Josiah was eight years old when his father died and Josiah became king of Judah. His father and his grandfather had been wicked kings, but Josiah loved God and desired to live righteously. Some years later, when he was still a very young man, Josiah commanded that the house of the Lord be restored.
Carpenters and masons and builders began at once to repair the temple and to restore it to its original beauty and usefulness. During the restoration of the temple, the book of the law was found and given to Hilkiah, the high priest. Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, the scribe, who, in turn, took it and read it to King Josiah.
As Shaphan read, Josiah realized more than ever how disobedient his people had been in keeping the Lord’s commandments. Josiah rent, or tore, his clothes, which was the custom in those days when someone wanted to show deep sorrow. Josiah commanded Hilkiah, Shaphan, and three others, “Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.”
The book was taken to Huldah, the prophetess, who lived in the northeast part of Jerusalem. Huldah prophesied that all the words of the book would be fulfilled: Judah would be destroyed because of the wickedness of the people, but King Josiah, because of his righteousness, would die first and would not have to witness the destruction and suffering of his people.
After hearing Huldah’s prophecy, Josiah gathered together all the people of the land, “both small and great,” at the house of the Lord, where Josiah read the book to them. Then Josiah made a covenant before the Lord that he would keep the commandments with all his heart and all his soul. And all the people made the same covenant.
Josiah had the vessels destroyed that had been made for the false god Baal. He ordered the burning of all idols in the kingdom. He also got rid of the idolatrous priests and the wizards and cleansed Judah of its evil ways.
After he had done all this, he commanded, “Keep the passover unto the Lord your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant.”
Josiah gave the people thirty thousand lambs and kid goats for passover offerings. He also gave three thousand bullocks, all from his own flocks and herds. His princes also donated thousands of small cattle and hundreds of oxen.
The service was then prepared, and burnt offerings and prayers and songs were offered up to God in remembrance of the time the destroying angel had passed over the homes of the children of Israel when Moses led them out of bondage in Egypt. Josiah and his people had a great celebration, the greatest observance of the passover for hundreds of years. Most important, the people worshipped God with all their hearts.
Some time after the temple restoration, Necho, the king of Egypt, made war on the king of Assyria at Carchemish. When Josiah led his people to battle on the side of the Assyrians, King Necho sent ambassadors to Josiah, saying, “What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not.”
But Josiah did not turn away. He disguised himself and went into battle—and was struck by an archer’s arrow. “Have me away,” Josiah told his men, “for I am sore wounded.”
His servants took Josiah out of his battle chariot, put him in another chariot, and rushed him back to Jerusalem. But he could not be saved. Josiah died when he was only thirty-nine years old and, as Huldah had prophesied, was buried in the sepulchres of his fathers.
The prophet Jeremiah and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. It was said of him, “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.”