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Revival Under Veteran Priest And Boy King

(Please read 2 Kin. 11:1-12:21; 2 Chron. 22:1-24:27)

Crisis

Joash was the sole survivor of a brutal family massacre. This foul crime was the work of his grandmother, Athalia, described in Scripture as "that wicked woman". Such an outright condemnation of a woman is not found elsewhere in the Bible. She was the daughter of king Ahab of Israel and his wife Jezebel, the Zidonian Baal-worshipper. As part of a disastrous political alliance between Israel and Judah, Athalia had been married to Jehoshaphat's son, Jehoram. Sadly, good king Jehoshaphat had put political expediency before the necessity for separation from evil. This grave error in an otherwise successful reign brought the royal line through Solomon very near to extinction.

After Jehoram died, Athalia's son, king Ahaziah, was killed by Jehu in the execution of divine judgement on the wicked house of Ahab. But the bereaved mother, instead of mourning her loss, saw in it the opportunity to satisfy her lust for power and usurp rule over the kingdom of Judah. Without scruple she proceeded to murder her own grandchildren, the remaining heirs to the throne. But a princess, who was the wife of Jehoiada the High Priest, became aware of what was being done. She managed to rescue the youngest prince, baby Joash, and hide him in the Temple.

We do not know whether Athalia was aware of the survival of an heir to the throne, but we are told that she "reigned over the land". This unusual phrase seems to suggest that although there was no one powerful enough to question her right to rule, there was some limitation to her authority. For instance, it is obvious from subsequent events that she had little say about what went on within the Temple precincts. Other rulers of Judah had exercised authority over the house of God, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill, but Athalia was no match for Jehoiada, a man of great faith and determination. His wife too must have been a woman of singular faith and courage to have rescued the baby prince from under the nose of the imperious Athalia.

King's daughter and High Priest were fine examples of two who were "joint-heirs of the grace of life" and "fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God", examples which we do well to emulate. In a critical and dangerous time for the people of God, they together trained the child in the fear of God for future kingship. They carefully planned for the great day when Joash would sit on the throne as the rightful king of Judah. It was a responsible task, for much was at stake. Would the royal line survive? Would Athalia frustrate their plans and extend her authority to prevent the worship of God in His house? No doubt they were much cast upon God, trusting His promise, "that David My servant may have a lamp always before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen Me to put My Name there" (1 Kin. 11:36). In perilous times this godly couple had the welfare of the house of God and the kingdom of God at heart. As a consequence God richly blessed them, and He will do the same today for those who, in similarly difficult times, have the same care for the things of God.

Deliverance

When Joash was seven years old Jehoiada judged that the time had come for Athalia's usurpation to be brought to an end. He made a careful assessment of the help he could count on from priests, Levites and soldiers. On a set day he mustered all these loyal subjects in the Temple precincts and gave them weapons. He directed operations with precision and skill. When all was prepared, Joash was brought out, surrounded by a heavy guard. Could this little boy survive in such adverse circumstances? Surely yes, because the Lord was on his side, and moreover, the continuation of the Messianic line depended on his preservation.

Amid great rejoicing the royal crown was placed on the king's head and Jehoiada anointed him king of Judah as he symbolically held the Law of God in his hand. Then all the people clapped their hands and shouted "God save the king". From the palace Athalia heard the noise and came to investigate. When she saw the king with the crown on his head she shouted, "Treason, treason" (strange accusation from a woman with such an evil record!) She was powerless in the face of the vast array of armed men, and on the High Priest's instructions she was put to death as soon as she left the Temple courts.

Jehoiada's next step was to see that the king and all the people joined him in covenanting that they would be the Lord's people. Then they all went to the house of Baal and destroyed both it and its priest. Finally the services of God's house which were divinely instituted through David, were recommenced.

Restoration

When Joash reached mature years he was active in restoring the Temple, which had been badly damaged by the Baal-worshipping sons of Athalia. The people gladly and generously contributed to the cost and the workmen went to work with a will. It was a heavy task, but it was eventually completed and vessels of gold and silver for the services were made with the gifts left over. It was now possible for the burnt offerings to be offered continually as required by the law of Moses.

The inspired historian writes that these offerings were made "all the days of Jehoiada" ominous hint of what was to come! The High Priest died at the great age of 130 years; "he had done good in Israel, and toward God and His house". This was the commendation of Scripture; furthermore, although not of the royal line, he was buried in the city of David among the kings. No greater honour could have been given to him than this unique burial. He left a tremendous example for all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to follow.

It is recorded that "Joash did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest"; but after the old man died it became apparent that he alone had been the driving force in all the reforms of Joash's reign. The king seems to have been genuinely inspired by the enthusiasm of his guardian for the house of God. But he was a man who could easily be led, so that when the princes of Judah assumed their traditional role as advisers to the king, the results were disastrous.

Declension

With the connivance of the king, Judah once again lapsed into idolatry. The people forsook God's house, thereby bringing the wrath of God upon the kingdom, and they refused to listen to the prophets whom God sent to warn them. At last Jehoiada's son, with the same faithfulness and courage which characterized his father, remonstrated in public with the men of Judah: 'Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, He hath forsaken you". Far from heeding the rebuke, they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. This foul deed was instigated by the king himself; "thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada... had done to him

Divine retribution came shortly afterwards. A small company of Syrians "destroyed all the princes of the people... and sent all the spoil of them unto the king of Damascus". Joash was left severely wounded (see RSV) and became the victim of a conspiracy in his own household. In revenge for the death of Jehoiada's son, his servants killed him in bed.

In contrast to the high honour given to Jehoiada in his death, Joash was denied what might have been considered the right of a king of Judah to be buried with David in the tombs of the kings. So ended a long reign of forty years which began with such promise. The great achievements of earlier life were overshadowed by later failures. It is regrettably possible for a

Christian life to end like that. However good the beginning, nothing can outweigh unfaithfulness in later life. May we aim to imitate the apostle Paul who, when death approached, said, "I have finished the course, I have kept the faith", consequently God had a crown ready for him (2 Tim. 4:7,8).

The principal cause of Joash's downfall seems to have been that he placed too much reliance upon others and had little personal conviction. We are thankful for the support and instruction of faithful men of God, but a lesson we can learn from the life of Joash is that it is necessary to be assured in our own minds of the truth of God. We need to become "full grown men" and attain "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but... may grow up in all things into Him, which is the Head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:13-15).