Manasseh of Judah was the most notoriously wicked ruler of the southern kingdom (2 Kings 21:1–18). Yet not even he was beyond the reach of God’s grace, for he returned to the Lord after the Assyrians exiled him to Babylon (2 Chron. 33:1–20). Despite Manasseh’s reforms, however, the spiritual rot that had been growing in Judah continued. His son Amon reversed the reformation that Manasseh sponsored toward the end of his life. Idolatry defined Amon’s two years on the throne of Judah (2 Kings 21:19–26).
But Judah would experience another brief period of reformation when Amon’s son Josiah became king. Today’s passage tells us that Josiah “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (22:1–2). Though Judah as a whole remained wicked, a righteous remnant remained, exemplified by Josiah.
From a human perspective, Judah had some breathing room for a reformation because international developments took the focus of the Assyrian Empire off God’s people. Assyria was on the decline while its former client states such as Babylon were on the rise. Moreover, the Medes were posing trouble for Assyria further in the east. Both Babylon and the Medo-Persian Empire would become bigger players in the biblical story later on, but in Josiah’s day they kept Assyria mostly out of Judah’s affairs, freeing up the southern kingdom to spend time on other matters.
Nevertheless, as is always true in any reform movement among the Lord’s people, God and His Word were the ultimate reason for Josiah’s reformation. Second Kings 22:1–8 explains that during the repair of the Jerusalem temple, the priests found “the Book of the Law.” Most scholars believe that this refers specifically to the book of Deuteronomy, which had fallen into disuse during Judah’s earlier apostasy. Once Josiah heard the words of Moses, he realized how far the nation had fallen, and he tore his clothes in repentance (vv. 9–13).
Seeking more guidance, Josiah inquired of the prophetess Huldah, who told him that the covenant curse of exile promised in Deuteronomy 28:58–68 would indeed fall on Judah. Yet, the judgment would be delayed until after Josiah’s reign because of the king’s faithful response (2 Kings 22:14–20). His faith and obedience meant that he would not see the full fury of God’s wrath on Judah.