first to be cleared of the most patent signs of idolatry, then the wider areas of Judah, while the movement beyond the borders of Judah would have taken place much later as the reformation gained strength and the people became more responsive and receptive, and as the authority of Assyria over the whole area became minimal. On the other hand the very length of time that did pass before these reforms began to take hold does indicate the depths of idolatry into which Judah had fallen, and how many were gripped by it. There can be no doubt that it was rampant.
Thus what happened in the eighteenth year must not be seen as indicating the beginnings of the reform. It was rather the commencement of the actual physical work on the restoration of the Temple, something which must have been well prepared for beforehand. And it was this preparatory work that resulted in the discovery of an ancient copy of the Book of the Law, probably due to an in depth examination being made of the stonework. Such sacred texts were regularly placed in the foundational wall of temples when they were first built.
It is typical of the author of Kings that he does not bring us details of the build-up of a situation but rather assumes them and goes straight into what will bring out what he wants to say. To him what was central here was not the process of reformation, but the finding of the Book of the Law, and Josiah’s resulting response to it.
As the Temple must have been in constant use without the book having been found previously, this discovery must have taken place in a very unusual place, and the probability must therefore be that it was discovered within the actual structure which was being examined prior to being repaired. This suggests that it had been placed there at the time of the building of the Temple, and thus on the instructions of Solomon, for it was quite a normal procedure for sacred writings or covenants to be placed within the foundations or walls of Temples when they were first erected.
When Nabonidus, for example, was seeking to restore the Samas shrine in Sippar in sixth century BC, he commanded men to look for the foundation stones (which would contain the Temple documents) -- and ‘they inspected the apartments and rooms, and they saw it --’. Thus he found what he was looking for. Such finds were a regular feature of work on ancient temples and occurred reasonably often, and it is clear that Nabonidus expected to find an ancient record there simply because he knew that the placing of such records in the very structure of a Temple was customary. It seems that it was also similarly an Egyptian custom to deposit sacred texts in the foundation walls of sanctuaries. For example, in a sanctuary of Thoth one of the books believed to have been written by the god was deposited beneath his image. Furthermore certain rubrics belonging to chapters in The Book of the Dead, and inscriptions in the Temple of Denderah, give information about the discovery of such texts when temples were being inspected or pulled down.
This being so the discovery of such an ancient record by Josiah would have caused great excitement and would have been seen as a divine seal on his reforms. But it was not its discovery that resulted in the commencement of the reforms. Rather it was discovered because the reforms had already begun. What it did, however, do was give a huge impetus to the reforms, and help to direct them and confirm that they were pleasing to YHWH, especially as one of the central messages of the book was discovered to be that the wrath of YHWH was over His people because of their failure to walk in His ways.
The genuineness of the account cannot be doubted. The great detail confirms that we are dealing with actual history, and the fact that appeal was made by the king to a woman prophet was something which would never have even been considered by an inventor. It was an idea almost unique in Israel’s known history. The nearest to it is Deborah in Judges 4-5. This would only have been suggested if it had really happened.
But one question which then arises is as to what this ‘Book of the Law’ which was discovered consisted of. In other words whether it included virtually the whole ‘Book of the Law of Moses’, or simply a portion of it. Our view, which is confirmed by 2 Kings 23:25, is that the whole Book of the Law of Moses was found, even though initial concentration was on one of the scrolls, the one brought by Hilkiah to Shaphan. For those interested in the question further we will now consider it in the form of an excursus.
Excursus. Of What Did ‘The Book Of The Law’ Found In The Temple Consist? .
In spite of the fact that the majority of scholars see The Book of the Law as being simply a portion of Deuteronomy, (although with a multitude of related theories and datings connected with that idea), that must in our view be seen as very unlikely for a number of reasons.
The first good reason that counts against it is that the book inspired an observance of the Passover that exceeded all that had gone before it following the time of Joshua (2 Kings 23:21-22). The Book is described as ‘the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH’ (2 Kings 23:2), a description which is then followed up in 2 Kings 22:0: 2 Kings 23:21-23 with the words, ‘and the king commanded all the people saying, “Keep the Passover to YHWH your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant. Surely there was not kept such a Passover from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this Passover kept to YHWH in Jerusalem’.
The impression gained here is not only that it stirred the people to keep the Passover, but also that it guided them into doing so in such a way that it exceeded anything done since the time of the Judges. In other words it took them back to the way in which it was observed in the early days under Moses and Joshua (the assumption being that in their days it was properly and fully observed).
However, when we actually look at what the Book of Deuteronomy has to say about the Passover we find that the details given concerning the observing of the Passover are in fact extremely sparse. These details are found in Deuteronomy 16:1-8 and it will be noted that the only requirements given there are the offering of the sacrifice of the Passover itself, without any detail as to whether it was to be one sacrifice or many (although possibly with a hint of multiplicity in that it is from ‘the flocks and the herds’), and the eating of unleavened bread for seven days. In other words it details the very minimum of requirements, and clearly assumes that more detail is given elsewhere, something very likely in a speech by Moses, but in our view unlikely in a book which purportedly presents the full law. It is hardly feasible that these instructions produced a Passover in such advance of all those previously held that it was seen as excelling all others, for the instructions given were minimal.
This is often countered by saying that the thing that made this Passover outstanding was not the way in which it was observed, but the fact that it was observed at the Central Sanctuary rather than locally. However, there are no good grounds for suggesting that the Passover, when properly observed, was ever simply observed locally (even though the eating of unleavened bread would be required throughout Israel). The indication is always that, like the other feasts of ‘Sevens (weeks)’ and ‘Tabernacles’, it was to be observed when the tribes gathered at the Central Sanctuary ‘three times a year’, something already required in ‘the Book of the Covenant’ in Exodus 20-24 (Exodus 23:14-17). Deuteronomy 16:5, which is sometimes cited as indicating local Passover feasts, was not in fact suggesting that it had ever been correctly observed in such a way. It was rather simply underlining the fact that the feasts of YHWH could not be observed locally, but had to be observed at the Central Sanctuary when the tribes assembled there three times a year. Consider, for example, the observances of the Passover described in Numbers 9:1-14; Joshua 5:10, which in both cases would be connected with the Central Sanctuary (the Tabernacle) and that in 2 Chronicles 30:0 in the time of Hezekiah, which was specifically required to be at Jerusalem, and which exceeded in splendour all Passovers since the time of Solomon.
It is, of course, very possible that at this stage in the life of Josiah the Passover had been neglected, for if the Passover was already regularly being fully observed every year it is difficult to see why its observance here was worthy of mention as anything new, especially by someone as sparse in what he mentions as the author of Kings. It is clear that he considered it to be religiously momentous. The mention of it may, therefore, suggest that the Feast of the Passover had not at the time been regularly observed officially at the Central Sanctuary, except possibly by the faithful remnant, so that this all-inclusive celebration was seen as exceptional. But if it was a Passover spurred on by the Book of Deuteronomy, and run on the basis described there, it would hardly have been seen as such an exceptional Passover that it exceeded all others since the time of the Judges (but not Moses and Joshua). The only thing that could make it such an exceptional Passover would be that the additional offerings of Passover week were of such abundance that they excelled previously remembered Passovers. Such additional offerings, however, are only mentioned in Numbers 28:16-25 and Leviticus 23:8, where it is also assumed that they will be at the Central Sanctuary. But they are not even hinted at in Deuteronomy. That is why many consider that the book of the Law must have at least contained a part of either Leviticus or Numbers, or both.
There are a number of other indications that suggest that the Law Book consisted of more than Deuteronomy. For example, if we compare the words in 2 Kings 23:24 with the Pentateuch we discover again that, if we are to take them as echoing what had just been discovered, more than Deuteronomy is required. For example in 2 Kings 23:24 we read of ‘those who have familiar spirits’. But this is a way of putting it which is paralleled only in Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6, (compare also Leviticus 20:27), whereas Deuteronomy, in its only mention of familiar spirits, speaks of ‘consulters of familiar spirits’ (Deuteronomy 18:11). The terminology used in 2 Kings 23:24 is thus unexpected if it was inspired by a section of Deuteronomy, but fully understandable in the light of Leviticus.
Again, while ‘images’ (teraphim) are also mentioned in the Pentateuch, it is only in Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:34-35 (and then in Judges 17:5; Judges 18:14; Judges 18:17-18; Judges 18:20), and the idea of the ‘putting away of idols’ is something found only in Leviticus 26:30 (where the idea is described in an even more forceful form). Deuteronomy 29:17 does mention such ‘idols’ as something seen among the nations among whom they found themselves, but contains no mention of putting them away. On the other hand ‘abominations’ are only mentioned in Deuteronomy 29:17 (but even then they are nowhere specifically said to need putting away). Yet here in Kings all these things are said to be ‘put away --- to confirm the words of the Law which were written in the book --- which was found in the house of YHWH’. This must again be seen as suggesting that the Book of the Law that was discovered included a considerable portion of the Pentateuch over and above Deuteronomy.
These difficulties continue to mount up. For example, in 2 Kings 22:17 there is a mention of ‘burning incense to other gods’ in relation to the Book of the Law, but such an idea appears nowhere in the Book of Deuteronomy, which never refers to burning incense. The idea of the burning of incense is, however, found thirteen times in Exodus to Numbers. It is true that in these cases it is the genuine burning of incense to YHWH that is in mind, but that very mention would be seen as acting as a counter to doing the same thing to other gods. In Deuteronomy incense is only mentioned once, and there it is ‘put’ and not ‘burned’, whereas incense is in general mentioned fifty times in Exodus to Numbers, and thirteen times described as ‘burned’.
The idea of ‘wrath’ coming against the nation appears with equal stress both in Leviticus 26:28 (compare 2 Kings 10:6); and in Deuteronomy 29:23; Deuteronomy 29:28; Deuteronomy 32:24 and therefore could be taken from either, and indeed the idea that God visits His people with judgment when they disobey His laws is a regular feature of the whole of the Pentateuch. The idea of the ‘kindling of wrath’ is found in Genesis 39:9; Numbers 11:33; Deuteronomy 11:17, in all cases against people. The word ‘quashed’ appears only in Leviticus 6:12-13 (the idea occurs in Numbers 11:2). Of course all these terms could have been taken from background tradition, but if the book discovered had been simply a part of Deuteronomy it is strange how little there is in what is said of it that is especially characteristic of Deuteronomy. And while silence is always a dangerous weapon it is noticeable that there is no mention in this passage of God’s curses which are so prominent a feature of Deuteronomy (moreso than His wrath), and could hardly have been missed even on a superficial reading, if the book was Deuteronomy. If it was really Deuteronomy that was read to Josiah we must surely have expected him to mention God’s cursings. But the only mention of the word ‘curse’ in this passage in Kings is in fact found in 2 Kings 22:19 where it is used in a general sense in parallel with ‘desolation’ in the sense of the people being ‘a desolation and a curse’ (compare Jeremiah 49:13 where the idea is similarly general; and see Genesis 27:12-13 for the Pentateuchal use of the word). The word ‘curse’ does not appear in this passage of Kings as being related specifically to covenant cursing. Rather in 2 Kings 22:19 it is the inhabitants of Judah who are ‘the curse’. Deuteronomy, in contrast, never uses ‘curse’ in this general way and only ever mentions cursing in connection with the blessings and cursings of the covenant. The general idea of a people being cursed is also found in Numbers 22:6 onwards. That was how people thought in those days.
It is often said that Josiah obtained the idea of the single Central Sanctuary as the only place where sacrifices could be offered to YHWH, from the Book of the Law. But it most be borne in mind 1). that the idea of the Central Sanctuary pervades the whole of the Pentateuch from Exodus to Deuteronomy (that is what the Tabernacle was), and 2). that Deuteronomy nowhere expressly forbids the offering of sacrifices at other places. It simply emphasises the need for a Central Sanctuary at whatever place YHWH appoints. But this concentration on the Central Sanctuary as the place where the main sacrifices were to be offered (i.e. the Tabernacle) is undoubtedly also found throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, whilst nowhere in any of these books is sacrifice limited to the Central Sanctuary alone. Where the idea arises it is always accepted as being possible at any place where YHWH chooses to record His Name, (although only at such places), and that is seen as true from Exodus onwards, for in Exodus it is specifically recognised that YHWH can ‘record His Name’ (choose) where He wills (Exodus 20:24), and can do it in a number of places, and that when He does so ‘record His Name’, sacrifices can be offered there. The Central Sanctuary was simply the supreme place at which He had recorded His Name (often because the Ark was there - 2 Samuel 6:2 - just as worship could always be offered wherever the Ark was). All this explains why Elijah could offer a sacrifice at ‘the altar of YHWH’ which he had re-established on Mount Carmel, an altar presumably seen by him as originally erected where YHWH had recorded His Name, resulting in a sacrifice that was undoubtedly acceptable to YHWH without contravening ‘the Book of the Law’.
The fact that ‘the high places’ (bamoth), where false or syncretised worship was offered, (a worship which was thus tainted by assimilation with local religion), were to be removed, did not necessarily signify that all places where sacrifices were offered were illegitimate. The example of Elijah illustrates the fact that as long as their worship had been kept pure, and it was at a place where YHWH had recorded His Name, they would be retained. And indeed in a nation as widespread as Israel was at certain times, such an idea as a sole sanctuary would have grievously limited the ability of many to worship in between the main feasts, something which Elijah undoubtedly recognised. What were thus condemned were the high places which mingled Baalism with Yahwism. Furthermore it should be noted that in the Pentateuch these ‘high places’, so emphasised in Kings, are only mentioned in Leviticus 26:30 and Numbers 33:52, whilst they are not mentioned at all in Deuteronomy.
The truth is that Josiah could just as easily have obtained the ideas that he did concerning the exclusiveness of the Central Sanctuary from the descriptions of the Central Sanctuary in Exodus to Numbers as from Deuteronomy, and it is noteworthy that in the whole passage in Kings there is not a single citation directly connecting with Deuteronomy 12:0. This, combined with the fact that the ‘high places’ (bamoth) which Josiah (and the author) were so set against are not mentioned in Deuteronomy (in the book of the Law they are mentioned only in Leviticus 26:30; Numbers 33:52) speaks heavily against the idea that he was simply influenced by Deuteronomy.
All this may be seen as confirmed by earlier references to ‘the Book of the Law’ in a number of which the whole of the Pentateuch is certainly in mind. In Deuteronomy it is always called ‘this book of the law’ (Deuteronomy 29:21; Deuteronomy 30:10; Deuteronomy 31:24-26) and refers to a book written by Moses (or on his behalf by his secretary Joshua - Deuteronomy 31:24-26). In Joshua 1:8 ‘the Book of the Law’ refers to something available to Joshua which he has available to study. In Joshua 8:31 it is called ‘the Book of the Law of Moses’ and includes specific reference to Exodus 20:24-26, but it is then immediately called ‘the Book of the Law’ and clearly includes Deuteronomy with its blessings and cursings (Joshua 8:34). Thus at this stage it includes both Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Joshua 23:6 it is ‘the Book of the Law of Moses’, and there it is clear that Exodus is in mind in the command to make no ‘mention of their gods’ (Exodus 23:13). For the idea of ‘bowing down’ to gods see Exodus 11:8; Exodus 20:5; Exodus 23:24; Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 5:9. In Joshua 24:26 it is called ‘the Book of the Law of God’ and a warning is given against ‘strange gods’. For a mention of such ‘strange gods’ see Genesis 35:2; Genesis 35:4; Deuteronomy 32:16. It will be noted from this that the whole of the Law of Moses is called ‘the book’ (not ‘the books’), and that such a book is seen as including all the books in the Pentateuch.
Of course we can rid ourselves of some of this evidence by the simple means of excising it and calling it an interpolation (after all why keep it in if it spoils my case?) but such excision is usually only on dogmatic grounds, and not for any other good reason, and if we use that method arbitrarily nothing can ever be proved.
It would appear therefore that the Book of the Law, whatever it was, cannot be limited to Deuteronomy (and even less to a part of it). On the other hand it has been argued that there are certain similarities in the section which some have seen as definitely pointing to the Book of Deuteronomy. Consider for example the following references in 2 Kings 22-23;
1). References where the words were spoken by someone :
· ‘the book of the law’ (Hilkiah - 2 Kings 22:8).
· ‘concerning the words of this book that is found’ (Josiah - 2 Kings 22:13).
· ‘the words of this book’ (Josiah - 2 Kings 22:13).
· ‘even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read’ (Huldah - 2 Kings 22:16).
· ‘the words which you have heard’ (Huldah - 2 Kings 22:18).
· ‘as it is written in this book of the covenant’ (Josiah - 2 Kings 23:21).
2) References where the words are the author’s:
· ‘the words of the book of the law’ (2 Kings 22:11).
· ‘all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH’ (2 Kings 23:2).
· ‘to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book’ (2 Kings 23:3).
· ‘that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of YHWH’ (2 Kings 23:24).
These can then be compared with the following references in Deuteronomy:
· ‘a copy of this law in a book’ (Deuteronomy 27:18).
· ‘to keep all the words of this law’ (Deuteronomy 27:19).
· ‘all the words of this law’ (Deuteronomy 27:3).
· ‘confirms not all the words of this law’ (Deuteronomy 27:26).
· ‘all the words of this law that are written in this book’ (Deuteronomy 28:58).
· ‘written in the book of this law’ (Deuteronomy 28:61).
· ‘the words of the covenant’ (Deuteronomy 29:1)
· ‘the words of this covenant’ (Deuteronomy 29:9).
· ‘the covenant that is written in this book of the law’ (Deuteronomy 29:21).
· ‘all the curse that is written in this book’ (Deuteronomy 29:27).
It is true that there are certainly a number of superficial similarities. However, it will be noted that the greatest similarity between Kings and Deuteronomy lies in the words used by the author who was, of course, familiar with Deuteronomy. And even there it could be just a coincidence because in each case a book connected with laws is in mind. On the other hand the differences will also be noted. Thus Deuteronomy on the whole emphasises ‘the law’ while Kings on the whole emphasises ‘the book’. Thus the Deuteronomic emphasis is different. We should also note that Deuteronomy does not refer to ‘the book of the covenant’, whilst both 2 Kings 22-23 and Exodus 24:7 do. Furthermore, if as is probable, much of the content of Deuteronomy was known to the speakers in Kings (as it was to Jeremiah, and of course also to the author), what more likely than that they would partly echo its language in order to demonstrate their point? In so far as it proves anything this would rather indicate an already wide familiarity with the language of Deuteronomy, than that ideas had been picked up and reproduced as a result of hearing an unknown book read once or twice. This is not to deny that Deuteronomy was possibly a part of what was discovered (we think it probably was), but it is to argue that it is certainly not proved by the language used. What is being argued is that the language used points more to the fact that ‘the Book of the Law’ contains at a minimum a larger portion of the Law of Moses. Indeed in 2 Kings 23:25 it is called ‘all the Law of Moses’.
End of excursus.
The Reign Of Josiah.
It will be noted that, as so often in the book of Kings, we are given little detail of the king’s reign. All the concentration is rather on the cleansing and restoration of the Temple, which resulted in the discovery of an ancient copy of the Book of the Law, the reading and interpreting of which gave impetus to reforms already begun, indicating that one of the author’s aims was to bring out how everything that was done (even what was done before it was found) was done in accordance with the Book of the Law.
As ever the author was not interested in giving us either a chronological or a detailed history. He was concerned as a prophet to underline certain theological implications, and the history was called on for that purpose (although without distorting it) and presented in such a way that it would bring out the idea that he wanted to convey, which was that Josiah sought to fulfil the Law of YHWH with all his heart, and that all that he did was in accordance with that Law.
But the details of Josiah’s reforming activities, which are then outlined, clearly include some which took place before the book was found, if for no other reason than that the Temple must almost certainly have been ‘cleansed’, at least to some extent, before it was restored. The whole point behind the preparations that had taken place for the restoration of the Temple was that there was a totally new attitude towards YHWH, and it is impossible to think that such an attitude would not already have ensured the removal of the most patently idolatrous items from the Temple, especially in view of the waning power and influence of Assyria. (By Josiah’s eighteenth years Ashur-bani-pal would have been dead some years, and his successor was far less militarily effective).
Nor must we assume that the Book of the Law of Moses was unknown prior to this point. The whole of Judah’s religious life, when at its best, was in fact built on that Law, and its influence had constantly been seen within the history of Israel from Joshua onwards. Parts of it would undoubtedly regularly have been recited, at least to the faithful, at the feasts. Furthermore it had previously been promulgated by the great prophets such as Isaiah, Micah, Amos and Hosea, and it must be seen as probable that written copies of the Law of Moses were stored in the Temple, both before the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 31:24-26; compare Deuteronomy 31:9), and within the Holy Place, and were available for reading within the Temple, even though (like the Bible has so often been) possibly wholly neglected at certain times. The point was rather that it had almost ceased to be read, with the result that what was believed about it had been considerably watered down. (Consider how many people today believe what they know the Bible’s message, but have never read it for themselves). The discovery of the ancient copy of the Book of the Law did not therefore produce a new totally unknown law for the people, but rather it brought into prominence the old Law and caused it to be read, stripping it of many of its accretions, and presenting it in a version which was seen as coming directly from the ancient past, something which would be recognised as giving it new authority because it was recognised as containing the wisdom of the ancients.
We can visualise the scene as follows:
· Those who were surveying the damage to the structure of the Temple and assessing what repairwork needed to be carried out, discovered in the foundational walls of the Temple (possibly in the Most Holy Place) some ancient scrolls.
· On discovering that they were in a script that was difficult to understand, because ancient, Hilkiah took one of the scrolls to Shaphan the Scribe (an expert in ancient and foreign languages) who first himself read it and then took it to the king.
· The scroll contained warnings concerning the wrath of YHWH being visited on His people if they went astray from His Law (probably from Leviticus 26:28 in view of the non-mention of cursings), and was read by Shaphan to the king.
· The king then sent a deputation to Huldah the prophetess. This was in order to enquire about what the current situation was in view of its teaching about the wrath of YHWH being directed at His people because they had not obeyed the Law that was written in the book. We should note that it is not said that they took the book to Huldah (even though up to that point the taking of the book to people had been emphasised), and in our view the impression given is that she did not herself see a copy of the book, referring to it rather as the one that had been read by the king of Judah. It would seem that she recognised what it was from their description and was already aware of its contents. So the impression given is not that she read the book, but that she recognised the book that the king had read for what it was.
· Her reply was that, because he was a godly king, that wrath would not be visited on Judah whilst he was still alive.
· As a result the king brought together a great gathering at which possibly the whole of the book (presumably now all the scrolls) was read out to the leaders and the people.
· The king then responded fully from his heart to the covenant of which the book spoke, and all the people were called on to confirm their response to it.
Having basically considered the initial pattern, which then leads on to a description of the reforms in depth, we must now consider the overall analysis of the section. It divides up as follows:
a Introduction to Josiah’s Reign (2 Kings 22:1-2).
b The Restoration of the Temple (2 Kings 22:3-12
c The Discovery of the Law Book (2 Kings 22:13).
d The Reply Of Huldah the Prophetess to the King’s Enquiry (2 Kings 22:14-20).
c The Reading Of The Book of the Law To The People Followed By A Description Of Josiah’s Reformative Activity And Of The Observance of the Passover (2 Kings 23:1-23).
b In Spite Of Josiah’s Piety and Activity YHWH Will Not Withdraw His Wrath From Judah (2 Kings 23:24-27).
a The Closure of His Reign (2 Kings 23:28-30).
Note that in ‘a’ we have the introduction to Josiah’s reign and in the parallel its cessation. In ‘b’ the repairing of the Temple commences, and in the parallel this is not sufficient to avert the wrath of YHWH. In ‘c’ the ancient Law Book is discovered and in the parallel it is read to the people and acted on. Centrally in ‘d’ the prophetess declares that the consequences of YHWH’s wrath are temporarily suspended but will not finally fail of fulfilment.
Introduction to Josiah’s Reign (2 Kings 22:1-2 ).
Josiah’s reign commences with the usual introductory formula giving his age when he began to reign, the length of his reign, and the name of the queen mother, followed by a verdict on his reign, which in this case was exemplary.
2 Kings 22:1
‘Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath.’
The early assassination of Amon resulted in Josiah coming to the throne at a very early age, with the result that he was only eight years old when he began to reign, and he then reigned for thirty one years, dying in battle at the age of thirty nine. The name of the queen mother, whose status in Judah was seen as very important, was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah. Jedidah means ‘beloved’. The name Adaiah is found on seals that have been excavated. Bozkath lay between Lachish and Eglon (Joshua 15:39). The purpose of the marriage may well have been in order to seal the relationship between Jerusalem and the border cities in the Shephelah, some of which like Libnah saw themselves as semi-independent (2 Kings 8:22).
2 Kings 22:2
‘And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, and walked in all the way of David his father, and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.’
The verdict on his reign was exceptional, for not only did he do what was right in the eyes of YHWH without reservation (he even removed the high places), but he also did not turn aside ‘to right or left’ (compare 2 Kings 18:3). In other words he was unwavering in his faithfulness to YHWH.
Instructions Concerning The Restoration of the Temple (2 Kings 22:3-7 ).
In view of its connection with the Temple these instructions would have been entered in the royal annals (compare 2 Kings 12:4-5). The entering up in some detail of such information about temples was a regular feature of official annals, for temples and their maintenance were seen as being of great importance to the stability of the royal house. Indeed the kings saw themselves as reigning on behalf of the gods, and as responsible for their houses. The similarity of wording with 2 Kings 12:11-15 (where it is not, however, in the words of the king) can be explained in one of two ways. The first possibility is that Josiah, with the restoration in view, had read the earlier annals and based his words on them. The second is that the prophetic author himself based the wording in 2 Kings 12:11-15, concerning the earlier restoration, on the words of Josiah here. Either is possible.
The fact that sufficient silver had been gathered for the restoration, something which would have taken months if not years to do, indicates that the reforms had already been in progress for some time. That was why the silver had been collected. Furthermore there can really be no doubt that before proceeding with this repair work, the Temple itself would have been ‘cleansed’ by the removal of major objectionable items such as the Asherah mentioned in 2 Kings 23:6. This would especially be so as by this time Ashur-bani-pal of Assyria had been dead for some years (his death occurring somewhere between 633 and 626 BC), and he had in fact not troubled Palestine in his later years, being taken up with both warfare elsewhere and antiquarian interests. Thus his death in itself would have signalled the possibility of removing the hated Assyrian gods from the Temple, even if that had not occurred previously, something which would have had the support of the majority of the people. That the reforms had commenced six years previously as the Chronicler states is therefore simply confirmation of what is already obvious (2 Chronicles 34:3). But it is not mentioned here because the author of Kings was not so much interested in when the reforms started as on concentrating on the details of the finding of the Book of the Law.
a And it came about in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan, the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of YHWH, saying, “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may sum the silver which is brought into the house of YHWH, which the keepers of the threshold have gathered of the people” (2 Kings 22:3-4)
b “And let them deliver it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of YHWH, and let them give it to the workmen who are in the house of YHWH, to repair the breaches of the house, to the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons, and for buying timber and hewn stone to repair the house” (2 Kings 22:5-6).
a However, there was no reckoning made with them of the silver which was delivered into their hand, for they dealt faithfully (2 Kings 22:7).
Note that in ‘a’ the amount of ‘silver’ was to be weighed up, and in the parallel no reckoning was to be made of it by the workers. Centrally in ‘b’ it had to be given to the workmen for the carrying out of the restoration work.
2 Kings 22:3
‘And it came about in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan, the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of YHWH, saying,’
This would have been in about 622 BC, some years after the death of Ashur-bani-pal, and three years after Babylonia had finally freed themselves from the Assyrian yoke. Thus it came at a time of decidedly waning Assyrian power (in fact within ten years the Assyrian empire would be on the verge of extinction). The eighteenth year is mentioned, not because it was the date of the commencement of the reforms, but as the date when serious repair work began on the restoration of the Temple itself after years of preparation, work which resulted in the law book being discovered within the Temple structure, a discovery which would have caused huge excitement as the emergence of something coming from the distant past. It would give a new impetus to what was already going on.
Shaphan (‘rock badger’) the scribe was Josiah’s official go-between, and one of the highest officials in the land (compare 2 Kings 18:18); 2 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 4:3). He was called on by the king to convey his official instructions in respect of the actual repair work on the Temple. The Chronicler tells us that he was accompanied by the governor of the city and the recorder. The deputation was thus seen as of the highest importance.
2 Kings 22:4-5
“Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may sum the silver which is brought into the house of YHWH, which the keepers of the threshold have gathered of the people, and let them deliver it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of YHWH, and let them give it to the workmen who are in the house of YHWH, to repair the breaches of the house,’
The instructions were necessarily passed on to the leading priest at the Temple. The title ‘high priest’ occurs in 2 Kings 12:10; Leviticus 21:10; Numbers 35:25; Numbers 35:28; Joshua 20:6. Such a status is also mentioned at Ugarit, and most nations had ‘high priests’, so that Israel would have been an oddity not to have had one. Normally, however, in Israel/Judah he was called simply ‘the Priest’, but here he was being given his formal official title in an important communication.
Hilkiah was being called on to weigh and ‘sum up’ the ‘silver’ (possibly by turning it into ingots. There were no official coins in those days) which had been gathered for the purpose of the repair work, and had been brought into the house of YHWH. The ‘keepers of the threshold’ were high Temple officials (in terms of New Testament days ‘chief priests’) who were responsible to ensure the sanctity of the Temple by excluding from it any unauthorised persons. Their post would make them ideal for the collecting of gifts to the Temple, and watching over them. Hilkiah, having assessed the value of the gifts, was then to call on the keepers of the threshhold to deliver the silver into the hands of the workmen who had oversight of the house of YHWH, in our terms the priestly architects and structural engineers. They in their turn were to arrange for the work to be done by organised priestly workmen set apart for the work and were to pay over the silver accordingly. This work would be performed by suitably trained priests. The aim was to ‘repair the breaches in the house’, in other words to carry out needed building repairs to the decaying and neglected building.
2 Kings 22:6
‘To the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons, and for buying timber and hewn stone to repair the house.’
The silver was to be both paid to the specialist workmen, and to the merchants who would provide the timber and hewn stone for the repair of the house. The need for hewn stone (hewn away from the Temple area in accordance with measurements taken) emphasises the poor state at that time of the Temple structure. Compare here 2 Kings 12:11-12.
2 Kings 22:7
‘However, there was no reckoning made with them of the money which was delivered into their hand, for they dealt faithfully.’
The honesty of those involved was considered to be such that it was felt unnecessary to call for an account of how the silver was spent. Comparison with 2 Kings 12:15 suggests that this was regularly a recognised part of any such contract. To have taken up any other position would seemingly have been seen as insulting to the priest-workmen. Such an attitude was only really possible in times of ‘revival’ when there was a new spirit of dedication around.
The Discovery of The Book Of The Law And Its Immediate Consequences (2 Kings 22:8-13 ).
We have already indicated above our view that this Book of the Law was found within the foundation walls themselves, having been placed there on the orders of Solomon when the Temple was built so as to connect the covenant closely with the Temple, and to act as a reminder to YHWH that the worshippers within the Temple were His covenant people. This would explain why it was immediately seen as acceptable. Any ‘unrecognised’ records would hardly have been treated in such a serious fashion. In our view the only other possible alternative would be that it was found in the Most Holy Place by the Ark. Any discovery in any other place would have occasioned much more of an examination before the king became involved.
Whilst ‘book’ is in the singular, the law of Moses was regularly spoken of as ‘the book of the law of Moses’ regardless of how many scrolls it occupied. The probability here is that a number of scrolls were found of which Hilkiah selected one to bring to Shaphan. Shaphan having then read it took it to the king. Thus initially only the one scroll was read. The lack of mention of cursings by the king, a regular feature of Deuteronomy, suggests that the portion that was read included Leviticus 26:28.
It should be noted that there is no indication that its contents were ‘new’. Indeed had they been seen as such they would probably have been rejected. They would have expected that what they found in the Book of the Law would link closely with their own original traditions. What was new was that it was in the form of an ancient scroll remarkably discovered in the fabric of the Temple, and was read to the king who was moved by its warning of YHWH’s wrath coming on those who had not obeyed YHWH’s requirements. That was the only sense in which it was a new revelation. We can compare how, when the Bible had been restricted to the clergy for centuries by the Roman Catholic church, its availability to a wider audience caused a similar sensation. As here it had not been ‘lost. It had simply not been read except by sholastics who read it according to their own fixed ‘interpretations’.
It should also be noted that there is no suggestion that Huldah read the book, or even saw it. The impression given is that she referred to something that the king had heard, and not to something that she herself had read (otherwise we would have expected that to be made clear). Sufficient would have been communicated to her to enable her to identify it. And naturally she would be aware of its contents as one of the faithful who had constantly read the law of YHWH, and had access to it, even in times of apostasy.
a And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of YHWH” (2 Kings 22:8 a).
b And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan, and he read it (2 Kings 22:8 b).
c And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, “Your servants have emptied out the money which was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of YHWH. And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has delivered me a book” (2 Kings 22:9-10 a).
d And Shaphan read it before the king (2 Kings 22:10 b).
c And it came about, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he tore his clothes (2 Kings 22:11).
b And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go you, enquire of YHWH for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found” (2 Kings 22:12-13 a)
a “For great is the wrath of YHWH that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that which is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13 b).
Note that in ‘a’ the discovery of the Book of the Law is disclosed to Shaphan by Hilkiah, and in the parallel the king is deeply stirred ‘by the words of this book’, as disclosed to him by Shaphan. In ‘b’ Hilkiah delivers ‘the book’ to Shaphan who reads it, and in the parallel both Hilkiah and Shaphan are a part of the deputation to the prophetess Huldah, sent to enquire concerning the warnings given in the book. In ‘c’ Shaphan reports to Josiah concerning the book, and in the parallel the king tears his clothes at what it says. Centrally in ‘d’ it was read before the king.
2 Kings 22:8
‘And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of YHWH.” And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan, and he read it.’
Hilkiah clearly saw the find as of such importance that it had to be reported to the king, and in consequence sent a messenger to Shaphan the court chamberlain informing him of the find. This in itself indicates how unusual the find was seen to be. It must have been something very special to have initiated such a response, otherwise it would simply have been placed with the other scrolls in the Temple. The fact that he described it as ‘The Book Of The Law’ indicated that he saw it as primarily containing the Law of Moses. As he had not read it (and was possibly finding it difficult to do so because of its ancient script) this description could only have arisen because he had grounds for knowing what it must be. That would hardly be true of some document left in the Temple which had been introduced there from outside which they had simply come across among the many treasures stored in the Temple. If, however, if it was found within the foundation structure of the Temple he would know immediately what it was, the ancient covenant between YHWH and His worshippers, coming from the time of Solomon.
It is true that we are not specifically told where the Book of the Law was discovered, but the impression given is that it was discovered as a result of the building work commencing, and probably therefore as a result of the initial survey work which would be required before that commenced. Some have suggested that it was the copy of the Book of the Law which Moses had required be placed next to the Ark of the covenant of YHWH (Deuteronomy 31:24-26), but it is difficult to see why that should have remained undiscovered for so long, especially as the Most Holy Place was entered at least once a year. The most obvious explanation is that it was discovered within the foundation walls while preparing for structural repairs.
That Judah already had a written ‘book of the Law’ is accepted under most theories (even if in truncated form in the postulated but doubtful J and E), so it is difficult to see why the discovery of another book of the law would in the normal way cause such excitement, especially if it was not known where it came from, certainly not sufficient for it to be taken immediately to the king by official messengers. But we can equally certainly understand why ancient scrolls discovered within the structure of the Temple itself would produce precisely that kind of excitement. They would have been treated with the utmost reverence as containing the wisdom of the ancients.
Hilkiah then ‘delivered the book to Shaphan.’ If there were a number of scrolls he may well simply have handed one of them to Shaphan. Or it may be that Shaphan received them all and selected one to read. Either way Shaphan then ‘read the book’, although not necessarily all the scrolls.
2 Kings 22:9
‘And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, “Your servants have emptied out the money which was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of YHWH.’
Shaphan then reported to the king concerning the progress on the Temple repairs, informing him that the priestly overseers of the work had been duly provided with the necessary funds.
2 Kings 22:10
‘And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has delivered me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.’
Then Shaphan explained that Hilkiah ‘the Priest’ had ‘delivered a book’ to him. No doubt a fuller explanation concerning the find was given, otherwise the king would probably not have been interested. Shaphan then read it before the king. Assuming that a number of scrolls had been found Shaphan would hardly have brought them all in. Thus he had presumably selected one for the purpose of reading it before the king. As we have seen the overall context certainly suggests that it was not simply a part of Deuteronomy. Nor is it conceivable why, if that were all it was, and the king did not know what Deuteronomy was, he should have wanted to hear the reading, for he would have considered that he already knew what the Law was.
2 Kings 22:11
‘And it came about, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he tore his clothes.’
What was read out to the king moved him deeply, with the result that he symbolically tore his clothes in order to express his deep emotion, for it spoke of the wrath of YHWH against His people because they had not walked in fulfilment of His requirements.
2 Kings 22:12
‘And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying,’
The king recognised that the people had not been observing the requirements laid down in the book, but it was the warnings of what would follow such disobedience that moved him. Thus he sent an important official deputation, combining both religious and political authorities, to a recognised prophetess, in order to enquire as to whether the wrath of YHWH was about to be poured out on them.
Ahikam the son of Shaphan would later help Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24). His son was Gedaliah who became governor of Judah (2 Kings 25:22; Jeremiah 39:14). Achbor means ‘mouse’ (compare Shaphan = rock badger, Huldah = mole, which suggests that at the time there was a preference for names connected with animals. ‘The king’s servant’ indicated a prominent court official. It was a term common on seals from Judah. .
2 Kings 22:13
“Go you, enquire of YHWH for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found, for great is the wrath of YHWH that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that which is written concerning us.”
He called on them to ‘enquire of YHWH’ on his behalf concerning the fact that the people (indeed ‘all of Judah’) had been disobedient to what was written in the book. His aim was to discover whether YHWH intended to visit His people with the great wrath described in the book. It is noteworthy that no mention is made of blessings and cursings (which we might have expected if it was Deuteronomy). It is the wrath of YHWH that he fears, the wrath described in Leviticus 26:16; Leviticus 26:22; Leviticus 26:25; Leviticus 26:28-31; Leviticus 26:33; Leviticus 26:38. For ‘enquiring of YHWH’ see 2 Kings 3:11; 2 Kings 8:8; Genesis 25:22; 1 Kings 22:8.
Huldah’s Reply To Josiah (2 Kings 22:14-20 ).
The enquiry was made to Huldah, the prophetess. We should note that there is no hint that Huldah read the book, or even saw it. Given the care that the author has taken up to this point to indicate precisely what happened to the book (‘Huldah delivered the book to Shaphan and he read it’ -- ‘Shaphan read it before the king’) this must be seen as significant, especially as she does refer to Josiah reading it. Note also that while Josiah referred to ‘this book’ when speaking to Hilkiah and the others, this is not true of Huldah. Instead she seemingly demonstrated that she was already aware of the contents of the book and did not need to read it.
If she did speak from a background of ‘the Law of Moses’ we would expect to find that Law reflected in her words and we are not disappointed. Reference to ‘the ‘burning of incense’ is found thirteen times in Exodus to Numbers (although not in reference to foreign idols. That idea occurs first in 1 Kings 11:8), and in all incense is mentioned fifty times. It is, however, only mentioned once in Deuteronomy, and then not as ‘burned’. In contrast ‘provoke Me to anger’ is found regularly in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 4:25; Deuteronomy 9:18; Deuteronomy 31:29; Deuteronomy 32:16; Deuteronomy 32:21), but interestingly not in the part often seen by many as comprising ‘the Book of the Law’. ‘Kindling of wrath’ is found in Genesis 39:9; Numbers 11:33; Deuteronomy 11:17, in all cases against people. ‘Quenched’ occurs only in Leviticus 6:12-13. The declaration that the inhabitants would become a desolation and curse is not Deuteronomic language, for ‘curse’ is here being used in a general sense along with ‘desolation’ as referring to what the people would become, an angle that does not occur in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy tends to stress positive ‘cursing’ by YHWH. Thus Huldah’s words reflect having the whole Law of Moses as a background (or the tradition that lies behind it) and do not favour the argument for Deuteronomy alone.
a So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter), and they communed with her (2 Kings 22:14).
b And she said to them, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel. You tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read” (2 Kings 22:15-16).
c “Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched” (2 Kings 22:17).
d “But to the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of YHWH, thus shall you say to him” (2 Kings 22:18).
c “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, as touching the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before YHWH, when you heard what I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and have torn your clothes, and wept before me, I also have heard you, says YHWH” (2 Kings 22:19).
b “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, nor will your eyes see all the evil which I will bring on this place” (2 Kings 22:20 a).
a And they brought the king word again (2 Kings 22:20 b).
Note that in ‘a’ the deputation was sent to the prophet, and in the parallel the deputation brought the king word again. In ‘b’ evil was to come ‘on this place’ and in the parallel Josiah was not to see the evil that would come ‘on this place’. In ‘c’ YHWH’s wrath was kindled against them, and in the parallel Josiah had been moved by the fact. Centrally in ‘d’ the word comes to the king from YHWH.
2 Kings 22:14
‘So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter), and they communed with her.’
It is clear that the deputation saw Huldah (‘mole’) the prophetess as a suitable person through whom to ‘enquire of YHWH’. This was partly because she was both a prophetess and the wife of a high official (if it was the king’s wardrobe), or of s Temple servant (if it was the keeper of the Temple robes, compare 2 Kings 10:22). Either way he was the official ‘keeper of the wardrobe’, and thus well known to the men in question. This might explain why they did not seek out Zephaniah or Jeremiah, who, while highly influential, were probably not prophets directly connected with the Temple (although Jeremiah was a priest from Anathoth). Alternately they may well not have been in Jerusalem at the time. Some suggest that it was because they may have been seen as men who would be more likely to give a pessimistic reply, but it is not likely that Josiah would see things like that. He genuinely wanted to know what YHWH had to say. Huldah was clearly an exceptional woman, and presumably was recognised as having an exceptional prophetic gift. It must probably be accepted therefore that that was seen as her accepted function.
‘The second quarter’ was probably an area reserved for official functionaries of the palace and the Temple, so that this indicated her importance. It was probably the northern extension of the old Jebusite city.
2 Kings 22:15-16
‘And she said to them, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel. You tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read.” ’
Her indirect reference to the book as ‘the book which the king of Judah has read’ can most naturally be seen as an indication that she herself had not read it. This would serve to confirm that it was not seen as a new source of Law, and that she did not need to read it in order to know what was in it. Its significance lay rather in the age of the record, where it was found, and what it signified. She commenced by pointing out that she spoke in the name of YHWH, and as His mouthpiece. ‘You tell the man who sent you’ (which in context was clearly not antagonistic) indicated that she was speaking with deliberate independence as a servant of YHWH and not as a servant of the king (i.e. not subserviently).
And the message was that evil was to come on Judah and Jerusalem. Once again there is no specific reference to what we call ‘The Exile’. The thought is rather of general judgment coming on Judah and Jerusalem in whatever way God chose. But both Leviticus and Deuteronomy would have perfectly justified her in seeing this as including exile (see Leviticus 26:31-36; Deuteronomy 28:15 ff), to say nothing of what the past had revealed about what happened to those who rebelled against great kings (as we have seen both Israel and Judah had already experienced a number of times what it meant to have many of their people taken into exile). Furthermore Micah had already prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem (Micah 3:9-12), and as Micah’s words are cited by Jeremiah 26:18 it must have been before the event. Huldah would therefore have had to be very naive not to be able to prophesy coming judgment in view of the sins of Judah and what had been said by prophets in the past. Thus there is no reason to think that words have later been put into her mouth. But it should be noted that she spoke generally of ‘all the words of this book’, rather than being specific. In the event she was to be proved literally true.
2 Kings 22:17
“Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.”
And the reason why this would be so was because they had forsaken YHWH and had burned incense to other gods, provoking YHWH to anger with all the work of their hands. That was why His wrath was kindled against ‘this place’ (an expression common in both Genesis and Deuteronomy). The language reflects earlier passages in Kings (1 Kings 12:3; and often; 1Ki 11:8 ; 1 Kings 12:33; 1 Kings 14:9; 1 Kings 15:30 etc; 1 Kings 22:43), and echoes different parts of the Pentateuch, as we have seen above. But there is nothing uniquely Deuteronomic about it (depending of course on your definition of the term). The burning of incense was a regular feature of Canaanite worship, and a number of examples of incense burning altars have been found in Palestine.
2 Kings 22:18-19
“But to the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of YHWH, thus shall you say to him, Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, as touching the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before YHWH, when you heard what I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and have torn your clothes, and wept before me, I also have heard you, says YHWH.”
Once again the prophetess avoided a personal reference to Josiah (compare ‘the man who sent you’ in 2 Kings 22:15), calling him rather ‘the king of Judah’, thus keeping him prophetically at arm’s length. But she confirmed that he had done well to ‘enquire of YHWH’, a phrase found in the Pentateuch only in Genesis 25:22. It is also found in Judges 20:27; ten times in Samuel; and often in Kings. Her message to him was that YHWH had seen his tenderheartedness and humility in the light of what he had heard, and had noted the fact that he had torn his clothing and wept before YHWH. It was because of that that YHWH had heard him.
The message that he had heard and which had so moved him was that YHWH had spoken ‘against this place’ and against its inhabitants and had promised that they would become a desolation and a curse. The descriptions were powerful and emphasised the severity of what was coming. Having accepted it, and having been moved by it, Josiah had now come to YHWH to seek His mind concerning it. It will be noted that the way the word ‘curse’ is used is dissimilar to the way in which it is used in Deuteronomy, although having the same root idea. Here it is the people who were to become a curse and it is paralleled with ‘desolation’ giving it a more generalised meaning. The same usage is in fact paralleled in Jeremiah 49:13 where the idea is similarly general and ‘curse’ is similarly paralleled with other descriptions. (Note also its use in Genesis 27:12-13). It is not therefore used in such a way as to suggest that it specifically had the curses of the covenant in Deuteronomy directly in mind. This idea of Judah being a curse and a desolation can indeed be seen as having in mind any of the Pentateuchal warnings of what would happen to His people if they disobeyed Him (e.g. Leviticus 18:24-30; Leviticus 20:22-23; Leviticus 26:14-46; Deuteronomy 27:15 to Deuteronomy 29:29).
2 Kings 22:20
“Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, nor will your eyes see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” ’
In view of Josiah’s death as a result of battle wounds it might appear at first sight that YHWH did not fulfil His promise that Josiah would be gathered to his grave in peace. And it may be that in fact we have a reminder here that God’s promises are made on the condition of our obedience. On the other hand it is more probable that we are to see it as an indication of the conditions that would be prevailing in Judah up to the time of his death. Thus we may see this as indicating that YHWH’s point was that whilst Josiah was trusting in Him with all his heart He would ensure that all went well for him and Judah whilst he still lived. It could not, on the other hand, be a promise that he would himself be kept safe whatever he did, even if he was foolish, for that would have been unreasonable. What it was, was a promise that he would be kept safe whilst he was trusting in YHWH and walking in obedience to him. Consequently, when, instead of trusting YHWH and consulting Him about what he should do, he blatantly went out on his own initiative to fight against an Egyptian army that was not threatening Judah, he brought his death on himself. It was not a failure on behalf of YHWH to fulfil His word.
However, the prophecy was still fulfilled in its main intent, for the fact that Josiah was to be ‘gathered to his grave in peace’ was, as we have seen, not necessarily in context mainly an emphasis on the manner of his own death. In view of its parallelism with ‘nor will your eyes see all the evil which I will bring on this place’ we may well see it as having in mind that while he lived his land would be at peace, and would not suffer desolation, and that whenever he did die that peace would still be prevailing. And that promise was basically kept, for at the time of his death Judah was actually under no specific threat, and there was no immediate threat to its peace. The truth is that the Egyptians whom Josiah waylaid were not in fact focused on attacking Judah but were racing to assist the Assyrians in their last stand against the Babylonians and their allies, and according to 2 Chronicles 35:20-21 claimed to have no grievance against Judah. Thus according to the Chronicler Pharaoh Necho made clear to Josiah that no danger was threatened against Judah. Josiah, however, refused to listen to him (2 Chronicles 35:20-21). Thus the author here in Kings probably wants us to recognise that what happened to Josiah was not of YHWH’s doing. It was rather the result of his own folly and occurred because, for political reasons (possibly as the result of an agreement with Babylon), he had set out to waylay the Egyptian army without consulting YHWH. The consequence was that he was seen as having chosen his own way of death in a way that was contrary to YHWH’s will. On the other hand, the fact that he would not see the evil that would come on Judah was true, for that occurred only after his death. Nevertheless the fact that Josiah died from battle wounds does tend to confirm that this was a prophecy ‘before the event’, for a prophecy ‘after the event’, which knew of the way in which he had died, would undoubtedly have been worded differently.
The question must be asked as to whether the prophetess had the Exile in view in her words, and the answer is probably both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It is ‘yes’ because she must certainly have been aware from past history of the possibility that future conflict could lead to exile, so that her knowledge of what Micah had prophesied in Micah 3:9-12 would only have confirmed such an idea to her, but it is ‘no’ because from the form of her words she was equally clearly not informed on the exact details. What she was passing on was simply what YHWH had told her to pass on. Knowing, however, that Micah had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, and knowing what had been said in Leviticus and Deuteronomy about Israel being removed from their own land, and knowing the tendency of great kings to have transportation policy, she must certainly have had the possibility of exile in mind. It was not, however, what she specifically warned against. Her warning was of desolation and destruction without going into the details.
2 Kings 22:20
‘And they brought the king word again.’
Having listened to the words of Huldah the prophetess, the deputation returned to the king in order to convey her words to him.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 22". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany