King Josiah’s Religious Reforms   2 comments

Above:  King Josiah Hearing the Book of the Law

Image in the Public Domain





2 Kings 23:1-20

2 Chronicles 34:19-33


I will keep your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

–Psalm 119:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


If one pays attention to 2 Kings 22-23 and compares their contents to 2 Chronicles 34, one notices some irreconcilable differences, chiefly the rearrangement of material from 2 Kings 22-23.  The chronologies differ.  Some of the material from 2 Kings 22 shows up in 2 Chronicles 34:19-33.  Furthermore, 2 Kings 23 tells the story of Josiah’s religious reforms starting after the rediscovery of the Book of the Law in the Temple.  In contrast, the narrative in 2 Chronicles 34 is that Josiah had begun his reforms prior to the finding of the Book of the Law.

I generally consider the accounts in the Books of Samuel and Kings more reliable than those in 1 and 2 Chronicles.  I do this regardless of the internal contradictions present in the Books of Samuel and Kings due to the editing of different, sometimes mutually exclusive sources into one narrative.  Yet the Books of Samuel and Kings are brutally honest about the moral failings of characters who are supposed to be heroes.  However, 1 and 2 Chronicles put the best possible faces on heroes.  1 Chronicles 11 omits the civil war between Kings David and Ishbaal (2 Samuel 2:8-4:12) after the death of King Saul (1 Samuel 31; 2 Samuel 1; 1 Chronicles 10).  Also, 2 Samuel 11 and 12 tell of David and Bathsheba, a story absent from 1 and 2 Chronicles.

2 Kings 23:1-20 details how far folk religion had fallen during the reigns of Josiah’s grandfather (Manasseh) and father (Amon).  The text even mentions prostitution at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The text describes a folk religion that had assimilated with the cultures of neighboring peoples.  If one pays close attention to the Hebrew Bible, one knows that syncretism was an old pattern.  One may also recall that Elijah, after mocking Baal Peor in 1 Kings 17:20f, slaughtered the prophets of the Canaanite storm god.  Josiah resembles Elijah in 2 Kings 23:20.

2 Kings 23:15f refers to 1 Kings 13, in which an unnamed prophet, a “man of God,” from the southern Kingdom of Judah traveled to the northern Kingdom of Israel to condemn the altar in Bethel during the reign (928-907 B.C.E.) of Jeroboam I.  Shortly thereafter, we read, that prophet died because he disobeyed divine instructions.  That is an important detail, one to which I will return in another post before I finish writing about Josiah’s reign.  We also read that Josiah honored the memory of the unnamed “man of God.”

One theme present in both 2 Kings 23:1-20 and 2 Chronicles 34:19-33 yet more prominent in the latter is communal commitment to God.  This is imperative.

Raymond Calkins wrote in The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1954):

The people might perform acts of worship as prescribed, yet go their way as before, living lives of greed and selfishness.  True reform, in a word, is the reformation of inward motives, impulses, desires.  We must begin there.  No outside scheme of salvation will avail so long as men themselves remain self-seeking, materially minded, unbrotherly, indulgent.  The world for which we wait depends not on outward organizations but upon the revival of a true religion in the hearts of men.  Precisely what we are, the world will become.  The reformation of the world depends upon the reformation of the soul.  Such are the lessons taught us by the reforms of Josiah.


No theocracy can effect this reformation and make it last, keeping in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  However, the imperative of spiritually-healthy collective action, paired with individual action, remains.





2 responses to “King Josiah’s Religious Reforms

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  1. Pingback: The Superscription of the Book of Jeremiah | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

  2. Pingback: Sin and Punishment | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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