Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:2
The prophets - The suggestion to regard this word an error of the pen for "Levites," which occurs in Chronicles (marginal reference), is unnecessary. For though Zephaniah, Urijah, and Jeremiah are all that we can name as belonging to the order at the time, there is no reason to doubt that Judaea contained others whom we cannot name. "Schools of the prophets" were as common in Judah as in Israel.
He read - The present passage is strong evidence that the Jewish kings could read. The solemn reading of the Law - a practice commanded in the Law itself once in seven years Deu 31:10-13 - had been intermitted, at least for the last 75 years, from the date of the accession of Manasseh.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:3
By a pillar - Rather, "upon the pillar" (see Kg2 11:14, note).
Made a covenant - "The covenant." Josiah renewed the old covenant made between God and His people in Horeb Deu 5:2, so far at least as such renewal was possible by the mere act of an individual. He bound himself by a solemn promise to the faithful performance of the entire Law.
With all their heart - "Their" rather than "his," because the king was considered as pledging the whole nation to obedience with himself. He and they "stood to it," i. e., "accepted it, came into the covenant."
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:4
A parenthesis giving the earlier reforms of Josiah.
The priests of the second order - This is a new expression; and probably refers to the ordinary priests, called here "priests of the second order," in contrast with the high priest, whose dignity was reviving (Kg2 12:2 note).
The vessels - This would include the whole apparatus of worship, altars, images, dresses, utensils, etc., for Baal, etc. (Kg2 21:3-5 notes).
The ashes of the idolatrous objects burned in the first instance in the "fields of Kidron" (i. e., in the part of the valley which lies northeast of the city, a part much broader than that between the Temple Hill and the Mount of Olives) were actually taken to Bethel, as to an accursed place, and one just beyond the borders of Judah; while those of other objects burned afterward were not carried so far, the trouble being great and the need not absolute, but were thrown into the Kidron Kg2 23:12, when there happened to be water to carry them away, or scattered on graves which were already unclean Kg2 23:6. Compare Kg1 15:13.
He put down ... - or, "He caused to cease the idolatrous priests" (margin); i. e., he stopped them. The word translated "idolatrous priests" (see the margin) is a rare one, occurring only here and in marginal references. Here and in Zephaniah it is contrasted with כהן kôhên, another class of high-place priests. The כהן kôhên were probably "Levitical," the כהן kâhêm "non-Levitical priests of the highplaces." כהן kâhêm appears to have been a foreign term, perhaps derived from the Syriac cumro, which means a priest of any kind.
Whom the kings of Judah had ordained - The consecration of non-Levitical priests by the kings of Judah (compare Kg1 12:31) had not been previously mentioned; but it is quite in accordance with the other proceedings of Manasseh and Amon.
The planets - See the marginal note, i. e., the "signs of the Zodiac." Compare Job 38:32 margin. The word in the original probably means primarily "houses" or "stations," which was the name applied by the Babylonians to their divisions of the Zodiac.
The ashes, being polluted and polluting, were thrown upon graves, because there no one could come into contact with them, since graves were avoided as unclean places.
By the house of the Lord - This did not arise from intentional desecration, but from the fact that the practices in question were a part of the idolatrous ceremonial, being regarded as pleasing to the gods, and, indeed, as positive acts of worship (compare the marginal reference).
The "women" were probably the priestesses attached to the worship of Astarte, which was intimately connected with that of the Asherah or "grove." Among their occupations one was the weaving of coverings (literally "houses" margin) for the Asherah, which seem to have been of various colors (marginal reference).
Josiah removed the Levitical priests, who had officiated at the various high-places, from the scenes of their idolatries, and brought them to Jerusalem, where their conduct might be watched.
From Geba to Beer-sheba - i. e., from the extreme north to the extreme south of the kingdom of Judah. On Geba see the marginal reference note. The high-place of Beer-sheba had obtained an evil celebrity Amo 5:5; Amo 8:14.
The high places of the gates ... - Render, "He brake down the high-places of the gates, both that which was at the entering in of the gate of Joshua, the governor of the city (Kg1 22:26 note), and also that which was on a man's left hand at the gate of the city." According to this, there were only two "high-places of the gates" (or idolatrous shrines erected in the city at gate-towers) at Jerusalem. The "gate of Joshua is conjectured to have been a gate in the inner wall; and the "gate of the city," the Valley-gate (modern "Jaffa-gate").
Nevertheless - Connect this verse with the first clause of Kg2 23:8. The priests were treated as if they had been disqualified from serving at the altar by a bodily blemish Lev 21:21-23. They were not secularised, but remained in the priestly order and received a maintenance from the ecclesiastical revenues. Contrast with this treatment Josiah's severity toward the priests of the high-places in Samaria, who were sacrificed upon their own altars Kg2 23:20. Probably the high-place worship in Judaea had continued in the main a worship of Yahweh with idolatrous rites, while in Samaria it had degenerated into an actual worship of other gods.
The word Topheth, or Topher - variously derived from toph, "a drum" or "tabour," because the cries of the sacrificed children were drowned by the noise of such instruments; or, from a root taph or toph, meaning "to burn" - was a spot in the valley of Hinnom (marginal reference note). The later Jewish kings, Manasseh and Amon (or, perhaps, Ahaz, Ch2 28:3), had given it over to the Moloch priests for their worship; and here, ever since, the Moloch service had maintained its ground and flourished (marginal references).
The custom of dedicating a chariot and horses to the Sun is a Persian practice. There are no traces of it in Assyria; and it is extremely curious to find that it was known to the Jews as early as the reign of Manasseh. The idea of regarding the Sun as a charioteer who drove his horses daily across the sky, so familiar to the Greeks and Romans, may not improbably have been imported from Asia, and may have been at the root of the custom in question. The chariot, or chariots, of the Sun appear to have been used, chiefly if not solely, for sacred processions. They were white, and were drawn probably by white horses. The kings of Judah who gave them were Manasseh and Amon certainly; perhaps Ahaz; perhaps even earlier monarchs, as Joash and Amaziah.
In the suburbs - The expression used here פרברים parbārı̂ym is of unknown derivation and occurs nowhere else. A somewhat similar word occurs in Ch1 26:18, namely, פרבר parbār, which seems to have been a place just outside the western wall of the temple, and therefore a sort of "purlieu" or "suburb." The פרברים parbārı̂ym of this passage may mean the same place or it may signify some other "suburb" of the temple.
The upper chamber of Ahaz - Conjectured to be a chamber erected on the flat roof of one of the gateways which led into the temple court. It was probably built in order that its roof might be used for the worship of the host of heaven, for which house-tops were considered especially appropriate (compare the marginal references).
Brake them down from thence - Rather as in the margin, i. e., he "hasted and cast the dust into Kidron."
On the position of these high-places see Kg1 11:7 note. As they were allowed to remain under such kings as Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah, they were probably among the old high-places where Yahweh had been worshipped blamelessly, or at least without any consciousness of guilt (see Kg1 3:2 note). Manasseh or Amon had however restored them to the condition which they had held in the reign of Solomon, and therefore Josiah would condemn them to a special defilement.
The mount of corruption - See the margin. It is suspected that the original name was Har ham-mishcah, "mount of anointing," and that this was changed afterward, by way of contempt, into Har ham-mashchith, "mount of corruption."
The Law attached uncleanness to the "bones of men," no less than to actual corpses Num 19:16. We may gather from this and other passages Kg2 23:20; Kg1 13:2, that the Jews who rejected the Law were as firm believers in the defilement as those who adhered to the Law.
And burned the high place - This "high place" is to be distinguished from the altar and the grove (אשׁרה 'ăshêrâh). It may have been a shrine or tabernacle, either standing by itself or else covering the "grove" (Kg2 23:7 note; Kg1 14:23 note). As it was "stamped small to powder," it must have been made either of metal or stone.
To burn human bones was contrary to all the ordinary Jewish feelings with respect to the sanctity of the sepulchre, and had even been denounced as a sin of a heinous character when committed by a king of Moab Amo 2:1. Joshua did it, because justified by the divine command (marginal reference).
What title is that? - Rather, "What pillar is that?" The word in the original indicates a short stone pillar, which was set up either as a way-mark Jer 31:21, or as a sepulchral monument Gen 35:20; Eze 39:15.
The cities of Samaria - The reformation which Josiah effected in Samaria, is narrated in Chronicles. It implies sovereignty to the furthest northern limits of Galilee, and is explained by the general political history of the East during his reign. Between 632-626 B.C. the Scythians ravaged the more northern countries of Armenia, Media, and Cappadocia, and found their way across Mesopotamia to Syria, and thence, made an attempt to invade Egypt. As they were neither the fated enemy of Judah, nor had any hand in bringing that enemy into the country, no mention is made of them in the Historical Books of Scripture. It is only in the prophets that we catch glimpses of the fearful sufferings of the time Zep 2:4-6; Jer 1:13-15; Jer 6:2-5; Ezek. 38; 39. The invasion had scarcely gone by, and matters settled into their former position, when the astounding intelligence must have reached Jerusalem that the Assyrian monarchy had fallen; that Nineveh was destroyed, and that her place was to be taken, so far as Syria and Palestine were concerned, by Babylon. This event is fixed about 625 B.C., which seems to be exactly the time during which Josiah was occupied in carrying out his reformation in Samaria. The confusion arising in these provinces from the Scythian invasion and the troubles in Assyria was taken advantage of by Josiah to enlarge his own sovereignty. There is every indication that Josiah did, in fact, unite under his rule all the old "land of Israel" except the trans-Jordanic region, and regarded himself as subject to Nabopolassar of Babylon.
Here, as in Kg2 23:16, Josiah may have regarded himself as bound to act as he did (marginal reference "b"). Excepting on account of the prophecy, he would scarcely have slain the priests upon the altars.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:21
See Kg2 23:4 note. With this verse the author returns to the narrative of what was done in Josiah's 18th year. The need of the injunction, "as it was written in the book of this covenant," was owing to the fact - not that Josiah had as yet held no Passover - but that the reading of the book had shown him differences between the existing practice and the letter of the Law - differences consequent upon negligence, or upon the fact that tradition had been allowed in various points to override the Law.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:22
The details of the Passover are given by the author of Chronicles (the marginal reference). Its superiority to other Passovers seems to have consisted:
(1) in the multitudes that attended it; and
(2) in the completeness with which all the directions of the Law were observed in the celebration. Compare Neh 8:17.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:24
Perform - Rather, establish. Josiah saw that it was necessary, not only to put down open idolatry, but also to root out the secret practices of a similar character which were sometimes combined with the worship of Yahweh, notwithstanding that the Law forbade them (marginal references), and which probably formed, with many, practically almost the whole of their religion.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:25
And like unto him ... - See Kg2 18:5 note. We must not press the letter of either passage, but regard both kings as placed among the very best of the kings of Judah.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:26
See the marginal references. True repentance might have averted God's anger. But the people had sunk into a condition in which a true repentance was no longer possible. Individuals, like Josiah, were sincere, but the mass of the nation, despite their formal renewal of the covenant Kg2 23:3, and their outward perseverance in Yahweh-worship Ch2 34:33, had feigned rather than felt repentance. The earlier chapters of Jeremiah are full at once of reproaches which he directs against the people for their insincerity, and of promises if they would repent in earnest.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:27
It added to the guilt of Judah that she had had the warning of her sister Israel's example, and had failed to profit by it.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:28
Josiah lived for 13 years after the celebration of his great Passover. Of this period we know absolutely nothing, except that in the course of it he seems to have submitted himself to Nabopolassar; who, after the fall of Nineveh, was accepted as the legitimate successor of the Assyrian monarchs by all the nations of the western coast. Josiah, after perhaps a little hesitation (see Jer 2:18, Jer 2:36), followed the example of his neighbors, and frankly accepted the position of an Assyro-Babylonian tributary. In this state matters remained until 608 B.C., when the great events happened which are narrated in Kg2 23:29.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:29
Pharaoh-Nechoh - This king is well known to us both from profane historians, and from the Egyptian monuments. He succeeded his father Psammetichus (Psamatik) in the year 610 B.C., and was king of Egypt for 16 years. He was an enlightened and enterprising monarch. The great expedition here mentioned was an attempt to detach from the newly-formed Babylonian empire the important tract of country extending from Egypt to the Euphrates at Carchemish. Calculating probably on the friendship or neutrality of most of the native powers, the Egyptian monarch, having made preparations for the space of two years, set out on his march, probably following the (usual) coast route through Philistia and Sharon, from thence intending to cross by Megiddo into the Jezreel (Esdraelon) plain.
The king of Assyria - This expression does not imply that Nineveh had not yet fallen. The Jews, accustomed to Assyrian monarchs, who held their courts alternately at Nineveh and Babylon Kg2 19:36; Ch2 33:11, at first regarded the change as merely dynastic, and transferred to the new king, Nabopolassar, the title which they had been accustomed to give to their former suzerains. When, later on, Nebuchadnezzar invaded their country they found that he did not call himself "King of Assyria," but "King of Babylon," and thenceforth that title came into use; but the annalist who wrote the life of Josiah inmediately upon his death, and whom the author of Kings copied, used, not unnaturally, the more familiar, though less correct, designation.
Josiah went against him - Josiah probably regarded himself as in duty bound to oppose the march of a hostile force through his territory to attack his suzerain. For further details see the account in Chronicles (marginal reference). On Megiddo, see Jos 12:21 note.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:30
Dead - It appears from a comparison of this passage with 2 Chronicles (marginal reference) that Josiah was not actually killed in the battle.
Jehoahaz - Or Shallum (the marginal note). He may have taken the name of Jehoahaz ("the Lord possesses") on his accession. He was not the eldest son of Josiah (see Kg2 23:36 note). The mention of "anointing" here favors the view that there was some irregularity in the succession (see Kg1 1:34 note).
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:33
Pharaoh-Nechoh, after bringing Phoenicia and Syria under his rule, and penetrating as far as Carchemish, returned to Southern Syria, and learned what had occurred at Jerusalem in his absence. He sent orders to Jehoahaz to attend the court which he was holding at Riblah, and Jehoahaz fell into the trap Eze 19:4.
Riblah still retains its name. It is situated on the Orontes, in the Coele-Syrian valley, near the point where the valley opens into a wide and fertile plain. Neco seems to have been the first to perceive its importance. Afterward Nebuchadnezzar made it his headquarters during his sieges of Jerusalem and Tyre Kg2 25:21; Jer 39:5; Jer 52:9-10, Jer 52:26.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:34
In the room of Josiah his father - Not "in the room of Jehoahaz his brother;" the phrase is intended to mark the fact, that Neco did not acknowedge that Jehoahaz had ever been king.
Turned his name to Jehoiakim - Compare Kg2 23:30 and Kg2 24:17. It seems likely, from their purely Jewish character, that the new names of the Jewish kings, though formally imposed by the suzerain, were selected by the individuals themselves. The change now made consisted merely in the substitution of יהוה yehovâh for אל 'êl ("God, Yahweh, will set up"). Both names alike refer to the promise which God made to David Sa2 7:12 and imply a hope that, notwithstanding the threats of the prophets, the seed of David would still be allowed to remain upon the throne.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 23:36
Twenty and five years old - Jehoiakim was therefore two years older than his half-brother, Jehoahaz Kg2 23:31. See his character in Kg2 23:37; Ch2 36:8; Eze 19:5-7; Jer 22:13-17; Jer 26:20-23, 36: