I love Memorial Day, and its Australian equivalent—Anzac Day. It’s important that we remember and celebrate the bravery of those who died to preserve and protect the freedoms we enjoy. And it’s a valuable reminder that their deaths were not in vain—that some things are worth dying for.
Nowhere is that maxim more evident than in the realm of church history. It’s why Foxe’s Book of Martyrs occupies prime real estate on my bookshelf. It tells the stories of people who died defending the gospel and refusing to renounce their Christian faith. Their sacrifices helped preserve the testimony of God’s Word and the truth of His gospel for subsequent generations. God’s martyrs occupy a place of honor in heaven (Revelation 20:4), and we should gratefully remember their legacy here as well.
We rightly esteem those who live and die on the frontlines, whether in defense of our nation or for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
But not all fights are equal—it’s hard to claim martyrdom when you’ve invited your own persecution, or nobility when you simply go looking for trouble. Such was the case with Israel’s king Josiah.
Josiah was perhaps the godliest king that ever ruled Israel. His character and conduct remained unblemished throughout his thirty-one-year reign. You would think he’d be a most unlikely subject in this series on Bad Dads of the Bible. But that’s what makes his story such a powerful cautionary tale—a lifetime of godliness can be brought crashing down by a moment of recklessness.
Josiah ascended the throne of Judah, Israel’s Southern Kingdom, at the tender age of eight, during some of the darkest days in Israel’s history. His wicked father, Amon, had been assassinated by his own servants (2 Chronicles 33:21–24) and the land was overrun with gross idolatry.
God had promised Josiah’s great-grandfather, Hezekiah, that His wrath would be poured out on subsequent generations. While we don’t know how much awareness Josiah had that he was in the crosshairs of coming judgment, he certainly sought God early in his life. By the age of sixteen Josiah was earnestly pursuing God, and soon after he embarked on a massive purge of the idols that dominated Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:3–7).
Josiah didn’t take half measures in his pursuit of national repentance and revival. Everything he did was full of urgency and intent, and sent a clear message to all who would oppose his reforms. The idols weren’t just cut down—they were ground to powder and scattered over the graves of those who sacrificed to them. The bones of the priests who practiced paganism were burned on their altars.
Once Israel had been cleansed of its idolatry, Josiah prioritized the repair of the crumbling Temple (2 Chronicles 34:8). It was during that renovation that a written copy of God’s law was found and brought to Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:14–18). Based on Josiah’s surprise at what it said, God’s law had been lost and ignored for generations.
For Josiah, hearing God’s law was like seeing a tsunami in the distance. It gave Josiah a detailed account of how wicked Israel truly was, and how its sins outraged God and invited His wrath. Josiah knew judgment had to be imminent, and he needed to react fast (2 Chronicles 34:19–21).
He gathered the nation at the Temple and read the law to them. It was a time of national repentance, covenant renewal, and obedience to God’s commands. The reforms Josiah enacted remained intact throughout his reign (2 Chronicles 34:29–33). Because of Josiah’s humility, reverence, and intercession for his nation, God graciously granted Israel a stay of execution (2 Chronicles 34:27–28).
Josiah also oversaw the return of the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple (2 Chronicles 35:3) and the restoration of the Passover sacrifices (2 Chronicles 35:1). Josiah’s reinstitution of the Passover was unprecedented.
There had not been celebrated a Passover like it in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet; nor had any of the kings of Israel celebrated such a Passover as Josiah did with the priests, the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 35:18)
Josiah was a remarkable and heroic reformer who brought great blessings to Israel for the duration of his reign. But tragically, that reign was cut short.
Josiah, whose life had been marked by seeking God for spiritual counsel, foolishly decided to take military matters into his own hands. He picked a fight with Neco, king of Egypt, when Neco was on his way to fight another pagan nation. We don’t know what motivated Josiah’s impetuousness—that remains one of Scripture’s fascinating unanswered questions. What we do know is that Josiah had no business getting entangled in that particular conflict.
Realizing that Josiah was rushing to the battlefront, Neco sent multiple envoys to tell Josiah this:
What have we to do with each other, O King of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war, and God has ordered me to hurry. Stop for your own sake from interfering with God who is with me, so that He will not destroy you. (2 Chronicles 35:21)
Josiah had not sought God’s counsel on whether to fight. Nonetheless, God gave His counsel through Josiah’s pagan opponent—“the words of Neco from the mouth of God” (2 Chronicles 35:22). It was a divine warning that fighting Neco was the equivalent of opposing God!
Josiah ignored the clear warnings and plunged headlong into unnecessary danger. Tragically, Josiah was shot dead by Neco’s archers, the sad fulfillment of God’s warning to him (2 Chronicles 35:23–24).
Perhaps Josiah was overzealous, overconfident, or had a personal score he wanted settled. Whatever the case, he ignored God’s warning and had his spectacular reign cut short—he was only thirty-nine (2 Chronicles 34:1). He left his nation leaderless and his family rudderless.
Josiah’s moment of recklessness led to a lifetime of anguish for his sons. Two of them tried their hand at ruling, both with disastrous results. They “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:32, 37). Jehoahaz ruled for three months before the Egyptians put him in chains and shipped him off (2 Kings 23:33). Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years before the Babylonians took him away along with the spoils from looting the Temple (2 Chronicles 36:5–7). It wasn’t long before Jerusalem was in ruins and Israel existed only as a remnant of slaves in Babylon.
Scripture says nothing of Josiah’s relationship with his sons, so we should not speculate on it. But his determination to take unnecessary risks by picking a foolish fight teaches us an important lesson. God has given each of us our own responsibilities—we need to be faithful in those things, and avoid the temptation of other pursuits.
If you’re a Christian parent, you have divinely ordained responsibilities to provide for your children (1 Timothy 5:8), discipline them (Ephesians 6:4), and disciple them in the fear of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4–7). Your pursuits can certainly extend beyond those duties, but they must not hinder your efforts to fulfill your primary, God-given responsibilities.
Are career advancement and the financial benefits that come with it worth the time it costs you with your family? Is another endless political or theological debate on social media really worthy of your attention? Or have you been sucked into some other vortex of wasted time that’s pulled you away from your family? We may not go to a proverbial war, but life still throws up plenty of distractions, time traps, and battles that entice our egos but do nothing to honor God. In simple terms, don’t fight the wrong battles.
I’m not advocating passivity in parenting—the story of Eli is a strong warning against that approach. There are risks we will need to take and wars for truth we will need to fight. But if we’re going to fight, let’s make sure it’s God’s honor that’s at stake rather than our own personal vindication. Our families need us far more than our irrelevant opponents do.