2 Kings 11:1–20 (NIV)✞: Athaliah Reigns in Judah, Joash Anointed King in Judah
This is a case where there’s a weird (to me) division between the chapters; the very last verse of Chapter 11 feels like it should really be the first verse of Chapter 12. Oh well; I’m sure the monks who came up with these chapter and verse divisions had a reason, even if I’m choosing to ignore their chapter division in this case.
This is one of the few cases—maybe the only?—of a queen being head of Judah instead of a king, though she comes to it through nefarious means. After Ahaziah, king of Judah, was killed by Jehu in Chapter 9 it left a power vacuum so his mother, Athaliah, takes advantage of it: she has all of the members of the royal family killed (except herself of course), and rules Judah as queen. The ESV Study Bible says that 2 Kings 8:26✞ might indicate Athaliah is a daughter of Jezebel, and even goes to far as to call her “a Judean ‘Jezebel.’”
Her plans are thwarted by a woman named Jehosheba, daughter of Joram (a former king of Israel). Jehosheba manages to take one of Ahaziah’s sons, a baby named Joash, and hide him from Athaliah in the Temple. (She actually hides the boy and his nurse, indicating he’s so young that he’s still nursing. And if I may quote the ESV Study Bible again, they point out that the boy’s nurse is showing bravery, saying, “The nurse’s willingness to share danger with the child in her care contrasts sharply with the spineless leading men of Samaria in 10:1–7.” I’d add the chief priest, Jehoiada, as also being brave, since he’s hiding the boy from the queen in the Temple.)
Even if you’re getting lost in all the names, the story itself is easy enough to follow, right? The king has been killed while out of town and his mother takes advantage of the situation by murdering the rest of the royal family so she can reign—not exactly uncommon in nations that have royal families, these kinds of power struggles and political intrigue used to happen a lot more often than we might think—but one male heir is saved, so, technically, he should be next in line to lead.
And that’s what happens: six years later Jehoiada decides the time is right and brings the “guards” in to show them the boy – essentially informing them that the line of David has not been wiped out, and there’s a son who should become king.
As a side note, this is a place where I really get lost in names and titles! Verse 4✞ says that Jehoiada brings in the captains of “Carites” and of the guards, but I didn’t know who the “Carites” are or what “guards” are being referred to. The ESV Study Bible is… somewhat helpful, though they introduce even more names into the mix:
2 Kings 11:4 Jehoiada … the Carites and … the guards. … Jerusalem’s guards and their duties around the palace and the temple have been described in 1 Kings 14:27–28. The Carites appear in the consonantal Hebrew text of 2 Sam. 20:23 as part of the elite royal bodyguard alongside the Pelethites. They may well be the same body as (or at least the regiment may be descended from the regiment of) the Cherethites, with whom the Pelethites normally appear in the OT (2 Sam. 8:18; 15:18; 20:7, 23; 1 Kings 1:38, 44); see note on 1 Kings 1:38.
ESV Study Bible
I had to look up “consonantal,” and I think they just mean that the form of ancient Hebrew used in the writing of the book of Kings had only consonants (no vowels), so… maybe that means they’re not sure if the “Carites” are the same as the “Cherethites” or something? And I still don’t know which “guards” are being referred to, though it seems more like Temple guards than palace guards. Because… the Carites are the palace guards. Right? I think?
Regardless, Jehoiada’s plan is simple: we’re going to crown Joash, the rightful ruler, as king. The Carites and the guards should bring an appropriate number of people to guard him; verses 4–12✞ include the details.
A coronation can be a pretty noisy event, however, so Athaliah hears the noise and comes to the temple to see what’s going on, wherein she is captured and taken outside to be put to death.
As a final note, it turns out that worship of Baal hadn’t just been happening up in Israel, they’ve been worshipping Baal in Judah too. But Jehoiada is able to take advantage of this situation to finally wipe out Baal worship in the land:
17 And Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD and the king and people, that they should be the LORD’s people, and also between the king and the people. 18 Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the LORD. 19 And he took the captains, the Carites, the guards, and all the people of the land, and they brought the king down from the house of the LORD, marching through the gate of the guards to the king’s house. And he took his seat on the throne of the kings. 20 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword at the king’s house.
This is an exciting story, but it might be even more exciting than Westerners in the 21st Century give it credit for: the fact that this is the line of David means that this is more than just a story of political intrigue. At stake is God’s word to His people that He would always have someone from the line of David on the throne; had Athaliah been successful in wiping out all of Ahaziah’s sons she would have been defeating God Himself!
This will have severe implications when Judah is defeated and carried off into captivity (which we’ll read about in Chapter 25✞); God’s people are going to have to come to terms with their loss of nationhood, yes, but also wrestle with the question of whether God has gone back on His word. As Christians we know that this story has larger implications still: it’s not just the line of kings of Judah who were saved by Jehosheba and Jehoiada, it was the final and complete fulfillment of this promise, Jesus.
That’s the role I see Jehoiada playing in this drama: he’s not getting involved in politics, he’s trying to serve the LORD. God said He would always have someone from the line of David on the throne and I think Jehoiada is saving Joash not for his own sake but on behalf of God.
All that being said, we can see from this story how intertwined Ahab’s family and the royal family of Judah have become! Both sides of this conflict—Athaliah and Jehosheba—are from the line of Ahab. Is that important? It is, because I don’t think the rampant Baal worship is a coincidence! Ahab and Jezebel pushed Baal worship very hard, up in Israel, so it’s no surprise that their family getting intertwined into the royal family in Judah would also result in Baal worship there as well, even if it’s also mixed with worship of the LORD.
In the last passage I talked about Jehu slaughtering the house of Ahab, and that he was commended by the LORD for it. God didn’t say Jehu was being overzealous, and it didn’t seem like a case of sinful acts that “happened” to be coinciding with God’s will, it seemed more like Godly zeal. This chapter seems to be the opposite: Athaliah’s actions are clearly sinful—she’s not doing this on behalf of the LORD and wouldn’t even claim to be—yet wiping out much of a family that is too intertwined with the sinful house of Ahab, allowing Judah to “start over” with a child king who’s too young to have been corrupted by his parents’ and grandparents’ influence, would end up being a good thing. So we have two chapters in a row of God accomplishing His will through opposite means:
- In Chapter 10 a person is given instructions by the LORD and faithfully carries them out
- In Chapter 11 a sinful person commits sinful acts and still the will of the LORD is accomplished, even if it wasn’t her intent
The larger lesson being that the will of the LORD will always be accomplished! Nothing we could ever possibly do could “outwit” God, or prevent His will from being carried out. We could accomplish things that seem like they’ve outmanoeuvred God—Athaliah had six years in which she thought she’d won—but only because our sight is short and God’s sight is long.
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