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Josiah reigns thirty-one years; destroys idolatry in Judah, as also in Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and even to Naphtali, 2 Chronicles 34:1-7. He begins to repair the temple, and collects money for the purpose, and employs workmen, 2 Chronicles 34:8-13. Hilkiah the priest finds the book of the law in the temple, which is read by Shaphan before the king, 2 Chronicles 34:14-19. He is greatly troubled, and consults Huldah the prophetess, 2 Chronicles 34:20-22. Her exhortation, and message to the king, 2 Chronicles 34:23-28. He causes it to be read to the elders of Judah, and they make a covenant with God, 2 Chronicles 34:29, 2 Chronicles 34:32. Josiah reforms every abomination, and the people serve God all his days, 2 Chronicles 34:33.
He declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left - He never swerved from God and truth; he never omitted what he knew to be his duty to God and his kingdom; he carried on his reformation with a steady hand; timidity did not prevent him from going far enough; and zeal did not lead him beyond due bounds. He walked in the golden mean, and his moderation was known unto all men. He went neither to the right nor to the left, he looked inward, looked forward, and looked upward. Reader, let the conduct of this pious youth be thy exemplar through life.
The altars of Baalim - How often have these been broken down, and how soon set up again! We see that the religion of a land is as the religion of its king. If the king were idolatrous, up went the altars, on them were placed the statues, and the smoke of incense ascended in ceaseless clouds to the honor of that which is vanity, and nothing to the world; on the other hand, when the king was truly religious, down went the idolatrous altars, broken in pieces were the images, and the sacrificial smoke ascended only to the true God: in all these cases the people were as one man with the king.
He burnt the bones of the priests - כומריא (kumeraiya), the (kemarim), says the Targum. See this word explained, 2 Kings 23:5 (note).
The cities of Manasseh - Even those who were under the government of the Israelitish king permitted their idols and places of idolatry to be hewn down and destroyed: after the truth was declared and acknowledged, the spade and the axe were employed to complete the reformation.
And they returned to Jerusalem - Instead of וישבו (vaiyashubu), “they returned,” we should read יושבי (yoshebey), “the inhabitants;” a reading which is supported by many MSS., printed editions, and all the versions, as well as by necessity and common sense. See the note on 2 Chronicles 19:8, where a similar mistake is rectified.
All that could skill of instruments of music - Did the musicians play on their several instruments to encourage and enliven the workmen? Is not this a probable case from their mention here? If this were really the case, instrumental music was never better applied in any thing that refers to the worship of God. It is fabled of Orpheus, a most celebrated musician, that such was the enchanting harmony of his lyre, that he built the city of Thebes by it: the stones and timbers danced to his melody; and by the power of his harmony rose up, and took their respective places in the different parts of the wall that was to defend the city! This is fable; but as all fable is a representation of truth, where is the truth and fact to which this refers? How long has this question lain unanswered! But have we not the answer now? It is known in general, that the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii were overwhelmed by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, about the seventy-ninth year of the Christian era. It is also known that, in sinking for wells, the workmen of the king of Naples lighted on houses, etc., of those overwhelmed cities; that excavations have been carried on, and are now in the act of being carried on, which are bringing daily to view various utensils, pictures, and books, which have escaped the influence of the burning lava; and that some of those parchment volumes have been unrolled, and facsimiles of them engraved and published; and that our late Prince Regent, afterwards George IV., king of Great Britain, expended considerable sums of money annually in searching for, unrolling, and deciphering those rolls. This I record to his great credit as the lover of science and literature. Now, among the books that have been unrolled and published, is a Greek Treatise on Music, by Philodemus; and here we have the truth represented which lay hidden under the fables of Orpheus and Amphion. This latter was a skillful harper, who was frequently employed by the Theban workmen to play to them while engaged in their labor, and for which they rewarded him out of the proceeds of that labor. So powerful and pleasing was his music, that they went lightly and comfortably through their work; and time and labor passed on without tedium or fatigue; and the walls and towers were speedily raised. This, by a metaphor, was attributed to the dulcet sounds of his harp; and poetry seized on and embellished it, and mythology incorporated it with her fabulous system. Orpheus is the same. By his skill in music he drew stones and trees after him, i.e., he presided over and encouraged the workmen by his skill in music. Yet how simple and natural is the representation given by this ancient Greek writer of such matters! See Philodemus, Col. viii. and ix. Orpheus, and Amphion, by their music, moved the workmen to diligence and activity, and lessened and alleviated their toil. May we not suppose, then, that skillful musicians among the Levites did exercise their art among the workmen who were employed in the repairs of the house of the Lord? May I be allowed a gentle transition? Is it not the power and harmony of the grace of Jesus Christ in the Gospel, that convert, change, and purify the souls of men, and prepare them for and place them in that part of the house of God, the New Jerusalem? A most beautiful and chaste allusion to this fact and fable is made by an eminent poet, while praying for his own success as a Christian minister, who uses all his skill as a poet and musician for the glory of God: -
Thy own musician, Lord, inspire,
And may my consecrated lyre
Repeat the psalmist‘s part!
His Son and thine reveal in me,
And fill with sacred melody
The fibres of my heart.
So shall I charm the listening throng,
And draw the Living Stones along
By Jesus‘ tuneful name.
The living stones shall dance, shall rise,
And Form a City in the skies,
The New Jerusalem.
Found a book of the law - See on 2 Kings 22:8 (note).
Huldah the prophetess - See on 2 Kings 22:14 (note).
Because thine heart was tender - “Because thy heart was melted, and thou hast humbled thyself in the sight of the Word of the Lord, מימרא דיי (meymera daya), when thou didst hear his words, ית פתגמוי (yath pithgamoi), against this place,” etc. Here the Targum most evidently distinguishes between מימרא (meymera), the Personal Word, and פתגם (pithgam), a word spoken or expressed.
Gathered to thy grave in peace - See particularly the note on 2 Kings 22:20 (note).
The king went - See on 2 Kings 23:1 (note).
Made a covenant - See on 2 Kings 23:3 (note). And see the notes on that and the preceding chapter, 2 Chronicles 33 (note), for the circumstances detailed here.
To stand to it - It is likely that he caused them all to arise when he read the terms of the covenant, and thus testify their approbation of the covenant itself, and their resolution to observe it faithfully and perseveringly.