2 Kings 22 – King Josiah Finds the Book of the Law
A. The beginnings of Josiah’s reforms.
1. (1-2) A summary of the reign of Josiah, the son of Amon.
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.
a. Josiah was eight years old when he became king: Unusually, this young boy came to the throne at eight years of age. This was because of the assassination of his father.
i. “At last, after more than three hundred years, the prophecy of ‘the man of God out of Judah’ is fulfilled (1 Kings 13:2).” (Knapp)
b. He did what was right in the sight of the LORD: This was true of Josiah at this young age; but it is really more intended as a general description of his reign rather than a description of him at eight years of age.
2. (3-7) Josiah tells Hilkiah to repair the temple.
Now it came to pass, in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the scribe, the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the house of the LORD, saying: “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money which has been brought into the house of the LORD, which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people. And let them deliver it into the hand of those doing the work, who are the overseers in the house of the LORD; let them give it to those who are in the house of the LORD doing the work, to repair the damages of the house— to carpenters and builders and masons— and to buy timber and hewn stone to repair the house. However there need be no accounting made with them of the money delivered into their hand, because they deal faithfully.”
a. In the eighteenth year of King Josiah: According to 2 Chronicles 34, this repair of the temple was preceded by a definite commitment to God when Josiah was 16, and then some four years later by an iconoclastic purge attacking idolatry in Judah.
i. “The Chronicler (2 Chronicles 34-35) appears to present a two-stage sequence of events: (i) the purification of religious practices in Judah, Jerusalem and Naphtali in Josiah’s twelfth year, and (ii) a continuing reformation stimulated by the discovery of the Book of the Law in the eighteenth year. But this may be a presentation to fit in with the Chroniciler’s particular emphases.” (Wiseman)
ii. “If Josiah had not yet seen a copy of this book, (which is not impossible,) yet there was so much of the law left in the minds and memories of the people, as might easily persuade and direct him to all that he did till this time.” (Poole)
iii. It is possible that Josiah was motivated to rebuild the temple after hearing (or remembering) that this was what King Jehoash did many years before (2 Kings 12).
b. Let them give it to those who are in the house of the LORD doing the work, to repair the damages of the house: Josiah understood that the work of repair and rebuilding the temple needed organization and funding. He paid attention to both of these needs when he commanded Hilkiah to begin the work on the temple.
i. According to Jeremiah 1:1-2, the prophet Jeremiah was the son of this particular priest Hilkiah. Jeremiah began his ministry during the reign of King Josiah.
3. (8-10) The Book of the Law is found and read.
Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the LORD.” Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.
a. I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD: According to Deuteronomy 31:24-27, there was to be a copy of this Book of the Law beside the ark of the covenant, beginning in the days of Moses. The word of God was with Israel, but it was greatly neglected in those days.
i. This neglect could only happen because Judah was in prolonged disobedience to God.
· Deuteronomy 17:18-20 tells us that each king was to have a personal copy of the law, and he was to read it.
· Deuteronomy 31:9-13 tells us that the entire law was to be read to an assembly of the nation once every 7 years at the Feast of Tabernacles to keep the law before the people.
· The Levites, scattered among the country, also had the implied responsibility to teach the law to the people of Israel.
ii. The first we know of a public reading of the law is in Joshua 8:30. The next we hear of it is during the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:7), more than 500 years later. Then, in the reign of Josiah there was another public reading of the law (2 Chronicles 34:30), more than 250 years after Jehoshaphat. Of course, there might have been public readings of the law as commanded here which are not recorded; but the fact that some are recorded probably means they were unusual, not typical.
iii. Some believe that the particular portion of the law that was found and read before King Josiah was the Book of Deuteronomy. “The identification with Deuteronomy rests on the dependence of some of Josiah’s actions on the book (e.g. 23:9, cf. Deuteronomy 18:6-8; and the impact of the prophecies predicting exile; the support Deuteronomy 17:14 gives to nationalistic aspirations, etc.).” (Wiseman)
iv. “Was this the autograph of Moses? It is very probable that it was; for in the parallel place, 2 Chronicles 34:14, it is said to be the book of the law of the Lord by Moses. It is supposed to be that part of Deuteronomy (28, 29, 30, and 31,) which contains the renewing of the covenant in the plains of Moab, and which contains the most terrible invectives against the corrupters of God’s word and worship.” (Clarke)
b. And he read it: It seems remarkable that this was even worthy of mention – that the high priest found the word of God and a scribe read it. Yet the word of God was so neglected in those days that this was worthy of mention.
i. Shaphan simply told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” “Shaphan did not despise the book, but he had not yet, like many a modern scribe, realized the importance of that blessed volume. Then – after ‘money,’ and ‘overseers,’ and ‘workmen,’ have all been mentioned – ‘then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, ‘Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book’ – only a book!” (Knapp)
c. Shaphan read it before the king: Here the word of God spreads. It had been forgotten and regarded as nothing more than an old, dusty book. Now it was found, read, and spread. We should expect some measure of spiritual revival and renewal to follow.
i. Throughout the history of God’s people, when the word of God is recovered and spread, spiritual revival follows. It can begin as simply as it did in the days of Josiah, with one man finding and reading and believing and spreading the Book.
ii. Another example of this in history is the story of Peter Waldo and his followers, sometimes known as Waldenses. Waldo was a rich merchant living in the 12th century who gave up his business to radically follow Jesus. He hired two priests to translate the New Testament into the common language and using this, he began to teach others. He taught in the streets or wherever he could find someone to listen. Many common people came to hear him and started to radically follow Jesus Christ. He taught them the text of the New Testament in the common language and was rebuked by church officials for doing so. He ignored the rebuke and continued to teach, eventually sending his followers out two by two into villages and market places, to teach and explain the scriptures. The scriptures were memorized by the Waldenses, and it was not unusual for their ministers to memorize the entire New Testament and large sections of the Old Testament. The word of God – when found, read, believed, and spread – has this kind of transforming power.
iii. “It is interesting to note the popularity of animal names for persons in this period. ‘Shaphan’ means ‘rock badger’ and ‘Achbor’ means ‘mouse.’ ‘Huldah’ the name of the prophetess introduced in the next section, means ‘mole.’” (Dilday)
B. King Josiah is confronted with the Book of the Law.
1. (11) The initial reaction to the discovery of the Book of the Law.
Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes.
a. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law: The hearing of God’s word did a spiritual work in King Josiah. It was not merely the transmission of information; the hearing of God’s word had an impact of spiritual power on Josiah.
b. He tore his clothes: The tearing of clothing was a traditional expression of horror and astonishment. In the strongest possible way, Josiah showed his grief on his own account and on account of the nation. This was an expression of deep conviction of sin, and a good thing.
i. Revival and spiritual awakening are marked by such expressions of the conviction of sin. Dr. J. Edwin Orr, in The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain, recounted some examples from the great movement that impacted Britain and the world in 1859-1861:
· “At the commencement of the prayer-meeting, a sturdy looking man (who had been coming to the chapel every night but going away hardening his heart) jumped on to a form, and speaking out before all the people, said, ‘Do you know me?’ The praying men answered, ‘Yes.’ ‘What am I then?’ he said. They replied, ‘A backslider.’ ‘Well, then,’ said he, ‘I will be a backslider no longer; all of you come to Jesus with me,’ and he fell in an agony of prayer for God to have mercy on him; indeed the anguish and desire of his soul was too much for him, for he swooned away on the floor before us all. His wife was one of the first converted the previous week, and only that evening had sent up a request that God would save her husband, who was a poor miserable backslider. About thirty that night professed to obtain mercy…”
· In the town of Coleraine, Northern Ireland, a schoolboy was under so much conviction of sin that he couldn’t continue on in class. The teacher sent him home in the company of another boy, who was already converted. On the way home the two boys noticed an empty house and stopped there to pray. The unhappy boy found peace and returned to the classroom immediately to tell the teacher: “I am so happy: I have the Lord Jesus in my heart!” His testimony had a striking effect on the class, and boy after boy slipped outside the classroom. The teacher peeked out the window and saw boys kneeling in prayer all around the schoolyard. The teacher was so convicted that he asked the first converted boy to minister to him. Finally the whole school was in such a state that the administrators sent for pastors to come and minister to the students, teachers, and parents, and people received ministry at the school until 11:00 that night.
· A high-ranking army officer described the conviction of sin in his Scottish town: “Those of you who are at ease have little conception of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man’s eyes to see the real state of heart… Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people… have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven.”
ii. This conviction of sin is the special work of the Holy Spirit, even as Jesus said in John 16:8: “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin.”
2. (12-13) King Josiah seeks the LORD.
Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
a. Go, inquire of the LORD for me: It wasn’t that King Josiah knew nothing of God or how to seek him. It was that he was so under the conviction of sin that he did not know what to do next.
b. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us: Josiah knew that the kingdom of Judah deserved judgment from God. He could not hear the word of God and respond to the Spirit of God without seriously confronting the sin of his kingdom.
3. (14-17) God’s word to the kingdom of Judah: Judgment is coming.
So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her. Then she said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants— all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read— because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched.’”’”
a. Huldah the prophetess: We know little of this woman other than this mention here (and the similar account recorded in 2 Chronicles 34:22). With the apparent approval of King Josiah, Hilkiah the priest consulted this woman for spiritual guidance. It wasn’t because of her own wisdom and spirituality, but that she was recognized as a prophetess and could reveal the heart and mind of God.
i. There were certainly other prophets in Judah. “Though the contemporary prophet Jeremiah is not mentioned, he commended Josiah (Jeremiah 22:15-16), and the prophet Zephaniah (1:1) was at work in this reign.” (Wiseman) Yet for some reason – perhaps spiritual, perhaps practical – they chose to consult Huldah the prophetess.
ii. “We find from this, and we have many facts in all ages to corroborate it, that a pontiff, a pope, a bishop, or a priest, may, in some cases, not possess the true knowledge of God; and that a simple woman, possessing the life of God in her soul, may have more knowledge of the divine testimonies than many of those whose office it is to explain and enforce them.” (Clarke)
b. I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants: Josiah knew that Judah deserved judgment, and that judgment would indeed come. Judah and its leaders had walked against the LORD for too long, and would not genuinely repent so as to avoid eventual judgment.
c. All the words of the book: God’s word was true, even in its promises of judgment. God’s faithfulness is demonstrated as much by His judgment upon the wicked as it is by His mercy upon the repentant.
4. (18-20) God’s word to King Josiah: The judgment will not come in your day.
“But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, in this manner you shall speak to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Concerning the words which you have heard—because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,”says the LORD. Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.”’” So they brought back word to the king.
a. Because your heart was tender: Josiah’s heart was tender in two ways. First, it was tender to the word of God and was able to receive the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit. Second, it was tender to the message of judgment from Huldah in the previous verses.
b. You shall be gathered to your grave in peace: Though Josiah died in battle, there are at least three ways that this was true.
· He died before the great spiritual disaster and exile came to Judah.
· He was gathered to the spirits of his fathers, who were in peace.
· He died in God’s favor, though by the hand of an enemy.
c. Your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place: This was God’s mercy to Josiah. His own godliness and tender heart could not stop the eventual judgment of God, but it could delay it. Inevitable judgment is sometimes delayed because of the tender hearts of the people of God.
i. God delayed judgment even in the case of Ahab, who responded to a word of warning with a kind of repentance (1 Kings 21:25-29).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission