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About Hezekiah, we read in 2 Kings 18:5-6:

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses.

But then about Josiah a couple chapters later in 2 Kings 23:25:

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.

How can the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah both be the greatest, especially when it is said of both that neither before nor after him was there a king like him? Is this a contradiction?

  • Not to be snarky, but the only objective answer to that question would be someone who lived through both kingships, a physical impossibility. It would be like asking, who is the greater ruler, George Washington or Gandhi. The bible is clearly pointing out both were good kings. – Affable Geek Mar 11 '12 at 17:00
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    @AffableGeek I'm, of course, not really asking for a ranking of the kings; just interested in how the apparent contradiction can be resolved. – Soldarnal Mar 11 '12 at 23:17
  • My point is that people overuse superlatives all the time. My daughter will tell you that Lincoln and Washington are both our greatest President EVER! (She is, however, smart enough to realize that David Tennant is better than Matt Smith, but I digress). – Affable Geek Mar 12 '12 at 3:09
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    We named my oldest son "Josiah". I had told him who he was named after but I wanted to see if he remembered. I said, "Do you remember who you were named for?" He said, "Yeah, I'm the good king and you're my evil parents!" – user10231 Jul 4 '16 at 13:27
  • I agree with @AffableGeek that perhaps you are reading too much into the text. Both passages say "There was no one like him". That's not a statement that requires exclusivity. Remember the joke phrase - "You're an individual - just like everyone else". Clearly they are both exceptional kings who did right in the Lord's eyes. Interestingly, Hezekiah followed the spirit of the law of Moses whole-heartedly, but wasn't constrained by the letter, i.e. holding the Passover 1 month late (2 Chr 30:2-3). He also destroyed Moses' bronze snake - essentially a one-time deal. – maccaroo Jan 2 '19 at 22:36
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Both "turning to the Lord" and "holding fast to the Lord" seem to be common expressions of obeying God's commands (cf. Deut. 30:10; Deut. 30:20), so it doesn't appear that there is necessarily any difference in the sort of thing for which these two kings are commended.

However, the author of these passages probably does not intend to make a statement about the relative greatness of one king or the other. Rather, stressing the uniqueness of some event or individual with a superlative seems to be a common way of highlighting its greatness or awfulness.

For instance, a similar apparent contradiction can be seen between Exodus 10:14 and Joel 1:2-4. In the former, we are told that there will never be such a plague of locusts again. And in the latter, the elders are told to survey the great plague of locusts come upon them and asked, "Has anything like this ever happened in the days of your ancestors?" Probably the prophet Joel had not forgotten about the plague in Exodus.

It seems best, then, to see these two passages as merely emphasizing the devotion of each of these kings to obeying God, rather than making any argument that either one is actually the greatest of the kings of Judah.

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  • I see you've accepted your own answer as best, which is fine, but where is the evidence for your claim that such descriptions are 'common' literary exaggerations, not the actual opinions of the authors? You've offered no proof of this. Also, how does your claim that the locust thing is not a contradiction (says you) have any bearing at all on whether the Deut passages conflict? You seem eager to say these passages don't conflict, but you offer no evidence or actual argument for your view. – Schuh Jan 5 '16 at 3:06
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The superlatives around Kings Hezekiah and Josiah concern the fact that they were the only Judaic kings who promoted monotheism.

Kings of Israel

All the kings of Israel, the northern kingdom, were portrayed as evil polytheists, for example:

1 Kings 16:30,33: And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him... And Ahab made a grove [emblem of the goddess Asherah]; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.

Kings of Judah

The Book of Kings is more circumspect in regard to the royal family of Judah. In some cases, they are described as polytheists, but in other cases this can only be deduced by a careful reading of the texts.

Those kings regarded by the author of Kings as totally reprehensible include Hezekia's predecessor, Ahaz, and Hezekia's son, Manasseh, who are both described as sacrificing their own sons by fire and of worshipping in the 'high places':

2 Kings 16:2-4: Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD his God, like David his father. But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.

2 Kings 21:1-6: Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hephzibah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

Of Josiah's son, Jehoahaz, he has this to say:

2 Kings 23:32: And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done.

Hezekiah
The Deuteronomist lauded Hezekiah and described how he attempted to remove all images of the old gods:

2 Kings 18:1,3-5: Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign... And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.

Josiah
It was King Josiah who is believed to have commissioned the Book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History, including the Books of Kings.

Josiah imposed monotheism and centralised worship in the Jerusalem Temple, where close control could be ensured, and even invaded Samaria and took away all the temples (houses of the high places) and killed their priests:

2 Kings 23:3-4: And the king stood by a 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 their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant. 4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Bethel.
2 Kings 23:19-20: And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the LORD to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Bethel. And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.

In comparison
The Deuteronomist probably saw Hezekiah and Josiah as equally great, because they were followers of his God, Yahweh, and did all in their power to eliminate the old gods of Israel (Samaria) and Judah, and to promote monotheism. The comparison was not between Hezekiah and Josiah, but between both of them and all the other Kings who had ever ruled Judah.

Polytheism returned after the deaths of both kings, but in the long term Judah was already on a trajectory towards monotheism.

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King Hezekiah was always for doing the work of the Lord from day one of his reign., and the Lord said there was none like him before him or after. He was the Best, most Obedient King, who ever lived with none like him before him or after him.

The scripture is talking about two different subjects. King Hezekiah was deemed the best king who ever lived. King Josiah was the only king who turned so sharply towards the Lord as he did during his reign.

Josiah allow wickedness in his Kingdom until his eighteenth year of reigning when he turned to the Lord and did away with the wickedness. No other king before him or after him made such a turn towards the Lord as Josiah did.

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These passages do not contradict. Read them more closely (emphasis added):

Hezekiah: "He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses" (2 Kings 18:5-6).

Josiah: "Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him" (2 Kings 23:25).

Josiah was like Saul/Paul in the New Testament: they were both wicked until they discovered the truth, the Word of God, and then they lived very righteously. Since Josiah did not start out his reign righteously, Hezekiah was greater than him in this sense. However, judging from the point of repentance onward, Josiah was the greatest king, repenting to the extreme.


In fact, I believe the only error recorded of Josiah from his repentance onward is right before his death:

"After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates and Josiah went out to meet him. But he sent envoys to him, saying, 'What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.' Nevertheless, Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo" (2 Chronicles 35:20-22).


All of this serves as a great reminder that God desires for us to "...be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (from Matthew 5:48), from the beginning of our life in Christ to the end.

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I believe there is more evidence to suggest that Josiah was not only greater than Hezekiah, but was the greatest of all the kings of Israel and Judah. Consider the following points:

  1. Hezekiah observed the Passover in the wrong month; Josiah observed correctly.
  2. Hezekiah TRUSTED in the Lord while Josiah TURNED to the Lord; one speaks of faith and the other of restoration.
  3. There was an ordinance instituted remember the death of Josiah, but not for any other king of Israel.
  4. In Zechariah 12, reference of Josiah is made in connection with the Jews recognizing Christ at His coming, when they mourn like they did for Josiah.
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    Welcome to Hermeneutics SE. We're not a forum, so please do take the site tour, and see what we’re looking for in answers. Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted. (#4 in particular is a problem: there is no reference to "Josiah" or "Christ/messiah" in Zech 12.) – Dɑvïd May 8 '17 at 7:43
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In agreement with Andrew, perhaps we might be reading more into the quoted Scripture verses than is actually there.

Neither text makes the claim that either Hezekiah or Josiah was the greatest king. Rather, the first quote asserts that of the all the kings of Judah, Hezekiah was the most consistently devoted. While the second quote states that of all the kings of Judah, Josiah had the biggest (positive) change of heart (with the implication from the context that Josiah was also the most fervent/zealous).

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Use the KJV, but the answer is very simple, Josiah turned to the Lord, Hezekiah held fast. Hezekiah had always served God, Josiah turned to him. That is their difference.

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The contradiction is solved by looking at the basics of the incomparableness. Each was the greatest in his own particular way just as in 1 Kings 3:12 Solomon was incomparable in wisdom. As for Hezekiah: 'There was none like Hezekiah in that he trusted in the Lord God of Israel.' As for Josiah: 'There was none like Josiah in that he turned to the Lord according all the Law of Moses.' There is your distinction. Furthermore, Hezekiah was the best until his time and then Josiah superseded him. It is similar to other statements like in Deuteronomy 34:10 where Moses was the incomparable prophet. In 1 King 3:12 Solomon was the incomparable wise man. In 2 Kings 18:5 Hezekiah was the incomparable man of trust. And 2 Kings 23:25 Josiah was the incomparable reformer.

- Excerpt from 2nd Kings Bible Study, Ariel Ministries (www.ariel.org)

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  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour to learn what we are about. We are looking for original content here. It is OK (and often good) to quote a reliable source, but at minimum you should add why you agree with the interpretation, and ideally you should re-state the material in your own words. – ThaddeusB Jan 4 '16 at 17:07
  • @John I agree w/James & Thaddeus-your answer should include your own interpretation and not just a 'link' to someone else, although a reference is certainly very valid(and expected) when answering a question-Thank you! – Tau Jan 14 '16 at 1:59

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