Hezekiah started off right at the beginning, and he did things by the numbers. His first act was to "Open the doors of the Temple of the Lord", which Ahaz had closed up. This to me is intensely symbolic; if we want to get our lives right with God, the first thing we have to do is OPEN THE DOORS to Him. And his next steps were right on line with this- he ordered the priests to re-sanctify the Temple. This took three forms: First, cleanse the altars and other things of the Temple, as Ahaz had used what he had used to sacrifice to false gods. Second, "Clean out the debris" in the Temple. Third, take the holy things that Ahaz had cast aside in his sin and re-dedicate them.
Application time: After opening the doors of one's "temple", or heart, to God, then one must re-sanctify himself. What are your idols, things more important than God? Then take out the debris- what are the things that, while not per se idols, clutter up your way and take up time you need to give TO God? And third, what are the holy things you USED to do, but time and being busy and thoughtless have deleted from your daily life? Keep in mind, you can't accomplish any of the three until you open those doors to God; this will become important when we get to Josiah's part in the story.
Step three for Hezekiah was to worship God properly. That meant the priests and Levites readying themselves for a renewed celebration of their most holy day, Passover. And Hezekiah made sure that everything was done by the book: The priests had to get busy and sanctify themselves ( the run of the mill Levites were doing great at this, but the priests, who were Levites assigned to the special functions, were dragging and needed a good boot to do their job). The people were INVITED (also key when we get to Josiah), even those of the other Kingdom Israel- though most of them just laughed at the messengers, sadly. He even put off the actual celebration for a month, because the priests weren't ready in enough numbers. EVERYTHING he checked with God before doing, that it would be blessed. And in the end, the Lord heard them- and HEALED them. It became the biggest Passover since Solomon almost 400 years before- so big, in fact, they asked the Lord to extend it to two weeks instead of one!
Application: So you've let God in, and you've prepared yourself. Next is WORSHIP, worship that puts God first. With the proper reverence, and the proper ministry (Hezekiah tried to unite all the sons of Jacob to join in).
And it is in the part of putting God first that Josiah wasn't QUITE as good. 75 years after Hezekiah's Passover, Josiah became an 8-year-old King. At 16 he gave himself to the Lord, but he attacked reform a different way. He spent the next ten years rooting the idols out of every bit of the area (including the remains of Israel, which had been destroyed by Assyria in the meantime)- a task that Hezekiah didn't worry about until AFTER the Passover. Then he ordered the cleaning of the Temple- again- and it was during that cleaning that the workers found the book of Mosaic Law that the priests had hidden from Manasseh and Amon for sixty years.
Application: Josiah had his heart in the right place, but he was young and headstrong, and went after the SYMPTOMS, the outward signs of the problem before working on the disease. Where Hezekiah's every act put God first, Josiah's put the outward signs first. Do you need to quit drinking? Looking at porn? Cussing every other word? Fine goals, but meaningless unless you have gotten the crap out of your Temple which leads you to them in the FIRST place.
So they bring the book to Josiah, and he rips his clothes when he reads the curses about to come upon the people because of their past debauchery. Hezekiah, at this point, would have been praying to God himself, seeking absolution for the people, as he indeed did. Josiah, while he knew things looked bad, wondered how bad it was. Instead of praying himself, he ordered a court prophetess to tell him what was going on. And She let him know- Judah was as doomed as Israel- and soon. Because of his own faith, he would not live to see it, but after he died, all bets would be off.
Thinking there had to be something to do, he too decided to celebrate a Passover- the biggest the world had ever seen. The story says it was bigger than any since the time of Samuel, that NO King had ever had such a Passover, even Hezekiah. But I'm thinking that this was NOT done with the care Hezekiah showed. It was not accompanied by the sanctifications, the invitations- and it was NOT accompanied by putting God first. And where, at the end of Hezekiah's Passover, God healed the people, here He did no such thing. Hezekiah saved a generation; Josiah saved himself.
Application: How do your morning prayers run? I thought about this- how do my prayers in the morning put God first, other than chronologically. Half my time is spent in, "I'm sorry for MY sin, thank You for saving ME", and the other half is, "Lord please bless THEM, please work Your will in THEIR lives. Like Josiah, all noble and aspiring things. Unlike Hezekiah, none of them put God first.
The final thing for each of these things is that BOTH of them had a bad faith/political ending. For Hezekiah the obedient, who put God first in all things and was blessed- well, he let pride creep in. He tried to show himself as a big man and worthwhile ally to the servants of that historical cretin Merodach-Baladin of Babylon (a usurper who would end his life in hiding in the swamps at the mouth of the Euphrates), and God said, "Well, thanks to you, I know who I'm going to destroy Judah with..." And that is the reason many of us have those annoying thorns in the flesh. Being obedient- good. Looking around and saying, "Look how obedient I am!"- bad.
And Josiah? I cannot put it better than did the man who ended up killing him:
2Ch 35:20 After all this, when Josiah had prepared the house, Necho the king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by the Euphrates; and Josiah went out to meet him.
2Ch 35:21 And he sent messengers to him, saying, What do I have to do with you, O king of Judah? I am not coming against you today, but toward the house with which I have war; and God said for me to hasten; stop yourself from opposing God, who is with me, and He shall not destroy you.
2Ch 35:22 Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself to fight against him, and did not listen to the words of Necho from the mouth of God; and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo.
2Ch 35:23 And the archers shot at King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, Carry me out, for I am severely wounded.
2Ch 35:24 And his servants carried him out from the chariot, and caused him to ride in a second chariot of his, and brought him to Jerusalem. And he died and was buried in the graves of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem were mourning for Josiah.
You see, rash impulsive Josiah never learned not to do it HIS way. Unlike Hezekiah, he was so sure he was doing things right, he never questioned his own judgment- or consulted God. How ironic that even evil kings of Israel like Ahab consulted the Lord before going to war... but this man, with his heart in the right place but his head somewhere else entirely, did not.
So Hezekiah did the right thing; and the right that he did survived 129 years, almost 100 of them ruled by evil kings. Josiah did the right thing the wrong way- and 23 years and 4 bad kings later, Judah was gone. In 1 Corinthians 3:15, Paul describes someone who does the right thing the wrong way- how "If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as if through fire". So Josiah doing things basically his way, saved himself. It's not a matter of saving yourself doing it "your way"; but how many will you LOSE not doing it the right way? Something I REALLY need to ponder.