Today we conclude ours study of Josiah with the circumstances of his death.
2 KINGS 23:28-30a, 2 CHRONICLES 35:20-25
"As for the other events of Josiah's reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt went up to the Euphrates River to help the king of Assyria." (2 Kings 23:28-29a) The author of 2nd Kings points us to the book of Chronicles for further details, "After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Necho king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle." (2 Chronicles 35:20)
The Bible doesn't tell us why Josiah opposed Pharaoh Necho but many scholars assume it was because Pharaoh's army had to pass through Josiah's territory, evidenced by the fact that the author of 2nd Kings will say that Josiah faced him in Megiddo. At this time the power of Assyria was quickly fading as Babylon rose in greatness. Babylon and her allies had already conquered the Assyrian capitol of Nineveh as predicted by the prophet Nahum, "The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: 'You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.'" (Nahum 1:14) "An attacker advances against you, Nineveh. Guard the fortress, watch the road, brace yourselves, marshal your strength!" (Nahum 2:1) The prophet goes on to describe the troops coming against Nineveh, how mighty they are, how frightful in appearance, and the Lord decrees, "The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses." (Nahum 2:6) The Lord lists the charges against that wicked city: the idolatry, the injustice, the cruelty. And He assures Nineveh that nobody will be sorry to see her fall, "Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty." (Nahum 3:19)
Pharaoh Necho has just recently come to the throne. During the time of his father, Egypt threw off the shackles of Assyria and refused to pay tribute to her. But Necho probably allied himself with Assyria because he considered Babylon a greater threat to his national security. As the saying goes, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't." He would rather become subject to Assyria again than be conquered by Babylon, a nation that seems intent on dominating the entire region. If the nation of Assyria falls, Babylon will sweep in to take over and there will be no stopping them.
So why did Josiah attempt to stop Necho's army from crossing his territory to assist Assyria? Maybe because in Josiah's day Judah was no longer subject to Assyria and he didn't want to become entangled with her again. If Assyria and Egypt are successful in pushing Babylon back, Assyria may again become powerful enough to oppress her neighbors. It could be Josiah relished the thought of Assyria's fall, for the Lord said through Nahum that everyone around Nineveh had felt her endless cruelty. Maybe, as king, he would have opposed any army that came through his territory. It's not as if Necho asked his permission. Suddenly a huge army appears and perhaps Josiah doesn't know if they come in peace or if he can trust their excuse for passing through. For all he knows, Egypt and Assyria may turn and attack him after they push Babylon back. In the time of his forefather Hezekiah, Judah was allied with Babylon and Josiah may feel some loyalty to that nation. Or maybe he feels safe in refusing entrance to Pharaoh because the prophetess Huldah had assured him he would die in peace, without Judah being at war, and he believed turning Necho away would bring no harm to him. He's only thirty-nine years old when this event occurs and likely expects to reign for many more years. He has been ruling the nation according to the word of God, doing what is right in God's eyes, and he has no reason to believe he's doing wrong in insisting Necho respect his borders and keep Judah out of the conflict with Babylon.
"But Necho sent messengers to him, saying, 'What quarrel is there, king of Judah, between you and me? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or He will destroy you.'" (2 Chronicles 35:21) Necho says, "You and I are not enemies so why are you refusing to let my army through? I have nothing against you. My troops are not there to attack you. I am at war with the enemy of my ally Assyria. In addition, God Himself has told me to attack Babylon and you are standing in the way of God's will by opposing me." Necho claims to have received battle orders from God Himself but there's no reason for Josiah to believe God would speak to a pagan king. If God were going to give orders to a king, wouldn't He give them instead to a godly king like Josiah? Wouldn't He have instructed Josiah ahead of time to let the Egyptian troops through? I can't blame him for not believing Necho. Necho isn't the first king to assert he's acting on God's orders. Remember when King Sennaccherib came against Judah in the days of Hezekiah and claimed to be there on God's orders, saying God had turned against Judah and wanted her destroyed? We know that the Lord supernaturally delivered Judah from Sennacherib's army, so we know Sennacherib lied when he boasted of God's blessing on his attack. Josiah assumes Pharaoh is lying as well, invoking the name of the God of Israel in order to obtain Josiah's cooperation.
So did the Lord tell Pharaoh to help Assyria fight against Babylon? We can't know for certain. Some scholars believe it was God's will for Egypt to ally herself with Assyria against Babylon because it was His will for Babylon to become such a great nation that she will be able to carry Judah away as predicted by the prophets. Babylon will become stronger than either Assyria or Egypt and will be able to defeat them and march on to Judah. The Lord has already condemned Judah to captivity for her idolatry and He intends to use Babylon to carry the sentence out. He is going to first allow Egypt to gain control over Judah after Josiah's death and then Babylon will invade the nation at the end of our study of Kings.
Josiah does not listen to Pharaoh when he boasts he is passing through on God's orders. Josiah has been criticized for not seeking God's instruction in this matter. I can't say whether or not Josiah sought advice but I tend to believe that things turn out here in Chapter 23 exactly as God intended them to turn out. We can safely assume the Lord intended to bring about the death of Josiah before judgment falls on Judah because He has already assured Josiah that it won't happen in his lifetime. And we will see in the coming days that Judah's fall is coming swiftly. The time to take Josiah on to heaven is now and I believe if it had not happened in battle it would have happened some other way at around this same time. God intends to remove Josiah from the scene before bitter troubles come upon the nation. "Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Necho had said at God's command but went to fight him on the plain at Megiddo." (2 Chronicles 35:22) The Chronicler seems to be saying that Necho really was there on God's command and one commentary I studied states that God probably intended for Josiah to oppose Pharaoh in order to delay Pharaoh's army from reaching Assyria in time to prevent Babylon from conquering the Assyrian territory of Haran. It was God's will for Babylon to become the great force she became because He intends to use her as the instrument of Judah's discipline.
"Archers shot King Josiah, and he told his officers, 'Take me away; I am badly wounded.' So they took him out of his chariot, put him in his other chariot and brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. He was buried in the tombs of his ancestors, and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him." (2 Chronicles 35:23-24) The author of 2nd Kings puts it like this, "King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Necho faced him and killed him at Megiddo. Josiah's servants brought his body in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb." (2 Kings 23:29b-30a) This is not a contradiction of the Scriptures because the Hebrew word translated here as "body" (or in some versions translated as "dead body") can also be translated as "dying body". Josiah received a mortal wound in battle and he knew it. His life was slipping away as the chariot raced toward Jerusalem but he didn't breathe his last until he arrived there.
Josiah was promised by the Lord through the prophetess Huldah that, "I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place." (2 Kings 22:20) The peace the Lord promised him wasn't the peace of living a life without conflict. It wasn't even the peace that assured him he wouldn't die of battle wounds. It was a promise that the downfall of Judah would not occur in his lifetime. The curses that would fall on Judah for breaking God's laws wouldn't be poured out on her while Josiah reigned. I can't say whether or not Josiah was in God's will when he opposed Pharaoh. It's quite possible if he had not that he would have died peacefully in his own bed of natural illness. But either way, the Lord intended to take Josiah home before disaster fell on Judah and the Lord keeps His promise. Judgment is running toward Judah on swift feet and the Lord is not going to hold it back. The time to gather Josiah to his ancestors is now and the Lord is faithful to His word. Josiah will never have to see the fall of the nation he loved and tried to rescue from her idolatry. Josiah has done all that is humanly possible to turn the hearts of his people back to her God.
Josiah was such a good king that, "Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the male and female singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the laments." (2 Chronicles 35:25)
As we said yesterday, the words the Apostle Paul spoke of himself in 2 Timothy 4:7 can also be applied to King Josiah. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Josiah fought the good fight. He died with his boots on, bravely defending his nation against an arrogant Pharaoh who believed he could disregard the sovereignty of Judah and march through her borders without permission from her king. He has fought the good fight like a soldier of God. Josiah has finished the race today, dying of his wound, being mourned by his people, given the full honors he deserves for ruling Judah by the righteous laws of God. He has kept the faith. From a very young age Josiah sought to know the Lord and he spent his life growing in the knowledge of his Redeemer. We mourn the loss of his life but at the same time we rejoice knowing that as he breathed his last on this earth he entered the eternal presence of his Lord, forever to behold the One he served. Another verse spoken by the Apostle Paul can also be applied to King Josiah, for after Paul spoke of having fought the good fight, having finished the race, and having kept the faith, he said, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness."
Rest in peace, King Josiah, soldier of God.
Below is a link to a gospel song that always inspires me to fight the good fight, to go out with my boots on, to be a faithful soldier of God.
I'm Going To Die On The Battlefield