(1) King of Judah, 641–610 B.C. (see 2 Kgs. 22–24; 2 Chr. 34–35). While still young, he made, under the guidance of Hilkiah, a thorough religious reformation, which extended to the northern tribes. He restored the temple, destroyed idolatrous images and the high places, put down the idolatrous priests, and celebrated a great Passover (2 Kgs. 23:21–23). During this reformation a book of the law was found by Hilkiah (2 Kgs. 22:8–9; 2 Chr. 34:15–16). It made at once a great impression and led to the centralizing of all sacrificial worship at Jerusalem and the abolition of local idolatrous sanctuaries or high places. Josiah became involved in the war between Assyria and Egypt, and, though Pharaoh Necho disclaimed enmity, Josiah met him in battle at Megiddo and was defeated and slain (2 Chr. 35:20–25; see also 2 Kgs. 23:29–30; Jer. 22:10–12, 18; Zech. 12:11).
After the return from the exile Nehemiah made the observance of the Sabbath one of the chief points of his reformation (10:31; 13:15–22), and the strictness with which it was kept by the Jews became a well-known fact. In course of time many regulations grew up and were observed by the Pharisees. One of the charges frequently brought against our Lord was that of Sabbath breaking, but this was because He failed to conform to the traditions and man-made regulations concerning the Sabbath. Jesus obeyed the letter and the spirit of the Sabbath, but was not obligated to follow the traditions of the elders of the Jews.
These four epistles illustrate a new stage in the apostolic teaching. A great controversy had arisen as to the necessity of obedience to the Mosaic law. Although the matter had been settled theologically at the Jerusalem conference in about A.D. 50 (Acts 15; Gal. 2:1–10), it took a long time to settle the matter culturally in the lives of many Church members. Many still looked upon the Church as a subdivision or an outgrowth of Judaism, and they saw no need to discontinue the ordinances of the law of Moses when they became members of the Christian Church. To them Christianity was something new, while the law was undoubtedly of divine appointment and approved by the example of generations of faithful Israelites. In the controversy Paul took a leading part, and in these four epistles he points men to the cross of Christ as the only source of eternal life (compare Mosiah 12:27–16:15). The epistles to the Romans and Galatians were the inspired writings most appealed to by the Reformation of the 16th century because they emphasize the spirit over legal formalism.