Nevertheless, Josiah's spiritual journey was gradual. With his limited understanding, he apparently did right from the beginning of his reign, but as he grew in understanding over the years, he accordingly took progressive steps of obedience, developing a heart increasingly devoted to God. This progression can be seen by observing that it was eight years into his reign when "he began to seek the God of his father David" (34:3). Four years after that, "he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places . . . and the molten images" (34:3). It was another six years before he repaired the house of God (34:8).
It seems uncertain that Josiah knew precisely what to do in following God, and no helpful godly advisors are mentioned. The steps Josiah took in his early years were good; he thoroughly destroyed the false gods (34:3-7). It is a bit of a wonder, however, that he didn't do anything with the temple until his eighteenth year as king. Only when he finally took this action was the book of the law discovered, and only then did Josiah really have clear guidance for how to proceed.
His amazing Passover celebration took place within the same year that the temple repairs started and the book of the law was found. When Josiah knew what God said, he acted quickly, but he could have followed God more thoroughly if he'd found God's written words sooner. Josiah's experience mimics that of so many Christians today. Too many Christians acknowledge that they want to follow God, but they have little idea of what that means practically because they do not read God's Word to see what He wants. In the absence of such knowledge, they do what Josiah did; they do what they think is right, probably even doing some good things, but they leave other very important things undone, simply because they haven't read the Bible to know what they ought to do. Their service to God is shallow because, frankly, they don't know what God wants, so they settle for their best guess of what a Christian should be like.
This lack of knowledge does not question the sincerity of modern-day believers any more than it did for Josiah. Josiah truly sought God, and he had a heart that was very tender to God, evidenced by his response to hearing the Word of God (34:27). Josiah was appalled at his and the people's sin in failing to obey God's instructions. He sincerely humbled himself before God and immediately sought God's prophet for spiritual guidance. These responses demonstrate what a truly seeking heart does when confronted with truth.
Josiah continued his progressive spiritual growth by responding to this new truth. In addition to humble repentance and purposeful inquiries of the prophet, Josiah shared God's truth with those around him (34:30). He then took an additional step of commitment when he "stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD to walk after the LORD . . . with all his heart and with all his soul" (34:31). Josiah continued what he had already been doing right (34:33) and showed such strong spiritual leadership that "throughout his lifetime [the people] did not turn from following the LORD God" (34:33).
As in the lives of so many kings before him, Josiah's life also reveals the balance between God's anger and His mercy. Josiah realized, and the prophet confirmed that Judah's ongoing disobedience would bring God's impending judgment. "Behold, I am bringing evil on this place . . . because they have forsaken Me . . . that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands" (34:24-25). Once again, however, God responded to humble repentance, delaying His judgment when He was entreated. "Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself . . . when you heard His words . . . behold, I will gather you to your fathers . . . so your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring" (34:27-28).
While Josiah gradually grew closer to God, he did have one significant failure, which ended up costing him his life. King Neco of Egypt passed through the area with his army, and Josiah decided to fight him. Neco neither intended nor wanted to fight Josiah and warned Josiah not to come out against him. Josiah's insistence on fighting could have been just an error in judgment, but it became more serious when Neco informed Josiah that he was on a mission for God and that Josiah was actually hindering God's work by coming against him (35:21). While Josiah (perhaps understandably) did not trust that warning, verse 22 makes it clear that Neco was telling the truth. His caution really was intended as a warning from God, and Josiah did not heed it. In this sad conclusion to Josiah's life, he died in a battle that he should not have fought and also hindered God's work in the process.
In spite of this final failure, Josiah provides a wonderful example of life-long spiritual growth. As he learned new truth, he consistently embraced and followed that truth, rising to increasingly higher levels. His story also highlights the necessity of accurately knowing what God expects by actively seeking guidance and truth in the Bible.