Summary: If God did not spare Israel for transgressing the covenant, He won't let anyone else either. True repentance will turn God's anger and covenant curses for disobedience away. But this must be more than a temporary matter
Don’t Make Jesus a One-Night Stand
The spiritual condition of Judah at the time Josiah took the throne of the kindom was deplorable. His grandfather Manasseh had ruled for 55 years, and apart from repenting of the evil late in his reign, Manasseh was the most evil ruler Judah ever had. His long reign years assured that two generations of Judah would have been influenced by his practices and that there would be hardly anyone alive who could remember the good that Manasseh’s father, Hezekiah, had done. This loss of memory led to the total neglect of God’s Word, the mixing of the worship with the pagan religions. The people of Judah burnt their children on the fire to the god Molech. They set up sacred groves to the goddess Asherah, who was served by male prostitute priests, some of which lived on the Temple grounds in Jerusalem itself. Idols to the sun and altars to the worship of the sun as well as to Baal had been set up in the Temple itself, the symbol of Jehovah’s presence. Chariots of the sun were drawn by horses in the religious processions. The Levites themselves seemed to have carried the Ark of the Covenant in these pagan processions.
In the north, the ten tribes had been carried away captive for doing the exact same abominations some one hundred years earlier. Hosea compared these practices as committing adultery against Jehovah. And indeed, this was an appropriate analogy. By putting up statues of other gods in front of and in the very presence of Jehovah would be like a man putting pictures of all his illicit lovers in his wife’s bedroom. Would any spouse put up with this treatment? Would the spouse really feel loved if this adulterer told her, “Honey, I love you?”—Of course not! So why should the Holy Jehovah, the creator of heaven and earth feel any different? Were not Israel and Judah clearly told by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Jehovah is your God, Jehovah only”? The LORD was to be Israel’s sole love. Because they had failed in this and polluted their worship with the worship of other gods, the gods of the other nations. It came to the point that the practice of the Israelites could not be distinguished from that of the other nations. It does not take a genius to see that once this happened, that the nation lost its identity. Where are these ten tribes today? Surely their descendants are with us today. But they have no identity. This threat was very real to the southern kingdom of Judah.
God, by His mercy had already spared Judah once out of a sense of compassion for King David in the days of Josiah’s great-grandfather, Hezekiah. Hezekiah had followed King Ahaz, who like Manasseh had introduced the worship of Baal and the host of heaven. Hezekiah in his earlier years made urgently needed reforms to the true worship of Jehovah. It was because of this that God stopped the Assyrian King Sennacherib at the gates of the city of Jerusalem. It was not the military might, but rather the power of God.
Unfortunately, Hezekiah became soft later in his life. He begged for life when he got sick. God graciously gave him fifteen years more life. But the Bible says he did not return the benefit of this gift. Anyone who knows arithmetic knows that Manasseh would never have been born save for these fifteen years. Perhaps the example Hezekiah set in later life influenced Manasseh or at least did not prevent Manasseh from the evil he committed. Scripture lists all the evils he committed far and above all his predecessors. It particularly notes the huge amount of innocent blood he shed. Even so, God showed grace in his judgment of him, granting him repentance later in life. But the evil he did so corrupted the people of Judah that God was determined to send them into exile in Babylon. Manasseh started to make some reform, but died, leaving his young son Amon to reign.
Amon reigned only two years before he died, but they were evil ones. He undid all the few reforms that Manasseh had started. In two years, Judah was again in the same depth of depravity as it had been in most of the years of Manasseh. At the same time Assyrian domination of the Middle East was waning, and a new breath of freedom was dawning in Judah and what was left of Israel. The people may have even had a tinge of optimism that things were getting better, perhaps even that God was blessing them. How little did they know how much trouble they were really in.
Josiah became king at the age of eight. He would have been assigned a tutor who actually would have run the government in Josiah’s name until, he came to maturity. Somewhere in this God’s grace intervened, for it says that this young king sought the Lord. Josiah soon began to make reforms. The way of the LORD had long been neglected. The Law of the LORD was lost. The priests were half pagan and ignorant of God’s truth. But common sense dictates a good place to start in restoring the relationship was to clean the house and fix it up in such a way to make Jehovah happy. Surely it was a bad idea to have the pictures of Judah’s other lovers in the house.