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JEREMIAH MOURNING THE DEATH OF JOSIAH.
(2 CHRONICLES Xxxv. 25.) JOSIAH was the son of Amon, a prince who had revived the idolatries of Judah, which had been suppressed during the latter period of the reign of Manasseh. When he ascended the throne, Josiah was only eight years of age, and therefore little good might have been expected from his rule, especially as he was surrounded with allurements to vice, and with evil examples. “While he was yet young,” however, according to the sacred narrative, “ he began to seek after the God of David his father.” He may be presented to the reader, therefore, as an illustrious instance of youthful piety.
During the minority of Josiah, the affairs of the government were administered by the high priest Joachim, and a council of elders at Jerusalem. As might be expected, the regent turned his thoughts to the reformation of the state. He made some advances towards such a consummation; but still idolatry prevailed. At the end of about eight years, however, Josiah assumed the government, and he commenced the arduous task of effecting a complete reformation—of leading an idolatrous and backsliding people to the worship of Jehovah.
Josiah was employed in this hallowed work for several years, and his labours were eventually crowned with success. The altars, the images, and the groves, were destroyed, and the idolatrous priests who burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, the moon, and the planets, and all the host of heaven, were either branded with infamy or slain with the sword. Even the bones of the idolatrous priests, which had long been entombed, he caused to be disinterred and burned upon the altar of Bethel, thus fulfilling the Divine prediction, in which he was described by name, and by which this duty was assigned him nearly four centuries before.
See 1 Kings xiii. 2.
All this reformation was effected under the immediate inspection of Josiah, which shows how ardent his zeal was for the cause. Nor did his labours end here. The true servant of God extends his zeal for the welfare of mankind beyond the limits of his own country. And so did Josiah. He enlarged his labours, and exercised a similar authority in all the cities of Israel which were
at that time subject to the Assyrians. He opposed idolatry, and promoted the worship of the true God; an example for Christians to follow. They are not, indeed, like Josiah, invested with power to cast down the idols of the heathen, but they have the means of sending the gospel to the benighted among the human race, which is able so to enlighten them, that they will be induced of their own accord to cast their idols to the moles and to the bats."
Among the labours of Josiah was the restoration of the temple, which had been neglected and profaned. During the progress of these repairs, Hilkiah, who had succeeded Joachim the high priest, discovered the book of the law, which it has been supposed by some was the original writing deposited in the ark by Moses. So much had the word of God been disregarded, and so scarce were the copies of it, that neither the king nor his subjects were conversant with its precious contents. The writing was presented to Josiah, and read before him, and by it he found how far they had departed from God, and to what an extent of wrath they were exposed. This discovery deeply affected the good monarch, and he sent to inquire of the Lord whether the judgments might be averted. The Divine oracle, by Huldah the prophetess, declared that they could not be recalled; but Josiah received a promise that before the day of retribution arrived he should be removed from the earth.
Feeling the importance of the word of God, Josiah was anxious that his subjects should be acquainted with it. He summoned the elders of the nation, the ministers of the church and state, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem at large, to the temple, and there read aloud the denunciations which had deeply affected him. At the same time, he bound himself by covenant to serve the Lord, and required his people to enter into the same engagement. The people responded to his demand, and Josiah, desirous that their vows should be ratified in the most solemn manner, determined upon the celebration of the passover, which had been long neglected. It was observed with the minutest circumstances of the appointment, and with costly sacrifices, such as had not been offered since the days of the prophet Samuel.
This conduct of Josiah affords a lesson for Christians. If the word of God has been found precious to them, how earnestly should they strive to place it in the hands of those who are ignorant of it. This is one of the first duties, and as such it was felt by the poet who penned these lines :
JEREMIAH MOURNING THE DEATH OF JOSIAH.
Shall we, whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high,
The lamp of life deny ?
The joyful sound proclaim,
Has learned Messiah's name.
The death of Josiah took place under lamentable circumstances. In the thirty-first year of his reign, the king of Egypt was passing through his dominions to attack the Assyrians, and Josiah went out to withstand him, and he received a wound, of which he died as he was conveyed from the battle-field at Megiddo, to Jerusalem. He was greatly deplored by all his subjects, and especially by Jeremiah.
This is the point in the history of Josiah which the artist has attempted to delineate. Jeremiah, habited in the costume of a santon, or dervise, the nearest approach which can now be made to a conjectural representation of one of the old prophets, stands on a mound at the mouth of a sepulchre,* with the mourners of Jerusalem. The mourning women are shown in the foreground, and, as their office, as represented in Scripture history, t invests them with a peculiar and touching interest, great care has been taken to procure a correct representation of them. The authority for them is chiefly based on a beautiful Egyptian tablet, formerly in the Athanasi collection, but now in the British Museum. This relic of antiquity was discovered by Rosellini at Milan, and he conceived it to be a representation of a Jewish funeral ceremony. The circumstances which led him to this conclusion are, that the features and costumes are at variance with the conventional Egyptian standards, while it is free from all mythological allusions to the state of the departed, and from hieroglyphical inscriptions, which abound on Egyptian sculptures and paintings. The attitude of sorrow represented in the tablet has been carefully preserved in the composition of the design, and the accessories, figures,
* For a description of “ The sepulchres of the kings” of Judah, the reader is referred to “ Eastern Arts and Antiquities,” published by the Religious Tract Society.
+ See Jer. ix. 17, 18; xvi. 6, 7; xlviii. 36. Ezek. xxiv. 16—18.