As I read through the historical books of the OT, I am always amazed at the way the Israelites seemed to swing back and forth between spiritual extremes. Godly kings were often succeeded by their wicked and idolatrous sons, and vice versa. Of course, this applies only to the kings of Judah for the nation of Israel did not have even one obedient king. Among the kings of Judah, there is one who stands out above all the rest – Josiah the son of Amon. He became king in Jerusalem at age 8, and under his direction the temple was repaired and true worship of Yahweh was restored. 2 Kings 23:25 commends Josiah as a righteous king, “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.” When you consider that Josiah’s ancestors include men such as Hezekiah, Solomon, and David, it is quite something to say he alone turned to the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might. Part of his devotion to the Lord involved a hatred of idolatry, and Josiah enacted the most comprehensive program of idol-extermination ever attempted in either Israel or Judah. Under his leadership the priesthood was reformed and the pagan priests were executed on their own altars. He desecrated their pagan holy places by filling them with human remains and he burned human bones on the idolatrous altars.
What is even more amazing is that Josiah’s father and grandfather, Amon and Manasseh, were the most wicked and ungodly kings that ever reigned in Judah. In fact, 2 Kings 21:9 says, “Manasseh seduced [the Israelites] to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel.” And it was because of the excessive wickedness of his 55-year reign that God declared he would “wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. (v.13)” His son, Amon, who only ruled for 2 years as king, followed in the ways of his father and committed gross idolatry until his own servants conspired to assassinate him. It was in the shadow of these two men and their great wickedness that Josiah was born and became king.
Josiah’s entire campaign to cleanse Judah and Israel from idolatry and turn the people back to the Lord was a fulfillment of prophecy, for an unnamed prophet had gone to Bethel during the reign of Jeroboam I and delivered an interesting message against the counterfeit altar the king had erected. 1 Kings 13:2 records his words: “O altar, altar! Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones shall be burned on you.’” This courageous messenger declared both Josiah’s name and his religious reforms nearly 300 years before his birth! Clearly the life and times of Josiah, king of Judah are a powerful demonstration of God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men. Though he was born during the most corrupt time in Judah’s history, Josiah stands as a testimony to God’s grace and a reminder that God’s word cannot fail to come to pass, no matter how dark things become.