October 19, 2017

Josiah: The King Who Walked In Truth

Keith E. Gephart

In the account of King Josiah found in 2 Kings 22 and 23, the Scriptures show us the end result of empty values. They also show us the way back to more solid ground. Josiah himself manifested a different relationship to truth at various stages of his life.

The story begins with Josiah’s childhood. He was only eight years of age when he became king of the southern kingdom, Judah (2 Kings 22:1). What kind of a kingdom did young Josiah inherit? Was his job easy or difficult? The context of 2 Kings shows us that Josiah inherited shame, a weak throne, a crumbling kingdom, a debased national religion, and a fearful threat of judgment. Things were in a mess—and he had the task of straightening them out. In light of all this we may wonder how this king can be called “the king who walked in truth.”

Truth Blurred and Lost

In the first stage of Josiah’s life, truth was blurred and lost in the nation and in his own heart and mind; pluralism was in place. A thorough understanding of the circumstances would require a survey of the entire history of the nation of Israel/Israel-Judah, but we will restrict our analysis to Josiah’s immediate family.

Josiah was the grandson of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6–9; 23:26–27), the most wicked and worthless king in Judah’s history (2 Kings 21:1). He also was very young when he came to power, and his reign was the longest of any king of the southern kingdom. If he had been righteous, he could have been a potent influence for righteousness in Judah.

Manasseh was not following the example of a bad father, for Hezekiah had been one of the most godly kings in Judah. The apostasy led by Manasseh was so pervasive and so extended that later reforms could not save the nation from divine judgment. Second Kings 23:26, 27 show that the Lord would not turn “from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal.”

Was Josiah’s father any better? Unfortunately, no. His father was Amon (2 Kings 21:19–22), who “did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, as his father Manasseh did. And he walked in all the way that his father walked in, and served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them: And he forsook the LORD God of his fathers, and walked not in the way of the LORD.” Chaos resulted from all this. “And the servants of Amon conspired against him, and slew the king in his own house. And the people of the land slew all them that had conspired against king Amon; and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his stead” (2 Kings 21:23, 24).

We cannot be sure of the motives of those who killed Amon, but one thing is sure: those who killed the conspirators were not dissatisfied with the status quo. They took Josiah and made him king—a king who was to continue in the mold of his predecessors. Josiah had a wicked grandfather and wicked father, wicked priests, and wicked people. He was but a child and had no chance to improve his spiritual heritage. Truth truly was blurred and lost.

During the first eight years of his reign things continued as before. However, when he was 16, still a youth, “he began to seek after the God of David his father” (2 Chron. 34:3). Then at the age of 20, in the twelfth year of his reign, “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images and the molten images.”

The Truth of Conscience

What was the basis of Josiah’s initial reform measures (see 2 Chron. 34:3, 4)? It was not the Word of God, the authoritative teachings of Scriptures. The reform measures were an attempt to please God by human good works.

These reform measures of Josiah continued through his eighteenth year (2 Kings 22:3–7). At the age of 26 Josiah decided to do a major work of repair on the temple of the Lord. Josiah was doing some very good things. He evidently wanted to impress the Almighty; he may have wanted to impress his mother; he certainly wanted to pacify his conscience.

The Truth of Revelation

The “truth” that Josiah was following was not the truth of divine revelation. While Josiah continued his manmade reformation in the process of cleansing and repairing the temple, Hilkiah the scribe made an amazing discovery: “And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.” Shaphan decided that this amazing discovery needed to be brought to the attention of king Josiah.

Evidently, the apostasy of Manasseh and of Amon was so thorough that the existing copies of the Scriptures had practically disappeared. It is likely that Josiah had never seen a copy of the Word of God; he had certainly neither read it nor followed its teachings in his life.

Shaphan the scribe brought the message to Josiah: “Thy servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of them that do the work, that have the oversight of the house of the LORD.” Then, while giving the king this report of the work progress, he mentioned the discovery of the book. “And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book.” The delivery of the book to Josiah was by far the most important thing ever done by Shaphan.

Shaphan proceeded to read the book before the king. The reading of the Word of God for the first time had a profound impact upon Josiah. He had never heard anything like it before! The effects of the Word upon the king were manifold.

1. Genuine repentance. “When the king had heard the words of the book of the law . . . he rent his clothes.” This action expressed horror and remorse, a sign of Josiah’s genuine repentance. He recognized the nation’s sin against God and knew Judah was in deep trouble.

2. Seeking God. The king commanded his servants: “Go ye, enquire of the LORD 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 the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book; to do according unto all that which is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:12, 13). Therefore, they sent to Huldah the prophetess. Notice that Josiah recognized God’s anger with Judah and its leaders because they had not obeyed the teachings of the book. Huldah’s reply to the messengers affirmed the certainty of punishment based on the words of the book (2 Kings 22:15–17). Josiah, however, would receive mercy from the Lord and would not live to see the fulfillment of the Lord’s judgment upon the nation (22:18–20). “Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord . . . and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD.” The Lord still looks for those who will seek Him with a tender and humble heart.

3. Reading God’s Word to the people. The king recognized that he could not truly reform the nation apart from the Word of God. The same book which had so miraculously wrought repentance in his heart would work on the hearts of the people. Therefore, “the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD.”

Josiah included every class of the nation, including leaders, elders, priests, prophets, the common people, the socially important and the unimportant. He gathered people from all parts of the land. Josiah wanted this to be a true reformation, divinely empowered. People still need the authoritative Word of God in order to experience genuine conversion and revival.

4. Making a covenant with the people. Josiah realized that it is not hearers of the Word who are acceptable to God, but doers (cf. James 1:22). Therefore, he entered into a covenant with the people before God: “And the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the LORD to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.” Their covenant to “walk after the LORD” is the same as “walking in truth,” for it involves the keeping of commandments, testimonies, and statutes. This was no half-hearted covenant which Josiah sought to enforce on the nation, for they pledged to obey the Lord “with all their heart and all their soul.” Their goal was to fulfill the words written in the book.

5. Changing behavior patterns. The true evidence of faithfulness to the covenant relationship would be seen in changed behavior. Old sinful and disobedient life patterns must go; new God-pleasing patterns of life must begin. Josiah was earnest in his reforms and insured that they were scriptural. Previously, he had not known how to bring reform, how extensive to make reforms, or what to include in them. Guided by Scripture, he included all forms of idolatry—even removing the high places dedicated to Yahweh, not just those devoted to false gods.

He realized that a purely negative revival was no revival at all. Therefore, he led in a genuine Passover celebration (2 Chronicles 35:1–18). This Passover was so spectacular in its observation that we are told “there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet” (35:18).

The truth of revelation brought about a life-changing revival of religion for Josiah and the nation of Judah. “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” (2 Kings 23:25). How was Josiah enabled to turn to the Lord with all his heart, all his soul, and all his might? It was the revelation of the Word of God that made the difference.

The same is true today. It is only when we read and respond rightly to the Book—that is, walk in the truth— that we are able to please God.


At the time of original publication, Dr. Keith E. Gephart was a professor at International Baptist College in Tempe, Arizona.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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