Josiah’s Covenant Faithfulness

“The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant” (v. 3).

- 2 Kings 23:1–20

Immediately upon hearing the book of Deuteronomy (“the Book of the Law”) read to him, King Josiah of Judah, who had ascended the throne in about 640 BC at the age of eight, tore his clothes as a sign of repentance for Judah’s transgression of the covenant with God (2 Kings 22:1–11). We should note, however, that Josiah’s faithfulness to the Lord predated the rediscovery of the Book of the Law. Second Chronicles 34:1–18 tells us that Josiah actually began to cleanse the land of Judah of idolatry before Deuteronomy was found in the temple. The author of 2 Kings, however, places the cleansing of the land in chapter 23, after the account of the law’s rediscovery. He placed the material out of chronological order for a theological purpose. Perhaps he wanted to emphasize that since the original audience of 1–2 Kings was in exile because of their law breaking, the only way forward was through a rediscovery of God’s law that led to reform in their beliefs and actions.

In any case, we get a picture of Josiah’s thoroughgoing reformation of Judah’s worship in today’s passage. We see that idolatry had clearly pervaded the southern kingdom before Josiah’s reign, for not even the most sacred site of the old covenant—Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem—had been left undefiled. Vessels and images of Baal and Asherah, two gods from the Canaanite pantheon of pagan deities, were removed from the temple and destroyed (2 Kings 23:4, 6, 11). Josiah also destroyed the temple apartments of the male cult prostitutes, whom the Judahites visited in hopes of making their land more fertile (v. 7). The good king put an end to human sacrifice in Judah when he defiled Topheth, a site where parents offered up their children to the god Molech (v. 10). Josiah’s reforms extended even into the area formerly held by the northern kingdom, for he took down Jeroboam I’s altar at Bethel (v. 15). He put to death the priests who led God’s people in the worship of false deities, as prescribed by the stipulations of the Mosaic law (v. 20; see Deut. 13).

Josiah’s zeal for the true worship of the Lord serves as an example for us. The author of 2 Kings wants us to see Josiah as a model for reformation and to encourage in us a desire to see the true worship of God promoted wherever people claim His name. As we seek to follow Christ, we will also seek to worship Him in a way that pleases Him and to remove all traces of idolatry from our lives.

Coram Deo

It is easy to go through life never thinking deeply about the way we worship the Lord. However, Scripture is quite clear that the Lord takes His worship seriously. That is why we must be careful not to let any hint of false worship invade either our private or corporate worship of God. As we are able, we must support the true worship of the Lord in a manner that is agreeable to what He has revealed.

Passages for Further Study

1 Kings 13:1–5
2 Chronicles 34:29–33
Jeremiah 19
1 John 5:21

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.