2 Kings 22:8–20
Josiah was one of the greatest kings of Judah — one of only eight who was described as doing “what was right in the Lord’s sight” (v. 2). He was just 26 years old when he undertook a project to repair damage to the Lord’s temple. While his workers were repairing the temple, they made an earth-shattering discovery: They found a lost copy of the book of the law.
In today’s world of instant access to the Bible in a thousand different languages on our smartphones, it is hard to imagine anyone losing the Bible. Yet this is exactly what had happened. Whether it was through neglect or a deliberate purge of God’s word by one of Josiah’s evil predecessors, the people of Judah had lost God’s word.
Scholars are divided on whether this was the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible — or whether it was just a scroll of Deuteronomy, since most of Josiah’s reforms in 2 Kings 23:1–24 closely follow Deuteronomy. Regardless, the foundation of Judah’s culture and relationship with the Lord had been missing for a long time. Scripture should have been central to their culture, but instead they were discovering it anew. It is tragic God’s people had drifted so far from God’s word, but God is faithful to preserve His Word throughout the generations. Isaiah 40:8 tells us the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord will stand forever.
Although kings generally had a high degree of literacy and Deuteronomy 17:18 mandated every king was to write for himself a copy of God’s law, nevertheless, Hilkiah and Shaphan followed royal protocol and read the book of the law to Josiah.
Josiah quickly grasped the connection between knowing God’s word and obeying it, and he tore his clothes because his people had done neither.
How do you respond when your lifestyle does not match up to God’s commands? Some choose to reject the Bible. Ironically, Josiah’s son Jehoiakim would take this route, burning the scroll of the prophet Jeremiah as it was read to him (Jer. 36:23). Others try to reinterpret Scripture to bring it more in line with their behavior. But truly, the only acceptable option is to bring one’s behavior in line with God’s word, not the other way around.
This is exactly what King Josiah did. He recognized the words in the book had not been obeyed and God’s wrath was coming as a result, so he instructed a delegation of priests and advisors to inquire of the Lord what needed to be done.
God used the prophetess Huldah to deliver His message to Josiah’s delegation. She is the only female prophet mentioned in 1 or 2 Kings. Her message was not encouraging. God’s judgment would indeed fall on Israel. However, it would not fall until after the death of Josiah because Josiah humbled himself before the Lord.
It is important to realize while God always forgives sin, God does not always reverse the consequences our sins set in motion. Remember God is faithful to keep all His promises, not just the ones we like. In this situation, God was faithful to keep His promises of judgment against Judah. However, in His grace, he delayed judgment for the sake of King Josiah.
Josiah would be the last good king of Judah. Thirteen years later, he would be killed in battle at the age of 39. Two generations later, Judah would fall to the army of Nebuchadnezzar, and the best and the brightest of its generation would be deported to Babylon.