The end of the southern kingdom of Judah is at hand. Josiah began ruling when he was 8 years old and he ruled for 31 years, from 640-906 B.C. He walked in the ways of the Lord like King David had, committing himself to the Lord when he turned 16. The four kings who followed him undid all the good things he had done, and they sold the nation into the hands of the Babylonians. Everything rises and falls with leadership and young Josiah provided ambitious spiritual leadership for the people. He had been seeking the Lord for four years and now he was prepared to cleanse the land. He purged the land of all the high places and called the people back to worship in the temple in Jerusalem. He destroyed the idols and altars dedicated to Baal and other false gods, and he defiled the places the people worshiped these gods. Josiah’s eighteenth year was a very good year. He repaired the temple of the Lord where the book of the law was found. He made a covenant with the Lord. He carried on many reforms throughout the land, and he hosted a great celebration of Passover. He was 26 years old.
Josiah’s reign began during difficult times. His father Manasseh had been an Assyrian vassal for the majority of his reign, all the while undoing Hezekiah’s reforms and introducing new forms of idol worship to Jerusalem. During his reign Assyrian power declined rapidly as did the health of it’s king. During the same time frame the Neo-Babylonian empire grew in influence and power. They sought to join forces with the Medes against Assyria and Egypt. This is the backdrop for Josiah’s religious reformation. Josiah’s faithfulness seemed to be rewarded as Assyrian cities began to fall in rapid succession: Asshur to the Medes, Nineveh to the Babylonians, and Harran to the Babylonians and Medes. Egyptian pharaoh Neco moved to assist the Assyrians and Josiah opposed him at Megiddo. It was in this fight Josiah was mortally wounded. This failure was not due to his shortcomings but due to the apostasy of the people and his predecessor, Manasseh.
The man who expedited the kings plans for repair of the temple was Shaphan. He was the father of an amazing family. His son Gemariah joined with others in urging King Jehoiakim not to burn Jeremiah’s scroll, and his grandson, Micaiah actually heard Baruch read Jeremiah’s second scroll in the temple and reported it to the king’s secretaries. His son Elasah carried Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. His son Ahikam was among the men who consulted Huldah the prophetess about the book of the law. He also interceded with King Jehoiakim not to kill Jeremiah the prophet. And it was his grandson Gadaliah who was named governor of Judah. And, Shaphan had one son who disappointed. He worshiped idols.
The discovery of the book of the law caused great consternation for Josiah who sent a delegation of five officials to Huldah the prophetess to inquire of the Lord. The names of four of these men have been found on four seals and three bullae that have been discovered in archeological digs in Israel. A bullae is a small piece of clay impressed with a personal seal, used in ancient times to sign letters. Hilkiah was the priest who discovered the scroll of the law. And he was the great grandfather of Ezra. Ahikam was the son of Shaphan. He was a scribe like his father, and he read the scroll to Josiah.
Once Josiah died as a result of his battle with Pharaoh Neco, his son succeeded him. He was put in chains by the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Pharaoh appointed another of Josiah’s sons to the throne. Both
of them did evil in the sight of the Lord. From the death of Josiah in 608 B.C. until the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, a period of 22 years, four different kings sat on David’s throne, three of them sons of Josiah. But none of them were imitators of his faith. It was a challenging time for the people of God but there was still a believing remnant that followed the Lord and helped seekers in each new generation come to know the Lord. For the most part sudden military or political blows from the outside did not destroy Judah. They suffered spiritual decay and crumbled from within. The prophet Jeremiah was ministering to the southern kingdom of Judah at this point but few people if any listened to him.
So, let’s take a look at God’s people Israel. The Lord called them to be holy, set apart…a people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations we read in Numbers 23:9. Their faith was to be in the Lord alone, not in the treaties or compromises worked out by clever diplomats. It was Solomon who moved Israel from its separated position into the arena of international politics. He married 700 wives, most of whom represented treaties with their brothers or fathers who were rulers and men of influence. These treaties brought wealth into the nation and kept warfare out, but in the end, both Solomon and Israel were drawn into the idolatry of the nations around them. Had the Israelites obeyed the Lord and kept His covenant, He would have put them at the head of the nations. But their disobedience led to their defeat and dispersal among the nations of the earth.
In 605 B.C. during the reign of Jehoiakim the Babylonians had deported some of Judah’s best young men to Babylon to be trained for official duty. Among them were Daniel and his three friends. The second deportation was in 597 B.C. when over 10,000 people were sent to Babylon. Zedekiah still favored getting help from Egypt, and in 588B.C. the political situation seemed just right for Zedekiah to revolt against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, responded by marching his army to Jerusalem, but when the Egyptian army moved to help King Zedekiah, the Babylonians withdrew temporarily to face Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar knew it was unwise to fight on two fronts and withdrew from Jerusalem. But God sent Jeremiah to warn Zedekiah that Nebuchadnezzar would be back. After Nebuchadnezzar stopped Egypt, he returned to Jerusalem and the punishment of Zedekiah. The siege of Jerusalem began on January 15, 588 B.C. and continued until July 18, 586 B.C. The famine was so severe people were cooking and eating their children. Eventually the Babylonians broke through the city walls and took the city of Jerusalem. They looted and destroyed houses and finally burned the city and the temple. It was August 14, 586 B.C.
The prophet Jeremiah had counseled Zedekiah and his officials to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar and thus save the city and the temple, but they refused to obey God’s Word and had Jeremiah arrested as a traitor. When the Babylonians finally breached the city walls, Zedekiah and his family plus his officials fled. The Babylonians took all the valuables from the city, the treasury, and the temple. They captured the religious leaders of the city as well as the king’s staff and had them slain before Nebuchadnezzar in Riblah. The priests had polluted God’s house with idols and encouraged the people to break the covenant of God. The leaders of the nation had refused to listen to God’s servants, so God sent judgement.
The Babylonians treated the prophet Jeremiah with unexpected kindness and gave him the option of going to Babylon or remaining in the land. Like a true shepherd, he chose to remain with the people even though they had rejected him for most of his 40 years of prophetic ministry. His heart was broken when he saw the remains of the city and the temple, but he also knew the Word of the Lord had been
fulfilled. The people had not followed the plan of a sabbath year every seventh year or the jubilee every 50th year. Now the land would have rest for 70 years…a 70-year sabbath. See Leviticus 25-26. Jeremiah had a three-part message to the exiles. First, he gave them God’s promise that He would protect them and provide for them in their own land. Then he warned them it was fatal to go to Egypt. The sword of the Lord could reach them as easily there as in their own land. Finally, Jeremiah revealed the wickedness in their hearts that led them to lie to him and pretend to be seeking God’s will.
As they had so often during their history, the Jewish leaders had lived by scheming instead of trusting the promises of God. And now they were paying the price for their disobedience. The nation of Israel was torn into two kingdoms because of the sins of Solomon who turned to idols to please his pagan wives. Because they worshiped idols and forsook the One True God, the northern kingdom if Israel was taken captive by the Assyrians. It didn’t take long for Judah to give in and eventually they were captured by the Babylonians. We become like the god we worship, and no nation rises any higher than its worship of God.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W