Although he had been a child of only eight years when he inherited the throne of his murdered father, Josiah soon showed his keen interest in everything that went on in his land. It was fortunate for him and his country that he was guided by pious men like the High Priest Hilkiah and his son Jeremiah, by Shaphan the royal scribe and his son Ahikam, by Shallum the faithful chamberlain and his wife the prophetess Huldah.
Eight years after his formal installation he took the royal reins into his hands. He showed clearly that his sympathies were not with the nobility who under Manasseh and Amon had pushed themselves into the foreground, to the great misfortune of the country. Yet he had to maneuver cleverly for four more years, until the time when he was twenty years old and firmly in the saddle, before he could push these men completely aside, and fill their places with responsible G-d-fearing men. Like his great-grandfather Hezekiah, he began early to seek G-d and to purge the land of all forms of idolatry.
Discovery in the Temple
In the eighteenth year of his rule, Josiah announced his plan to have the Holy Temple renovated. The people of Judea who felt the new and refreshing policy of the young king and his advisers, responded warmly, and much money was gathered for this holy purpose. In the course of the repairs, the High Priest Hilkiah found a scroll which turned out to be the scroll of the Torah Moses had written. It had formerly been lying in the Holy Ark, but during the time of the idolatrous kings this precious possession had been hidden in a cave and had been lost for many generations. Hilkiah found it and gave it to Shaphan, the royal scribe, to bring it to the king's attention. The king commanded him to read from it. The passage lie chanced upon happened to be the Admonition of the fifth book of Moses (Deuteronomy), which contained the warnings of heavy punishment for the Jewish people if they failed to follow in G-d's ways. When Josiah heard the content of this terrible prophecy, he realized what the future had in store for his people who, during the reign of his father and grandfather, had sunk to the lowest level of immorality and idolatry. He rent his clothes and sent a delegation headed by the High Priest Hilkiah to consult the prophet of G-d about the terrible fate that was impending.
The Prophetess Huldah
At that time Jeremiah, the great prophet of the Jewish people of whom we shall speak in a later chapter, was not in Judea. At G-d's command he had traveled to the far flung corners of the Assyrian empire where the remnants of the people of Israel lived in exile. The king's messengers, therefore, went to the Prophetess Huldah, who gave them the following reply; "Tell the man that sent you: Thus says G-d: I shall bring misfortune upon this place and its inhabitants even as all the words of the Book read by the king; because they have forsaken Me and have served strange gods to anger Me. Yet tell the king of Judea who has sent you to consult the voice of G-d: Thus speaks G-d: Because thy heart was moved and thou hast humbled thyself before G-d when thou didst hear the words I had spoken against this land and its inhabitants... because thou hast torn thy clothes and wept before Me: Therefore I have heard thee; therefore I will gather thee to thy fathers; thou shall be gathered into thy grave in peace, and thine eyes shall not see the disaster I shall bring upon this place!"
These words were faithfully reported to the king. Josiah was profoundly impressed by the words of the prophetess. He was determined that the words of the Torah and the warning of the prophetess should spread through the length and breadth of the land, in order that the people might be moved to a wholehearted return to G-d. For this purpose he gathered the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea in the Holy Temple. There he read to them the message of the Holy scroll that had been discovered in the Temple, and solemnly vowed to follow in the way of G-d, and to observe His commands and laws with his whole heart and soul. The people, too, impressed by the impending disaster and the sincere repentance of Josiah, took a holy vow to return to G-d and to exterminate all forms of idolatry from their midst.
As a result of this solemn assembly, the entire population of Judah turned against the false priests and pagan altars that had sprung up like mushrooms during the rule of the previous two kings. Spurred by Josiah, the people thoroughly purged their land of every kind of idolatry.
Passover, the festival of Israel's liberation from Egyptian bondage, was approaching. Josiah was determined that this festival should serve to strengthen the bonds between Israel and G-d, and commemorate the people's return to their Heavenly Father. The festival was therefore celebrated with much solemnity and splendor. Not since the time of the Prophet Samuel had such a Passover been held.
As soon as Josiah believed that the spiritual reforms had been sufficient, he began to strengthen and increase the political power of Judea. He reorganized his army and built fortifications along the borders. About this time the Assyrian Empire, to which Josiah's predecessors had paid tribute, was on the verge of collapse and Josiah dreamt of reuniting under his scepter all the people of Israel and of recovering all the land that had once belonged to the kingdom of the House of David. But Josiah was rudely awakened from his dreams.
War against Egypt; Josiah's Death
Egypt, under the able leadership of Pharaoh Necho, was determined to wage war against Assyria. The Egyptian army marched north-eastward, planning to attack the Assyrian army. King Josiah decided to oppose the advance of the Egyptians, despite the objections and warnings of the Prophet Jeremiah. The King of Egypt assured Josiah that he had no designs upon Judea's independence, and requested free peaceful transit through the land. But the request was refused. In the plains of Meggido the two armies met and Judea's troops were mercilessly crushed.
King Josiah himself was wounded and brought back to Jerusalem. There he died, deeply mourned by the entire people.