Lessons from the Life of King Josiah

Lessons from the Life of King Josiah

Josiah was an amazingly unique king. The record in 2 Kings 23:25 gives the summary of his life like this,

“And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned 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.”

There had been good kings before but none that responded so thoroughly and whole hearted as King Josiah. His dedication and zeal were unsurpassed.

He suddenly found himself at the tender age of eight ruling over a kingdom that was etched with years of moral depravity. His grandfather, Manasseh, had been the antithesis of all that Josiah would be. For half a century he had so utterly desecrated the nation of Israel with idolatry that God said there was no going back. Josiah’s father, Amon, was no better. Ruling for two short years and then being violently murdered by conspiring servants.

One would expect Josiah to have followed in the footsteps of his evil fathers. So easily he could have succumbed to the temptations of the power that was his. Yet, he didn’t. He was sixteen years old when the record says he “began to seek after the God of David his father” (2 Chr. 35:3). A miracle and a blessing from God. For the faithful remnant that had endured so many years of wickedness it must have been a time of great excitement and hope.

At the age of twenty he does something about it. Nothing could hold him back. He begins a six-year purge of the whole nation from idolatry. It shows us the massive corruption in the land and his diligence to thoroughly brake down and pulverize all the idols he could find.

After this six-year campaign to eradicate the sin of Israel he returns to Jerusalem and turns his sights to repairing the house of God. He established and organized all the Levites again in their courses. It is a wonderful time of working together to rebuild the true worship of God. While in that work they discover something that had been lost. After all these years a book lay forgotten, the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses (2 Chr. 34:14). It’s words, new to the ears of Josiah, humbled him. The dire irrevocable doom would make most men give up but not Josiah. He doubled his efforts. Gathered all the people, renewed the covenant, began another deeper purge of idolatry and reestablished the keeping of the Passover.

His end would come in the thick of battle. He would be sore wounded by the arrows of Egypt. It was a fight that he should never have been involved in. Tragically, he died at the age of 39, lamented by Jeremiah and all Israel.

It was the beginning of the end for Israel. For all Josiah’s efforts, the sins of Manasseh were deep and unrecoverable. Josiah’s four children would reign for twenty-two short tumultuous years before God would end it by bringing upon it destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.

Such was the life of King Josiah. It is filled with so much exhortation. I just wanted to pick out some examples this morning for us to consider.[1]

  • Firstly, the early age at which Josiah dedicated himself to God is a prime example for us to consider. What was it that made him such a great king so early on? What influenced him to godliness and to continue there in?
  • Secondly, we should take on his zeal. His purge of idolatry is something for us to follow as we seek to eradicate sin in our lives.
  • Next, we’ll look at his humility towards the word of God. The treasure of which we cannot lose in our house.
  • Last of all, we want to consider his example of someone who sought first the kingdom of God and his righteous. We’ll see that he understood the Law of Moses in a most deep and principled way.

What Influenced Josiah to Godliness?

In the kings record we have some unexpected twists and turns. The very wicked king Ahaz has a son Hezekiah who was a mountain of faith. Hezekiah in turn hands over the kingdom to his son Manasseh who made Judah to do worse than the heathen around them. Manasseh humbles himself at the end of his fifty-five-year reign and tries to right the wrong, but his son Amon forsakes the way of the Lord.

Josiah would have been six years old when Manasseh died. Did his grandfather try to influence him for good? Did he surround him with faithful counsellors? We are not told.

Josiah was eight years old when his father was murdered. Maybe it was this dreadful end that convinced Josiah not to repeat his father’s mistakes. Was his mother the one to build him up in the ways of God? We are only told her name, Jedidah, which means “beloved” (2 Kings 22:1).

Did you know that Zephaniah, the prophet, was his cousin? It all goes back to Hezekiah (Zeph. 1:1 Hizkiah = Hezekiah). So, there’s some history there. A godly companion for Josiah.

In the story, we see also a faithful high priest in Hilkiah. He doesn’t seem as involved as Johoida was with Joash but he is there as a supporter of young Josiah.

Jeremiah too starts to prophecy during the reign of Josiah. Jeremiah is said to be the son of Hilkiah (Jer. 1:1) which more than likely is the same person as the high priest.

An interesting cast of characters surrounds Josiah. It was this faithful remnant that must have influenced him. After all those dark years, light shines. No matter how dire the circumstances seem we should never lose hope. We are the remnant, brothers and sisters, and our influence, no matter how small, can have a significant impact.

Of course, God is the one over all these works. I think that even though at this time Josiah did not have a copy of the law, he must have had some records of the kings. At the age of sixteen it says in 2 Chronicles 34:3, “he began to seek after the God of David his father.” How telling is that? He knew about David. He clung to that history and recognized that David was his father.

Sixteen is such a critical age. Some Christadelphians think it’s too young of an age to be baptized. Josiah is a counter argument to that. He followed the words of Ecc. 12:1, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” and his contemporary Jeremiah said, “It is a good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lam. 3:27). He could have so easily gone the way of the world, but he didn’t. He grabbed hold of the promises and never let go.

The Zeal of Josiah

I wish I could capture just a little bit of that zeal that Josiah had. Those four years from sixteen to twenty solidified his commitment to God. So much so, that he had to do something about it. That commitment he made became action. It was a personal mission. When you read 2 Chr. 34:3-7 notice that he was right there overseeing all of it.

“For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God 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. {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. And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round about. And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.”

Can you see him directed his servants? See that over there, that little idol by the tree. Make sure you don’t miss that. Destroy it everything, even the little ones. No, don’t save that, I don’t care if it’s gold, it has to go. Listen, you’ve got to brake this into more pieces. Pulverize it! Make it powder or else they’ll rebuild it.

How did they grind it to powder? That is not an easy task.

Josiah was so intent it took him six years to complete the job and this was just the first purging. It’s beyond the scope of this exhortation but when you study the parallel accounts you’ll notice that Josiah does the same thing later to an even greater extent. After they discover the law, the prophetess Huldah, ensures Josiah that the curses will eventually come upon the land. It was inevitable. The amazing thing about Josiah is that he is undeterred by this. Where most men would have given up, he steps it up even more (2 Chr. 34:33 cp. 2 Kings 23:4-20).

Josiah realized that sin is always there. It is a constant battle. Even after making a covenant with all the people there is more work to do. We must realize too that in our lives the purging of sin and idolatry never ends, while we are still in this mortal frame. Baptism is the start to the true warfare against the flesh.

Josiah tried so hard but in the end his reforms did not last. He could destroy the images, but he could not eradicate the idols out of his people’s hearts. All was not lost though for in his courts were young men such as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah who no doubt took to heart the example of the young King Josiah. The faithful remnant would remain.

Discovering the Word

Besides the zeal of Josiah, we find somebody who had an overwhelming reverence for the Word of God. It’s fascinating that much of what he did was before he was even aware of the Law of Moses. After dealing with six years of purging the negativity in the land he set his sights to building up the center of worship for the nation, the house of God. Isn’t it true of healthy ecclesial life that it’s not all about putting down but also building up? There are times when we must deal with the negative, doctrinal problems, moral issues, etc. There’s a danger though in letting that rule our lives and our minds. We must seek out and strengthen the positive things of Bible study, prayer and meditation on the Word. Josiah knew this. He had a long-term plan.

It’s when we seek to glorify God that he rewards us even more, and so it was with Josiah. In the middle of the work Hilkiah found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. Based on Josiah’s reaction (2 Chr. 34:19) he had never heard it before. It was a surprise for Hilkiah. Shaphan the scribe seemed to not realize its importance (v. 18). Even Jeremiah seems to comment at the discovery by saying, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and they word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. 15:16).

How long had it been lost? A long time. By this point Josiah had been through all the land and there was no copy of it anywhere else. This was it! Isn’t it amazing that the Word of God was lost in the house? Even today we have the danger of losing the word of God in the house. In the house of God which is his ecclesia where the attitudes and teachings of men influence the decisions and counsels rather than the Word of God. We could also lose the word in our own homes when the business of life takes over our daily readings. Do our kids know that there is a treasure in their own homes?

The reaction of Josiah to the word is exemplary. No sooner does he hear the word then he rends his clothes at the very implications (v. 19). Later the prophetess Huldah says that he also wept (v. 27). That’s how powerfully it hit him. Does it ever hit you like that, brother and sisters? Have we become too complacent to the word of God? Maybe Isaiah had Josiah in mind when he wrote, “to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2).

It seems more than likely that it was the book of Deuteronomy which they found for it was to be stored by the ark (Deut. 31:26). The blessings and cursings from chapter 31 must have been what impacted Josiah (and Jeremiah) the most. If this is the case, there may be an echo in verse 23. God says to Josiah’s messengers, “Tell ye the man…” Why call him “the man” and not the king? He eventually calls him “the king” in verse 26. The answer is in Deut. 17:12 where “the man” is mentioned who will do presumptuously and not hearken to the judgment of the priests. What follows in the context must have been something that perked Josiah’s ears. Verse 15 is about the future king that would be “one from among thy brethren” and in verse 20 “his heart was not to be lifted up above his brethren.” The righteous king was supposed to see himself as a man from among his brethren. Humility was needed. That was Josiah.

Josiah must have diligently followed the instruction in verse 18 to write out his own copy of the law. He truly took this to heart as he humbled himself and kept the commandments. The effect would be as in verse 20, “he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left.” These are the very words used in 2 Chr. 34:2 to describe Josiah.

No doubt then that Josiah had his own personal copy of the book of the Law but he didn’t keep it to himself. He shared it and expected everybody to keep it. What a fantastic leader we read about in 2 Chr. 34:29-32,

“Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, great and small: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the LORD. And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book. And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.”

Notice how many times the word “all” is used here. Everybody was included, both great and small. The king read all the book in their ears and then publicly declared his covenant before the LORD.[2] He set forth the example and expected everybody to follow. That’s a great leader.

Seeking First the Kingdom

The thing that really impressed me about Josiah though was the legacy he left as described to us in Jeremiah 22:15-17.

“For thus saith the LORD touching Shallum the son of Josiah king of Judah, which reigned instead of Josiah his father, which went forth out of this place; He shall not return thither any more: But he shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more. {13} Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. {15} Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? {16} He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD. {17} But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.”

Unfortunately, Shallum did not follow the example of his father. He rather gave his life to covetousness. When it said in verse 15, “did not thy father eat and drink” it refers to the contentment Josiah had with simple food. He could have lived a luxurious lifestyle, but his real interests were in judging the cause of the poor and needy. This is what made him so great. This was his true legacy. The very things he had learned from Deuteronomy (Deut. 10:17-18).

The mind of Josiah was right in line with the teaching of Jesus Christ from Matthew 6:31-33,

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Josiah a Type of Christ

It’s no wonder that we see so much in Josiah that is a type of Jesus.

  • Josiah was prophesied about before his birth
  • Josiah was godly from his youth
  • He purged the land and temple two times just like Jesus cleansed the temple two times
  • He travelled all over Israel to turn the hearts of the people towards God.
  • He built the house of God and revealed the word of God
  • He preached even knowing the judgments of God were soon to come. Approximately forty years in both cases.
  • He brought the people into the covenant with God.
  • He prepared a great Passover and provided the lambs for sacrifice.
  • He died an untimely death at the hand of the Gentiles.

Most importantly, they had the same mind to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.


There’s no doubt in my mind that the summary of Josiah’s life in 2 Kings 23:25 is not an overstatement.

“And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned 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.”

We’ve seen a young king that was surrounded by a godly remnant but truly he made the right choice on his own, in highly unlikely circumstances, to seek after the God of his father David. We too, even in our youth, have important choices to make that will sustain the true remnant of God under any adversities.

He turned that curiosity into a zeal when he became convinced. His passion turned to action as he purged the land for years. We too must be diligent against sin.

To do that we must be impacted by the word of God just like Josiah. The word is a treasure and we cannot afford to lose it in our ecclesia or in our homes. We must make it our own and personal. Committing ourselves to a covenant with God, living our life in faith and leaving a legacy that is pleasing to God.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Lord Jesus Christ took so much to heart from the life of King Josiah. Thy had the same mindset---the glory of God and the salvation of his people. So as we partake of this new covenant in his blood let us stand by it, putting off the old man with his deeds and being renewed in the spirit of your mind to serve the living God.

[1] Many of these thoughts are taken from Stephen Palmer, “Josiah and His Children: Lessons for the Last Generation” (2007).

[2] Reminders of Joshua 24:15.