Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.
The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel. He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem—those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord, the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah.
Judah had been living in sin: sins of idol worship, sexual immorality, and impurity. Despite King Josiah being a good King, the sins of his grandfather, King Manasseh had separated the people of Judah from God. The covenant was broken.
We learn in the New Testament that we are able to have a personal relationship with Jesus, so it sometimes seems strange to read about an entire nation of people suffering the wrath of God. There were probably good people killed by the flood, right? Or in Sodom and Gomorrah? Or Jericho? Why was everyone punished for the wickedness of a few kings? The history of the Jews seems to be a pendulum swinging back and forth between righteous kings who destroy idols and lead their people back to God only to be succeeded by wicked kings who build up the same idols and defile God’s name. No matter who is in charge, God’s people simply can’t hold up their end of the bargain: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, the Kings, the Prophets, the Pharisees. The individual sin of these men tasked with leading the people ultimately led to the corporate sin of all. Without the Book of the Law, the commandments were forgotten. They built idols for the people to worship and broke their covenant with God. The fate of the people rested on good kings like Hezekiah or Josiah renewing the covenant and tearing down the idols in high places. They needed the individual repentance of their leaders in order to have redemption for the nation.
The problem, of course, was that no leader was good enough! No king could sacrifice enough to appease God’s wrath. There was nothing pure enough to save the Jews from their eventual exile to Babylon.
Instead, God provided His own sacrifice on the behalf of His people. Not only did He redeem the sins of one man or one people, but all people. He gave us an everlasting King, exceedingly righteous and holy, never failing, and capable of bearing the punishment for sins and renewing the covenant.