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2 Kings 22:3-23:28 & 2 Chron 34:8-35:19


Josiah is known (along with his great grandfather, Hezekiah) as one of the best kings in post-Solomonic Israel.  Today’s passage begins with the story of how that came about.  Often glossed over is the fact that he reigned in the tradition of his wicked father (Amon) and grandfather (Manasseh) for 18 years.  The turning point comes when Josiah commissions a survey of the temple, and the official comes back and says, “Aha!  I have found the [presumably missing] book of the law!”

Some scholars look skeptically at this anecdote.*  They see an elite class of priests and officials presiding over a nation at risk, who conveniently “discover” the laws of the Pentateuch, which authorizes the ruling class with more power over the finances, religion, and public morals of the society.  They see it as a contrived cover-up for instituting a program of centralizing reform.  They then use this interpretation as a basis to doubt the authenticity of the early books of the Old Testament.

The ESV Study Bible speaks to this by clarifying that “book of the law” is taken to mean Deuteronomy specifically, and that it’s likely to have gone missing (or been suppressed) during the reign of Manasseh, who found it’s pronouncements and commands particularly constraining.

Regardless, Josiah responds to the book by recognizing his sinfulness and repenting.  This is an illustration of Paul’s claim that the purpose of the law is to acquaint us with our sin, and the only proper response to our inadequacy is to repent and seek forgiveness.  This episode becomes the defining moment of Josiah’s reign, ensuring that he goes down in history not as the king who was evil for 18 years, but as the king who saw his sin in the mirror of God’s law and sought forgiveness.


* Whenever I refer to secular scholars, unless otherwise noted, I’m referring to Diarmaid MacCulloch, and his great new book, Christianity: The First 3000 Years.  It’s a great historical survey, even if many of his assumptions are that the claims of the faith are wrong.


From → [canon]

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