2 Kings 23:1-14
And the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem.…
The narrative of Josiah's reforms contained in this chapter incorporates several particulars which, if the Book of Chronicles is to be regarded as giving the true chronology, belong to an earlier period. It is next to incredible that, after Jehovah's worship had been regularly established, such scandals as the prostitution alluded to in ver. 7, and the horses and chariots of the sun in ver. 11, should have Been allowed to continue. The narrative in Kings seems specially designed to bring all Josiah's reforms into one view. We have -
I. SOLEMN COVENANTING. After the example of Jehoiada in the reign of Joash (2 Chronicles 23:16), and the still more ancient example of Moses (Deuteronomy 29.), Josiah convened the people together to renew the covenant made with them by God at Sinai (Exodus 24:1-8). The covenanting took place appropriately in the house of the Lord - another evidence that the worst abominations had by this time been removed from the temple. All classes were assembled, high and low, priests, prophets, and people. In proposing to them to enter on this solemn engagement, in which he set them the example:
1. The king asked them to do a right thing. It was Israel's distinction among the peoples of the earth that they stood in covenant with God. God had chosen them as a people for himself, that they should serve him alone in the land he had given them. If they had failed to do this, and, now relented of their disobedience, it was meet that they should acknowledge their transgressions, and anew pledge themselves to be the Lord's. This was what Josiah desired Judah and Jerusalem - "the remnant of God's inheritance" - to do. Standing on a raised platform, he set them the example of covenant. It is a good thing when nations have leaders who are themselves conspicuous examples of godliness, and who point the way in what is right to their people. The propriety of national covenants is a question to be settled by the circumstances of each particular age. The individual Christian, at least, is called to frequent renewal of his vows to God, and such an exercise is peculiarly suitable after seasons of backsliding.
2. He did it on a right basis. The covenant was based on the declarations of "the book of the covenant," the words of which were first read in the hearing of all the people. Then the people, following the example of their monarch, pledged themselves to walk after the Lord, to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and soul, and to perform the words that were written in the book. Their covenant thus rested on the right foundation, viz. God's Word. It is God who, in his Word, draws near to us, declares to us his will, holds out his promises, invites us to engagement with himself, and lays down the rule of our obedience. A covenant means nothing save as it springs from faith in, acceptance of, and submission to the revealed Word of God. Our covenanting is to be
(1) intelligent - based on the study of God's Word, and understanding of its requirements;
(2) cordial - with all the heart and soul; and
(3) dutiful - in the spirit of obedience, "to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book."
3. Yet the engagement was not sincere. It was so in the case of Josiah, but not in the case of the people generally, though it is written, "All the people stood to the covenant." In lip they honored God, but in heart they were far from him (Isaiah 29:13). This is evident from the descriptions in the prophets. The movement was not a spontaneous one originating in the hearts of the people themselves, but came down to them from above through the king's command. The formal ceremonies of covenanting were gone through, and some temporary, and perhaps genuine, enthusiasm was awakened. But there was no real heart-change of the people. Their goodness was like the morning cloud and the early dew (Hosea 6:4). This is too often the fats of movements originating with kings, princes, and those in high positions, and not springing from the people's own initiative. They are popular and fashionable, and draw many after them who have no real sympathy with their aims. But the effects do not endure. Rank, fashion, royalty, the adhesion of the great and mighty and noble of this world (1 Corinthians 1:26), do not of themselves make a movement religious, though they may secure for it eclat. The Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and if the essence of religion is wanting, imposing external forms count for little.
II. THE TEMPLE CLEANSED. In the covenant they had just made, the people bound themselves in the most solemn manner to rid the land of all visible traces of idolatry (Exodus 23:24; Deuteronomy 12:1-3). Josiah took this work in hand more systematically than any king who had gone before' him (ver. 25). He began with the temple, the thorough purification of which had probably been left over till the repairs above referred to (2 Kings 22.) could be overtaken. Similar zeal for the destruction of idols was manifested at the conclusion of the previous covenant under Joash (2 Chronicles 23:17).
1. A cleansing away of the traces of Baal-worship. In the first place, a careful clearing out was made of all the vessels and utensils that had been used in the service of Baal, or of the Asherah, or of the host of heaven. These were burned in the valley of Kidron, and the ashes of them carried to Bethel, as the appropriate source of this idolatry. The sacred tree itself - the Asherah - was then cut down, burned in the same valley, and its ashes sprinkled on the graves of the people, many of whom had shared in the guilt of its worship. Afterwards the altars erected to Baal in the temple courts were broken down, and the dust of them cast also into the valley of Kidron (ver. 12). Possibly the Asherah and these altars had been removed, and treated as described, at an earlier date.
2. A cleansing away of the traces of Venus-worship. The Asherah was devoted to the licentious Astarte, and rites the most shameless and abominable had been conducted in the temple courts in honor of this goddess. Houses, even, had been reared close to the sacred enclosure for the bands of depraved men and women who took part in these orgies. Doubtless the worship ere this had been stopped, and the filthy actors driven out, but the houses which remained as a reminder of its existence were now broken down.
3. A cleansing away of the traces of sun-worship. To the worship of the sun and of the host of heaven belonged the sacred horses and chariots (ver. 11), probably ere this removed, and the chariots burned; and the altars on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which successive kings had set up. These, like the altars of Manasseh, were broken down, and their dust scattered in the adjoining valley. Every vestige of idolatry was thus cleansed out of the house of which the Lord had said, "In Jerusalem will I put my Name" (2 Kings 21:4).
III. IDOLATRY PUT AWAY. Judgment began at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), but it spread thence throughout the whole land.
1. Degradation of the priests. The land apparently had been already "purged" of the idols, Asherahs, and sun-images, which were worshipped at the high places (2 Chronicles 34:3, 4). Measures were now taken to degrade the priests who had ministered at these forbidden altars, and through whom, perhaps, the worship was still in many places carried on. These priests were of different kinds.
(1) Some were "idolatrous priests" - chemarim - after the fashion of the priests of the northern kingdom. They do not appear to have been of Levitical descent at all, but were "ordained" of the kings of Judah to burn incense in the high places, and may have been drawn, like Jeroboam's chemarim, from "the lowest of the people" (1 Kings 12:31). Some of them were ostensibly priests of Jehovah, serving him, probably, with idolatrous symbols; others served Baal, and the sun, moon, and planets. The whole of this illegitimate class of priests Josiah put sternly down - suppressing their order as contrary to the Law of Moses.
(2) The second class of priests were true Levites, but they ministered at the high places. These were brought from their several cities to Jerusalem, and there provided for out of the temple revenues. They were not, however, permitted to minister at the altar of Jehovah, though, like the other priests, they received their support from the temple offerings. These stringent regulations effectually broke the power of this class throughout the country. God must be served by a pure ministry.
2. Defilement of the high places. The next part of Josiah's policy was to destroy and defile the high places themselves. One way in which this was done was by covering them with dead men's bones, or burning dead bones upon them. The high places were thus rendered unclean, and became hateful to the people. Two special acts of defilement are mentioned in addition to that of "the mount of corruption" next referred to, viz.
(1) the defilement of the high places at the entrance of the gate of Joshua; and
(2) the defilement of Topheth in the valley of Hinnom. The real defilement was in the idolatrous and murderous rites with which these places were associated, but Josiah put a special brand of pollution on them, and stamped them as spots to be held in abhorrence for their vileness.
3. The defilement of "the mount of corruption." Such was the appropriate name given to the hill on which Solomon, long before, had reared altars to the heathen gods worshipped by his wives - Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Moloch, etc. The high places of that mount, which directly overlooked Jerusalem, did Josiah now defile. Idolatry is none the less pernicious that it has the sanction of a great name, and flaunts itself under the guise of a spurious toleration. Any spot where God is not worshipped, but idols are set up in his place, soon becomes a mount of corruption. Heathenism is a mount of corruption. Godless civilization will become a mount of corruption. Our very hearts will turn to mounts of corruption if we allow God to be dethroned in them.
IV. LESSONS OF THE REFORMATION.
1. From what it did accomplish. Josiah's was a true "zeal for the Lord." He was actuated by a right motive, guided himself strictly by God's Word, and directed his efforts unswervingly to execute God's will. He wrought earnestly to purify his state from the evils that afflicted it, and to restore the influence of pure and undefiled religion. He deserves our highest admiration for the
(3) method, and
(4) thoroughness with which he did God's work.
Externally, his work was a success. He cleansed the land from idolatry, we, too, have a call to labor for the purification of society, the dethronement of idols, and the spread of true religion. The age of idolatry is not past. Church, state, literature, science, art, have all their idols. There is self-idolatry, nature-idolatry, wealth-idolatry, art-idolatry, the idolatry of genius, and many more worships besides. Our own hearts are abodes of idols. We do well to imitate Josiah in the energy and thoroughness with which he labored to uproot these false gods. We should be unsparing in our judgment Of whatever vice, error, evil lusts, or passions, or inclinations, or tendencies, we discover in ourselves. Let high thoughts be mercilessly brought low, and proud imaginations abased (2 Corinthians 10:5). Wherever sin is detected, let it be yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!"
2. From what it did not accomplish. This reformation of Josiah wrought, after all, only on the exterior of the nation's life. It lacked power to reach the heart. Therefore it failed to regenerate or save the nation. We are thus pointed to the need of a better covenant, that which Jeremiah predicts in 2 Kings 31:31-34 of his prophecies, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts," etc. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem.