THE LAST SERIOUS ATTEMPT at moral and theological reformation in the kingdom of Judah is reported in 2 Kings 22.After that, there is only the ﬁnal slide into exile. King Hezekiah, the effect of whose reign was so largely good, was succeeded by his son Manasseh. He reigned a long time, ﬁfty-ﬁve years, but his reign was notorious for its “evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites” (21:2). There was no form of current idolatry he did not adopt. According to 2 Chronicles 33, Manasseh repented toward the end of his life, but the religious and institutional damage could not easily be undone. He was succeeded by his wicked son Amon, who lasted only two years before he was assassinated (21:19-26).
Then came Josiah, a boy of eight when he came to the throne (22:1). He reigned thirty-one years—which means, of course, he died a premature death at the age of thirty-nine. Initially he would have been under the guidance and control of others. But in the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah, then in his mid-twenties, initiated temple cleanup and repair—and the “Book of the Law” was rediscovered. Probably this refers to the book of Deuteronomy. (Nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars of skeptical bent contend that this was in fact when Deuteronomy and other parts of the Pentateuch were actually written, so that this story of “rediscovering” the law was made up to justify these new developments. This theoryis increasingly being dismissed; its foundation is little more than raw speculation.)
The reforms instituted by Josiah were sweeping. On every front, wherever he could effect change, Josiah brought the nation into line with the Law of God. He fully recognized the terrible threat of wrath that hung over the covenant people, and he resolved to do what was right, leaving the outcome with God. If the day of reckoning could not ﬁnally be removed, at least it could be delayed.
Of the important lessons to be learned here, I shall focus on one. Some people ﬁnd it difficult to believe that the nation could descend into complete biblical ignorance so quickly. After all, Hezekiah was Josiah’s great-grandfather: the reformation he led was not that long ago. True—but long enough. The intervening three-quarters of a century had begun with the long and wicked reign of Manasseh. The historyof the twentieth century testiﬁes to how quickly a people can become ignorant of Scripture—and we live this side of the printing press, not to mention the Internet. The church is never more than a generation or two from apostasy and oblivion. Only grace is a sufficient hedge.