Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
—2 Kings 22:1-2
What wonderful news! After the disaster of unjust, violent rulers worshiping idols and spreading evil through the land, now there is a new king. At just 8 years old, Josiah is a different sort of leader who does what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
Yesterday, we read of King Manasseh, who not only built altars to Baal, Asherah, and other gods, but did so inside the temple of the LORD. He even built an Asherah pole and placed it in Solomon’s temple. This was, indeed, a detestable sin. Moreover, he committed unspeakable evil such as sacrificing his own children in the fire.
What may be lost on us today is the connection between these two behaviors. God was so very concerned (to put it lightly) about His people returning to idols because we become like what we worship. Devotees do what their god demands. Fertility gods such as Baal and Asherah promised prosperity and comfort—but demanded child sacrifice and other murderous, violent acts in exchange. God was adamant that such things were evil. God is love, and in Him is no darkness at all, as John will later tell us. As the prophet Hosea wrote, God wants us to worship and obey Him because He commands justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love—not sacrifice, and certainly not child sacrifice.
But now, Josiah is on the throne. When the high priest finds the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy, in this context), he reads it out loud to the king—who tears his robes in grief and repentance. Josiah realizes how deeply his nation has strayed from God’s laws and asks the prophet: What will happen now?
The prophet does not mince words. She makes it clear that God is very angry.
It may be hard for us to understand how a loving God, who describes Himself as a nurturing parent, would be so fiercely angry over His children worshiping poles and statues rather than worshiping Him. But when we realize this “worship” consisted of families burning their own children and gaining wealth through murder and abuse, we begin to understand.
Questions for reflection and discussion: In what ways have we, too, chosen to worship promises of comfort and wealth, rather than follow God’s commands and Jesus’ way? In what ways does our own society blend religious devotion with violence and destruction? (Be slow to answer! Our blindspots ensure we see “their” violent ways and overlook our own.)