A couple of weeks ago, I entered into a study of Josiah the Great. Ruling just a generation before the destruction of Jerusalem, Josiah was a final breath of grace before generations of suffering. Josiah was a revolutionary: one who implemented monotheistic reforms throughout the kingdom, starting in his own backyard.
I once saw monotheism as a belief that unified Israel in its history from the days of Abraham through to the time of Christ (and even on to today). I think a careful study of the Old Testament shows, however, that monotheism was an exception rather than the rule. Certainly, the writers of the Old Testament hold Yahweh-centered views of history, yet time and time again, the worship of idols comes up. How many times does the Bible say, "After the days of X the people lost their love of God and slipped into idolatry."
Considering how rare Yahweh worship was in Israel, it might be more accurate to state, "During the days of X, Israel lost their devotion to Baal/Ashtorah and slipped into Yahweh worship." The Bible clearly proves that voices for God existed throughout Israel's history--indirectly, it also states that those voices were distinct for their loneliness.
A good way to understand this is to look at the extraordionary rule of Josiah (640-609 BC). The 23rd chapter of 2 Kings describes some of the activities he took in his reforms. They included (a) tearing down the Ashterah pole inside Solomon's temple (around which orgiastic dances where held on feast days); (b) tearing down the dormitories for male prostitutes located in the courts of the temple. This doesn't sound like an idolatry hiccup--in fact it makes me wonder if Solomon's Temple had ever been used in Yahweh worship after its famous dedication.
For example, not the story of Josiah as told in 2 Chronicles 35. In the Book of the Law found in the Temple, Josiah learns of the Passover ceremony, and he orders Israel to follow it. The writer of Chronicles remarks upon how remarkable that celebration was:
The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the
prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a
Passover as did Josiah (verse 18)
None of the kings of Israel? That means that David hadn't celebrated Passover, neither had Solomon or Asa. (This may be inaccurate, because the writer of 2 Chronicles uses Chapter 30 to celebrate Hezekiah's own renewal of Passover.) So what had these kings been doing? How had the people of Judah worshipped? It seems evident that the worship of God was very, very different prior to Josiah and immediately after his extraordinary reign.
So how did it change? How did the monotheistic worship of Yahweh move from the fringes of Judahite society into the hallmark of Judaism?
I'll need another post to fully answer that question.