Another familiar story—that of King Josiah—I think I had read mostly from the shorter account in 2 Chronicles and somewhat passed over the much more detailed account in 2 Kings 23.
It’s really quite an incredible story in context, after reading about king after king after king who “failed to remove the high places” (regardless of whether or not they themselves followed God), and thinking, uh, why not? The prophecy of the young prophet is finally fulfilled, by young Josiah, as he sacrifices the priests on their own altars (2 Kings 23:20) and burns the bones of those who had already died. He tears down the high places all over the place, burns Asherah poles—one of which was in the Temple itself (2 Kings 23:6)—and at last tears down the idol places to Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom (v. 13) that no less than Solomon had built.
He reinstitutes the Passover, which we are disturbingly informed had not been kept since the time of the judges (2 Kings 23:22), which means it was not kept in the latter part of David’s reign or any of Solomon’s—2 Chronicles 35:18 confirms that it hadn’t been observed since “the days of Samuel,” specifically—Samuel who died before King Saul!
In the tale of Josiah’s destruction, we get a really graphic picture of how far wrong Israel and Judah had fallen, and finally, finally, someone stops the idolatry. It also demonstrates the power of the Book of the Law, the Scripture, to set things back to rights (2 Kings 23:24).
Of Josiah himself, we see that
He did what was right in the Lord’s sight and walked in all the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn to the right or the left.
2 Kings 22:2, hcsb
Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his mind and with all his heart and with all his strength according to all the law of Moses, and no one like him arose after him.
2 Kings 23:25
All of this at the age of eighteen, and he’s finally doing what David and Solomon and every king thereafter had failed to do.
Josiah dies confronting the Pharaoh (2 Kings 23:29), and his son—who is evil (2 Kings 23:31) is anointed by the people, not by a prophet, as king. Then Josiah’s next son is appointed next—by the Pharaoh—and again, is evil. Finally, Josiah’s grandson, Jehoiachin, is the final king, also evil, and that’s when Nebuchadnezzar (the pagan king who will eventually be turned to YHWH himself) comes in and carries everyone off to Babylon.
A sad ending. Josiah is the most righteous king ever seen in Israel, and yet, “because of the sins of Manasseh… the LORD would not forgive” (2 Kings 24:4). The die was cast. Josiah’s reforms came too late.
For the Lord had said, “I will also remove Judah from My sight just as I have removed Israel. I will reject this city Jerusalem, that I have chosen, and the temple about which I said, ‘My name will be there.’”
2 Kings 23:37