ANASSEH, the fourteenth king of Judah, followed the sins of his grandfather Ahaz, and not the good deeds of his father Hezekiah. He was only twelve years old when he began to reign, too young for so great a care as the kingdom; and in his youth he turned away from the teachings of the prophet Isaiah and from the service of the Lord. He built again the altars to Baal and the Asherah, which his father Hezekiah had thrown down; he worshipped the sun, and moon, and stars; he set up images even in the Temple, the house of the Lord. When Manasseh grew older, and had children of his own, he made them go through the fire, seeking to please the false gods. He would not listen to the prophets whom the Lord sent to warn him; and there is reason to believe,—though the Bible does not say it,—that he put to death the good prophet Isaiah.
And Manasseh in his wickedness reigned a long time, longer than any of the wicked kings who had gone before him; so that he led his people further away from God than even Ahaz, who had been as wicked as Manasseh. Because of Manasseh's sins, and the sins of his people, the Lord brought upon the land the generals of the Assyrian army with their host. They took Manasseh a prisoner, and bound him with chains, and carried him to the city of Babylon, where the king of Assyria was then living. There Manasseh was kept a prisoner for a time.
While he was in prison Manasseh saw how wicked he had been, and he sought the Lord. He prayed to be forgiven for his sins, and the Lord heard him. Afterward, the king of Assyria allowed Manasseh to rule over his land again. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was the only true God; and from that time he worshipped the Lord only. He took the altars and the images of the false gods out of the Temple, and built again the altar of the Lord, and caused the offerings to be laid upon it. He commanded his people to worship the Lord, and to leave the idols; but they had gone too far to come back, and only a few of them followed their king's example in seeking the Lord. He could easily lead his people into sin, but he could not bring them back to God.
After a long reign of fifty-five years Manasseh died, and his son Amon became king. He reigned only two years, but they were years of wickedness and of worshipping idols. Then his servants in his own house killed Amon; but the people killed them in turn, and made his son Josiah king.
Josiah, the sixteenth king, was only eight years old when his father Amon was slain. At first he was too young to rule over the land, and the princes of his court governed in his name. But when Josiah was sixteen years old he chose the Lord God of his father David, the God whom Hezekiah had worshipped; and he served the Lord more fully than any of the kings who had gone before him. When he was twenty years old, he began to clear away the idols and the idol-temples from the land of Judah. He did this work more thoroughly than it had ever been done before, by Jehoshaphat or by Hezekiah; for he left in all the land not a single place where idols were worshipped. He went even beyond his own borders, into the land that had been the land of Israel, from which most of the people had been carried away captive long before: and in every place he broke down the altars, and burned the images, and even dug up the bones of the idol-priests, and burned them with their images.
He came to Bethel, twelve miles north of Jerusalem, where Jeroboam of Israel had built the temple for the worship of the golden calves, two hundred years before. (See Story 75.) There, as he was burning the bones of the idol-priests upon the ruins of their own altars, he found a tomb, and asked who was buried there. They said, "This is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah, and warned King Jeroboam of one who would do these very things that you are doing."
"Let his bones rest," said King Josiah. "Let no man touch the bones of the prophet."
While the men of King Josiah were at work in the Temple on Mount Moriah, taking away the idols, and making the house pure once more, they found an old book, written upon rolls of leather. It was the book of the law of the Lord, given by Moses, but it had been hidden so long that men had forgotten it. They brought the book, and read from it aloud to the king.
The words of the law are read before the king
And when King Josiah heard the words of the law, and
the warning of the woes that were to come upon the
people for disobeying them, the king was filled with
alarm. He said to the rulers: "Go and ask of the Lord
for me and for all the people. Great is the anger of
the Lord against us, because our fathers have disobeyed
the words of the Lord written in this book." They
sought for a prophet to give them the word of the Lord,
and they found a woman named Huldah, living in
Jerusalem, to whom the word of the Lord came. She was
called "a prophetess," and they brought to her the
message of King Josiah. And the prophetess Huldah said
to them, "Thus saith the Lord,
the God of Israel, 'Go and tell the man who has sent
you, Behold, I will bring evil on this place and on the
people living in it, because they have forsaken the
Lord and have worshipped other gods. My anger will fall
upon this city and upon this land. But because King
Josiah has sought the Lord, and has done God's will,
and has called upon the Lord, therefore the Lord says
that he will hold back his anger against this city and
this land as long as Josiah lives, and he shall go down
to his grave before all these evils come upon Judah and
When Josiah heard this he called all the princes and the priests and the people to meet in the Temple of the Lord. There the king stood by a pillar and read to all the people the words of the book that had been found. Then the king and all his people made a promise to serve the Lord and to do his will, and to keep his law with all their hearts. And this promise they kept while Josiah lived; but that was only a few years.
All this time the kingdom of Judah, like all the kingdoms around, was a part of the greater kingdom or empire of Assyria. But the great kings of Assyria had passed away, and now the kingdom or empire of Assyria was becoming weak and falling apart. Pharaoh-nechoh, the king of Egypt, went to war with the Assyrians, and on his way passed through the land of Judah and what had once been Israel before its people were carried away captive. Josiah thought that as the king of Assyria was his over-lord, he must fight against the king of Egypt, who was coming against him.
Pharaoh-nechoh, the king of Egypt, sent a message to King Josiah, saying, "I have nothing against you, O king of Judah, and I am not coming to make war on you, but on the king of Assyria. God has sent me, and commanded me to make haste. Do not stand in my way, or you may be destroyed."
But Josiah would not heed the message of the king of Egypt. He went out against him with his army, and met him in battle on the great plain of Esdraelon, where so many battles had been fought before and have been fought since. There the Egyptians won a victory, and in the fight the archers shot King Josiah. He died in his chariot, and they brought his dead body to Jerusalem. And all the land mourned and wept for the king whom they loved because he had ruled wisely and well. And with the good King Josiah died the last hope of the kingdom of Judah.