Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Boscath.Chap. 2 Kings 22:1-7. Josiah king of Judah. His good reign. He begins to repair the temple (2 Chronicles 34:1-13)
1. Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign] Called to the throne as such a mere child the new king must have been under some guardianship, and however good his natural desires may have been, he could hardly have commenced the great reforms which he brought about until he had been some time on the throne.
Boscath] R.V. Bozcath. This latter is the form of the word in Joshua 15:39, where it is mentioned between Lachish and Eglon among the cities of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah. It must have been in the lowlands of Judæa, but its site is not identified. It is mentioned only in these two passages of the Bible.
And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.
And it came to pass in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of the LORD, saying,3. And it came to pass in the eighteenth year] The Chronicler gives two dates anterior to this for events in the course of Josiah’s life. He says (2 Chronicles 34:3-7 R.V.) ‘In the eighth year of his reign while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the Asherim, and the graven images and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of the Baalim in his presence, and the sun-images that were on high above them he hewed down, and the Asherim and the graven images and the molten images he brake in pieces, and made dust of them and strewed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them. And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars and purged Judah and Jerusalem. And so did he in the cities of Manasseh and Ephraim and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, in their ruins round about. And he brake down the altars and beat the Asherim and the graven images into powder, and hewed down all the sun-images throughout all the land of Israel, and returned to Jerusalem’. It is clear that we have here, a most comprehensive summary of the destruction of idolatry in the whole of Josiah’s reign and not what he began to do in his twelfth year. The Chronicler however having given us the date at which Josiah first manifested his disposition to destroy the idols out of the land, includes in the same sentences all that was done by the king in the after part of his reign. We cannot but think that the chief impulse toward the utter destruction of the idols was given, as the writer of Kings tells us (2 Kings 23:3) when the king made a covenant to walk after the Lord, according to the words of the book of the Law, and all the people stood to the covenant. Then began the extermination of all remaining traces of idolatry, which the king himself had begun to remove in some degree in his twelfth year.
The LXX. adds to the date given in this verse, ἐν τῷ μηνὶ τῷ ὀγδόῳ, ‘in the eighth month’, but with no warrant from the original.
the king sent Shaphan … the scribe] The event on which all else in Josiah’s reformation seems to hinge is the restoration of the temple. There it was that the book of the Law was discovered which stirred both king and people to attempt a thorough reformation. Therefore the writer of Kings passes to that undertaking without pausing over minor matters which preceded it.
Shaphan … the scribe] Shaphan whose father and grandfather are here mentioned, was the father of Ahikam mentioned below (verse 12) and of Gemariah (Jeremiah 36:10-12), and the grandfather of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 39:14; Jeremiah 40:5; Jeremiah 40:9; Jeremiah 40:11, &c.). The office of Scribe in his time was clearly an important one. He is sent by the king to take oversight of the funds for the restoration of the temple, and seems to have ranked with the governor of the city and the recorder. We have no notice of Shaphan’s afterlife. He must have been advanced in years at this time, for thirty-five years after this date his grandson Gedaliah was set by the Chaldæans to be governor of the country.
Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may sum the silver which is brought into the house of the LORD, which the keepers of the door have gathered of the people:4. Hilkiah the high priest] From 1 Chronicles 6:13 it seems that he was the son of Shallum, and judging from Ezra 7:1 he appears to have been an ancestor of Ezra.
that he may sum the silver] R.V. money. With a view to a restoration of the temple, a collection of money like that in the reign of Joash (see above, chap. 12.) had been in progress, and now, acting on the precedent of that previous time, as appears from the great similarity in the language used to describe them both, Josiah sets about the repair of all that had fallen into decay during the seven and fifty years which had passed since the death of Hezekiah.
the keepers of the door have gathered of the people] The keepers of the door were the priests (see 2 Kings 12:9) who had charge of the treasury into which the offerings of the devout were put. In Chronicles they are said to be the Levites. It is noted in 2 Chron. that money was not only gathered from Judah and Benjamin, but also from the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, and from all the remnant of Israel.
And let them deliver it into the hand of the doers of the work, that have the oversight of the house of the LORD: and let them give it to the doers of the work which is in the house of the LORD, to repair the breaches of the house,5. into the hand of the doers of the work] R.V. of the workmen. Two sets of people are here both called ‘doers of the work’ (R.V. workmen), first, those who have the oversight, whom we should now call perhaps ‘contractors’ or ‘architects’: and secondly, the actual artificers, carpenters, &c. The former received the money in gross, and paid it out for wages to the several classes of workmen. So R.V. also translates the close of this verse ‘to the workmen which are in the house of the Lord’.
Unto carpenters, and builders, and masons, and to buy timber and hewn stone to repair the house.6. unto [R.V. adds the] carpenters, and [R.V. to the] builders, and [R.V. to the] masons] All the words are definite in the original.
and to buy [R.V. for buying] timber] The contractors had to provide both materials and labour from the money which was put at their disposal, and they were apparently persons who could be trusted to make the best possible provision without oversight.
Howbeit there was no reckoning made with them of the money that was delivered into their hand, because they dealt faithfully.7. no reckoning made with them] Compare the almost exactly similar account in 2 Kings 12:15. There is no doubt that over such labours the hearts of men are enlarged and they work from love of what they are doing, and so can be trusted to lay out all money to the best advantage, and often to supplement with their own what has been put into their hands. From such overseers to ask an account would be an insult. The Chronicler, as if drawing from official reports, preserves the names of these overseers.
And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.8–20. Hilkiah the high priest finds the book of the Law. Effect of the discovery on Josiah. The words of Huldah the prophetess (2 Chronicles 34:14-28)
8. I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord] Much discussion has arisen about the discovery which this verse records. Before entering on the question of what it was which Hilkiah found, it may be well to notice briefly the circumstances of the time. Josiah had succeeded his father at the age of eight, and in the previous fifty-seven years the kingdom had twice over been deluged with all the abominations of idolatry. The greater proportion therefore of the inhabitants of Jerusalem would have had little chance of knowing the law and its requirements. The temple had been neglected, perhaps closed, during a large part of these years. If we may judge of what would be needed now by what had been found necessary in Hezekiah’s time (2 Chronicles 29:5-7) the holy place would have become foul with neglect, the doors shut up, the lamps unlit, no incense within, no sacrifices without the building. As for the book of the Law, whatever might have been its contents at this time, rolls containing it would certainly not be numerous. In the possession of the priests they might be expected to be found, but only here and there. The copy made (according to the Law) for the use of the king would most certainly have perished. We must lay aside, in thinking of this time, all our modern conceptions about books and about a number of copies. The priests, in the matter of services and sacrifices in the temple, taught the people by word of mouth what was proper in every part of the ceremonial, and much of the priestly training was traditional, passed on from one generation of priests to another. That an authoritative copy of the Law, whatever it may have comprised, would be supplied for preservation in the temple we certainly might expect, but after nearly sixty years of neglect of the temple and its services we can feel little surprise that neither Hilkiah nor his fellows were aware of its existence, and that Josiah knew concerning it only what had been taught him by the priests. The half-century previous to Josiah’s accession had been a period of utter darkness both for people, priests and king.
Hilkiah gave [R.V. delivered] the book to Shaphan] The same verb is rendered ‘deliver’ in verses 9 and 10 just following. The scribe Shaphan was the person to whom such a discovered roll would naturally be brought. Neither Hilkiah nor Shaphan are surprised at what has been found. The high priest describes it to Shaphan by a form of words which must have had a definite meaning before he used them. That is, there was known among the priests, and to some degree no doubt among the people, a collection of precepts which were called by the name of ‘the book of the Law’. Therefore the finding mentioned in this verse was not a discovery of something unknown before, but the rescuing of the temple-copy of the Law from the hiding-place in which it had long lain (perhaps in one of the chambers round about the temple). Hilkiah knows what it is which he has come upon, the scribe with professional instinct begins to peruse it. Neither of them shews any ignorance or any surprise at the sight or perusal.
And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, Thy servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of them that do the work, that have the oversight of the house of the LORD.9. And Shaphan the scribe came to the king] The LXX. has for these words ‘And he went in unto the king in the house of the Lord’, but with no apparent warrant. Shaphan, bearing the book with him (2 Chronicles 34:16), comes and gives a calm account of the business on which he had been sent at first, viz. the enquiry and arrangement about the money which had been gathered. When that part of the business is despatched, he tells the king concerning the book that has been discovered. On this ‘Book of the Law’ see Introduction, pp. xlvi–xlviii.
Thy servants have gathered [R.V. emptied out] the money] The verb, in most of its forms is used of ‘pouring out’, and now and then (see A.V. margin) of ‘melting’ metals. Here what seems to be intended is that Hilkiah and Shaphan had removed the offerings from the chest at the temple, and had found out what sum was in hand for the work of restoration.
them that do the work [R.V. the workmen], that have the oversight] As above in verse 5. The scribe and the priest pass on the money to the contractors.
And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.10. Shaphan … shewed [R.V. told] the king] The R.V. has taken the rendering in Chronicles where the Hebrew is the same. ‘Shewed’ is open to a wrong sense.
Hilkiah … hath delivered me a book] Though Shaphan is represented as speaking of a book, there can be no question that he knew what the book was. ‘The book of the Law’ had a well-defined meaning for him. How far the king understood what such a book contained is questionable. The sacrifices and other religious observances in which he had taken part he of course understood. It is manifest that there was in this book something more than he had known before, from his alarm when he heard it read.
And Shaphan read it] i.e. Portions of it. The Hebrew in 2 Chronicles expresses this, and says ‘he read in it’.
And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.11. he rent his clothes] From what is said afterwards in verse 19, we can see that the portions which affected the king were such passages as Deuteronomy 28. There in verse 15, it is said, ‘If thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God … all these curses shall come upon thee’. And in verse 45 ‘all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee and overtake thee till thou be destroyed’. And in verse 37, ‘Thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb and a byword among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee’.
And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying,12. Ahikam the son of Shaphan] Ahikam was father of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 39:14), and continued in an official position in the reign of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:24). Ahikam must have been a person of ripe years to be sent on such an errand as this to Huldah. Hence Shaphan his father must have been of an advanced age. (See above on verse 3.)
Achbor the son of Michaiah] R.V. Micaiah. He is not mentioned except in this history. In the parallel place of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 34:20) he is called Abdon the son of Micah.
Asahiah a servant of the king’s] R.V. Asaiah the king’s servant. The name is so spelt in 2 Chronicles 34:20. ‘Servant’ in such phrases signifies some person of influence in close attendance on the king. See on v. 13 above.
Go ye, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.13. our fathers have not hearkened] The two reigns of Manasseh and Amon had led the whole people away to idolatry. Of the former of these kings it is said (2 Kings 12:11) ‘He hath made Judah also to sin with his idols’. For two generations at the least the retrospect of king Josiah was a very dark one.
So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.14. Huldah the prophetess] Except Miriam the sister of Moses, who is called ‘a prophetess’ in Exodus 15:20, and Deborah (Jdg 6:4) in the days of the judges, Huldah is the only woman spoken of in the Old Testament as endowed with prophetic gifts. For the term ‘prophetess’ as used in Isaiah 8:3 signifies only ‘a prophet’s wife’. Of Huldah we know only what is told us in this history. She lived in Jerusalem, and her husband, Shallum, was probably a Levite, as he had charge of what must have been the wardrobe for the vestments of the priests. The narrative here shews in what esteem she was held both by king and people, and her language in her answer has quite the prophetic character. She speaks not her own words but the message of the Lord the God of Israel, and even as Isaiah in the case of Hezekiah, she promises to Josiah, in the Lord’s name, that his supplication shall be answered. For ‘wife’ the LXX. has μητέρα, ‘the mother’, of Shallum, but with no warrant from the Hebrew.
Tikvah … Harhas] These names appear in 2 Chronicles 34:22 as Tikvath and Hasrah.
keeper of the wardrobe] See above on 2 Kings 10:22. There seems no doubt that the robes here alluded to are the robes of the priests, which are called by the same Hebrew word (בנדים) in Exodus 28:2-4; Exodus 29:5 and many subsequent passages of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.
in the college] R.V. in the second quarter. The Hebrew word ‘Mishneh’ here rendered ‘college’ has always something to do with ‘second’ or ‘double’, and in Zephaniah 1:10 it clearly refers to a part of the city of Jerusalem, and A.V. there translates it by ‘second’ (R.V. second quarter). Probably it was some additional suburban portion of the city, which was known by this name.
And she said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me,15. Tell [R.V. adds ye] the man that sent you to [R.V. unto] me] At first she places king and people all on one level and denounces the woes that shall surely come upon the nation for their sins, on all alike.
Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read:16. all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read] The Chronicler says, ‘all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah’. The curses are such as those contained in Deuteronomy 28 already alluded to, and in Leviticus 26:14-39.
Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched.17. works] R.V. work] of their hands] The Hebrew has the singular.
my wrath shall be kindled against this place and [R.V. adds it] shall not be quenched] The king in verse 13 used the expression ‘wrath of the Lord’. And the same expression is found in Leviticus 26:28, (though there both A.V. and R.V. have ‘fury’). The language of that book must have been present to the mind of both Josiah and Huldah.
But to the king of Judah which sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, As touching the words which thou hast heard;18. But to [R.V. unto] the king of Judah] A special message is sent to the king, because he had set about a reform as soon as he heard the words of the Law, and had sent to God’s prophetess to obtain guidance in the work he felt it his duty to undertake.
Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD.19. thine heart was tender] The adjective is often used of those that are fainthearted and feeble. Here it has a good sense and means ‘easily touched’, ‘susceptible’.
and thou hast humbled [R.V. didst humble] thyself] For grace shewn to such humiliation even in a worse case cf. 1 Kings 21:29.
I also have heard thee] The sentence implies ‘Because thou didst hear me’.
Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again.20. into thy grave in peace] i. e. None of these evils denounced against the nation shall come to pass in thy days. As far as they are concerned thou shalt die in peace. The promise has no reference to the war with Egypt (2 Kings 23:29) in which Josiah was slain at Megiddo.