2 CHRONICLES 34
3 For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the Elohim of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.
While he was yet young
You can bend the twig, but you cannot bend the tree. You have unclouded leisure in youth; you will be hindered by responsibilities and troubles in age. You are more likely to take on the things of the Kingdom "as a little child" in the impressionable days of youth, than after longer contact with the case-hardening influences of the world of the ungodly.
4 And 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.
Purging the land of idolatry
When the whole system of divine worship was corrupted, even to the sacred places of the temple itself, the entire service of the tamiyd must have been abandoned, and its hymn of daily praise was no doubt set aside as well. Yet again, the House of Asaph found it necessary to sing in secret. Their hymn, supposed to be sung in public, would now only be heard in private, as they maintained their song within the confines of their own homes.
Even then, there was great danger, as this faithful family of choristers kept the daily vow of devotion to their God. In those dark years of Manasseh and Amon, many of the faithful perished under persecution, including perhaps even some of the House of Asaph, who might have lost their lives as they protested against the wickedness of such kings.
But, yet again, in the providence of God, this age of wickedness was ended by a deliverer sent by Yahweh, who brought with him the opportunity for repentance and change.
Josiah was but a child of eight when he became king, yet from the beginning his work was marked by the reforming zeal so evident in the reigns of Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah who had gone before him. Like Joash in his earliest years, a strong mentor stood behind the throne, for in Shaphan the scribe Josiah had a wonderful spiritual guide. 3
The wise counsel Shaphan gave to the young king helped to form his deepest values as he developed into maturity. The evidence for his influence was seen early in Josiah's reign. At the age of sixteen, he revealed a keen interest in spiritual matters, and by twenty he was already committed to the standards he wished to uphold in his kingdom, as he initiated a radical reform of the corrupt system which he had inherited.
His earliest work was focused on purging out of Judah those high places, groves and carved images that had spread throughout the land under Manasseh and Amon.
The crowning indignity of Manasseh's apostasy lay in his determination to defile the sanctuary with his own idolatrous worship. In the house where God had said He would put His Name there, 4 he set a carved image of the grove in brazen disregard for the sanctity of that place. Josiah, as part of his reform, was anxious to rid the sanctuary of such defilements. As well as removing from the temple all the vessels made for Baal and the grove, 5 he brought out the carved image of the grove which was still in the house and ground it to powder. 6
Manasseh had first put it there, 7 and although he had eventually removed it, 8 his son Amon promptly put it back (2 Chronicles 33:22). It fell now to Josiah finally to remove and destroy it, so that it could never be used again.
3, What Jehoiada provided to Joash, Shaphan supplied to Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:8,16,20). In addition, both Jeremiah (35:25) and Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1) laboured with Josiah.
4 2 Kings 21:7.
5 2 Kings 23:4.
6 2 Kings 23:6.
7 2 Kings 21:7.
8 2 Chronicles 33:7,15.
Bro Roger Lewis - The House of Asaph Ch 8
12 And the men did the work faithfully: and the overseers of them were Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites, of the sons of Merari; and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to set it forward; and other of the Levites, all that could skill of instruments of musick.
Important though his purges were, the negative work of abolishing the apostasy of false worship was not sufficient for the young king, and he sought in addition to restore the strength and vigour of true worship in the land.
Central to that plan was the repair of the house of Yahweh, that the system of sacrifice and praise which had bound the nation in earlier times might be renewed. The temple had been turned into an idolatrous shrine in the reigns of his immediate predecessors, and for most of the past seventy years its music had ceased, and its choirs had been prevented from offering their song.
It was an indication of the-confidence he reposed in Shaphan, that Josiah sent him as leader of a group of trusted brethren to work with Hilkiah the High Priest in coordinating the temple repairs, using funds collected from both Judah and Israel.
Part of the instructions from the king were to give the funds for repair into the hands of those that had the oversight of the house of God. There was a spirit of faithfulness in all the workmen involved, a characteristic needed in all who labour in the house of God. But the work needed coordination and control, and a decision was made to appoint overseers who could both organise and supervise the labours of the workmen.
No doubt Shaphan was involved in the selection of these overseers, and his choice was an excellent one, for without hesitation he called to that office the Levites who were skilful with instruments of music. 9 This was the same group of elite singers whom Jehoiada }lad enlisted in his own time, led by the House of Asaph, who held undoubted primacy among the two hundred and eighty-eight.
Shaphan selected them with a similar objective to Jehoiada, but he did not seek them for their song, but for their spirit of excellence in singing it. Shortly afterwards, the House of Asaph would yet again step forward to lead the nation's praise, but in the meantime they were asked to share in the oversight of the temple repairs.
It was a remarkable choice to make, and even more astonishing that, after seventy years of suppression, they could still play their instruments with skill. 10 Now these leaders of the song were given oversight of the workmen, and became project managers for the temple repairs.
It was not necessary for them to understand fully the intricate building required, nor how the joists and beams would lock together to repair the house. They did not possess the skills of the artificers and builders, but they had something else of greater value.
Their spirit of striving for the highest in their music qualified them for this duty, where a passion for outstanding work was likewise needed. Not for them the casual or careless. Not for ,them the rough and ready. Everything would need to be planned and executed with precision and care, for nothing less would satisfy the spirit of excellence in endeavour that was the standard of the House of Asaph.
And given that they laboured together in restoring the house where the ark of the presence might yet again find its resting place among His people, who better to have the oversight than the family whose work had always been to minister before the ark continually as every day's work required?
The House of Asaph were suddenly in the forefront of the work. Soon afterwards, they would be even more directly involved at the request of the king himself.
9 RSV: "The Levites, all who were skilful with instruments of music" (2 Chronicles 34:12) refers again to the two hundred and eighty-eight leading singers whom David appointed.
The term "skilful" (biyn, 'to understand') is the same term used of these elite instructors of the song, "even all that were cunning [biyn]" (1 Chronicles 25:7). Since overseers from both Merari and Kohath have already been noted, those drawn from the musicians would almost certainly include the singers from the Levitical branch of Gershom, who were in fact the House of Asaph (6:33-47)!
10 The fact that they were still described as "skilful" here in Josiah's time indicates that their training had never ceased (2 Chronicles 34:12).Bro Roger Lewis - The House of Asaph Ch 8
14 And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of Yahweh, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of Yahweh given by Moses.
When the zealous young men - Josiah and Jeremiah - set out together to bring Israel back to God, the picture looked very promising. In cleaning out the temple, which during Manasseh's long evil reign had become broken down and neglected, there was found the book of the law. It is hard to realize that the book of the law had been so completely forgotten that Josiah, though seeking God, was for years unaware of its content.
How impressive is the lesson that this could happen in one generation! This was six years after he had begun his great reformation. And still, when this book was discovered and read to him, he rent his clothes and sent in haste to inquire of God what should be done to avert the evils therein prophesied.
God's answer to Josiah was that it was now too late! The evils were on their way and could not be turned aside, but because he was faithful and God-fearing, it would not come in his day.
Bro Growcott - Jeremiah, prophet of judgement
18 Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.
I t was during the strengthening of the house that a surprising discovery was made. The special collection which had been taken up for the temple repairs 11 had been stored in one of the treasury rooms of the temple. Hilkiah the High Priest had visited the room to bring out silver and to deliver it into the hands of those who had the oversight of the repairs. 12
While in the chamber, however, he found an ancient scroll. Although he was unable to read it all, he recognised enough to realise, with astonishment, that here was a version of the book of the law - and not just any copy, but the very original that Moses had written and placed beside the ark as a witness to the people. 13
Overcome with excitement, he shared his find with Shaphan the scribe, who was able to decipher the writing and its meaning.
But this was the scroll which lay alongside the ark in the temple of Solomon, the same scroll which had been brought out for the coronation of Joash in the time of Jehoiada. The fact that neither the scroll nor the ark were to be found in the Holy of Holies was an indication that both had been moved at some point in the turbulent history of the nation.
Shaphan in turn read it before the king, who, overcome with emotion, rent his clothes and sent a delegation to Huldah the prophetess to ask for her counsel. The discovery of the law profoundly affected the king, and the sober warnings and promised judgments of the book were the catalyst which moved him to bind the entire nation into a solemn covenant of obedience to God.
Alas, the hearts of the people were not with their king, for while he made promise with all his heart and all his soul, they did not. Yet again, the commitment of the people was superficial and insincere. Josiah, however, already knew that his reforms would fail. to produce the change he desired; nor would they succeed in averting the judgments to come. 14
But his work was intended to light the fire in a generation who would survive the captivity and provide a remnant for the return. Already there was one such family who stood with the king, and in whom his dearest objectives would be realised. They had already been involved in his work of renewal, but now they would assume the spiritual leadership for which they were already famous.
11 2 Kings 22:4.
12 2 Chronicles 34:14.
13 The writing of this original is mentioned (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). That this was the version discovered by Hilkiah is suggested by the text (2 Chronicles 34:14), where the phrase "given by Moses" is ,literally be-yad Mos-eh, 'by the hand of Moses'.
A similar conclusion is reached in Josiah and his Children (Stephen Palmer, pages 56,57), where corroborative evidence is suggested in the fact that Hilkiah was unable to read the, writing, whereas Shaphan the scribe (with a better knowledge of ancient scripts) could.
14 Huldah the prophetess had already made this plain (2 Chronicles 34:23-28),
Bro Roger Lewis
19 And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes.
Josiah's previous reforms show that he was generally familiar with God's laws. But it seems certain from his stunned reaction to this Book that he had no direct familiarity with a full and authentic text.
There is a strong Jewish tradition that both Manasseh and Amon had made great efforts to stamp out all copies of the Scriptures, and to persecute those that had them, like the Catholic Church in its heyday. And this indeed is exactly what we would expect-especially in the light of Jehoiakim's treatment of Jeremiah's prophecy, and his attempts to seize Jeremiah for writing it (Jeremiah 36:23-26).
How fitting and how powerfully dramatic if the very manuscript of Moses showed up by Divine Providence at this last bright moment of Israel's history, before the kingdom went into its two thousand five-hundred-year eclipse!
When parts of it were read to Josiah, he was tremendously moved and shaken. He was an extremely devoted and zealous man. For six years he had been labouring to cleanse the land from everything contrary to the Divine holiness. He would certainly have sought-and so far in vain-for a full, sure text of the Divine Law. And he now hears these ancient, inspired denunciations and dreadful, forewarned punishments of the very things he knows are deeply ingrained in the corrupted nation.
There is a great sense of urgency in his sending (2 Kings 22:13) the High Priest to enquire of God. He appears to realise that the cup of wrath is brimming full, and the threatened wrath about to fall. This gives us a deeper insight into the tense zeal which drove him to cleanse the land so thoroughly. We get the details of that cleansing in chapter 23, and no previous efforts begin to compare with his. He knew how corrupt the nation was. He knew that God's patience had lingered long.
Bro Growcott - Like him none before or after
20 And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king's, saying,
21 Go, enquire of Yahweh for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of Yahweh that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of Yahweh, to do after all that is written in this book.
The written law had evidently become a rare and little known thing in high places in Israel, through the neglect and apostasies of former kings. To this probably Isaiah refers a little over two generations before Josiah's day:
"Their root shall be as rottenness and their blossom shall go up as dust, because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against His people and He hath stretched forth His hand against them and smitten them" (Isaiah 5: 24-25).
But though buried away as a piece of lumber in the temple and unknown in the palaces of the kings, it does not follow that it was unknown to everyone in Judah. even among the Ten Tribes, in the days of Ahab's deepest revolt, God informed Elijah that He had reserved to Himself seven thousand men who had not compromised themselves in the prevailing idolatry. How much more probable that in Judah there was a remnant who were faithful and who mourned in secret the corruptions of the times. Indeed, their existence is plainly recognised in the following message by Isaiah:
"Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word: your brethren that hated you and that cast you out for My Name's sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified; but He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed" (Isaiah 66: 5).
And still more plainly in the word by Ezekiel, a generation after Josiah:
"Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (Ezekiel 9: 4).
Consequently, though among those surrounding the court of Jerusalem, the written law was a forgotten thing, copies of it were doubtless multiplied among the private servants of Yahweh scattered among the hills and valleys of Judea, among whom faithfulness was thus preserved. But it was necessary to preserve the sacred writings among the leaders of the nation for the sake of its transmission to succeeding times. Copies in private possession were not in the channel of public preservation.
The vicissitudes of the times made their destruction or disappearance a matter of certainty in a short time. In the copy stowed away in the recesses of the temple, and discovered after a long slumber among the dust and cobwebs, the hand of God is visible, as it has been in all generations since, in the preservation of His marvellous word from destruction, often attempted with formidable method and power.
By one providential agency and another, the most ancient book and the most ancient people are extant in the earth at the present day, when their enemies, great in ancient power and name, have passed out of recollection in the land of the living. The Greeks and Egyptians under Antiochus tried to extirpate the Hebrew scriptures some generations before Christ. The Hebrew scriptures fill the land of modern culture: and where is Antiochus? Pagan Rome, 300 years after Christ, made the same attempt, including in her imperial edict, issued by Diocletian, the writings of the apostles.
These writings are the most venerated throughout the civilised world: and where is Diocletian? Where Roman Paganism? Rome of the hated popes has been guilty of the same insane endeavour. The curling flames have devoured thousands of copies by her command, and consumed the bones of readers and believers: but the hated book lives still, and is sold in thousands under the very walls of the Vatican. The providence of God has operated to the protection of His greatest gift to man, from man's own satanic malice and hostility.
Ways of Providence Ch 22
33 And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve Yahweh their Elohim. And all his days they departed not from following Yahweh, the Elohim of their fathers.
What a wonderful tribute! What better record could any man leave behind him than that! That all his days, his zeal and example and influence were such that he had kept his people wholly in the right way.
Bro Growcott - Jeremiah, prophet of judgement