The first thing that the Divine Word sets before us is that Josiah (“Yah is his foundation”) made a conscious choice to reform himself from a very young age. In the eighth year of his reign, when he had turned sixteen (BC 631), “he began to seek after the God of David his father” (2 Chron 34:3; cp 1 Kings 15:11; 2 Chron 17:3; 29:2), specifically by declining “neither to the right hand, nor to the left” (2 Chron 34:2).

The Spirit through Moses had commanded each king to write out the law, “that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left…” (Deut 17:19–20). Can we imagine this earnest young king making this determined commitment as his pen marched steadily across the parchments?

Amazingly, Josiah enacted the principles of this law ten years before the book of the law was found (2 Chron 34:8,14)! It needs to be remembered that for two generations before him, and two generations after, there were apostate kings who deliberately set aside this very law. For 200 years, he was the only light shining in thick darkness.

This is the very idea of which Paul speaks in Romans 2:14–15 when the Gentiles, “who do not have the law, do by nature [as an infused disposition] things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law [not the Law of Moses, but rather Divine law and principles] are written on their hearts” (niv).

For us the lesson is clear. We are not to “halt between two opinions” (1 Kings 18:21), as “doubleminded” people wavering “like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (Jas 1:6,8). Rather, we are to be “single” in our approach, patterning our single-minded focus on the mind of God in service to Him and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Note that in Jas 1:5 “liberally” means “in singleness”, so translated in Eph 6:5; Col 3:22.)

Key Qualities

Josiah’s key quality was an extreme responsiveness to the Word of God. Any reformation can only have true force if it is firstly begun in the individual through the power of the Word of God being realised. This must be the solid foundation from which to launch any wider reformation—and this Josiah did with incredible enthusiasm and forthrightness.

The knowledge that Josiah gained from his mother and close associates began to be put into action as he came to “know God”. Brother John Carter once wrote: “To know God is the completion of the process which begins now with the knowledge of God…”. To know God is to manifest His character, to think, speak and act like Him. This Josiah did. He observed how Yahweh exercised and delighted in “lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness” (Jer 9:24) and in turn he did “judgment and justice… he judged the cause of the poor and needy” (Jer 22:15–16). This is “to know God” and it is something we need to do also if we are to have a pure and undefiled religion before God (Jas 1:27).

In this age of apathy and extreme laziness, the sterling example of Josiah needs to be taken to heart. We need to ‘get our heads back into our Bibles’ and quickly! In past times it was a trait well recognised in the brotherhood by others outside the Truth. We need to reaffirm our position as ‘people of the Book’. This requires not only diligence in reading and contemplating spiritual ideas, but also practical application. This is true reformation.

The Friends of Reformation

But one can not accomplish reformation alone. Josiah gathered around him an outstanding band of fellow-believers, joined in singleness of mind:

  • Jedidah, his mother (2 Kings 22:1)
  • Jeremiah the prophet (Jer 1:1–2)
  • Zephaniah the prophet, his cousin (Zeph 1:1)
  • Shaphan the scribe and his sons Ahikam, Elasah, Gemariah (2 Chron 34:8,20; Jer 26:24; 29:3; 36:10)
  • Maaseiah, the governor of the city and Joah the recorder (2 Chron 34:8)
  • Hilkiah the High Priest, the father of Jeremiah (2 Chron 34:9)
  • Jahath, Obadiah, and Zechariah the Levites (2 Chron 34:12)
  • Shallum (or Meshullam 2 Chron 34:12) the keeper of the wardrobe
    his wife Huldah the prophetess and their family (2 Chron 34:22).

With the support of some of his family and many faithful friends, Josiah set about reforming the nation. At the age of 20 (BC627) he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem. He targeted the very things that Jeroboam “the son of Nebat who made Israel to sin” had established to draw away Israel from the Divine worship established in Jerusalem. Jeroboam changed the centre of worship from Jerusalem to Dan and Bethel; the representation of Yahweh in the Temple to the image of the golden calf; the priesthood and the times of the feasts (1 Kings 12).

In his first purge (2 Chron 34:3–7), Josiah targeted the visible images and high places seen in Judah, Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon and Naphtali— the Asherim (groves), carved and molten images, the high places and the altars of Baalim.

Positive Change

However, Josiah understood it was not enough to simply remove evil. Something had to be put in its place to maintain positive spiritual growth (note the parable of the Lord in Matt 12:43–45). Therefore, in the eighteenth year of his reign (BC624, age 24) he began his restoration of the Temple, which he saw as symbolic of the restoration of the nation itself (2 Chron 34:8–13).

It was then that a momentous event occurred they found the book of the law (Deuteronomy, the spirit of the law). The king’s reaction was immediate. He understood how far the nation had fallen, and tearing his garments as if he was a leprous man (Lev 13:45), a true representative of his people, he sought Yahweh (2 Kings 22:11–13).

How comforting must have been the words of the prophetess: “Because thine heart was tender [Heb rawkak, to soften], and thou hast humbled thyself [Heb kawnah, to bend the knee] before Yahweh… I also have heard thee, saith Yahweh” (2 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron 34:27).

The hard heart does not allow the Word of God to enter. Only by the heart being pliable and soft can the thinking of the spirit enter. Josiah had probably heard the words penned by David his father: “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart…” (Psa 95:7–8 quoted by Paul in Heb 4:7). Of course, Josiah had already shown that his heart was soft by the caring way he treated the poor and the needy, something the hard-hearted cannot do (Deut.15:7 uses the same word as Psa 95:8). Brother Dennis Gillett wrote: “Hardening is recognised by a diminished capacity to sorrow over iniquity… Another symptom is the loss of pity… Hardening is not incurable. Under the influence of harmony and love, hardness gives way to humility, indifference to the joy of brotherhood.”

Humility is a difficult characteristic to develop. As soon as one believes he is humble, he is not. Humility can only be seen in the actions of those motivated by love for others. In the end the faithful will be humble without knowing it—it was simply a part of what they were as a person (cp Matt 25:34– 40). However, without humility, true reformation cannot take place. This was the tragedy of Josiah’s reformation. While he and his faithful band opened their hearts in humility to be receptive to the word of God, his people did not!

A New Covenant

After hearing the word of Yahweh through Huldah the prophetess, the king summoned the people together to enter the whole nation into a new covenant with their God (cp Deut 29:1,9–13). He stood by a pillar (probably Boaz, “in Him is strength”) and read the whole of Deuteronomy to the people (2 Kings 23:3).

Yet the Divine record is very clear concerning who was truly affected by this event. “And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before Yahweh, to walk after Yahweh…with all his heart, and with all his soul… And he caused [the word in the Hebrew means ‘forced’] all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it” (2 Chron 34:31–32). The king was whole hearted in his desire to serve Yahweh, but the people were forced into it. They simply followed the king’s lead without putting their heart into it.

Jeremiah the prophet saw through the façade of righteousness that the people set up. They did not truly keep the covenant in their hearts (Jer 11:1–10). Yahweh, through the prophet, condemned the people for their double-minded hypocrisy: “Judah hath not turned to me with her whole heart, but feignedly” (Jer 3:10). The Hebrew shehker means “an untruth, a sham, a deception, a lie.”

What Yahweh truly desired was that this new covenant would be written in their hearts: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people… they shall all know me [even as Josiah did], from the least of them unto the greatest [note in 2 Kings 23:2 this was who Josiah was speaking to]… I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:31–34). Thus Paul wrote: “He is a Jew (from Judah, praise) which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise [the root meaning of “Jew”] is not of men, but of God” (Rom 2:29).

Service to God must occur with singleness of heart doing the will of God from the heart (Eph 6:5–6). In 1 Timothy1:5 Paul says: “Now the end [ie the purpose or the point aimed at] of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned…”

Committed Reformation

How easy it would have been for Josiah to throw up his hands in disgust and bemoan his situation. But he did not. He set his shoulder to the task of continuance in reformation, just as we should. Josiah commenced a second, far more comprehensive purge of Judah, Jerusalem, Bethel, Samaria, and from Geba to Beersheba, focussing on the people and their false practices and rituals (2 Chron 34:33; 2 Kings 23:4–20,24).

Yet again the Divine record is very clear as to who was doing the work. Time after time “he burned”, “he put down”, “he brought out”, “he brake down”, etc, etc, (2Kings 23:4,5,6,7,8,10, 11,12, etc). The message is clear. The king threw himself wholeheartedly and faithfully into the work; the nation did not.

Unlike Hezekiah, who touched his people’s hearts, Josiah was unable to pierce the nation’s heart that had been seared with a hot iron. Even when it came time for the Passover, the greatest ever in volume and magnificence (2 Kings 23:22), the Divine commentary states: “Moreover Josiah kept a Passover unto Yahweh in Jerusalem: and they killed the Passover…” (2 Chron 35:1). Josiah celebrated the Passover as Yahweh intended, but the people in general were not motivated by the same spirit as the king.

How tragic that despite the outstanding example of a faithful king who led from the front, the people only followed out of loyalty to the king, not because they wanted to serve their God. While Josiah lived they maintained a level of service (2 Chron 34:33), but immediately after his death all the idols quickly reappeared. Jeremiah had risen early every day to speak the words of Yahweh to them, but they hearkened not, and as a result they were to be taken into captivity by the king of Babylon (Jer 25:3–9).

Pointing the way ahead

In many respects, it may seem that Josiah’s reformation was a complete failure. The reality is that in terms of God’s purpose, it was a resounding success. While the nation as a whole was lost, the short but brilliant flaring light of Josiah’s life showed the way for a faithful remnant to survive. Just as his own grandfather, Manasseh, was able to show the way for his grandson (2 Chron 33:11–16, 23), Josiah prepared “the king’s seed” (Dan 1:3) that they might be resilient against the assault of Babylonian doctrine and influence.

It was through his work that a group of young people grew up as a basket of good figs in a distant land (Jer 24:1–5). Daniel, Ezekiel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Mordecai, and others were all shown the way by the example of Josiah. So, even though it may be the day of small things, faith can still move mountains. A spirit of reformation, born out of a humble desire to serve Yahweh from the heart, will still bear fruit.

A brother once wrote: “Is there need for reformation? Every brother and sister in Christ knows that there is. And the place to begin is not in one’s own ecclesia nor even in one’s own family but in one’s own soul. Nor will that suffice. In a sudden burst of honesty or contrition or enthusiasm it is relatively easy to begin. But it is continuance that really makes reformation.”