January 18, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Athaliah and Jehosheba

John F. Fink(Twenty-third in a series of columns)

The kings and queens who ruled the kingdoms of Israel and Judah during the ninth century B.C. were especially ruthless and bloodthirsty.

Last week, I wrote about Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab of Israel and the enemy of the prophet Elijah. She was finally killed on orders from Jehu, who then reigned over Israel for 28 years. In the eyes of the authors of the Bible, Jehu was a good guy. He destroyed the temple of Baal that Ahab had built.

The story (told in 2 Kgs 11) now shifts to the kingdom of Judah. (I realize that the names of the characters make it difficult to keep track of the action, but I’ll do my best.)

Athaliah was either Ahab’s sister or his and Jezebel’s daughter. She married King Jehoram of Judah and became the mother of Ahaziah, who became king of Judah in 841 B.C. Like Ahab and Jezebel, Athaliah was a worshiper of Baal.

Through treachery, Jehu killed Ahaziah, and not only Ahaziah but 42 of his kinsmen. Ahaziah was buried in Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah.

When Athaliah learned that her son Ahaziah was dead, she began to kill off the whole royal family in Judah so that she could rule the kingdom.

Enter Jehosheba. She was the daughter of King Jehoram, the sister of the slain Ahaziah. She was also the wife of Jehoiada, the high priest. When she discovered that Athaliah was murdering all the male members of the royal family, she saved her nephew Joash, Ahaziah’s youngest son, then 1 year old. She took him from the bedroom where the other princes were about to be slain. Jehosheba and Jehoiada hid Joash in the temple for six years.

Athaliah was unaware that one of the princes had survived the massacre. She ruled as queen of Judah for the next six years.

When Joash was 7, the priest, Jehoiada, summoned the captains of the guard to the temple and showed them the late king’s son, Joash. He instructed them on how they were to protect King Joash. Then Jehoiada led Joash out to the altar in the temple and put the king’s crown and insignia on him. The people proclaimed him king and shouted, “Long live the king!”

Athaliah heard the noise and hurried to the temple to see what was going on. When she saw Joash standing at the pillar of the temple with a crown on his head, and all the people rejoicing, she tore her garments and cried, “Treason, treason!”

Jehoiada instructed the captains in command of the force, “Bring her outside,” because he had given orders that she was not to be killed in the temple. She was roughly led out of the temple to the palace’s horse gate, where she was put to death.

Joash was to rule Judah for 40 years. The temple of Baal in Judah was destroyed, as the one in Israel had been destroyed by Jehu, and the people of Judah returned to the worship of the true God—temporarily.†

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