Josiah became king of Judah when he was eight years old (2 Kings 22:1). The nation was in spiritual ruins when the boy-king assumed power. For more than fifty years, the royal court had lived in apostasy. Somehow, Josiah shrugged off the trappings of power and used his position to honor God. The writer(s) 2 Kings pays Josiah the ultimate Old Testament compliment. The young king is compared favorably to David:
[Josiah] did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn aside from doing what was right. (2 Kings 22:2, ESV)
The history of God’s chosen people is a story of wandering, loss, and redemption. Despite God’s fidelity and wonders and signs, His people constantly strayed, lost their faith, and worshiped others gods. Moses’ brother Aaron made a golden calf for the people to worship. Saul, the first king, consulted mediums. The wise Solomon turned from God and worshiped the gods of his wives. The books of Kings constantly display the infidelity of God’s chosen people. King Jereboam committed idolatry. King Jehoahaz followed his example. (2 Kings 13:2) Jehoash worshiped idols. (13:11) Amaziah, who was pleasing to God, “did not destory the pagan shrines”. (14:3-4) Uzziah was pleasing to God, but he did not destroy the pagan shrines (15:3-4). On and on.
Again and again the LORD sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and laws”…But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors and refused to believe in the LORD their God…They worshiped worthless idols and became worthless themselves. (2 Kings 17:13-15)
Josiah succeeded where most of those who came before and after failed: he was able to forsake the gods and practices of the nations around him and serve God alone.
In 2 Kings 23, we learn that the first of Josiah’s reforms was inward. He personally reads the word of God to his people. He makes a covenant to walk after God. He reminds his people of where they came from, and why they live.
In 23:4, we see that the Temple of God had been desecrated with idols and other gods. Josiah cleans the LORD’s Temple of vessels related to Baal, Asherah, and the worship of the host of heaven. Not only does he clear the Temple – he has the vessels taken to the Kidron Valley and burned. In verse 6, Josiah clears the Asherah pole from the Temple and has it burned in the Kidron Valley. In verse 9, Josiah smashes false alters in the Temple to bits. Again, he takes it out of Jerusalem to the Kidron Valley.
The Kidron Valley, interestingly enough, had been associated with idolatry since the time of Solomon. By destroying the religious idols there, Josiah effectively desecrated the valley itself as a religious site. (ESV notes on 23:4-9.)
The obedience of Josiah and his success at sanctifying his people was remarkable: “Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since.” (2 Kings 23:25)
That sounds good. That’s what I want. That’s what I want to be like. Whatever keeps me from God – it’s false. It’s trash. I want to leave it in the Kidron Valley.