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greatest powers in Judah, the prophets, nobly struggling to sustain their exalted mission, the princes, the chiefs, and the people, men, women, and children, all thronged into the wide Court of the Holy Place to hear the recovered word of God. Leaning on the royal stand, was the king Josiah, with the sacred scroll in his hand ; beside him most probably stood the little group of his friends and counsellors—the High-priest Hilkiah, Shaphan the scribe, Shallum, and the prophet Jeremiah. Every word of the scroll was recited by the king and eagerly listened to by the multitude; and when the reading was ended, the king made a covenant before the Lord to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all their heart and with all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this Book. The people readily consented, and pledged themselves to faithful obedience.
As the first and most necessary act of reform, the king ordered the complete removal of every kind of idolatry. He carried out this object with unflinching energy. The Temple was thoroughly cleansed of the polluting idols; the vessels used for the service of Baal, Ashtarte, and all the host of heaven,' were burnt in the fields of Kidron, and their ashes scattered in Beth-el, the northern town defiled by the worship of Apis; the altars on the high places were cut down, the groves destroyed, the idols shattered; the horses of the sun were taken from the Courts of the Temple, and the chariots burnt; the altars which Ahaz had built on the roof of his palace, and those by which Manasseh had disgraced the streets of Jerusalem, were beaten into dust, which was thrown into the brook of Kidron. The furnace of Moloch was taken from the valley of Hinnom, and this place was so contaminated that it was accursed for ever. The soothsayers and sorcerers were banished, and the false priests destroyed by the sword. That ancient seat of idolatry, Beth-el, was not
spared; the altar of Jeroboam was broken in pieces, the high place demolished, and the image of Ashtarte crushed to dust; even the bones of the dead idolaters were dug from their graves and burnt upon the heathen altars; only the bones of the prophet of Judah who had come to warn Jeroboam, and those of the prophet who had received him in his house, were left undisturbed (see p. 440). Pursuing his stern retribution, Josiah travelled through Samaria, and finding the priests sacrificing to idols, slew them and burnt their bodies upon their altars. Like a breath of fire was this sudden visitation : the land seemed thoroughly purged from idolatry.
And now the king began to consider how he might worthily commemorate Judah's return to God. The season of the year was favourable ; for the festival of Passover was approaching; and surely nothing could be more appropriate for the occasion than to celebrate with more than usual solemnity the anniversary of Israel's release from bondage and superstition. Josiah's call was eagerly responded to by the whole nation. Indeed there was not held such a Passover from the days of the Judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel nor of the kings of Judah.' And well might the sacred historian add, · Like Josiah was there no king before him that turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul.'
In his manifold efforts the king was supported and encouraged by those wise and earnest men, whose writings have immortalised his name and age.
Foremost among all was Jeremiah, who is completely identified with the last sad throes of the history of Judah : there was Zephaniah, the severe and terrible prophet of evil; and Habakkuk, who, standing on his lonely watch-tower, gazed from his lofty vantage-ground upon the approaching Chaldees. These and other highsouled men wrote in tears and in blood the last sad tale of their country's ruin.
In Josiah's time, the wild hordes of Scythians, breaking for the first time from their northern home, overran the blooming and fertile lands of the south. They passed through Palestine on their way to Egypt, and perhaps left a record of their presence in the city of Scythopolis, as the ancient town of Beth-shean in Manasseh was later re-named. It is not impossible that Zephaniah, and perhaps also Jeremiah (ch. IV.–VI.), allude to their dreaded invasion; but it appears that they inflicted no serious injury upon the land, but seem to have quietly passed along the coast of the Mediterranean, and hence their expedition is neither mentioned in the Books of Kings nor by Josephus.
The Assyrian empire, collapsing by its own vastness, succumbed to the warlike and impetuous Chaldee tribes coming from the mountain districts of Kurdistan. Nineveh fell; a new empire was founded under the rule of the conqueror Nabopolassar, with Babylon as its chief city. Josiah was fully aware of the difficulties of his position. He knew well that a struggle for superiority could not fail to break out before long between the two rival kingdoms of Babylon and Egypt, and that the possession of Palestine was most important for both as the great military high-road between the Euphrates and the Nile. He saw the necessity for the utmost prudence, and he made every effort to maintain relations of friendship with the new eastern dynasty. But no wisdom or moderation could avert the impending danger. Pharaoh Necho, the king of Egypt, alarmed at the constant growth of the Babylonian power, determined at once to check its progress, and to humble the upstart empire. He marched north-eastward with a vast army; Josiah, true to his Babylonian alliance, opposed his advance. In the plains of Megiddo, which more than once before had resounded to the war-cry, the two armies met. Necho, desirous to spare the brave king of Judah, requested him to desist
from hostilities, and to allow him to continue his way in peace; but the request was refused and a battle ensued. Disguised in the dress of a common soldier, Josiah took part in the combat, but he was mortally wounded by an arrow shot at random by an Egyptian archer. His devoted servants conveyed him from the battle-field to Jerusalem, where he died.
There was deep-felt mourning throughout the land for the loss of the noble and pious king Josiah ; indeed with him the glory of the nation departed. He had reinstated the pure worship of God, and he had tried by wisdom and untiring zeal to prop up the tottering monarchy, and to cause it to be again respected abroad. At his death, the last flicker of liberty and independence waned, and the dark clouds gathering upon the horizon threatened to break with terrible violence over the doomed people.
The pathetic voice of Jeremiah and those of many other prophets and poets were heard in songs of lamentation at the king's untimely death; these lays were taken up and long rehearsed by the people of Judah ; but they have unfortunately not been preserved.
145. JEHOAHAZ OR SHALLUM (611).
[2 Kings XXIII. 30-34; 2 CHRON. XXXVI. 1—4.] The people raised Jehoahaz, one of Josiah's sons, to the throne, but he reigned only for three months. Idolatrous and weak, he was an unworthy successor of his great father. By acts of imprudence he provoked the anger of Pharaoh Necho, who had in the meantime advanced to Riblah near Hamath, towards the north-eastern frontier of Palestine. He was attacked by an army of Necho, taken a captive to Riblah, and then sent in fetters to Egypt, where he died not long afterwards. Necho now exacted a heavy tribute from the unfortunate people, and placed
Eliakim on the vacant throne, changing his name into Joiakim.
146. JOIAKIM (611-599).
[2 Kings XXIII. 34-XXIV. 6; 2 Chron. XXXVI. 4—8.] Not warned by the sad misfortunes of his predecessor, this monarch persevered in the same ways of wickedness and idolatry. He was blind to the troubles that gathered around him. He had indeed to fear no immediate danger from the Egyptians. For king Necho II. was defeated by the Babylonians in a great and decisive battle at Circesium (or Carchemish) on the Euphrates, whither he had boldly advanced (606), and in consequence of this defeat he lost all the land from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates' that had belonged to him. But Joiakim had all the more reason to dread the victor in that sanguinary war-Nebuchadnezzar, the heir to the throne, and soon the king of Babylon, a man possessed of restless ambition and an insatiable desire of conquest. Faithful to his life-long mission, Jeremiah, ever watchful, and untiring in the service of his country, followed these events with anxious care. In the fourth year of Joiakim's reign, he saw that grave trials were near at hand, and he raised his warning voice with more than ordinary ardour. Standing within the Court of the Temple, he addressed the assembled priests and the people: “Thus says the Lord, If you will not hearken to Me, to walk in My Law, which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants the prophets whom I continually sent to you, from the beginning and early, but to whom you have not hearkened : then will I make this House like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.'
These solemn words touched no responsive chord in the hearts of the hearers, who turned angrily upon Jeremiah,