5.92 2 Kings -- Josiah and the Final Flowering
Josiah was a righteous king, probably due to his mother's influence. He began by authorizing repairs to the Temple, which, after 50 years of pagan misuse, must have been in a sad state. The high priest, Hilkiah, found the Book of the Law in the Temple, and it was read to the king. This brought great anguish to Josiah, because the book exposed the degradation of Judah under its recent rulers. As Josiah realized,
"Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us" (2 Kings 22:13).
His officers consulted the resident spiritual authority, in this case a woman, Hulda the prophetess (2 Kings 22:14). She affirmed that judgment was coming to the land, that it would become "a desolation and a curse" (2 Kings 22:19 RSV), but that God would spare Josiah so that he would not live to see the evil time.
Josiah followed up his repentance by calling together a solemn assembly of the people of Judah. The words of the Book of the Covenant were read to them all, and then Josiah made a covenant to obey the Lord's commandments. The people also committed themselves to obey God. This was followed by a cleansing of the Temple of all idolatrous paraphernalia and pagan priests. Josiah did not kill them, but deposed them. However, he killed the priests of the high places outside of Jerusalem. He destroyed the Asherah, the houses of the male prostitutes, and the high places, including the site where children were burned as offerings to Molech (2 Kings 23:4-14). He got rid of the mediums and psychics. This was a thorough cleansing of the land of all its accumulated filth, even practices going back to the time of Solomon and Jeroboam (2 Kings 23:13-15). He fulfilled the word of the unidentified prophet that human bones would be burned on the altar that Jeroboam built (1 King 13:1-10). The sins of Solomon and Jeroboam had been committed 300 years before Josiah atoned for them! Ever since that time, pagan ceremonies had been encouraged, or at least tolerated, in Judah.
And then, as a positive act after all this purging, the Passover was celebrated for the first time since the days of the judges (2 Kings 23:22)! Actually, Hezekiah had celebrated the Passover (2 Chron 30), but without the Book of the Law to refer to, he may not have done it "properly." Think of it -- the very ceremony that was the heart of the Israelites' relationship to God had been neglected for centuries. God had commanded Israel to observe it annually and to relate its significance to their children (Ex 12:14, Ex 12:24-27). It is a measure of their coldness of heart that Israel had omitted this regular service -- as if a man professed to be a Christian but had no participation in the sacrament of Communion.
This festival was the defining moment of God's work of salvation for Israel. It was the reminder of deliverance, of the founding of their nation as a free people, as a community with a destiny in history. It linked the believer not only to God, not only to his fellow Israelites, but to the entire sacred tradition of the Patriarchs and one's tribal ancestors. It even reached out to include aliens and slaves (if they were circumcised -- Ex 12:44-48). Participation in this meal was a reaffirmation of the original covenant of blood, the lambs' blood on the doorposts. And it was a separation unto God from all that was outside His purposes -- all idolatries, all foreign nations, all bondage, all other loyalties. This was the sign of the chosen race, God's holy people.
Josiah's restoration of the Passover was an attempt to save the nation by re-establishing its spiritual foundations. It was an heroic effort, but it was too late:
Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger. So the Lord said, "I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, 'There shall my Name be'" (2 Kings 23:26-27).