Josiah, when he is only eight years old, becomes king in place of his wicked father Amon (verse 11Josiah [was] eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem.). It is a great miracle that a boy like Josiah grows up in the house of the wicked Amon. However, in the first years of his reign everything will have remained in the line of his wicked father, because he is still too young to do anything himself. Yet from an early age he grew up in the things of the LORD.
Being young and staying in or being interested in the sanctuary are more often found together in Scripture. We see this for example also with Joshua, Samuel and Solomon. In Josiah we see a sensitive heart that is subject to the Word and a conscience that takes into account the thoughts and the will of God.
Josiah means ‘supported by the LORD’ or ‘for whom the LORD cares’ or ‘given by the LORD’. He reigned thirty-one years, from 640-609 BC. That is in the end time of Judah, eight hundred years after Moses and four hundred years after David. As said, his father, Amon, was a wicked man. Possibly Josiah has only experienced his grandfather Manasseh in his good times and that has had a blessing in his life. Besides his mother, Timothy also owes much to his grandmother (2Tim 1:55For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that [it is] in you as well.). Grandparents can contribute substantially to the development of their grandchildren.
The general characteristic of his life is that he does what is right in the sight of the LORD (verse 22He did right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.). The LORD looks at him with pleasure. Here he sees one who reminds of David, the man after His heart. No spiritual helper is mentioned, as once with Joash (2Chr 24:55He gathered the priests and Levites and said to them, “Go out to the cities of Judah and collect money from all Israel to repair the house of your God annually, and you shall do the matter quickly.” But the Levites did not act quickly.). It seems that Josiah has a personal relationship with God.
A child who becomes king is not directly a proof of God’s grace, but rather a judgment about the faithlessness of the people (Ecc 10:16a16Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning.; Isa 3:44And I will make mere lads their princes,
And capricious children will rule over them,
). However, if God gives a wise child, it is better “than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction” (Ecc 4:1313A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows [how] to receive instruction.). Josiah is such a wise child. He is wise because he fears the LORD.
His walk is compared to that of his father David, as is also mentioned of Hezekiah (2Chr 29:22He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.). He is balanced in his faith and serving the LORD. He does “not turn aside to the right or to the left” (Deu 5:3232So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left.). It is always a great danger for every child of God that he deviates either to the right or to the left.
We deviate to the right when we apply the truth of God’s Word without love; we deviate to the left when we only talk about love without applying the truth of God’s Word. It is important that we have a walk in which we do not fall into sectarian narrow-mindedness on the one hand, which is to deviate to the right, and carnal freedom on the other hand, which is to deviate to the left.
In the eighth year of his reign (verse 3a3For in the eighth year of his reign while he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images.), he is then sixteen years old, he makes the personal choice to seek the God of his father David. The childhood years are then over. There is growth to adulthood. At the important age of sixteen he begins to seek God. He does not seek God as a sinner, but as someone who consciously wants to involve Him in all his activities.
First Josiah walks in the ways of his father David (verse 22He did right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.). Now he begins to seek the God of his father David. With young people it is first the example that makes them walk, then they look for the source of strength for that walk. The example of David refers Josiah to God. Thus, the walk of the elders must refer to the Lord Jesus. Then young people will not go looking for the elderly, but for Him.
In the twelfth year of his reign (verse 3b3For in the eighth year of his reign while he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images.), when he is twenty, he begins to clean up. This is probably not possible earlier because of his dependence on others. When he begins the cleansing of the land, the book of the law has not yet been found. This indicates that someone who lives with the Lord has the desire that things are in agreement with Him. Conscience is then practiced in His presence and feels what is right, without an explicit word from God’s Word. What happens, however, is completely in agreement with it.
Then the Holy Spirit gives an account of the courageous deeds of Josiah (verses 4-74They tore down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars that were high above them he chopped down; also the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images he broke in pieces and ground to powder and scattered [it] on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.5Then he burned the bones of the priests on their altars and purged Judah and Jerusalem.6In the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, even as far as Naphtali, in their surrounding ruins,7he also tore down the altars and beat the Asherim and the carved images into powder, and chopped down all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.). Josiah wants to cleanse Jerusalem and Judah from places that express contempt for the center God has chosen. He will be surrounded by people who cannot appreciate his work. In any case, he will not receive much support. And although the people do not oppose him, their hearts are not with him either. It is a work of individual faith.
The variety of objects that Josiah destroys (verse 44They tore down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars that were high above them he chopped down; also the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images he broke in pieces and ground to powder and scattered [it] on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.) gives an impression of the arsenal of deceptions that Satan has to make God’s people unfaithful to his God. Often we, too, have to tidy up several things from our lives in order to make room again for the Lord Jesus. If one form of evil has entered our lives, it provides an opening for other forms of evil.
Josiah seeks God first, then he goes to work. It is important for young believers to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus in secret and to be taught and brought up by Him. Only when this is present an open task can be performed. First the roots must be driven deep into the Word of God, then the growth and the bearing of fruit will come. This is what Josiah needs, because he has an enormous work to do.
In Hezekiah this cleansing takes place at the end of his reign as the consequence of the inner cleansing. Josiah begins with the outer cleansing. Thereby he proceeds more thoroughly than his grandfather Manasseh after his conversion, for he not only breaks but also pulverizes. He destroys everything that is contrary to God’s statute that there is only one altar, His altar, and that there is only one house, His house. These are things that tolerate no competition. There is no compromise in holy things for Josiah.
He sprinkles the ashes of the idols upon the graves of the idolaters. It is an example that when someone dies, his works follow him in judgment (cf. 1Tim 5:2424The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their [sins] follow after.; cf. Rev 14:1313And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”). It is not over with death. By burning the bones of the priests on the altar (verse 55Then he burned the bones of the priests on their altars and purged Judah and Jerusalem.) he fulfils the prophecy of the man of God from Judah (1Kgs 13:22He cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’”).
The second phase of his cleansing is that he even goes to cities of the ten tribes (verse 66In the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, even as far as Naphtali, in their surrounding ruins,), while those tribes have already been deported. Only a handful of people will live there. However, for him it is also the holy land. He breaks all the incense altars “throughout the land of Israel” (verse 77he also tore down the altars and beat the Asherim and the carved images into powder, and chopped down all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.). It speaks of him cleansing the whole personal, daily life.
In addition, we see that, just as with Hezekiah, every sectarian thought is strange to him. For us, New Testament believers, the unity of the church, the one body, is the starting point of coming together and living together. That foundation is not limited to those who think alike, but is for everyone who belongs to the church. Josiah has a message for the whole people, not just for Judah. Whom we can still reach with God’s Word, we may show what that Word says about the church.
Josiah does not come with a message that feels good. He comes to eradicate the altars! He doesn’t come with a cheap message. He comes to tell them what is contrary to God’s Word. He tells them all this, even though he doesn’t have a Bible, because the Bible won’t be found until later. Yet he can tell them all this because he is aware of God’s holiness.