August 8, 2011

Young King Josiah Impacts Hundreds of Thousands

This week I found a young man who impacted thousands of people.  Hundreds of thousands of people, really.  He was King Josiah of the Old Testament.  You may have heard of him before, but I hadn’t, so I thought I’d tell you about him.  

Josiah was 8 years old when his wicked father King Amon was assassinated by some of the leaders in the kingdom.  He was the King of Judah, and a very bad man, just like his father Manasseh.  So Josiah, at 8 years old, was made King of Judah because the people knew he’d be a better king than the two reigning kings before him.  While his dad and grandpa ruled Judah, people had started worshiping idols.  Solomon’s temple had been shut down, and other small temples throughout the kingdom had been polluted with idolatry.  They had been weakened as a people so much by wickedness that they paid another kingdom, Assyria, heavy taxes to keep them from destroying them.  Josiah allowed the good men that put him in power help him rule the kingdom.

When he was 16 years old, he decided he needed to know the truth.  He ‘sought after the God of David.’  He gained a testimony of God and His work among Josiah’s people, the tribe of Judah.  He realized the wickedness going on in the temples, and he started to destroy all of the idols in the kingdom.  He closed the temples and desecrated the altars used to sacrifice to idols.  He stopped the human sacrifices that had also crept into their worship.  And he set aside funds to restore Solomon’s temple, so it could be rededicated to God and used as God intended.  This took a few years to do all of this.

While workers were cleaning out Solomon’s temple as part of the restoration, when Josiah was about 20 years old, they found some scriptures written on scrolls.  The workers sent them to King Josiah, who was anxious to see what they said.  When the scribe read what the scrolls said, Josiah was upset.  He was so upset that he tore his clothes and wept.  The words condemned the people for idolatry, talking of destruction and horrible things.  Wasn’t Josiah trying to eradicate it?  Was God still unhappy with them?  Josiah did what any good King would do—he consulted with the Prophet, or in this case, a Prophetess.  

The current Prophet was Jeremiah, but he couldn’t read.  Hulda, the Prophetess could read.  Servants took the scrolls to her and asked her to speak to God to clarify things.  Hulda confirmed the words in the scroll, saying that people would indeed suffer as described in the scroll because their hearts were still idolatrous.  But to Josiah personally God said, “Because thine heart was tender and thou has 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.  Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace, and thine eyes shall not see all this evil which I will bring upon this place.”  

When Josiah heard these words, he was still upset.  He loved his people and didn’t want them to suffer as was spoken.  So he called for a huge meeting, kind of like King Benjamin did in the Book of Mormon.  He invited all of the tribes of Israel, not just Judah, to meet at Solomon’s temple.  There, he read all of the words of the covenant that had been found on the scroll.  And just like King Benjamin, he covenanted with God there 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.’  All of the people there, in Jerusalem and Benjamin, agreed to also keep the commandments.  A huge group of people listened to a young king and covenanted with God to be righteous.  

Josiah’s campaign against idolatry gained new momentum, as he spread his destruction to all of the other tribes’ lands too.  More idols were broken into pieces and the priests who participated in the rituals were stripped of authority.  iHThe temple continued to be rebuilt and cleansed, in preparation to being rededicated to God.

For the first time in generations, Josiah held a massive Passover at the temple.  It was a great occasion because people from all of the 12 tribes of Israel came to celebrate!  And at the Passover, the whole group declared their independence from foreign powers and their dependence on God.  Josiah had been successful at uniting all of the tribes in their dedication to righteousness.

Not all of the people were there.  Many loved their idols too much to repent and change.  They stayed home.  But Josiah must have been happy to see that he could help the people willingly turn from their idolatry and find God’s blessings.  Josiah lived to see peace and unity in his kingdom for several years before he died at the age of 39.  His sons, one after another, reigned in Judah, but without the commitment and zeal that Josiah had.  Within a few years, the prophecy Huldah confirmed began to be seen.  Babylon swept through Judah and forced them to pay taxes or be destroyed.  When one of Josiah’s sons stopped paying that tax, the city was besieged, people were taken hostage to Babylon and Jerusalem had fallen.  

Josiah’s reign was a short peaceful era, all begun because a young king became converted to the Lord and encouraged his people, and surrounding peoples to participate in his covenants with God.  This is what was said of him in 2 Kings 23:25, “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 the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.”  

Even young men can make a huge difference in the world. 

Aside from 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 3-4, see Olsen, Camille Fronk. Women of the Old Testament Pages 145-160, the section on the Prophetess Hulda.

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