The Psalmist said that the wicked dig a pit for capturing the righteous, but they fall into it themselves. Wicked men and godless kings have hounded God’s people, persecuted the righteous, and done the bidding of the Dragon in trying to stop God’s redemptive purposes. But all their schemes miscarry. All their plots are foiled. All their dreams are disappointed. The birth of Christ is the moment when the tide of redemption turned. Christ’s dawn meant that the darkness of despair was driven back. Evil’s doom had come.
And when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal. But Jehosheba, the daughter of king Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king’s sons which were slain; and they hid him, even him and his nurse, in the bedchamber from Athaliah, so that he was not slain. And he was with her hid in the house of the LORD six years. And Athaliah did reign over the land. And the seventh year Jehoiada sent and fetched the rulers over hundreds, with the captains and the guard, and brought them to him into the house of the LORD, and made a covenant with them, and took an oath of them in the house of the LORD, and shewed them the king’s son. […]
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
King Jehoram of Judah killed all his brothers (2 Chron. 21:4); he was married to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab & Jezebel (2 Ki. 8:18); all of Jehoram’s sons were killed in a raid by the Arabians, except Ahaziah, the youngest (2 Chron. 22:1). Elijah had prophesied of the downfall of Ahab’s kingdom and line (1 Ki. 21:21-29). Several years later, Elisha anointed Jehu king of Israel, then tasked him with wiping out Ahab’s line, in accordance with Elijah’s prophecy. When Jehu hunted down King Joram––Ahab’s son, and current king of Israel––Ahaziah happened to be chumming around with Joram (his brother-in-law); so Jehu assassinated both of them (2 Ki. 9:23-27).
Athaliah’s reign is introduced in such a way as to make the reader feel like everything is all out of whack. It doesn’t follow the expected pattern for the introduction of a new ruler for Israel or Judah. After her son’s death, the annihilation of her father’s dynasty, and the execution of her extended family she asserts herself as ruler of Judah, likely an attempt to preserve her father’s legacy. Her power grab begins by destroying all the royal seed (11:1). David’s line was in grave danger and would have been destroyed had not Jehosheba––the wife of Jehoiada the high priest––stolen the youngest son of Ahaziah, Joash, and raised him in the temple for six years (11:2-3).
When Joash was seven, Jehoiada hatches a plan to restore the rightful king to David’s throne. He conscripts a band of trustworthy leaders, swears them to secrecy, and then shows them the king’s son (11:4). His plan to protect young King Joash while overthrowing the usurping Athaliah involved forming a barricade of bodyguards to surround the temple on a Sabbath day (11:5-8). This scheme was put into action; David’s weaponry was brought out of the treasury; Jehoiada crowned Joash, gave him a copy of the covenant, anointed him, and they all made a noticeable ruckus (11:9-12). Athaliah hears the cries of “God save the king,” rushes to the scene (unfortunately for her, without any bodyguards), sees her grandson, rends her clothes, and cries, “Treason (11:13-14)!” Jehoiada commanded she be executed (outside the temple), along with any that tried to defend her, and his orders were followed (11:15-16). Then a covenant renewal ceremony takes place between the Lord, the king, and the people, followed by a purge of all the Baal paraphernalia (11:17-18). Joash is then seated on David’s throne, and the people rejoice (11:19-20). The narrative then returns to the expected way of introducing a new ruler (11:21).
THE LORD HAS SWORN
Psalm 132:11 promises, “The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.” So, when you read through this soap opera of a Bible story, you might think, “Boy, I hope God has an insurance policy on this promise of His!” Athaliah went about to destroy the seed which God had promised would forever sit upon the throne of David. Further, this threatened the even more ancient promise to Eve. Here was a little baby, about to be slaughtered, upon whom hung Israel’s only hope for the promised Messiah. Sound familiar?
God had sworn to David that his seed would sit on the throne forever, so when Athaliah comes to power that promise seems like a long shot. It’s precisely at the moment when faith seems most improbable and inadequate that God delights to introduce a new character to the story. Out of nowhere comes the woman, Jehosheba. If Bunyan had been tasked with naming the characters of this story, he couldn’t have done any better: Jehosheba means, “Jehovah has sworn.”
True faith does not concern itself with circumstances, it concerns itself with the Lord of the covenant. What has God sword? Faith doesn’t look at the bleakness of the situation and conclude that apostasy is the right course. Faith clings to God’s eternal oath. This holds true for both our justification and our sanctification. God has promised to forgive every last one of your sins and to give you everlasting life. Believe His oath, and so be justified by His grace. But God also calls us in our sanctification to trust His promises, especially when it feels like they are hanging by a thread. Perhaps you’ve stumbled into sin, well return by faith to His promise to lead you in triumph over your sins (2 Cor. 2:14). Maybe you’ve grown timid & fearful in these perilous times, well lay hold of His promise to give to His children a Spirit of power (2 Tim. 1:7). Maybe you feel surrounded by enemies of sin, worldliness, or devilry, well then seize upon His promise to deliver you from all your enemies (Ps. 18:3).
Now, there are a number of ways which this obscure but gripping OT story finds its “payoff” in the story of Christ’s advent. Most obvious is the similarity of Athaliah & Herod’s slaughtering of their rivals (Mt. 2:16-18); Joseph performs a similar role as Jehosheba and Jehoiada, hiding the rightful heir to David’s throne.
In Luke’s narrative Joseph and Mary bring Jesus into the temple (again like Jehosheba and Jehoiada); while there, Jesus is “revealed” to the faithful believers Simeon and Anna (Lk. 2:25-38), like Joash was revealed to the faithful. Luke doubles down on this theme in the story of Mary and Joseph looking for 12 year old Jesus, and they find him, once more, in the temple, surrounded by the Jewish teachers (guardians of the faith). Jesus informs his parents that He is doing His Father’s business.
CHRIST IS REVEALED
It is right for Jesus, as Israel’s the rightful king, to be revealed in the temple. Israel’s kings were at their best when they fostered true worship of Yahweh in the temple. Joash’s home from infancy was Yahweh’s temple. The text calls him “the king’s son (2 Kg. 11:4, 12);” this both establishes the rightful claim that Joash has to David’s throne, and that Joash is a true son of Yahweh, the true King of Israel. So then, Jesus’ early visits to the temple function in much the same way. Here is David’s heir whose dwelling place is Yahweh’s house and is also Yahweh’s son.
The Christ has been revealed. Jesus is the rightful king. He is the Son of the Father. He is king, and priest, and prophet. So, though the dragon raged against him, and though wicked men still scheme for the downfall of Christ’s empire, they will fail and fall into their own traps. Christ is King of Heaven and Earth, and there’s not a damn thing the powers of earth or hell can do about it. Merry Christmas!