The Reign Of Josiah,
The Great Reforming King
Eight Years Of Regency; solid principles of Yahwism taught at early age
Once more there was government by queen mother. On this occasion, fortunately, the blunders which marked the beginning of the reign of Manasseh were avoided.
It was true that the international situation was quite different. Yerusalem no longer felt quite so suffocated as formerly under the harsh Assyrian overlordship. From the beginning of the first half of the seventh century Assyria was obliged by force of circumstances to slacken its hold and life was easier in Yerusalem. And so the young king's tutors, carefully chosen by the Royal Council, took care that he should receive a completely orthodox spiritual education. Although on this point the Scriptural writers give little information, the king's behaviour during his thirty-year reign leaves no doubt about the solid principles of Yahwism that he was taught from an early age.
For the time being in Yahudah there could be no question of undertaking thoroughgoing reforms. Ashurbanipal still remained the master, in name at any rate. And the Tabernacle of YAHWEH, dominating the city of David, was still defiled by the presence of the Assyrian deities and the sacred prostitutes.
But there was one change, though hardly a spectacular one, which was rich in promise for the future. Within the privacy of the palace kohens were educating the young king in respect for true morality, for justice and for that spiritual set apartness which is the distinctive mark of Yahwism.
The Awakening Of The Yahwist Conscience Of The Young King (632-630); The Scythians, The Prophet Zephaniah
632: Josiah was sixteen. At about this time hordes of Scythian horsemen (Indo-Europeans who came in the wake of the Medes) burst through the north-east bastion of the Assyrian defenses and for ten years overran the territories of Mesopotamia and Canaan. According to Herodotus the Scythian invasion ravaged the Middle East for twenty-eight years. Today the tendency is to reduce this to ten years or less 632-622) During this period a great number of Scythians were absorbed into the native populations; after this raid the remainder of these bands returned to their country of origin. They even arrived at the Egyptian frontier. Psammetichus managed to turn them back by payment of a large tribute.
The proud and powerful Assyrian Empire had suffered a heavy blow. Ashurbanipal never succeeded in halting this wave of barbarians who for years overran his possessions from one end to the other, plundering and laying waste the countryside, burning the villages and sowing destruction and misery everywhere. The prestige of Assyria was seriously impaired. The knell had sounded for Assyrian power.
It was just at this time in Yerusalem that the prophet Zephaniah could be heard thundering against the Assyrian domination which had dared to introduce its vile gods into the House of YAHWEH. Zephaniah foretold the approaching collapse of the nation which half a century previously had cut the territory of Yahudah in half.
But YAHWEH was making ready, the prophet asserted, to bring to nothing this foreign power, the embodiment of evil, which for this reason had provoked hate on all sides.
HE is going to raise HIS hand against the north
and bring Assyria down in ruins;
HE will make Nineveh a waste
dry as the desert.
In the middle of her flocks will rest
all the beasts of the valley,
even the pelican and the heron
will roost round her cornices at night;
the owl will hoot at the window
and the raven croak on the doorstep...
Is this the joyful city,
so confident on her throne,
who said in her heart
'Here am I, with none to equal me'?
What a ruin she is now,
a lair for beasts!
All those who pass by her
whistle and shake their fists. TzephanYah-(Zephaniah) 2:13-15
After the punishment which was to fall on the hated nation, the prophet foretold for Yahudah a wonderful national restoration based on spiritual reform.
The young king grew up in this curious atmosphere which encouraged all kinds of hopes. At last Assyria was to collapse. Could there be any doubt of it?