Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1-3. the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the
elders--This pious and patriotic king, not content with the promise
of his own security, felt, after Huldah's response, an increased desire
to avert the threatened calamities from his kingdom and people. Knowing
the richness of the divine clemency and grace to the penitent, he
convened the elders of the people, and placing himself at their head,
accompanied by the collective body of the inhabitants, went in solemn
procession to the temple, where he ordered the book of the law to be
read to the assembled audience, and covenanted, with the unanimous
concurrence of his subjects, to adhere steadfastly to all the
commandments of the Lord. It was an occasion of solemn interest,
closely connected with a great national crisis, and the beautiful
example of piety in the highest quarter would exert a salutary
influence over all classes of the people in animating their devotions
and encouraging their return to the faith of their fathers.
2. he read in their ears--that is, "caused to be read."
3. all the people stood to the covenant--that is, they agreed to
the proposals made; they assented to what was required of them.
4. the king commanded Hilkiah, &c.--that is, the high priest and
other priests, for there was not a variety of official gradations in
all the vessels, &c.--the whole apparatus of idol-worship.
burned them without Jerusalem--The law required them to be consigned
to the flames
in the fields of Kidron--most probably that part of the valley of
Kidron, where lies Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. It is a level,
spacious basin, abounding at present with plantations
brook winds along the east and south of the city, the channel of which
is throughout a large portion of the year almost or wholly dry, except
after heavy rains, when it suddenly swells and overflows. There were
emptied all the impurities of the temple
(2Ch 29:15, 16)
and the city. His reforming predecessors had ordered the mutilated
relics of idolatry to be thrown into that receptacle of filth
2Ch 15:16; 30:14);
but Josiah, while he imitated their piety, far outstripped them in
zeal; for he caused the ashes of the burnt wood and the fragments of
the broken metal to be collected and conveyed to Beth-el, in order
thenceforth to associate ideas of horror and aversion with that place,
as odious for the worst pollutions.
5. put down the idolatrous priests--Hebrew, chemarim, "scorched,"
that is, Guebres, or fire-worshippers, distinguished by a girdle
or belt of wool and camel's hair, twisted round the body twice and tied
with four knots, which had a symbolic meaning, and made it a supposed
defense against evil.
them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the
moon, &c.--or Baal-shemesh, for Baal was sometimes considered the sun.
This form of false worship was not by images, but pure star-worship,
borrowed from the old Assyrians.
and--rather, "even to all the host of heaven."
6. brought out the grove--that is, Asherah, the mystic tree, placed
by Manasseh in the temple
removed by him after his conversion
but replaced in the sanctuary by his wicked son Amon
[2Ki 21:20, 21].
Josiah had it taken to Kidron, burnt the wood, ground the metal about
it to powder, and strewed the ashes "on the graves of the children of
the people." The poor were buried in a common on part of the valley of
Kidron. But reference is here made to the graves "of those that had
7. brake down the houses of the sodomites--not solid houses, but
tents, called elsewhere
Succoth-benoth, "the booths of the young women," who were
devoted to the service of Asherah, for which they made embroidered
hangings, and in which they gave themselves to unbridled revelry and
lust. Or the hangings might be for Asherah itself, as it is a popular
superstition in the East to hang pieces of cloth on trees.
8, 9. he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and
defiled the high places, &c.--Many of the Levitical order, finding
in the reigns of Manasseh and Amon the temple-worship abolished and the
tithes and other offerings alienated, had been betrayed into the folly
of officiating on high places, and presenting such sacrifices as were
brought to them. These irregularities, even though the object of that
worship was the true God, were prohibited in the law
Those who had been guilty of this sin, Josiah brought to Jerusalem.
Regarding them as defiled, he debarred them from the service of the
temple, but gave them an allowance out of the temple revenues, like the
lame and disabled members of the priesthood
(Le 21:21, 22).
from Geba to to Beer-sheba--the most northern and the most southern
places in Judah--meaning all parts of the kingdom.
the high places . . . which were in the entering in of the gate of
Joshua--The governor's house and gate were on the left of the city
gate, and close by the entrance of that civic mansion house were public
altars, dedicated, it might be, to the true God, but contrary to His
own ordinance of worship
10. Topheth--so called from Toph--a "drum." It is the prevailing
opinion among Jewish writers that the cries of the terrified children
made to pass through the fire in that place of idolatrous horror were
drowned by the sound of that instrument.
11. took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the
sun--Among the people who anciently worshipped the sun, horses
were usually dedicated to that divinity, from the supposed idea that
the sun himself was drawn in a chariot by horses. In some cases these
horses were sacrificed; but more commonly they were employed either in
the sacred processions to carry the images of the sun, or for the
worshippers to ride in every morning to welcome his rise. It seems that
the idolatrous kings, Ahaz, Manasseh, and Amon, or their great
officers, proceeded on these horses early on each day from the east
gate of the temple to salute and worship the sun at his appearing above
12. the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of
Ahaz--Altars were reared on the flat roofs of houses, where the
worshippers of "the host of heaven" burnt incense
Ahaz had reared altars for this purpose on the oleah, or upper
chamber of his palace, and Manasseh on some portion of the roof of the
temple. Josiah demolished both of these structures.
13, 14. the high places . . . which Solomon . . . had
the right hand of the mount of corruption--The Mount of Olives is a
hilly range on the east of Jerusalem. This range has three summits, of
which the central one is the Mount of Corruption, so called from the
idol temples built there, and of course the hill on the right hand
denotes the southernmost peak. Josiah is said not to have destroyed, but
only defiled, "the high places on the hill of corruption." It is most
probable that Hezekiah had long before demolished the idolatrous
temples erected there by Solomon but, as the superstitious people
continued to regard the spot as consecrated ground, Josiah defiled it.
14. filled their places with the bones of men--Every monument of
idolatry in his dominion he in like manner destroyed, and the places
where they stood he defiled by strewing them with dead men's bones. The
presence of a dead carcass rendered both persons and places unclean in
the eyes both of Jews and heathens.
15-20. Moreover the altar that was at Beth-el, &c.--Not satisfied with
the removal of every vestige of idolatry from his own dominion, this
zealous iconoclast made a tour of inspection through the cities of
Samaria and all the territory formerly occupied by the ten tribes,
destroying the altars and temples of the high places, consigning the
Asherim to the flames, putting to death the priests of the high places,
and showing his horror at idolatry by ransacking the sepulchers of
idolatrous priests, and strewing the burnt ashes of their bones upon
the altars before he demolished them.
16. according to the word of the Lord which the man of God
proclaimed, &c.--In carrying on these proceedings, Josiah was
prompted by his own intense hatred of idolatry. But it is remarkable
that this act was predicted three hundred twenty-six years before his
birth, and his name also was expressly mentioned, as well as the very
place where it should be done
This is one of the most most remarkable prophecies in the Bible.
17. What title is that that I see?--The king's attention probably,
had been arrested by a tombstone more conspicuous than the rest around
it, bearing on an inscription the name of him that lay beneath; and
this prompted his curiosity to make the inquiry.
the men of the city--not the Assyrian colonists--for they could
know nothing about the ancient transactions of the place--but some of
the old people who had been allowed to remain, and perhaps the tomb
itself might not then have been discoverable, through the effects of
time and neglect, had not some "Old Mortality" garnished the sepulcher
of the righteous.
21-23. the king commanded all the people, saying, Keep the passover
unto the Lord your God, &c.--It was observed with great solemnity and
was attended not only by his own subjects, but by the remnant people
Many of the Israelites who were at Jerusalem might have heard
of, if they did not hear, the law read by Josiah. It is
probable that they might even have procured a copy of the law,
stimulated as they were to the better observance of Jehovah's worship
by the unusual and solemn transactions at Jerusalem.
26. Notwithstanding, the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his
wrath,--&c. The national reformation which Josiah carried on was
acquiesced in by the people from submission to the royal will; but they
entertained a secret and strong hankering after the suppressed
idolatries. Though outwardly purified, their hearts were not right
towards God, as appears from many passages of the prophetic writings;
their thorough reform was hopeless; and God, who saw no sign of genuine
repentance, allowed His decree
for the subversion of the kingdom to take fatal effect.
29. In his days Pharaoh-nechoh--(See