Summary: Seek the Lord, remove the idols, restore the worship, renew the covenant, remain faithful... These are the amazing milestones of a great king.
This weeks readings take us through the reign of Josiah, who was one of Judah’s best kings. He made a very noble attempt at bringing the people of Judah and Israel back to the Lord. Jeremiah prophesied during Josiah’s reign and his words reveal that the national restoration to the Lord was very shallow at best. Josiah was sincere, but the people by in large were not.
It’s like the kid whose mother tells him, “Sit down or I’ll spank you!” The kid sits down and then says to his mom, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but inside I’m still standing up.”
Jeremiah’s message makes it clear that while Josiah made Judah and Israel renew the covenant on the outside, inside most of them were still captivated by sin and rebellion against God.
True and lasting national repentance was Josiah’s aim, but the results were short lived. Jeremiah shows us that sometimes hard hearts must be broken by punishment before they can be healed by God’s grace.
Before we go any further let’s zoom out and look at the landscape of this historical setting. Who is Josiah anyway? Well, he’s one of the last kings of Judah, before the Babylonians came and ran roughshod over Judah, destroyed the temple of Solomon, and led multitudes of Judah’s people into captivity.
When Josiah was born, his grandfather, Manasseh was king. Manasseh had been the most wicked, ungodly king in Judah, but late in his reign the Assyrians came and took him with hooks to Babylon. There, in his distress, he repented and prayed and God brought him back to Jerusalem where he finished his reign. Upon returning he actually commanded Judah to worship the Lord and attempted a restoration. 2 Chron. 33:10-17 tells the story. I wonder what influence this may have had on his grandson, Josiah? It failed to take root in Manasseh’s son and Josiah’s dad, Amon. Well, by the time Josiah was in kindergarten, his grandfather died and his dad, Amon became king. He only reigned 3 years. Amon returned to practicing the wickedness and idol worship of his youth. He must have brought back all the idols Manasseh had taken away. Before long some of his servants rose up and killed him. Josiah is in about the second grade when this happened. The people went after and killed Amon’s assassins and made Josiah king! He’s only eight years old! His grandfather is dead and his father has been murdered. What must have gone on in Josiah’s mind? Who will lead him? What kind of influences will shape his reign?
One thing is for sure, someone has to take charge of the nation while the king grows up, and it may have been Shaphan, a Levite and the governor of the city. Or perhaps Hilkiah the high priest. We see a lot about Shaphan and his sons here and later. From all we know he was a very good man who used his influence to bring God’s people to repentance and restoration. Whoever influenced Josiah, we know this: he became the most godly, faithful king Judah had ever seen. 2 Kings 23:25 says: Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.