And he broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images and filled their places with the bones of men. Moreover, the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and crushed it to powder, and burned the wooden image. As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. (2 Kings 23:14-16)
The Defilement Of Death
Josiah was eight years old when he became king in Judah, ruling thirty-one years. His life would end tragically in a battle against the Egyptians at Megiddo at the age of thirty-nine. In a world filled with the darkness of idolatry and pagan worship, Josiah was a reformer to God’s people seeking to bring the hearts of the nation back to righteousness, truth, and devotion to the true God. According to the law, he restored true worship as found in the book discovered during renovations of the Temple. Much of his reform was tearing down. He removed the idolatrous priests that served Baal and worshiped the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the powers of the heavens. The wooden image of Asherah was removed from the Temple, taken outside the city, and burned. Josiah tore down the homes of the male and female idolatrous prostitutes who lived inside the Temple of God.
Throughout Judah, the king tore down and destroyed the images of Baal, Asherah, Chemosh, and Milcom. When he broke down the gods’ sacred pillars and wooden images, he filled their place with human bones. Seeing the tombs on the mountain, the king took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar, and defiled it according to the word of the Lord. He executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars to desecrate them. Everywhere Josiah went, he removed the idols and desecrated them with the dead bodies and remains.
The Jews and heathens both considered the body of a dead man as defiled. Under the Law of Moses, a man who touched a dead body was unclean for seven days. The Gentiles recognized the defilement of a dead body. Josiah’s action was a message both to the Jews who rejected idolatry and those who embraced the pagan rituals of the severity of rebelling against the one true God. Filling the places of idol worship with the bones of men showed the putridity of death and the consequence of rejecting God. Burning the bones of men on the altars made them unclean and unholy.
Touching a dead body was not forbidden by God for sanitary reasons. It was a lesson to show how death is the defilement of body and soul. The reason that death reigns is because of sin. Adam and Eve lived in the garden with the tree of life but when they rebelled against God, He cast them away from the tree of life and death ruled over men. The process of the body decaying in death is a testimony of how powerful the pungent stench of sin becomes in the heart of men. Josiah’s act of burning men’s bones on the altars was to show the power of God over those useless idols. The defilement of the bones highlighted the defilement of the idols.
Josiah’s act of burning men’s bones has a powerful fulfillment many centuries later when the disciples of Jesus came to His tomb early on the first day of the week. They found the tomb empty. The angel told the women who entered the tomb that Jesus has risen, and He was not there. They would find no bones. There would be no defilement. Jesus would rise on the third day so that His flesh would not see corruption. Death reigned until the resurrection of the Son of God, and then the defilement of sin was taken away. Josiah defiled the altars with the bones of men. God removed the stain of sin with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hope for those who follow the Son of God is that death has no power and will not defile the spirit. Death is a blessing as the body embraces the bones but the soul – eternal life.