Josiah was the last good king of Judah. He was the fulfillment of a prophecy given over 300 years before by the man of God from Judah in 1 Kings 13:2.
There are two kings of Judah who excelled for different reasons. Hezekiah excelled in trusting God (2Kings 18:5). In 2 Kings 23:25 we read regarding Josiah, “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.”
He excelled in obeying the Word of God. This verse explains Josiah’s tender and humble response when the Word of God was read to him shortly after it was found (1Chron 34:27), which God greatly appreciated. There was no Passover like the one Hezekiah kept since the days of Solomon (2Chron 30:26), but of the Passover that was kept in Josiah’s day (2Chron 35:18), there was none like it since the days of Samuel. It was necessary to go back further in history to find a Passover as close to the Word of God.
Josiah’s reformation is similar to his great-grandfather, Hezekiah; but William Rodgers draws attention to the fact that Josiah deserves a higher place in our esteem than just an imitation of Hezekiah. His purging of the land was more thorough and more extensive than Hezekiah’s reforms. Whitcomb gives an amazing list of twelve things accomplished during Josiah’s reform movement. All the idolatrous influences that had been allowed to accumulate in Israel, in Jerusalem, and in the temple courts were astounding. Most striking, perhaps, is Josiah’s destruction of the high places for idolatry (2Kings 23:13) which Solomon had made for his heathen wives (1Kings 11:5-8). They must have been spared by even the best of the kings before Josiah.
“Verse 14 emphasizes that it is only because of the repair of the temple that the book was found in the first place” (Williamson). The writer of the Chronicles delights to show repeatedly that righteousness is rewarded. The finding of the scroll of the book is the result of the reform rather than its primary cause.
Most of the commentators believe that the book found was Deuteronomy or at least part of Deuteronomy. That book was read to King Josiah. “Josiah was so filled with awe at what he heard that he burst into tears and tore his clothes as a sign of his deep grief. When he regained his composure his first thought was how to avert the disaster that threatened his people. He was aware of the history of the kings and knew of other times when the nation entered into a solemn covenant with the Lord (cp. 29:10, 30:8, 32:26, 33:14). The repentance of the people was accompanied by a postponement of the judgment and Josiah hoped that God again would do the same” (Barber).
He sent to Huldah the prophetess (2Chron 34:23-28). In her authoritative message, she says four times, “thus saith the Lord.” First she says, “Tell ye the man that sent you to me.” Verses 23-25 are to the man and verses 25-28 are to the king.
“It is interesting that Huldah did not refer to him as the king first but simply as the man. This was not disrespectful but apparently, God’s way of emphasizing the frailty of the man who, though king, knew that he needed God’s help desperately” (Whitcomb). Keil’s comment is worth repeating. Huldah indicated that the word communicated to the king applied not only to him but to everyone who “would heed the word, whereas the second portion of her reply had relevance to the king alone.” The second part of Huldah’s message shows that hope is not altogether gone even though the last part was solemn.
The Chronicler gives a summary of Josiah’s work in the eighteenth year of his reign when he writes, “After all this, when Josiah had prepared (repaired) the temple” (2Chron 35:20). The renewal of the temple worship and of the Passover were the climax of Josiah’s reform and repairs highlighted by the writer of the Chronicles In great contrast to this is Necho’s invasion 13 years later and Josiah’s response then.
Verse 22 states that Josiah “hearkened not to the words of Necho from the mouth of God.” A message for God is sometimes given through a man or woman who is not a true servant of God, as in Numbers 22:20-22, 36:22-23 and John 11:49-51. Necho’s words came true. Josiah died as a result of going to battle against him. Josiah excelled in hearkening to the Word of God. He failed in his strong point, just as other Old Testament saints did.
Josiah knew from Huldah’s prophetic promise that the righteous judgment of God upon Judah would not be executed while he lived. So his life was exceedingly important to Judah. “What Huldah had told him should have prevented him from going against Pharaoh when Pharaoh had not attacked him and even warned him from God to forbear, but he would not hearken and was lost through a hardihood that was not of God” (J. N. Darby quoted by Wm. Fereday).
“They might well mourn, for the disaster in the valley of Megiddo was the end of the kingdom of Judah. The crash must needs come … but it is sorrowful that the folly of one of the brightest saints who ever lived should have hastened it. This reflection should serve to take out of all of us every vestige of self confidence” (Wm. Fereday).
“Someday, wrote the prophet Zechariah a century later, Israel will mourn for their Messiah they crucified, even as the mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the valley of Megiddo (12:11), a remarkable evidence of the intensity and universality of the mourning of Judah for Josiah” (Whitcomb).
The last phrase (2Kings 23:26), “According to all the law of Moses,” reminds us of the way Josiah excelled all other kings (23:25).