“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Scripture is not shy about revealing the shortcomings of even the most esteemed Biblical characters. God would have us learn what to do by by the good example of those we esteem. He would also have us learn what not to do by recognizing their mistakes.
King Josiah has a sterling reputation in scripture. Of him we read: “And like unto him was there no king before him, that 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; neither after him arose there any like him.” (2 Kings 23:25) His heart is called “tender” when he discovers how far his people have fallen from the standard God set for them and the judgment they are due. (2 Kings 22:19) He institutes a sweeping agenda to rid the land of idolatry. His zeal for God’s law and reform among his people exceeds that of every other king in Israel. And yet his record is not unblemished.
The chronicler of the kings tells us: “And his deeds, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah.” (2 Chron. 35:27) His first deeds deserve to be praised and followed; his last deed serves as a sober warning to the most seasoned saint.
“After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by Euphrates: and Josiah went out against him. But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not. Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo. And the archers shot at king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, Have me away; for I am sore wounded. His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had; and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.” (2 Chron. 35:20-24)
Why does scripture include the details of the good king’s ignominious end? The failings of God’s people “are written for our admonition,” so that we who think we stand would “take heed” lest we also fall. (1 Cor. 10:11,12) What can we learn from Josiah’s death? The folly of presumption. While Josiah is commended for being very sensitive to the voice of the Lord, in this case he moved according to his own mind. Rather than walking softly before the Lord, he is over-confident. When the king of Egypt tells him to not to “meddle” because God has commanded him to act, Josiah will have none of it. Unlike David, he fails to diligently “enquire” of the Lord whether he should “go up” against an enemy or forbear. Had he sought God he would have lived longer.
Neither fear nor presumption should order our steps. If we are to have proper judgment in our goings, we must seek God at all times. The servant of God can never coast. There is no such thing as “automatic pilot” in God. The continual question must be, “What should I do, Lord?” Being controlled by fear is not a good thing, but we should fear going through God’s red lights, or putting on the brakes when God has given us the go ahead. Josiah was one of Israel’s best kings, but in the end, he could have listened better.