Too Little, Too Late

1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, 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 eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

3 In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people. And let it be given into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord, and let them give it to the workmen who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house (that is, to the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons), and let them use it for buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “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. And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.

11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and 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 kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

14 So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter), and they talked with her. 15 And she said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore, behold, 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 disaster that I will bring upon this place.’” And they brought back word to the king. – 2 Kings 22:1-20 ESV

Just as Manasseh had reversed all the reforms of his father Hezekiah, so Josiah used his authority as king to overturn Manasseh’s ungodly and pagan-inspired initiatives. The young king began an aggressive campaign to restore the spiritual health of Judah.

At the age of 16, just eight years into his reign, he began to “seek the God of his ancestor David” (2 Chronicles 34:3 NLT). Then, at the ripe old age of 20, he launched a widespread effort “to purify Judah and Jerusalem, destroying all the pagan shrines, the Asherah poles, and the carved idols and cast images” (2 Chronicles 34:3 NLT). And his reformation projects continued well into his reign. At the age of 26, Josiah turned his attention to the temple of God. In the 18th year of his reign, he “appointed Shaphan son of Azaliah, Maaseiah the governor of Jerusalem, and Joah son of Joahaz, the royal historian, to repair the Temple of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 34:8 NLT).

Due to Manasseh’s efforts to promote idol worship in Judah, the temple had fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair. The former glory of the house that Solomon built had been greatly diminished by Manasseh’s shameless actions. He had desecrated God’s house and defamed the Lord’s name by ordering the placing altars to some of his false gods right in the temple itself.

…he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. – 2 Kings 21:5 ESV

What Manasseh failed to realize was that the temple was intended to be a symbol of God’s abiding presence. Inside the Holy of Holies, the sacred inner sanctum of the temple, was contained the Ark of the Covenant, and in the ark was kept a variety of items designed to remind Israel of God’s faithfulness and providential care.

Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant. – Hebrews 9:4 NLT

During Israel’s years wandering in the wilderness, God’s presence had dwelt above the mercy seat, which sat atop the Ark of the Covenant. Wherever God commanded Israel to stop and set up camp, they would erect the tabernacle and then God’s shekinah glory would take up residence within the Holy of Holies. The book of Exodus provides us with a description of this divine manifestation of God’s presence.

Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.

Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the LORD hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys. – Isaiah 40:34-38 NLT

And when Solomon had built his magnificent temple in Jerusalem, he had ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be moved into the Holy of Holies. And God had promised to bless the temple with His presence as long as the people of Israel remained obedient to His commands.

“My name will be honored forever in this Temple and in Jerusalem—the city I have chosen from among all the tribes of Israel. If the Israelites will be careful to obey my commands—all the laws my servant Moses gave them—I will not send them into exile from this land that I gave their ancestors.” – 2 Kings 21:7-8 NLT

But by the time Josiah became king of Judah, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians, due to their unfaithfulness to God. And the southern kingdom of Judah had come close to experiencing the same fate, but Hezekiah had repented, prompting God to miraculously deliver them from defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. Yet, the spiritual state of Judah had been greatly diminished by the ungodly leadership of men like Manasseh. And his son, Josiah, was forced to repair all the damage he had done to the kingdom and its relationship with God Almighty.

Not only had the nation of Judah failed to care for the temple of God, they had refused to keep the laws the God had handed down to Moses. And in doing so, they had unknowingly placed themselves in a dangerous predicament. God had promised to dwell among them and provide protection for them, only as long as they were careful to obey all His commands. But they had failed to do so. And their neglect of God’s temple was further exacerbated by their neglect of God’s law.

But in the process of repairing the temple, Hilkiah the high priest, made an important discovery.

“I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” – 2 Kings 22:8 NLT

This is most likely a reference to the Torah or Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Somewhere in the recesses of the temple , Hilkiah had run across a scroll containing God’s history of His relationship with Israel and the commands He had passed on to them through Moses. When the contents of this scroll were read to King Josiah, he was immediately and dramatically impacted by what he heard. He recognized that they were in serious trouble because had failed to keep their covenant commitment to God. He could restore the temple, but the people were going to have to restore their devotion to God and their determination to live in obedience to His holy law.

So, Josiah gave instructions to his high priest and other officials, ordering them to seek the Lord’s instructions. What were they to do? How were they to make up for all the years of disobedience?

“Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah. Inquire about the words written in this scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger is burning against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not been doing everything it says we must do.” – 2 Kings 22:13 NLT

These men returned with a disturbing message from Hilduh, a prophetess of Yahweh. She informed the king that, because of their years of disobedience, the nation of Judah was going to experience all the curses described in the book of Deuteronomy.

“This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true. For my people have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to pagan gods, and I am very angry with them for everything they have done. My anger will burn against this place, and it will not be quenched.” – 2 Kings 22:16-17 NLT

This devastating news must have hit Josiah like a ton of bricks. He had faithfully doing all that he could to stop the nation’s spiritual decline, but now he was being told that it was too little, too late. But there was a second part to Hilduh’s message. God had taken note of Josiah’s response to the first part of the message. Rather than react in anger or resentment, Josiah had displayed a heart of sorrow marked by repentance.

“You were sorry and humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I said against this city and its people—that this land would be cursed and become desolate. You tore your clothing in despair and wept before me in repentance. And I have indeed heard you, says the Lord. So I will not send the promised disaster until after you have died and been buried in peace. You will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this city.’” – 2 Kings 22:19-20 NLT

God was going to reward Josiah’s repentance by exempting him from the coming judgment. God would still fulfill His promise to punish Judah for its insubordination and blatant immorality, but He would spare Josiah from having to watch it all happen. Josiah’s reform efforts, while sincere, would not result in the repentance of the people. God knew their hearts and was aware that they would never fully abandon their false gods and return to Him. Like their northern neighbors, Judah would stubbornly cling to its many idols and continue to reject Yahweh as the one true God. And they would pay dearly for their spiritual infidelity. But Josiah would be spared.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson