Studies on the Religious Reforms of Josiah


Image: Pharaoh Neco (right) facing the goddess Hathor (right).

Inscription: The inscription above Neco reads: “I grant you every country in submission.” Neco killed Josiah and Judah became a vassal of Egypt.

Josiah was one of the greatest kings of the Southern Kingdom. The writers of 2 Kings show the highest respect for Josiah as a king who feared the Lord: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Kings 23:25).

The reason for this commendation is because of the religious reforms Josiah instituted in Judah. When Josiah became king, Judah was facing a time of great political and religious turmoil. Josiah became king at the age of eight, at a time when Judah was a vassal of Assyria and the people were involved in the worship of other gods.

Josiah was the son of Amon and the grandson of Manasseh. Manasseh, Josiah’s grandfather, introduced the worship of other gods and many pagan practices into the religious life of the people of Israel.

According to 2 Kings 21:3-6, Manasseh erected altars for Baal, made a sacred pole, worshiped all the host of heaven, built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord, made his son pass through fire; practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. Because of his great apostasy, Manasseh provoked the Lord to anger.

A few years after Josiah became king, he initiated religious reform in Israel and made an attempt at removing the pagan practices introduced by Manasseh. When the book of the Law was discovered in the temple, Josiah and the leaders of Judah learned that the book condemned the pagan practices of the people and predicted the doom of the nation.

After the prophetess Huldah confirmed the authenticity of the book, Josiah began to purify the worship of Yahweh by destroying the high places where the people worshiped Baal and Asherah, by removing the cult prostitutes from the house of the Lord, by defiling the Topheth, the place which was in the valley of Ben-hinnom, where the people sacrificed their sons and daughters as an offering to Molech, and by taking other actions to bring the people back to God.

Josiah died at Megiddo at the hands of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, who had come to help the king of Assyria in their struggle against the Babylonians (2 Kings 23:29). Josiah was one the kings listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:10-11.

In the two studies listed below, I survey the reign of Josiah and look at Josiah’s attempt to reform the religion of Yahweh and remove the pagan objects from the temple of God.

Studies on the Religious Reforms of Josiah

Josiah, King of Judah – Part 1

The Religious Reforms of Josiah, Part 2

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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