Summary: The story of Josiah, and what purification might mean for us
Josiah and the purification of Israel
Introduction - Time Line
It is 700-600 years before Christ. In Britain the Iron Age is just starting, a couple of hundred years after the rest of Europe. In Israel the Kings have abandoned the God of their father Abraham, and are worshipping the Gods of the surrounding peoples. Israel is under the control of the Assyrian empire. In the middle of the century the Assyrian king is old and the empire is weak. Soon the Babylonians will take over the whole region, but when Josiah was king the Babylonians were only the subject of prophesies.
2 Ch 34:1
Josiah is made king after the murder of his father Amon and the murder of the conspirators. Amon is counted in the top 5 worst kings of Israel. He had been king for 2 years. Manesseh, Josiah’s Grandfather was also a bad king, but at least humbled himself before God.
2 Ch 34:3
Josiah began to seek God
2 Ch 34:3
Begins the purge of Judah. The country is cleared of Idols and cultic practices. Covers the whole Assyrian province of Israel. All of Judah, the southern kingdom, and some of Israel, the Northern Kingdom.
Jeremiah begins to prophesy – destruction and desolation (caused by Amon)
Scythian invaders (raiders) from the north cause instability in the region.
2 Ch 34:8-18
Starts repairs to the temple
The book of the Law is found
(Deuteronomy +other writings)
2 Ch 35:20-24
2 Ki 23:29-30
Josiah picks a fight with Neco II of Egypt. The battle takes place at Esdraelon, and Josiah is mortally wounded.
Josiah - Situation and Story
As a Child
What must it have been like for Josiah to be made King at the age of only eight years. There would surely have been guardians to look after him, but we cannot tell who they were, or where they came from. No-one allows free reign to an eight year old.
Whoever they were they had done an excellent job of bringing him up. Josiah became known as one of the very best Kings Israel had ever seen. At the age of sixteen Josiah began to seek Yahweh. Our God is one who promises that those who seek him will find him. It was as true for Josiah as it is for us.
At the age of twenty Josiah was ready. Still only a young man, but by now his own man, he decided that it was time to act.
In human terms the time was right. The Assyrian overlords were weak, and their king was dying. They were distracted by attacks from the north. In Yahweh’s terms the time was right. So the purification of the nation of Israel began.
The Asherah poles were removed from the temple. An Asherah pole is the figure of the Goddess carved out of a tree trunk, or sometimes just a tree selected and dedicated to the Goddess. Imagine it, the objects of foreign Gods in the temple, it’s like having a carving of Shiva in the Cathedral at Canterbury. Its unthinkable to us, but it had been the case for generations in Israel.
There were worse things than carvings and alters to remove. There were also male prostitutes in the temple. They were part of the system of the worship of Asherah, and I have no intention of describing that.
Purifying the Nation
Josiah was not only concerned with purifying the temple, he wanted to purify the nation. Beyond the temple there were other practices he put and end to – including the practice of child sacrifice.
2Ki 23:10 He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech.
To be certain that there was no residue of worship for the gods Asherah and Baal, Josiah killed all their priests, and had their bones burnt. He smashed their alters and had the stone deposited where it was not worth retrieving. He ground up their carvings to powder so they could not be reconstructed or repaired. All evidence of the transgressions of the Israelites from previous generations were removed.
Of course Josiah didn’t travel around the country personally vandalising shrines and smashing alters. Most of the destruction was carried out by the High priest Hilkiah and his fellow priests.
Once the alters, prostitutes, pole and shrines had been removed Josiah set about repairing Solomon’s temple (the first temple). It had been allowed to decay and had not been looked after.
It took Josiah a long time to purify his country although the account in Chronicles doesn’t make that very obvious.