XXIII Josiah reads the law to all the people, ver. 1, 2. Renews the covenant between God and them, ver. 3. Cleanses the temple, ver. 4. Roots out idolatry, ver. 5-20. Keeps a solemn passover, ver. 21- 23. Clears the land of witches, ver. 24. A general commendation of him, ver. 25. His untimely death, ver. 26-30. The reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim, ver. 31-37.
Verse 2. Prophets - Either Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Urijah: or, the sons of the prophets. It seems he read it himself. Josiah did not think it beneath him, to be a reader, any more than Solomon did to be a preacher, and David to be even a door keeper in the house of God. All people are concerned to know the scripture, and all in authority, to spread the knowledge of it.
Verse 3. Stood - They declared their consent to it, and their concurrence with the king in that act, which possibly they did by standing up, as the king himself stood when he took it. It is of good use, with all possible solemnity, to oblige ourselves to our duty. And he that bears an honest heart, does not startle at assurances.
Verse 4. Second order - Either those two who were next in degree to the high-priest, and in case of sickness were to manage his work: or the heads of the twenty four courses which David had appointed. The grove - The image of the grove: it being most frequent to call images by the names of the persons or things which they represent. The fields - Adjoining to the brook of Kidron. To Beth- el - To shew his abhorrence of them, and that he would not give the ashes of them a place in his kingdom: and to pollute and disgrace that place which had been the chief seat and throne of idolatry.
Verse 5. Priests - Hebrew. the Chemarim; the highest rank of priests, employed in the highest work, which was to burn incense.
Verse 6. The people - Of that people, those idolatrous people, as it is explained, 2 Chron. xxxiv, 4.
Verse 7. Sodomites - Sodomy was a part of idol-worship, being done to the honour of some of their idols, and by the appointment of those impure and diabolical spirits, which were worshipped in their idols. Hangings - Or, curtains, either to draw before the idols which were worshipped in the grove, to preserve them from defilement, or to gain more reverence for them: Or, garments for the service of the grove, for the idols or the priests belonging to them. Hebrew. houses, that is, either little chappels made of woven work, like those which were made of silver, Acts xix, 24, within which there were some representations of their grove-idols: or rather, tents made of those curtains for the use above- mentioned.
Verse 8. Priests - Belonging to the high-places following, whether such as worshipped idols; or such as worshipped God in those forbidden places. Defiled - By burning dead mens bones upon them, or by putting them to some other unclean use. From Geba - The northern border of the kingdom of Judah. Beer-sheba - The southern border, from one end to the other. Gates - Which were erected by the gates of the city here mentioned, to the honour of their tutelary gods, whom after the manner of the heathen they owned for the protectors of their city and habitations. The governor - This circumstance is noted to shew Josiah's great zeal and impartiality, in rooting out all monuments of idolatry, without any respects unto those great persons who were concerned in them.
Verse 9. The priest - Who worshipped the true God there. In Jerusalem - Were not suffered to come thither to the exercise of their priestly function; as a just punishment for the corruption of God's worship, and the transgression of so plain and positive a law of God, Deut. xii, 11, which was much worse in them who had more knowledge to discern the will of God, and more obligations to observe it. Did eat - Of the meal-offerings, allotted to the priests, wherein there was to be no leaven, Lev. ii, 4, 5, 10, 11, and consequently of other provisions belonging to the priests, which are contained under this one kind. Thus their spiritual blemish puts them into the very same state which corporal blemishes brought them, Lev. xxi, 17, &c. And thus he mitigates their punishment: he shuts them out from spiritual services, but allows them necessary provisions.
Verse 10. Topheth - Very near Jerusalem, where was the image of Molech, to whom some sacrificed their children, burning them in the fire, others dedicated them, making them pass between two fires. It is supposed to be called Topheth, from toph, a drum; because they beat drums at the burning of the children, that their shrieks might not be heard.
Verse 11. Horses - Such the eastern nations used to consecrate to the sun, to signify the swiftness of his motion. The sun - Either, to be sacrificed to the sun: or, to draw those chariots in which the kings, or some other in their stead, went forth every morning to worship the rising sun: for both these were the customs of the Armenians and Persians, as Xenophon testifies. Entering in - By the gate of the outward court of the temple. Chamberlain - Or, officer, to whom the care of these horses were committed. Suburbs - Of the temple: in certain outward buildings belonging to the temple. Chariots - Which were made for the worship of the sun.
Verse 12. The top - Upon the roof of the king's house. They were so mad upon their idols, that they were not content with all their publick high places and altars, but made others upon their house-tops, for the worship of the heavenly bodies. Cast - To shew his detestation of them: and to abolish the very remembrance of them.
Verse 13. Corruption - The mount of olives, called the mount of corruption, for the gross idolatry there practiced. Which - Not the same individualaltars; which doubtless either Solomon upon his repentance, or some other of Josiah's predecessors had taken away, but other altars built by Manasseh or Amon, which because erected by Solomon's example, and for the same use, and in the same place, are called by his name: this brand is left by the Holy Ghost upon his name and memory, as a just punishment of that abominable practice, and a mean to deter others from the like. Abomination - The idol, so called, because it was abominable, and made them abominable to God.
Verse 14. Men - Of the idolatrous priests, which he caused to be taken out of their graves, ver. 18. As he carried the ashes of the images to the graves, to mingle them with dead mens bones, so he carried dead mens bones to the places where the images had been, that both ways idolatry might be rendered loathsome. Dead men and dead gods were indeed much alike, and fittest to go together.
15. Beth-el - Probably this city was now under the kingdom of Judah, to which it was added by Abijah long since. And it is probable, since the ten tribes were carried away, many cities had put themselves under the protection of Judah. The golden calf, it seems, was gone; but Josiah would leave no remains of that idolatry.
Verse 16. Himself - Josiah's care and zeal was so great, that he would not trust his officers with these things, but would see them done with his own eyes. These words - Three hundred years before it was done.
Verse 20. The priests - By this relation it appears, that after the departure of the king of Assyria, divers of the Israelites who had retired to other parts, and kept themselves out of the conqueror's hands, returned together with their priests to their own land, and to their old trade, worshipping idols; to whom, peradventure, they ascribed this their deliverance from that judgment which Jehovah had brought upon them. And burnt - According to that famous prophecy, 1 Kings xiii, 1, 2.
Verse 22. Such a passover - Celebrated with such solemn care, and great preparation, and numerous sacrifices, and universal joy of all good men; which was much the greater, because of their remembrance of the former wicked and miserable times under Manasseh, and Amon; and the good hopes they now had of the happy establishment of their nation, and the true religion; and of the prevention of God's judgments denounced against them. Judges - Or, from the days of Samuel, the last of the Judges; as it is expressed 2 Chron. xxxv, 18. None of the kings had taken such care to prepare themselves, the priests, and people, and accurately to observe all the rites, and diligently to purge out all uncleanness, and to renew their covenant with God. And undoubtedly God was pleased to recompense their zeal in destroying idolatry with uncommon tokens of his presence and favour. All this concurred to make it such a passover as had not been, even in the days of Hezekiah.
Verse 24. Images, &c. - Threewords noting the same thing, to shew, That all the instruments and monuments of idolatry were destroyed, as God had commanded. Spied - All that were discovered; not only such as were in the place of worship, but such as their priests or zealots had removed, and endeavoured to hide.
Verse 25. No king - For his diligent study in God's law, and his exact care, and unwearied industry, and fervent zeal, in rooting out idolators, and all kinds and appearances of idolatry, not only in Judah, but in Israel also; and in the establishment of the true religion in all his dominions, and in the conforming of his own life, and his peoples too, (as far as he could) to the holy law of God: though Hezekiah might excel him in some particulars.
Verse 26. Notwithstanding - Because though the king was most hearty in his repentance and acceptable to God, and therefore the judgment was delayed for his time; yet the people were in general corrupt, and secretly averse from Josiah's pious reformation, as appears from the complaints of the prophets, especially Jeremiah and Zephaniah, against them: and by the following history, wherein we see, that as soon as ever Josiah was gone, his children, and the princes, and the people, suddenly and greedily returned to their former abominations. Because - The sins of Manasseh, and for the men of his generation; who concurred with him in his idolatrous and cruel practices, are justly punished in this generation: because of God's sovereign right of punishing sinners when he sees fit: because of that publick declaration of God, that he would visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children: and principally, because these men had never sincerely repented of their own, nor of their fathers sins.
Verse 27. I said - Upon the conditions in sundry places expressed, which they broke, and therefore God justly made them to know his breach of promise.
Verse 29. The king, &c. - The king of Babylon, who having formerly rebelled against the Assyrian had now conquered him; as appears by the course of the sacred, and the concurrence of the prophane history; and therefore is here and elsewhere called the Assyrian, and the king of Assyria, because now he was the head of that empire. Euphrates - Against Carchemish by Euphrates, as it is expressed, 2 Chron. xxxv, 20, which the Assyrian had taken from Pharaoh's confederates, who therefore sends forces against the Assyrian, that he might both help them, and secure himself. Josiah went - Either to defend his own country from Pharaoh's incursions; or to assist the king of Babylon, with whom he seems to have been in league. Slew - Gave him his death wound there; though he died not 'till he came to Jerusalem. Seen him - When he fought with him, or in the first onset. It does not appear, that Josiah had any clear call to engage in this war; possibly he received his death wound, as a punishment of his rashness.
Verse 30. Dead - Mortally wounded. Jehoahaz - Who was younger than Jehoiakim, yet preferred by the people before the elder brother; either because Jehoiakim refused the kingdom for fear of Pharaoh, whom he knew he should hereby provoke. Or because Jehoahaz was the more stout and warlike prince; whence he is called a lion, Ezek xix, 3.
Verse 32. His fathers - His grand-parents, Manasseh, and Amon. He restored that idolatry which his father had destroyed. Jerusalem saw not a good day, after Josiah was laid in his grave; but one trouble came after another, 'till within two and twenty years it was destroyed.
Verse 33. In bands - Either, because he presumed to take the kingdom without his consent: or because he renewed the war against Pharaoh.
Verse 34. Jehoiakim - The giving of names was accounted an act of dominion; which therefore parents did to their children, and conquerors to their vassals or tributaries.