“And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the LORD given by Moses.” (II Chronicles 34:14)
“And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.” (II Kings 22:8)
Judah had depended solely on people’s memories of what they were to do since at least the start of Amon’s reign, twenty years before and maybe clear back to Hezekiah’s reign. The High Priest himself was surprised to find a copy of the law and thought the king should have it. He gave it to Shaphan, a man who could read to give to the king. Shaphan read it before delivering it to Josiah.
“And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, Thy servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of them that do the work, that have the oversight of the house of the LORD.
And Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.” (II Kings 22:9-10)
After reporting on the progress of the temple restoration, Shaphan described Hilkiah’s discovery and read it to Josiah.
“And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.
And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying, Go ye, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.” (II Kings 22:11-13)
When they read what the law said, Josiah was really upset. He realized that for generations they had been sincerely keeping part of the law, while totally unaware of other things it required. They were like a lot of churches today, who sincerely practice their traditional religion and doctrine, who no longer study all the scripture.
When they read the whole scripture, he realized how superficial their practices were and how deserving of judgment they were. He sent the priests and scribes to someone who knew God intimately to find out what God would want them to do about the past disobedience.
“So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.” (II Kings 22:14)
The High Priest and religious leaders went to find Huldah, an unofficial person who had personal contact with God to find out what God wanted. Frequently, religious leaders, like everyone else, get away from God. She was living right there in Jerusalem, but few people were paying attention to her. It is unclear whether the college referred to the group known as the sons of the prophets of not.
“And she said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched.” (II Kings 22:15-17)
She told them that the sin of Judah would still have to be paid for, and that all the warnings God had given would still come to pass. There was nothing to stop God’s judgment. Justice still required that the penalty for sin be paid. God cannot just allow people to get by with their sin, and no amount of animal sacrifices could take it away.
“But to the king of Judah which sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, As touching the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD.
Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again.” (II Kings 22:18-20)
Even though Josiah had been willing to listen and change, the judgment was still going to come upon Judah for their ongoing sin, but it would not happen in Josiah’s day. He would die at peace and not see the judgment to come. Other people’s actions would not deprive him of God’s blessings.