COMPARE AND CONTRAST HEZEKIAH’S
AND JOSIAH’S RELIGIOUS REFORMS
Author: Arthur Bardis
The Old Testament provides a vivid and exemplary picture of worship and
religious reforms that took place under two kings that trusted in the LORD,
the God of Israel. The Deuteronomistic type reform movement-begun initially
under Hezekiah, then taken up more thoroughly under Josiah. Hezekiah and
Josiah attempted to spark off a thoroughgoing reform of Yahwism at every
level of Judah’s worship life. The purpose of this assignment is to look at
the specific religious reforms that were initiated by each of those kings,
and evaluate the commonalities and dissimilarities between them.
The Reforms of Hezekiah
Hezekiah was a zealous reformer that “did that which was right according to
all that David his father did”. He was crowned at the age of 25, and so
applied himself immediately to the great work of restoration. The first
thing that he did was to open the doors of the house of the Lord again.
Hezekiah rejuvenated the organization of priests and Levites and their
support by the gifts of the people.
He assigned the divisions of priests and Levites, and instructed the priests
and Levites to clean the temple, from the common dirt to the abomination of
the idolatrous altars that were set up in it so the worship could be
reinstated. Further, he ordered that they people observe the Passover again.
His invitation extended to all the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan to take
part in this occasion. The Passover was one such as had not occurred since
the reign of Solomon , and this in turn led to the destruction of all the
idolatrous and heathenish images, the removal of the high places, and the
destruction of the brazen serpent.
Encouraged by the prophet Isaiah, the king tried to break Assyria’s
political dominance, and he also attempted to purify Judah’s covenant faith
by abolishing the worship of Canaanite religion, and Assyrian gods.
There were two things he was eminent for in his reformation. His courage and
confidence in God, for in abolishing idolatry he was running in danger of
displeasing his people; and consistency, and perseverance in his duties.
The Reforms of Josiah
Josiah sought God and tried to re-institute devotion to the Mosaic Law.
Josiah’s reform was more thorough than Hezekiah’s. Josiah raised money for
repairing the temple of Yahweh, and in repairing the temple the book of the
law was found. Its reading made a strong impression on the king and he
rendered his clothes and enquired about the Lord.
Although Josiah had received a message from God that there was no preventing
the ruin of Jerusalem, he still summoned the people to meet him in the house
of the Lord, with the priests and prophets so maybe to prevent the judgments
of God. That great congregation heard the reading of the book of the law,
and renewed the covenant with Yahweh.
King Josiah ordered the priest Hilkiah to clear the temple from all the
vessels that were used for Baal and all other sources of idolatry. He
deposed the idolatrous priests, and defiled the pagan shrines so that they
could not be used again.
The image of the grove and a lot of other images of foreign gods, were
reduced to ashes, and the ashes cast upon the graves of common people. He
defiled the high places and did all that he could to render them abominable,
and put people out of conceit with them.
His zeal extended to the cities of Israel that were in his reach. “Josiah,
not content to affect this reform merely in Judah, gave orders respecting
the north as well, taking advantage of Assyria’s period of general weakness.
A particular place of interests was Bethel, long the center of golden calf
worship. Josiah destroyed the altar that Jeroboam the 1st had erected.
When Josiah had cleared Israel of the idols and high places, then he decided
to celebrate Passover. Josiah knew that the way to keep out all the
abominable customs was to keep up all instituted ordinances. This Passover,
it seems, was extraordinary for the number and devotion of the participants,
their sacrifices and offerings, and their exact observance of the laws of
the feast. It was not as in Hezekiah’s Passover, when many communicated that
were not cleansed according to the purification laws, and the Levites were
permitted to do the priest’s duties.
Hezekiah showed great faith and dependence upon God in straits, whilst
Josiah showed great sincerity and zeal in carrying on a work of reformation.
He did all according to the Law of Moses. He made further advances in
regards to his reformations after upon the hearing of the law and the
receipt of the message God sent him by the prophetess.
Josiah’s reformation was sincere, but the people of Israel hardened their
hearts, and still worshiped idols. Josiah’s sweeping reforms were instituted
despite the opposition that arose. The reformations were felt all over
Judah, and some provinces of Israel. He was killed in a battle against the
forces of the Egyptian King Neco.
Commonalities & Dissimilarities of Hezekiah’s & Josiah’s Reforms
• Both Hezekiah and Josiah tried to restore the Yahwistic religion to a
healthy posture, and return the people to the true worship of Yahweh by
renewal, and reaffirmation of the covenant. Jacob M. Myers argues, “It
appears that the religious reforms of Hezekiah and their partial success
formed the pattern upon which the Deuteronomic movement later proceeded with
the same purpose-to save the nation.”
• They both initiated repair work on the temple, and removed the idols from
within it; Josiah more extensively & found the book of the Law. The finding
of the book of the Law (by Josiah) in the temple sparked a greater zeal for
a more extensive reformation.
• They both tried to institute religious and political policies, that would
help them become more independent from Assyria
• Josiah centralized the worship in Jerusalem with the attendant fiscal
requirements that the tithes be paid to the central palace. He centralized
the Israeli cult to a greater extent than Hezekiah.
• Josiah’s purge extended to the neighboring Judah, where he caused the
pagan priests to cease. He also purged the land from rare deviations in
worship, and in many cases he defiled the gods and its worshippers. Josiah’s
cult purification was very comprehensive. The high places were only
provisionally removed in Hezekiah’s reform, and finally in that of Josiah.
• Both Hezekiah and Josiah celebrated the Passover. Josiah’s uniqueness of
Passover may lie in the act of the Levites slaying the lambs centrally
rather than by families as in Hezekiah’s Passover.
• Josiah’s reformation proceeded cautiously step-by-step, before venturing
into the Assyrian province of Samaria. The religious reformation proceeded
in stages, first the purging of the Temple and the immediate neighborhood of
Jerusalem, then the suppression of the local-sect centers throughout Judah,
including regions under Assyrian control. This stage was associated with the
finding of the law book and the renewal of the covenant. The third stage may
well have been the extension of the reformation to Bethel and the north.
Hezekiah had interested himself in the religion of the people of the north,
and Josiah followed up this interest more comprehensively.
Josiah, the last king of Judah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”
and was notable for the extensive religious reforms that he tried to
institute, just as Hezekiah had been notable for the trust he exercised in
Yahweh in a difficult political situation. Although there is a lot of common
ground in their reforms, Josiah’s reforms were much more extensive and
thoroughgoing than Hezekiah’s. Hezekiah was the one that started the
Deuteronomistic type reform movement, but Josiah was the one that took it up
much more comprehensively.
Present Day Relevance
The Deuteronomistic type reforms initiated by Hezekiah, and followed up by
Josiah, provide a guiding light for the contemporary churches, and Christian
communities. Contemporary churches need to initiate the type of reforms that
Hezekiah and Josiah initiated. The focus of the reforms should include the
following: destroying all the idols that may exist in the lives of
Christians, Churches, and other Christian communities; getting back to the
Bible; repentance and renewal of God’s new covenant through Jesus Christ;
worship God with all our heart, soul and mind.
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