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With regards to this statement about Josiah:

Before him there was no king alike 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

Not sure if this is something lost in translation, I am not overly familiar with Hebrew or how Hebrew works, but when we read this statement in 2 Kings 23, how are we to take this statement?

  1. taken literally, i.e. the author considers not even King David to be comparable to Josiah when it comes to having "turned to the LORD with all his heart", or
  2. taken figuratively, i.e. like how we might say of our mom, "My mom is the best mom in the world".

Any other insights would be welcome, but I am primarily concerned with the comparison of Josiah with David. i.e. If you asked someone, "which King of Israel had a heart that was the most seeking after God?", I suspect people would probably say David.

  • Grammatically, is the comparative phrase hinging on "turned" or on "with all his heart...." Meaning, did no king who turned and repented then follow with all his heart like Josiah. David had a heart after God's own all along, he never had to "turn" from paganism to God. Other kings had turns which were far less impressive. – Joshua May 24 '15 at 23:16
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Note that when it comes to literal versus figurative use of language, it does not matter what the language is. In other words, there is nothing inherent in the Hebrew language versus the English language that helps determine if a word, phrase, or clause should be taken literally or figuratively.

Rather, context of a statement, in any language, is primarily going to be the factor that helps one determine the level of literalness intended.

Argument for a Literal Reading

[All Scripture quotations from the NASB.]

Josiah followed after his ancestor David in following after YHWH (2 Kg 22:2), when at the age of 16, eight years into his young reign, "he began to seek the God of his father David" (2 Chr 34:3a).

Just as David, Josiah "did not turn aside to the right or to the left" (2 Chr 34:2; cf. 2 Kg 22:2), meaning both worshiped YHWH alone once they turned to Him.

Yet Scripture does state, as you have noted from 2 Kg 23:25:

Before him [Josiah] 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.

What did Josiah do after turning to God at the age of 16 (the 8th year of his reign), that helps one understand this statement?

  • At the age of 20 (12th year of his reign) he began thoroughly purging Israel of its idolatry and wicked practices (2 Kg 23:4-20, 24; 2 Chr 34:3b-7). David never set out to do that.

  • At the age of 26 (18th year of his reign; 2 Kg 22:3; 2 Chr 34:8), after having set about to see the temple repaired (2 Kg 22:4-7; 2 Chr 34:8-14), discovers "the book of the Law" (i.e. the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses) that had apparently been missing for some time (2 Kg 22:8-11; 2 Chr 34:14-21), and upon reading from it Josiah does three things:

    1. Personally humbles himself to God, fearing the curses that were due to come to the people of Israel (2 Kg 22:18-19); David had himself personally sinned and did not care of some of Israel died for it (2 Sam 11, esp. v.15, 25).

    2. Causes the nation to turn as one back to God, calling for a renewing of the covenant (2 Kg 23:1-3); David's choices caused a split both in his own family (2 Sam 12:10-12; 2 Sam 13:21, 23), and thus ultimately the nation (2 Sam 15).

    3. Restores the Passover (2 Kg 23:21-23; 2 Chr 35:1-19), and significantly 2 Chr 35:18 states of Josiah's fervency in this:

      There had not been celebrated a Passover like it in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet [2 Kg 23:22 states it, "Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel," which was Samuel's time, and prior to the reign of King David]; nor had any of the kings of Israel celebrated such a Passover as Josiah did with the priests, the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

      This was a proper celebration of the Passover, something even David had not performed.

And after doing this, Josiah kept Israel pure during his lifetime, 2 Chr 34:33 states:

Josiah removed all the abominations from all the lands belonging to the sons of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel to serve the LORD their God. Throughout his lifetime they did not turn from following the LORD God of their fathers.

King David did have a heart to follow God, and be obedient to Him, that was why he was selected over Saul when the latter had failed to be obedient (1 Sam 13:14, 15:28; 16:1-13). David had faith in God; Josiah likewise had faith in God—but the latter was more diligent to follow, and have Israel follow, "all the law of Moses."

Conclusion

So the literal reading is confirmed in the very contexts speaking about King Josiah. He "turned ... according to all the law of Moses," even in ways above and beyond what King David had ever done. The statement about Josiah is not about how great a king he was overall (in battle, as politician, financial wisdom, diplomat, etc.), but simply that in his zeal for following only YHWH and His law in the worship outlined by that law, there had been no greater king in Israel.

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  • Thanks for your detailed answer! I think this one including biblical references helps clarify the matter a little better. – Jacob May 24 '15 at 7:21
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King David certainly has a greater role in Jewish tradition, and is more revered in modern Judaism. However, it was King Josiah who introduced religious reforms now known as the Deuteronomistic reforms, including monotheism and the requirement that sacrifices could only be made in the temple in Jerusalem. The Book of Kings (which centuries later was divided into 1 Kings and 2 Kings) is believed to have been first written by the Deuteronomist (with at least one later addition), who lived during the reign of Josiah and was aware of the religious achievements of this king. His exuberant praise for Josiah was not intended to be a carefully considered critique of the relative merits of two kings. Monotheism was largely abandoned after Josiah's death, but gradually restored by the time of the Babylonian Exile.

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  • Thanks for your considered answer. I think from your response you're arguing for a figurative understanding, i.e. Its not meant to be a literal comparison between David (or any other king) but that its simply more a praise of Josiah. I think you may be right, however I just can't escape the fact that even if the praise is not meant to be a comparison, at least as we read it in english, how can one not wonder what this means in the context of the other kings. – Jacob May 21 '15 at 9:10
  • @Jacob It seems like you're asking "Even if this is not meant to be a comparison, how can we not think about using it as a means for comparison?" That should be simple - we just realize that since it's not meant as a comparison, it's inappropriate and can yield false results to use it as a comparison. Or am I missing something? – Matt Gutting May 21 '15 at 16:26
  • @MattGutting Im not sure you've understood my question correctly, perhaps it needs to be clarified? I am asking what the title of the question states, that is, can we take it literally? (Or in other words, do we think the intent of the author would exclude us using it to make a comparison with David, certainly as we read it in the english language it would seem we could make such a comparison, i.e. When we say "My mom is the best mom in the world" we don't take that as the person meaning a literal comparison. I don't know if this works the same in Hebrew as it does in English. – Jacob May 22 '15 at 6:44
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    @Jacob I think your question is already clear, as also I hope my answer is. 2 Kings 23:25 is not to be taken literally, at least in making a comparison between Josiah and David. The intent of the author would exclude us using it to make a comparison with David, because his intent was to praise Josiah as the king who made the religious reforms that he (the Deuteronomist) heartily approved of. No doubt a 7th-century-BCE monotheistic prophet was sincere in saying that no king like him turned to the Lord with all his heart etc., according to all the law of Moses. – Dick Harfield May 22 '15 at 6:56
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    He probably did, even though he was not consciously making a direct comparison. As a committed Yahwist, he approved of the transition from polytheism and even participated in Josiah's reforms, as author of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic History, so we can see why he had such high praise for Josiah. But you asked "how are we to take this statement?" which is a different thing. Still, my role is to provide the information, from my answer and these comments, so you can form your own view on how are we to take the statement in 2 Kings 23:25. – Dick Harfield May 22 '15 at 22:04

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