Finding the Book of the Law
Around 622 B.C., six years after commencing his purge of paganism from the land, King Josiah began his restoration of the temple, putting the final seal on his plan to restore the true worship of the true God. The writer of Chronicles mentions two men who made up the king’s commission who are not mentioned in Kings: Maaseiah, the city governor, and Joah, the son of Joahaz, the recorder. “Josiah’s choice of Shaphan to head the royal commission was a wise one; for his godly influence was to be felt not only in his own time but in that of his sons Ahikam (Jeremiah 26:24 Jeremiah 26:24Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.
American King James Version×), Elasah (Jeremight 29:3), and Gemariah (Jeremiah 36:10 Jeremiah 36:10Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the LORD’s house, in the ears of all the people.
American King James Version×, 25), and his grandson Gedaliah (Jeremiah 39:14 Jeremiah 39:14Even they sent, and took Jeremiah out of the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, that he should carry him home: so he dwelled among the people.
American King James Version×)” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, footnote on 2 Kings 22:4 2 Kings 22:4Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may sum the silver which is brought into the house of the LORD, which the keepers of the door have gathered of the people:
American King James Version×).
The people were asked to contribute to the restoration and, as had happened under the rule of Joash (2 Kings 12:15 2 Kings 12:15Moreover they reckoned not with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money to be bestowed on workmen: for they dealt faithfully.
American King James Version×), no audit was required. Josiah’s appointments proved their loyalty in carrying out God’s work.
In the process of restoring the temple, the high priest Hilkiah found the “Book of the Law.” Various ideas have been put forward about what the “book” was and why it was lost. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary notes: “It is later called the ‘Book of the Covenant’ (v. 30) which suggests Exodus 19-24 (cf. 24:7). Yet the curses that the book contained (v. 24) suggests Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28; and the ensuing stress on the central sanctuary (2 Kings 23:8-9 2 Kings 23:8-9  And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba, and broke down the high places of the gates that were in the entering in of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand at the gate of the city.
 Nevertheless the priests of the high places came not up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they did eat of the unleavened bread among their brothers.
American King James Version×) implies Deuteronomy 12, etc. ‘The Book’ thus was at least the Book of Deuteronomy [that is, according to this source]. It is called ‘the covenant’ in Deut 29:1, for example. It contains the curses (Deut 28) and it alone calls for a central sanctuary and was stored at the temple usually by the side of the ark (Deut 31:25-26)” (note on 2 Chronicles 34:14 2 Chronicles 34:14And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the LORD given by Moses.
American King James Version×). Some, however, believe the Book of the Law to refer to the entire Law or Pentateuch—that is, the five books of Moses. Oddly enough, Joshua is said to have written about the Israelites’ recommitment to God late in his life “in the Book of the Law of God” (Joshua 24:26 Joshua 24:26And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.
American King James Version×), well after Moses had written the Pentateuch. So it is not entirely certain what all is meant.
Continuing in Expositor’s: ’The Book,’ however seems to have become misplaced during the apostate administrations of the previous kings, Manasseh and Amon, under whom the ark had been moved about (2 Chronicles 35:3 2 Chronicles 35:3And said to the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy to the LORD, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden on your shoulders: serve now the LORD your God, and his people Israel,
American King James Version×)” (same note).
In his book Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, Eugene Merrill comments: “It is not possible to enter into the debate about the precise contents of the scroll found by Hilkiah. It clearly consisted of at least Deuteronomy and likely the entire Pentateuch, for some of the policies which Josiah proceeded to implement presuppose the teachings of Moses. A more baffling question is, How could the Torah have been lost for decades, not to be recovered until 622 and even then only by accident? Liberal scholarship argues that the document in question was the Book of Deuteronomy and that it had never been lost at all. It was, rather, a piece composed [recently] by a prophetic circle interested in bringing about reform. In order to give it canonical authority it was attributed to Moses. It may, in fact, have drawn upon authentic Mosaic tradition. In any case, it was not a product of the hand of Moses but of anonymous scribes of the seventh century. Perhaps, it is proposed, it was drafted by an underground movement in the days of Manasseh and placed in the temple in the hope that it might be found and might inspire Manasseh to seek after Yahweh. It was not discovered in his day, however, and only by chance finally surfaced in 622.
“This reconstruction disregards universal Jewish tradition about the authorship of Deuteronomy and also fails to explain how it is possible that no one in Josiah’s time, including the priests and scribes, questioned the alleged Mosaic authorship of a document about which there was, supposedly, not one shred of tradition. Moreover, those aspects of Josiah’s reformation which appear to be based uniquely on the teaching of Deuteronomy are attested to in Israel’s religious life long before Josiah. The critic must concede that the major prescriptions of Deuteronomy were known long before the discovery of the scroll in the temple. This being so, is it really incredible that Deuteronomy had long existed and had simply been suppressed until its providential discovery by Hilkiah?
“In the era of the printing press and the dissemination of the printed page in multiplied millions of copies it is difficult to appreciate the scarcity of written texts in the ancient world. But even some of the most important works composed on durable clay tablets are known only in single copies despite the recovery of some of the great libraries of the ancient past. What, then, must be said of those Old Testament writings which were penned on fragile and perishable materials such as papyrus, leather, and parchment? Furthermore, it is most unlikely that the Scriptures at any time in Old Testament Israel existed in more than a few dozen copies at the very most. Unless scrupulous care were taken to preserve them, they would be subject to the ravages of war and natural disaster or simply disintegrate with time. There is no reason, then, why a diabolical, despotic ruler such as Manasseh could not have seized virtually all the copies of the Torah and destroyed them in order to advance his own apostate ends. Somehow in the providence of God a pious priest or scribe managed to safeguard a copy in a hiding place in the temple and prayed that it might not perish until it could once more take its position as the bedrock of Israel’s life. This undoubtedly is what happened” (1987, pp. 444-445).
Realizing the newfound book was very likely of God—and that His instructions had been flouted by the nation—Josiah was grief-stricken. The tearing of clothes was an expression of extreme grief during biblical times (compare Genesis 37:29 Genesis 37:29And Reuben returned to the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.
American King James Version×; Genesis 44:13 Genesis 44:13Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.
American King James Version×; 1 Samuel 4:12 1 Samuel 4:12And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth on his head.
American King James Version×; 2 Samuel 15:32 2 Samuel 15:32And it came to pass, that when David was come to the top of the mount, where he worshipped God, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat rent, and earth on his head:
American King James Version×; Matthew 26:65 Matthew 26:65Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He has spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now you have heard his blasphemy.
American King James Version×). But God requires more than just an outward show of grief. He wants the same tender heart that Josiah had (see Joel 2:12-14 Joel 2:12-14  Therefore also now, said the LORD, turn you even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:  And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn to the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repents him of the evil.  Who knows if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering to the LORD your God?
American King James Version×).
Josiah set up a delegation to seek God’s will. The delegation, headed by Hilkiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, a common practice in the Old Testament (see 1 Kings 22:5-12 1 Kings 22:5-12  And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, Inquire, I pray you, at the word of the LORD to day.
 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king.
 And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might inquire of him?
 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so.
 Then the king of Israel called an officer, and said, Hasten here Micaiah the son of Imlah.
 And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah sat each on his throne, having put on their robes, in a void place in the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets prophesied before them.
 And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus said the LORD, With these shall you push the Syrians, until you have consumed them.
 And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the king’s hand.
American King James Version×; 1 Samuel 23:2 1 Samuel 23:2Therefore David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And the LORD said to David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah.
American King James Version×). There have been a number of prophetesses in the Bible, including Miriam (Exodus 15:20 Exodus 15:20And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dances.
American King James Version×), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:1-4 Isaiah 8:1-4  Moreover the LORD said to me, Take you a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.  And I took to me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.  And I went to the prophetess; and she conceived, and bore a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.  For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.
American King James Version×, 18), Deborah (Judges 4-5) and Anna (Luke 2:36-38 Luke 2:36-38  And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;  And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.  And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise to the Lord, and spoke of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
American King James Version×). “There were also false women prophets, such as Noadiah in Nehemiah 6:14 Nehemiah 6:14My God, think you on Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.
American King James Version×and those prophetesses in Ezekiel 13:17 Ezekiel 13:17Likewise, you son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, which prophesy out of their own heart; and prophesy you against them,
American King James Version×, but they were rebuked not because they were women or because they prophesied; instead, they were rebuked because what they said was false and not a revelation from God. Women were not chattel to be ordered about and used as men pleased in the Old Testament, ranking slightly above a man’s ox or donkey! They were fellow heirs of the image of God, charged with tasks that exhibited the originality, independence, and management ability of the ‘woman of valor’ in Proverbs 31 and were called to enter holistically into sharing all of the joys and labours of life” (Walter Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, 1983, p. 207). It should, though, be pointed out that the New Testament makes it clear that women are not to be ordained as elders or preach during worship services.
The Second Quarter of Jerusalem (2 Kings 22:14 2 Kings 22:14So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelled in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.
American King James Version×) most likely refers to one of two districts referred to in Nehemiah 3:9-12 Nehemiah 3:9-12  And next to them repaired Rephaiah the son of Hur, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem.  And next to them repaired Jedaiah the son of Harumaph, even over against his house. And next to him repaired Hattush the son of Hashabniah.  Malchijah the son of Harim, and Hashub the son of Pahathmoab, repaired the other piece, and the tower of the furnaces.  And next to him repaired Shallum the son of Halohesh, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, he and his daughters.
American King James Version×and Zephaniah 1:10 Zephaniah 1:10And it shall come to pass in that day, said the LORD, that there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and an howling from the second, and a great crashing from the hills.
American King James Version×. Although the location isn’t certain, it was most likely in the commercial area and indicates that Huldah and her husband lived in poor circumstances.
A puzzling question to some is why Josiah’s delegation went to a prophetess rather than the more well-known prophets of the time, such as Jeremiah and Zephaniah. It could simply be that they weren’t so well known at the time—or perhaps they were then preaching in another part of Judah. In any event, they were not needed for the task. Huldah was truly a prophetess of God. She sent two messages back, one to the man who sent them to her and the other to Josiah—a message of condemnation for Judah but of peace for the king.
Some have wondered why Josiah soon died in battle when God had promised him peace. We will take up this question when we read later of the king’s death.