The Law Read to the People & The Kingdom of Josiah

You sound as mad as You did when the devil tricked Adam and Eve and they weren’t meaning to ignore You. 

You gonna mess some people up pretty bad, aren’t  You? 

“And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem” (2 Kgs 23:1).

Babylonian Chronicles for years 615-609 B.C.
Babylonian king Nabopolassar ruled over the rising empire from about 626 to 605 B.C.

The Babylonian Chronicle for the years 615-609 B.C. tells of the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C.

The wounded Assyrian Empire would collapse seven years later at the battle of Carchemish.

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Nabopolassar was the king of Babylonia and played a key role in the demise of the Assyrian Empire following the death of the last powerful Assyrian king,

The following pictures relate to kings of Neo-Babylon Empire.

The king, with the men of Judah and Jerusalem, the priests, and the prophets went to the house of the Lord.  The king stood by a pillar, promising Him that he would abide in His commandments, testimonies, statutes, and express His words of the covenant to the people. 

The king told Hilkiah, the high priest, to take from the temple of God the vessels made for Baal and the grove, and then to burn them and carry the ashes to Beth-el.  He then put down the idolatrous priests (more than likely executed them – c.f Ex 22:8).

He also destroyed the house of sodomites where women wove hangings for the grove, removed the priests from the cities of Judah, defiled their high places, defiled Topheth (the place where they made their children pass through the fire to 1 Molech). 

The kings of Judah had given horses to the sun so they were taken away.  The alters  on top of the upper chamber of Ahaz that had been made by the kings of Judah and Manasseh were destroyed.  And the high places that Solomon had made for Ashtoreth (see Jerry and God box Bride for Isaac), for 2 Chemosh, and for Milcom (same as Molech) were defiled.  

He broke down the images and cut down the groves and filled them with the bones of men.  The altar at Beth-el was burned and stamped to powder, and the grove there burned.  Josiah noticed the sepulchers that were in the mount so he took the bones and burned them upon the altar and polluted it.

Ruins of King Nebuchadnezzar II palace in Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar II was king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, who reigned c. 605 B.C. – 562 B.C.

Both the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple are ascribed to him.

He is featured in the Book of Daniel and is mentioned in several other books of the Bible.

Then Josiah said,

“What title is that that I see?  And the men of the city told him, It is the sepulcher of the man of God (Elisha), which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Beth-el.

And he said, Let him alone; let no man move his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria” (2 Kgs 23:17-18).

What Josiah did in Beth-el he did in Samaria, and he slew all the priests of the high places and returned to Jerusalem.

“And the king commanded all the people, saying, Keep the Passover unto the LORD your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant.

Surely there was not holden such a Passover from the days of the Judges that Judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah;

But in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, wherein this Passover was holden to the LORD in Jerusalem.

Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.

Babylonian ration tablet naming Jeconiah.
Evil-merodach came to power in Babylon upon the death of his father Nebuchadnezzar in 562 B.C.

There are only two references to him in the Bible, and these are parallel accounts.

Evidence suggests that Jehoiachin (Jeconiah, Coniah), the king of Judah who was taken to Babylon in 597 B.C., was treated like a king in exile during most, or all, of his time in Babylon.

The kindness of Evil-merodach receives special attention.

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.

Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal.

When the Babylonian Empire empire was absorbed into the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the name “Chaldean” lost its meaning as the name of a race of men, and came to be applied only to a social class.

The Persians found the Chaldeans masters of reading and writing, and especially versed in all forms of incantation,

in sorcery, witchcraft, and the magical arts.

They quite naturally spoke of astrologists and astronomers as Chaldeans.

It therefore resulted that Chaldean came to mean astrologist.

In this sense it is used in the Book of Daniel and with the same meaning it is used by the classical writers.

Nergal-sharezer or Neriglissar was King of Babylon from 560 to 556 B.C.

He was the son-in-law of Nebuchadrezzar II, whose son and heir, Amel-Marduk, Nergal-sharezer murdered and succeeded.

A Babylonian chronicle describes his western war in 557/556.

He is traditionally listed as a king of the Chaldean Dynasty, however it is not known if he was a Chaldean or native of Babylon, as he was not related by blood to Nabopolassar and his successors.

His name is mentioned as one of high-ranking officers of king Nebuchadnezzar II in the Bible .

And the LORD said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.  

Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?” (2 Kgs 23:21-28).

Pharaoh-nechoch of Egypt went against the king of Assyria at the Euphrates River and King Josiah against him and he slew him at Megiddo. 

His servants carried him away dead, took him to Jerusalem, buried him in his own sepulcher, and the people anointed his 23 year old son, Jehoahaz, as king.  His mother was Hamutal,  he reigned for three months, and he did what was evil in the eyes of God.

“And Pharaoh-nechoh put him in bands at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem; and put the land to a tribute of an hundred talents of silver, and a talent of gold.

And Pharaoh-nechoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and turned his name to Jehoiakim, and took Jehoahaz away: and he came to Egypt, and died there.

Labashi-Marduk, was king of Babylon (556 B.C.), and son of Neriglissar.

Labashi-Marduk succeeded his father when still only a boy, after the latter’s four-year reign.

Most likely due to his very young age, he was unfit to rule, and was murdered in a conspiracy only nine months after his inauguration.

He is traditionally listed as a king of the Chaldean Dynasty, being, probably, the son of Neriglissar by his wife, who was the daughter of Nebuchadrezzar.

Nabonidus was next chosen as the new king.

And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh; but he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh: he exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation, to give it unto Pharaoh-nechoh.

Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Zebudah, the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah.

And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kgs 23:33-37).

1 Molech/Moloch was a heathen god, especially of the Ammorites, who worshipped him with gruesome orgies in which children were sacrificed.  In some places an image of the god was heated and the bodies of children who had been slain were placed in his arms.  The worship was known to Israel before they entered Canaan and Moses forbade such worship (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5). 

King Solomon, to please his heathen wives, had set up high places for Chemosh and for Molech on Mount Oliver (1 Kgs 11:7). 

The words Malcham, Molech, and Moloch are all variants of Hebrew words that mean the reigning one.  Later Jews, after making sacrifices to Molech, would often go to worship in the house of the Lord and this impiety was particularly offensive to God (Jer 7:9-11).

The Cylinders of Nabonidus refers to cuneiform inscriptions of king Nabonidus of Babylonia (556-539 B.C.).

These inscriptions were made on clay cylinders.

They include the Nabonidus Cylinder from Sippar, and the Nabonidus Cylinders from Ur, four in number.

Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, reigning from 556-539 B.C.

2 Chemosh was the god of Moab, so named in after an ancient Israelite son (Num 21:29, alluded to in Jer 48:7, 13, 46).  Hephthah refers to Chemosh as the god of the Ammonites (Jdg 11:24), either by mistake or Ammon also worshipped Chemosh in addition to Molech.

The Kingdom of Josiah

The rapid decline of Assyrian power created an opening for an opportunist like Josiah to steer Judah along a new course of reform and independence.

Admittedly, the resurgence of Egyptian might in the Levant under the 6th Dynasty somewhat restricted Josiah’s ambitions; but it appears that the Egyptians primarily were concerned with supply lines and garrisons along the main trunk route (the International Coastal Highway) critical to Egyptian support of Assyrian forces in northern Syria.

This left Josiah considerable maneuvering room, especially in the last two decades of his 31 year reign.  Josiah came to the throne as an eight-year-old boy.

Unlike his father and grandfather, Josiah demonstrated a godly character, and his reign was most remembered for a thorough purge of pagan practices that had proliferated under Manasseh and Amon.

The precise chronology of the Josianic reform is unclear.  According to Chronicles, it may have begun as early as his 8th regal year (ca. 633/32 B.C.), but it is more likely that upon reaching manhood in his 12th year (628/27 B.C.) Josiah began the activity of reforming the cult.

If so, this would roughly correspond to the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 B.C., a momentous event in the Assyrian decline.

Book of Law Found

The Law: The First Five Books
The first five books of the Bible are sometimes called the Pentateuch which means “five books.”

They are also known as the books of the law because they contain the laws and instruction given by the Lord through Moses to the people of Israel.

These books were written by Moses, except for the last portion of Deuteronomy because it tells about the death of Moses.

These five books lay the foundation for the coming of Christ in that here God chooses and brings into being the nation of Israel.

As God’s chosen people, Israel became the custodians of the Old Testament, the recipients of the covenants of promise, and the channel of Messiah (Rom. 3:2, 9:1-5).

In 622 B.C. the recovery of “the book of the law” in the temple, generally regarded as some form of Deuteronomy, gave a great boost to Josiah’s efforts  (2 Kgs 22:8-20).  

The Bible describes a variety of pagan elements within both Jerusalem and Judah that Josiah dismantled or destroyed: high places of Baal, symbols of Asherah, horses and chariots dedicated to the sun, vessels used in the worship of the “host of heaven” (astral deities), and the places of human sacrifice in the Valley of Ben-hinnom (2 Kgs 23:4-20; 2 Chr 34:1-7).

He also removed idolatrous priests and attempted to centralize worship practices in Jerusalem.  These actions undoubtedly isolated key elements of Judean society, especially those who favored a policy of pacification with Assyria and, of course, any displaced or banished priests.  

Yet Josiah’s efforts had sufficient backing to last throughout his reign.  Moreover, these reforms clearly signaled a new nationalistic policy designed to reestablish Judean autonomy as much as possible in the rapidly changing international scene.

Baalbek is the name of an archaeological site in Lebanon.
In Roman times it was known as Heliopolis or City of the Sun.

An example of how ancient is the site can be found in that its holiest area (in pagan times) was the Temple of Baal-Jupiter — a hybrid between the ancient Canaanite god Baal (lord) and the Roman Jupiter.

Josiah’s Accomplishments

To what degree Josiah reached his nationalistic goal is not clear.  Certainly, the Egyptian king Psammeticus I was not unaware of Josiah’s ambitions.

However, historically the Egyptians preferred to maintain control of the coastal routes of Palestine and the major cities inland along the International Coastal Highway.  What Josiah did in the mountainous hinterlands was of less concern.

Certain biblical texts suggest that Josiah did quite a lot.  He received moneys from towns in Manasseh and Ephraim and carried out purges in those territories and as far north as Naphtali (2 Chr 34:6, 9).  This strongly suggests that Josiah was claiming the northern territories of old Israel.

The writer of Kings records that Josiah dismantled the high place at Bethel built by Jeroboam I and carried out additional cleansings in Samaria (2 Kgs 23:15-20).

In Judah the reform effort extended from “Geba to Beer-sheba” (2 Kgs 23:8). Taken together it is tempting to propose that Josiah had in mind nothing short of a restoration of the old Davidic kingdom.

Whether Josiah pursued this goal as at least a nominal vassal of Egypt or whether he acted completely independently cannot be determined.

Josiah’s Death

Although many house shrines have been found elsewhere, the one excavated at Tel Rehov features a unique element: a lion with its paws extended onto the heads of two human figures.

It is not clear how any of these house shrines functioned.

They may have held fertility figurines or other sacred objects.

It is also unclear who this particular house shrine – Israelites or Canaanites.

Although Tel Rehov was located in the northern kingdom of Israel, the artistic traditions reflected in Rehov’s cultic objects suggest influence of pre-Israelite culture and possibly of a different place altogether (Late Bronze Age Syria).

What is clear is that these shrines were used in local, personal and more-obscure forms of ritual activity than the centralized, public religious-political centers in Dan and Jerusalem.

What is clear is that in 609 B.C. Josiah met his death in battle with the Egyptian king Neco II (610-594 B.C.).  Neco was leading an Egyptian force northward to support a final Assyrian effort to recapture Haran.  

Josiah intercepted Neco near Megiddo, was mortally wounded, and eventually was buried in Jerusalem (2 Kgs 23:28-30; 2 Chr 35:20-27).  Josiah’s motives for attacking Neco are unclear; perhaps he sensed the ultimate victory of Babylon over Egypt, or maybe he feared further Egyptian interference in his kingdom.

The result was not only the loss of a great king, but also the end of the religious reforms and the reduction of any territories outside of Judah (except Bethel) over which Josiah had gained control.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire
and the Last Kings of Judah

The consolidation of the Chaldean Dynasty at Babylon was complete by 609 B.C.  The victories of Nabopolassar over Assyrian and Egyptian armies made Babylon the master of Mesopotamia and placed Babylonian armies in position to thrust southward into Syria and Palestine.  

Only Egypt, now ruled by Neco II, could put up an effective resistance to the Babylonian advance.  The prophet Habbakuk foresaw these events, declaring that God was “rousing the Chaldeans/ that bitter and hasty nation/who march through the breadth of the earth/to seize habitations not their own” (Hab. 1:6).

Judah’s Dilemma 

The power struggle between Babylonia and Egypt placed the kings of Judah in a most precarious situation. After the death of Josiah in 609 B.C., Neco removed Jehoahaz, a son of Josiah chosen by the people of Judah, and replaced him with another son whose throne name was Jehoiakim (2 Kgs. 23:30-35).

Whatever independence Judah enjoyed under Josiah clearly was gone; Judah was an Egyptian vassal, and Jehoiakim reigned at the pleasure of Neco.  This state of affairs did not last long however.

This is the largest man-made cave in Israel and is believed to be part of the ancient quarry from which stone was cut for both and first and second Temples.

This quarry ran underground and the Old City is built on top of it.

It is believed that Zedekiah fled Jerusalem through this cave when the Chaldeans over threw the city.

he was captured near Jericho.

The Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. established Babylon as the dominant power all the way to the border of Egypt (the Wadi el-Arish).  In 604 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar campaigned in Palestine and conquered Ashkelon.

Jehoiakim quickly gave allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, who had recently been crowned king of Babylon after his father’s death shortly after the Battle of Carchemish. Perhaps during this campaign Nebuchadnezzar took hostages, including Daniel and his three companions Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and carried them captive to Babylon (Dan. 1:1-7 – this is the story about the three being thrown into the furnace).

Judah now was caught between two unequal superpowers, Egypt and Babylon.  Babylon controlled the Levant; Egypt, however, resented the loss of prestige and the loss of Phoenician ports, important links in maritime trade.

In 605 B.C., just four years later, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Egypt at the Battle of Carchemish, and took control of Judah.

Second Chronocles 36:7 tells us that, at that time, “Nebuchadnezzar also brought some of the articles of the house of the LORD to Babylon and put them in his temple at Babylon” (2 Kgs 24:13-14).

But he did much more than that which angered God and he paid a very high price for it (Dan 4:4-37).

Consequently, Egypt constantly promoted rebellion against Babylon among the states of the southern Levant by promising support.  Moreover, Jehoiakim, who owed his throne to Neco, was pro-Egyptian in his politics.  

He had considerable backing for his position within the leadership of Judah, despite Jeremiah’s repeated warnings that God was using Babylon to punish Judah’s sins, thus making resistance to Babylon futile.

Jehoiakim paid tribute to Babylon for three years (604- 601 B.C.), but then withheld his pledge late in 601 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar suffered a temporary setback as Neco thwarted his attempt to invade Egypt.  Judah, with Egyptian support, now was in open rebellion against Babylon.

The First Campaign Against Jerusalem

Nebuchadnezzar delayed his response to Judah’s rebellion for a short time, preferring to harass Jehoiakim with auxiliary troops (2 Kgs 24:2).

Bands of Ammonites, Moabites, and Arameans attacked Judah.  Edomites took advantage of the deteriorating situation by attacking Judah from the south, pillaging as opportunity permitted (2 Kgs 24:1-2; Ps 137:7; Lam 4:21-22; Oba 10-14).

In 598 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian army against Jehoiakim.  Jerusalem was besieged and finally surrendered on March 16, 597 B.C. Jehoiakim apparently died during the siege (see 2 Kgs 24:6, but compare 2 Chr 36:6) and was replaced by Jehoiachin, who surrendered the city.

The Babylonians plundered Jerusalem, including the temple treasures, and deported Jehoiachin and his family to Babylon along with other Jewish leaders (2 Kgs 24:13-16).  This first deportation in 597 B.C. included the prophet Ezekiel.

The End Of Judah And Jerusalem

After the surrender of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Mattaniah, the young uncle of Jehoiachin, as king of Judah and changed his name to Zedekiah.  Zedekiah’s reign of eleven years was marked by anti-Babylonian conspiracy despite strong condemnation of this policy by Jeremiah (Jer 27-29). 

“Lachish Letters” found in the ruins of the city of Lachish destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

The letter contains a report of a junior military officer to his superior indicating his compliance with orders received by means of a fire signal.

The text reads: “Know that we are watching for the signals of Lachish according to all the indications that my lord has given, for we cannot see the signal of Azekah.”

Zedekiah ignored these warnings, perhaps inspired by recent Egyptian advances against Babylon by Psammeticus II (595-589 B.C.) and Hophra (Apries, 589-570 B.C.).  The latter campaigned in 588 B.C. against Tyre and Sidon.

In the same year Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah in response to Zedekiah’s rebellion.  The cities of Judah suffered grievously, a fact attested by destruction levels at various sites.  The evidence from Lachish is particularly gripping.  Lachish again fell to foreign troops, as it had in 701 B.C.

Eighteen ostraca – the “Lachish Letters” – found in the destruction of level II contain grim testimony to the hopeless circumstance.  One letter mentions how officials watched for fire signals from Lachish because they no longer could see the beacons from nearby Azekah.

Likely, Azekah already had fallen to Babylonian forces.

Nebuchadnezzar’s army besieged Jerusalem for two years (588-586 B.C.).  Cut off from any possible hope and with food supplies depleted, Jerusalem fell in July of 586 B.C.  

The Babylonians destroyed the city, breaking down the fortifications and burning the temple, palaces, and houses (2 Kgs 25:8-21; Jer 39:1-10).  Burnt debris excavated in several places in Jerusalem gives evidence of the ferocity of the attack and aftermath.  

Zedekiah fled Jerusalem to the east but was captured near Jericho.  Taken before Nebuchadnezzar, who was at Riblah in central Syria.  Zedekiah was forced to witness the execution of his sons before being blinded and led away to Babylon in chains.  

An additional deportation of Jews further depleted the leadership of the kingdom (Jer 52:29; 2 Kgs 25:11). Judah and Jerusalem lay defenseless, open to attack, with few material resources and little hope for the immediate future.  The days of exile predicted by Jeremiah had become reality.