Temple to Temple

Yoshiyahu’s Reign (Part 2)
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Friday 11th December 2015

The destruction of the Temple did not happen overnight. There were warning signs and milestones for many years along the way. The beginning of the end of the First Temple came during the twilight of the reign of King Yoshiyahu (Josiah), about 50 years before the final destruction.

Yoshiyahu’s kingdom was a mere shadow of the kingships of David and Shlomo (Solomon). Yehuda (Judah) was a small, contained country.The real players on the world stage were the old kingdom of Assyria, with its power base in modern day Turkey and Syria;the southern power - the Egyptians, and the power emerging from the north-east - Babylonia.

Yoshiyahu became king at the age of eight. He succeeded his father Amon and his grandfather, the notorious Menashe. Menashe was so evil that he had his own grandfather, the prophet Yeshaya (Isaiah), killed. Menashe filled the Land with idols and forced the people to worship them.

In the first four years of his reign, Yoshiyahu succeeded in ridding the Land of idolatrous altars that had been established across Yehuda. Aged 18, he commanded a refurbishment of the Temple. Despite how far the people had strayed from G-d, the daily work of the Temple had always continued, and the Temple had remained the centre of the people’s focus and was essential to the national identity.

As the builders started pulling away wall and floor panels in the Temple, they came across an incredible find: “Hilkiyahu the Kohen found the Book of the Law of G-d given by Moshe” (Chronicles II 34:14). This was not a normal Sefer Torah; this was the one that Moshe himself had written.

This precious Book had been hidden away from Menashe. Rabbi Yosef Albo (d. 1444) writes that Menashe would take Sifrei Torah and he would either cut out or erase the Name of G-d and replace it with the name of an idol. In order to save this very valuable Sefer Torah, the Kohanim hid it in the walls of the Temple. Upon hearing of the find, Yoshiyahu tore his clothing. This seems a strange reaction. Why would he do this? When it was opened up, the scroll revealed the section of the Torah (Devarim 28:36) called the Tochecha (Rebuke) which states the punishment that will be meted out for not following G-d’s laws, including being banished from the Land.

Yoshiyahu took this as a bad sign of things to come. He consulted with the prophetess Chulda. She told him that the people would be exiled, but not in Yoshiyahu’s time. With added strength and vigour, Yoshiyahu went on to rule the nation, helping them get closer to G-d.

Yoshiyahu’s reign was a long and peaceful one until the day Yoshiyahu went to stop a war. Yoshiyahu lost his life in Megiddo. The Sages relate that this is when Jewish sovereignty in Israel came to an end. From the name of the place (Meggido) and this loss of such a good strong king, comes the Greek word Armageddon – which becomes the very definition of catastrophe. The ultimate victor of the battle in Megiddo was Pharaoh-Neco.