The Book of the Law
yet powerful influences set in operation by the messages of the prophets
regarding the Babylonian Captivity did much to prepare the way for a
reformation that took place in the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign. This
reform movement, by which threatened judgments were averted for a season,
was brought about in a wholly unexpected manner through the discovery and
study of a portion of Holy Scripture that for many years had been
strangely misplaced and lost.
century before, during the first Passover celebrated by Hezekiah,
provision had been made for the daily public reading of the book of the
law to the people by teaching priests. It was the observance of the
statutes recorded by Moses, especially those given in the book of the
covenant, which forms a part of Deuteronomy, that had made the reign of
Hezekiah so prosperous. But Manasseh had dared set aside these statutes;
and during his reign the temple
copy of the
book of the law, through careless neglect, had become lost. Thus for many
years the people generally were deprived of its instruction.
manuscript was found in the temple by Hilkiah, the high priest, while the
building was undergoing extensive repairs in harmony with King Josiah's
plan for the preservation of the sacred structure. The high priest handed
the precious volume to Shaphan, a learned scribe, who read it and then
took it to the king with the story of its discovery.
deeply stirred as he heard read for the first time the exhortations and
warnings recorded in this ancient manuscript. Never before had he realized
so fully the plainness with which God had set before Israel "life and
death, blessing and cursing" (Deuteronomy 30:19): and how repeatedly
they had been urged to choose the way of life, that they might become a
praise in the earth, a blessing to all nations. "Be strong and of a
good courage, fear not, nor be afraid," Israel had been exhorted
through Moses; "for the Lord thy God. He it is that doth go with
thee; He will not fail thee, not forsake thee." Deuteronomy 31:6.
abounded in assurances of God's willingness to save to the uttermost those
who should place their trust fully in Him. As He had wrought in their
deliverance from Egyptian bondage, so would He work mightily in
establishing them in the Land of Promise and in placing them at the head
of the nations of earth.
encouragements offered as the reward of obedience were accompanied by
prophecies of judgments against the disobedient; and as the king heard the
inspired words, he
in the picture set before him, conditions that were similar to those
actually existing in his kingdom. In connection with these prophetic
portrayals of departure from God, he was startled to find plain statements
to the effect that the day of calamity would follow swiftly and that there
would be no remedy. The language was plain; there could be no mistaking
the meaning of the words. And at the close of the volume, in a summary of
God's dealings with Israel and a rehearsal of the events of the future,
these matters were made doubly plain. In the hearing of all Israel, Moses
ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, O
earth, the words of my mouth.
shall drop as the rain,
shall distill as the dew,
As the small
rain upon the tender herb,
And as the
showers upon the grass:
will publish the name of the Lord:
greatness unto our God.
He is the
Rock, His work is perfect:
For all His
ways are judgment:
A God of
truth and without iniquity,
right is He."
the days of old,
years of many generations:
father, and he will show thee;
and they will tell thee.
When the Most
High divided to the nations their
separated the sons of Adam,
He set the
bounds of the people
the number of the children of Israel.
Lord's portion is His people;
Jacob is the
lot of His inheritance.
He found him
in a desert land,
And in the
waste howling wilderness;
He led him
about, He instructed him,
He kept him
as the apple of His eye."
"forsook God which made him,
esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
Him to jealousy with strange gods,
abominations provoked they Him to anger.
sacrificed unto devils, not to God;
To gods whom
they knew not,
To new gods
that came newly up,
fathers feared not.
Of the Rock
that begat thee thou art unmindful,
forgotten God that formed thee.
when the Lord saw it, He abhorred them,
the provoking of His sons, and of His
And He said,
I will hide My face from them,
I will see
what their end shall be:
For they are
a very froward generation,
whom is no faith.
moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God;
provoked Me to anger with their vanities:
And I will
move them to jealousy with those which are not a
provoke them to anger with a foolish nation."
heap mischiefs upon them;
I will spend
Mine arrows upon them.
They shall be
burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat,
they are a nation void of counsel,
there any understanding in them.
O that they
were wise, that they understood this,
would consider their latter end!
one chase a thousand,
And two put
ten thousand to flight,
rock had sold them,
And the Lord
had shut them up?
rock is not as our Rock,
enemies themselves being judges."
this laid up in store with Me,
And sealed up
among My treasures?
belongeth vengeance, and recompense;
shall slide in due time:
For the day
of their calamity is at hand,
things that shall come upon them make haste."
23, 24, 28-31, 34, 35.
similar passages revealed to Josiah God's love for His people and His
abhorrence of sin. As the king read the prophecies of swift judgment upon
those who should persist in rebellion, he trembled for the future. The
perversity of Judah had been great; what was to be the outcome of their
years the king had not been indifferent to the prevailing idolatry.
"In the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young," he
had consecrated himself fully to the service of God. Four years later, at
the age of twenty, he had made an earnest effort to remove temptation from
his subjects by purging "Judah and Jerusalem from the high places,
and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images."
"They brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the
images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the
carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of
them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto
them. And he burnt the bones of the priests
altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem." 2 Chronicles 34:3-5.
with doing thorough work in the land of Judah, the youthful ruler had
extended his efforts to the portions of Palestine formerly occupied by the
ten tribes of Israel, only a feeble remnant of which now remained.
"So did he," the record reads, "in the cities of Manasseh,
and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali." Not until he had
traversed the length and breadth of this region of ruined homes, and
"had broken down the altars and the
had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols
throughout all the land of Israel," did he return to Jerusalem.
Verses 6, 7.
from his earliest manhood, had endeavored to take advantage of his
position as king to exalt the principles of God's holy law. And now, while
Shaphan the scribe was reading to him out of the book of the law, the king
discerned in this volume a treasure of knowledge, a powerful ally, in the
work of reform he so much desired to see wrought in the land. He resolved
to walk in the light of its counsels, and also to do all in his power to
acquaint his people with its teachings and to lead them, if possible, to
cultivate reverence and love for the law of heaven.
But was it
possible to bring about the needed reform? Israel had almost reached the
limit of divine forbearance; soon God would arise to punish those who had
brought dishonor upon His name. Already the anger of the Lord was kindled
against the people. Overwhelmed with sorrow and dismay, Josiah rent his
garments and bowed before God in agony of spirit, seeking pardon for the
sins of an impenitent nation.
At that time
the prophetess Huldah was living in Jerusalem, near the temple. The mind
of the king, filled with anxious foreboding, reverted to her, and he
determined to inquire of the Lord through this chosen messenger to learn,
if possible, whether by any means within his power he might save erring
Judah, now on the verge of ruin.
of the situation and the respect in which he held the prophetess led him
to choose as his messengers to her the first men of the kingdom. "Go
ye," he bade them,
of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the
words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that
is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the
words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written
concerning us." 2 Kings 22:13.
Huldah the Lord sent Josiah word that Jerusalem's ruin could not be
averted. Even should the people now humble themselves before God, they
could not escape their punishment. So long had their senses been deadened
by wrongdoing that, if judgment should not come upon them, they would soon
return to the same sinful course. "Tell the man that sent you to
me," the prophetess declared, "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I
will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even
all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read: because they
have forsaken Me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might
provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore My wrath
shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched."
the king had humbled his heart before God, the Lord would acknowledge his
promptness in seeking forgiveness and mercy. To him was sent the message:
"Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before
the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against
the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse,
and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before Me; I also have heard thee,
saith the Lord. Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and
thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in
thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this
place." Verses 19, 20.
The king must
leave with God the events of the future; he could not alter the eternal
decrees of Jehovah. But in announcing the retributive judgments of Heaven,
the Lord had not withdrawn opportunity for repentance and reformation; and
Josiah, discerning in this a willingness on the part of God to temper His
judgments with mercy, determined to do all in his power to bring about
decided reforms. He arranged at once for a great convocation, to which
were invited the elders and magistrates in Jerusalem and Judah, together
with the common people. These, with the priests and Levites, met the king
in the court of the temple.
To this vast
assembly the king himself read "all the words of the book of the
covenant which was found in the house of the Lord." 2 Kings 23:2. The
royal reader was deeply affected, and he delivered his message with the
pathos of a broken heart. His hearers were profoundly moved. The intensity
of feeling revealed in the countenance of the king, the solemnity of the
message itself, the warning of judgments impending--all these had their
effect, and many determined to join with the king in seeking forgiveness.
proposed that those highest in authority unite with the people in solemnly
covenanting before God to co-operate with one another in an effort to
institute decided changes. "The king stood by a pillar, and made a
covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep His
and His testimonies and His statutes with all their heart and all their
soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this
book." The response was more hearty than the king had dared hope for:
"All the people stood to the covenant." Verse 3.
reformation that followed, the king turned his attention to the
destruction of every vestige of idolatry that remained. So long had the
inhabitants of the land followed the customs of the surrounding nations in
bowing down to images of wood and stone, that it seemed almost beyond the
power of man to remove every trace of these evils. But Josiah persevered
in his effort to cleanse the land. Sternly he met idolatry by slaying
"all the priests of the high places;" "moreover the workers
with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and
all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in
Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law
which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house
of the Lord." Verses 20, 24.
In the days
of the rending of the kingdom, centuries before, when Jeroboam the son of
Nebat, in bold defiance of the God whom Israel had served, was endeavoring
to turn the hearts of the people away from the services of the temple in
Jerusalem to new forms of worship, he had set up an unconsecrated altar at
Bethel. During the dedication of this altar, where many in years to come
were to be seduced into idolatrous practices, there had suddenly appeared
a man of God from Judea, with words of condemnation for the sacrilegious
proceedings. He had "cried against the altar," declaring:
altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the
house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests
of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be
burnt upon thee." 1 Kings 13:2. This announcement had been
accompanied by a sign that the word spoken was of the Lord.
centuries had passed. During the reformation wrought by Josiah, the king
found himself in Bethel, where stood this ancient altar. The prophecy
uttered so many years before in the presence of Jeroboam, was now to be
altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of
Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high
place he brake down, and burned the high place, and stamped it small to
powder, and burned the grove.
Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchers that were there in the
mount, and sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchers, and burned them
upon the altar, and polluted it, according to the word of the Lord which
the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words.
said, What title is that that I see? And the men of the city told him, It
is the sepulcher of the man of God, which came from Judah, and proclaimed
these things that thou hast done against the altar of Bethel. And he said,
Let him alone; let no man move his bones. So they let his bones alone,
with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria." 2 Kings
southern slopes of Olivet, opposite the beautiful temple of Jehovah on
Mount Moriah, were the shrines and
had been placed there by Solomon to please his idolatrous wives. See 1
Kings 11:6-8. For upwards of three centuries the great, misshapen images
had stood on the "Mount of Offense," mute witnesses to the
apostasy of Israel's wisest king. These, too, were removed and destroyed
sought further to establish the faith of Judah in the God of their fathers
by holding a great Passover feast, in harmony with the provisions made in
the book of the law. Preparation was made by those having the sacred
services in charge, and on the great day of the feast, offerings were
freely made. "There was not holden such a Passover from the days of
the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel,
nor of the kings of Judah." 2 Kings 23:22. But the zeal of Josiah,
acceptable though it was to God, could not atone for the sins of past
generations; nor could the piety displayed by the king's followers effect
a change of heart in many who stubbornly refused to turn from idolatry to
the worship of the true God.
For more than
a decade following the celebration of the Passover, Josiah continued to
reign. At the age of thirty-nine he met death in battle with the forces of
Egypt, "and was buried in one of the sepulchers of his fathers."
"All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. And Jeremiah lamented
for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah
in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel:
and, behold, they are written in the lamentations." 2 Chronicles
35:24, 25. Like unto Josiah "was there no king before him,
to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his
might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there
any like him. Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of
His great wrath, . . . because of all the provocations that Manasseh had
provoked Him withal." 2 Kings 23:25, 26. The time was rapidly
approaching when Jerusalem was to be utterly destroyed and the inhabitants
of the land carried captive to Babylon, there to learn the lessons they
had refused to learn under circumstances more favorable.