(joh ssi' uh) Personal name meaning, “Yahweh heals.” Judah's king from about 640-609 B.C. He succeeded his father Amon, an idolatrous king, who ruled for only two years before being murdered by his servants (2 Kings 21:19-23;
2 Chronicles 33:21-24). Josiah became king at the age of eight due to wishes of “the people of the land” who put his father's assassins to death (2 Kings 21:24). Josiah's reign lasted for thirty-one years (2 Kings 22:1;
2 Chronicles 34:1).
The Book of 2 Chronicles reveals much about the early years of Josiah. In his eighth year as king he began to seek the God of David (2 Chronicles 34:3). Josiah initiated a religious purge of Jerusalem, Judah, and surrounding areas during his twelfth year on the throne (2 Chronicles 34:3-7). This purge included tearing down the high places, the Asherah, and the altars to Baal. The high places were essentially Canaanite worship centers that had been taken over by Israel. The Asherah were cult objects associated with the worship of Baal, the fertility god of Canaan. See Asherah.
In his eighteenth year as king an unexpected event turned his energies in new directions. A “Book of the Law” was discovered while repairs were being made on the Temple. Hilkiah, the high priest, found the book and gave it to Shaphan, the scribe, who in turn read it to King Josiah. Upon hearing the message of the book, Josiah tore his clothes, a sign of repentance, and humbled himself before God. Josiah was assured that the promised destruction would not come in his time (2 Kings 22:8-20;
2 Chronicles 34:15-28). The reading of this book prompted Josiah to instigate the most far-reaching religious reforms in Israel's history.
What was this “Book of the Law” and when was it written? Most scholars believe that this book included at least the core of our present Book of Deuteronomy, either
2 Chronicles 5-26 or 12-26. A major thrust of the Book of Deuteronomy was to call the nation Israel to exclusive loyalty to Yahweh. Perhaps a thrust such as this inspired the Josianic revival.
The Bible is silent about the remaining years of Josiah until his death. On the international scene during those years Assyria's power was waning, and Babylon's was on the rise. Assyria had aligned itself with Egypt against Babylon. Pharoah Neco's troups were passing through territory north of Judah en route to join forces with Assyria. Josiah's army blocked the movement of Egyptian troups at Megiddo. In the battle that followed Josiah was mortally wounded (2 Kings 23:29). His body was taken to Jerusalem where he was buried. There was great mourning for him throughout the land (2 Chronicles 35:24-25). Though only thirty-nine when he died, Josiah was remembered as Judah's greatest king (2 Kings 23:25):
“Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the Law of Moses” (NIV).
See Jeremiah; Deuteronomy.
M. Stephen Davis