Ten years after Josiah took the throne he ordered the temple repaired and the workmen found the book of the Lord. When Josiah read what God required of the people he realised how sinful they were and he tore his robes in sorrow. He inquired of the female prophet Huldah and she responded that the Lord was not going to punish Josiah because he had acted with such horror at the people’s sin. The TNIV has a note at this point referring to Exodus 15:20 where Miriam is called a prophet, no doubt because female prophets are so unusual in the Old Testament.
In chapter 23, Josiah renewed their covenant with God after reading this Book of the Covenant which had been found. Some suggest that this is Deuteronomy but we don’t know for sure. The people committed themselves to YHWH and Josiah had all the idolatrous objects destroyed and the pagan priests, prostitutes, and servants removed. The list of objects and altars destroyed is quite long, dating back to Solomon. The verdict on Josiah is clear: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses” (23:25). Nevertheless, God’s anger burned against Judah and he exiled the people and rejected Jerusalem and the temple.
Josiah was killed in battle against Pharaoh Necho and his successors became vassals of Egypt or Babylon. All subsequent kings were sinful. The judgement of the author is that “It was because of the LORD’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence” (24:20).
The last king of Judah was Zedekiah. He rebelled against Babylon and after a two year siege Jerusalem was taken and he was captured trying to escape. The Babylonians destroyed the city, looting it, burning it, and demolishing the walls. The people were taken into exile in Babylon with a few of the poorest remaining to till the land. Some subsequently rebelled against Babylon’s appointed governor and all were forced to flee to Egypt. We can read more about this in Jeremiah.