24 September 2011

"So all the people of the land rejoiced; and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been killed with the sword at the king's house." (v. 20)


Although we tend to think mainly of the kings of Israel and Judah, the few queens were highly significant figures in the mid-9th century BC. Jezebel was the power behind King Ahab and his son Joram in the northern kingdom of Israel, and Athaliah, Jezebel's daughter-in-law, whom we meet today, was the ruthless ruler of Judah for seven bloody years. She seized the throne following the death of her son Ahaziah at the hands of Jehu (see yesterday's passage) and secured absolute power by murdering Ahaziah's heirs. But Ahaziah's half-sister, daughter of an earlier king of Judah, Joram (not to be confused with King Joram of Israel - they were all closely interrelated!) rescued her nephew Joash and hid him away in a secret room in the Jerusalem temple. Only the priest Jehoida knew that a legitimate heir to the throne survived.

Seven years later, when Joash was old enough to rule, Jehoida presented him to the senior army officers and got them to swear their support for the young king. When their soldiers had secured the temple perimeter, heavily armed with weapons from King David's old armoury, Jehoida anointed Joash and he was publically crowned. Unsurprisingly Athaliah, alerted by all the noise, was furious - she thought there were no surviving claimants to the throne. Yet here was the young king, in the royal part of the temple, surrounded by armed guards and cheering crowds. Athaliah's protests were in vain, and she found herself standing alone in front of the priest (note that here in Jerusalem it was the priest, rather than the prophet, who had authority). Jehoida sent her off to a summary execution in the royal palace, and that was that.

Like her mother-in-law Jezebel, it seems that Athaliah had promoted the cult of Baal, the old tribal god of the land of Canaan, so Jehoida finished the job by inciting the crowd to destroy Baal's temple and kill the high priest, and then, still under heavy guard, Joash was taken to the palace and put on the throne of Judah. And all the people rejoiced (apparently!).

To Ponder

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian, became convinced that he should support an attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1943. In what circumstances do you think a Christian should condone political violence?

In 9th century BC Israel and Judah, religion and politics were inseparable, as for most of the last 2,000 years in Europe and still in many parts of the world today. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Why?

Christianity still uses the language of 'kingship' and 'kingdom' when it talks about Jesus. This language comes from the history of Israel and Judah. Do you think that is helpful? Why? What, if anything, might be more appropriate language?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Rhymer

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