23 Then the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. 2 The king went up to the house of the Lord and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. 3 The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people [a]entered into the covenant.
Reforms under Josiah
4 Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the [b]doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, for [c]Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5 He did away with the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, also those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and to the moon and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven. 6 He brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord outside Jerusalem to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and ground it to dust, and threw its dust on the graves of the [d]common people. 7 He also broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes which were in the house of the Lord, where the women were weaving [e]hangings for the Asherah. 8 Then he brought all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba; and he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the city gate. 9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places did not go up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 He also defiled [f]Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech. 11 He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 The altars which were on the roof, the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, the king broke down; and he [g]smashed them there and threw their dust into the brook Kidron. 13 The high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the right of the mount of destruction which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the sons of Ammon, the king defiled. 14 He broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with human bones.
15 Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he [h]demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah. 16 Now when Josiah turned, he saw the graves that were there on the mountain, and he sent and took the bones from the graves and burned them on the altar and defiled it according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. 17 Then he said, “What is this monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the grave of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” 18 He said, “Let him alone; let no one disturb his bones.” So they [i]left his bones undisturbed with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria. 19 Josiah also removed all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made provoking [j]the Lord; and he did to them [k]just as he had done in Bethel. 20 All the priests of the high places who were there he slaughtered on the altars and burned human bones on them; then he returned to Jerusalem.
Not only does Josiah make a covenant to serve God, but he follows it up with the most drastic action of any king of Judah. One gets the impression that many of these altars had never been touched, or at the very least had simply been broken down before, only to be rebuilt by the next evil king. Josiah even gets rid of the “high places” built by Solomon himself.
He then does what no other king of Judah had done, which was to demolish the altar built by Jeroboam when Israel and Samaria broke away from the rule of Rehoboam so many years before. Of course, all the people (or most of them) were in captivity, so it was not difficult for Josiah to purify the land. But purify it he did, and then finally he returned to Jerusalem.
Josiah even does something peculiar, which is to defile all the “high places” of idol worship with human bones. Naturally, he did this so that the people would not return to rebuild the pagan altars, and would instead remember to worship God.
How often do we go half way in our zeal for God? And can it really be called zeal if it’s only half-hearted? God doesn’t ask for just a part of us, and certainly not for a mere half of our commitment. God has given all he had, His own life in exchange for ours, so that a right relationship could be restored with us. And the other half to that right relationship is our whole heart, that is what He asks of us in return.
Indeed, Josiah’s covenant is one we could all learn from. He promised to follow God with “all his heart and all his soul.” We can do no better than that, and we should strive for nothing less. Don’t give God leftovers, or seconds, but give him the same as the Israelites: the “first fruits” of what we have and who we are. That includes every aspect, not just finances, but our time, and everything else in our lives. That’s why the Bible says “seek Him first, and all these things will be added unto you…” He is to be our first love, our first passion, and our first pursuit every day. God and no other.