The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal.2 Kings 11
1. And when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw [as to the evil influence of Athaliah on her husband Jehoram, see chap. 2Kings 8:18, 2Kings 8:26, 2Kings 8:27. By her ambition and her cruelty she shows herself a worthy daughter of Jezebel] that her son [Ahaziah (chap. 2Kings 9:27)] was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal [Heb., seed of the kingdom].
2. 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 [which were to be put to death]; and they hid him, even him and his nurse, in the bed-chamber from Athaliah, so that he was not slain.
3. And he was with her hid in the house of the Lord six years. And Athaliah did reign [was reigning] over the land.
4. ¶ And the seventh year [when perhaps discontent at Athaliah's tyranny had reached a climax] Jehoiada [the high priest (2Kings 11:9)] sent and fetched the rulers over hundreds, with the captains and the guard [the centurions of the Carians and the couriers: the officers commanding the royal 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.
5. And he commanded them, saying, This is the thing that ye shall do A third part of you that enter in on the sabbath shall even be keepers of the watch of the king's house;
6. And a third part shall be at the gate of Sur; and a third part at the gate behind the guard: so shall ye keep the watch of the house, that it be not broken down.
7. And two parts of all you that go forth on the sabbath, even they shall keep the watch of the house of the Lord about the king.
8. And ye shall compass the king round about [they were to form two lines, between which the king might walk safely from the temple to the palace], every man with his weapons in his hand: and he that cometh within the ranges [ranks], let him be slain; and be ye with the king as he goeth out and as he cometh in.
9. And the captains over the hundreds [2Kings 11:4, 2Kings 11:10] did according to all things that Jehoiada the priests [had] commanded: and they took every man his men that were to come in on the sabbath, with them that should go out on the sabbath, and came to Jehoiada the priest.
10. And to the captains over hundreds did the priest give king David's spears and shields, that were in the temple of the Lord.
11. And the guard [literally, the couriers; not therefore the Levites] stood, every man with his weapons in his hands, round about the king, from the right corner [side] of the temple to the left corner of the temple, along by [at] the altar and the temple.
12. And he brought forth the king's son, and put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony: and they made him king and anointed him; and they clapped their hands, and said, God save the king [Heb., Let the king live. Lit., Vivat rex (1Kings 1:25)].
13. ¶ And when Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she came to the people into the temple of the Lord [evidently the palace was hard by the temple].
14. And when she looked [having entered the court, the whole scene met her astonished gaze], behold, the king stood by a pillar [the king was standing on the stand (comp. chap. 2Kings 23:3)], as the manner was [according to the custom on such occasions], and the princes and the trumpeters [the sacred trumpets or clarions blown on solemn occasions by the priests (comp. chap. 2Kings 12:14; Numbers 10:2; 1Chronicles 15:24)] by the king, and all the people of the land rejoiced, and blew with trumpets; and Athaliah rent her clothes, and cried, Treason, Treason [literally, Conspiracy].
15. But Jehoiada the priest commanded the captains of the hundreds, the officers of the host, and said unto them, Have her forth without the ranges [cause her to go out between the ranks]: and him that followeth her [i.e. whoever shows any sympathy with her, or attempts to take her part] kill with the sword. For the priest had said, Let her not be slain in the house of the Lord.
16. And they laid hands on her; and she went by the way by the which the horses came into the king's house [she entered the palace by way of the entry of the horses. Athaliah was conducted to the royal stables which adjoined the palace, and there put to death]: and there was she slain.
17. ¶ And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord's people [comp. Deuteronomy 4:20; Exodus 19:5-6]; between the king also and the people [for the protection of their mutual rights (comp. 1Samuel 10:25)].
18. And all the people of the land went into the house of Baal, and brake it down; his altars and his images [or, its (the temple's) altars... its images] brake they in pieces thoroughly, and slew Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priests appointed officers [Heb., offices] over the house of the Lord.
19. And he took the rulers over hundreds, and the captains, and the guard, and all the people of the land; and they brought down the king from the house of the Lord, and came by the way of the gate of the guard to the king's house. And he sat on the throne of the kings [and they seated him on the throne].
20. And all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was in quiet: and they slew Athaliah [and Athaliah they had slain; an emphatic recurrence to the real climax of the story (2Kings 11:16), by way of conclusion] with the sword beside the king's house.
21. Seven years old was Jehoash when he began to reign.
Athaliah was a king's daughter, and a king's wife. She had a son whose name was Ahaziah, but as he was an invalid, he did not occupy the throne longer than about twelve months. As soon as his mother saw that he was dead a fierce and most murderous passion seized her heart. She resolved to be queen herself. In order to carry out this nefarious purpose she slew all the seed royal, so that there being no successor to the throne, she herself ascended it and reigned as queen. It is very wonderful that some of the most cruel and startling things in the world have been done by women. One called Laodice poisoned her six sons one by one, that she might be Empress of Constantinople. Another, ironically named Irene, took the eyes out of her own boy, that he might be incapable of empire, and that she might reign alone. These things were done in the ancient time: is any of the cruelty of heart left still? The accident may be changed—what about the passion and purpose of the heart? Let every one answer the question individually.
Athaliah made her heap of corpses and laughed in her mad heart, saying that now she was queen. But always some Fleance escapes the murderer's clutch. In that heap of corpses there was an infant boy, hardly twelve months old—he was spared: the sword had not taken his little life, but the queen knew not that the child Joash had escaped. He was taken and with his nurse was hidden in the temple, and there he was trained by the good priest Jehoiada for some six years. All the while the queen was reigning and doing evil. The little boy was saved by his aunt Jehosheba, and when six years had passed and the boy was seven years of age, being twelve months old when he was snatched from impending ruin, Jehoiada called the rulers together and all the chief and mighty men of Israel, and he revealed the secret to them, and he disposed them in military order and with military precision around the young king, and he brought the crown and put it on his head, and he gave him the testimony or Book of Leviticus, and having gone through all this ceremonial process, the young king stood upright by the pillar of inauguration in the temple, and all that great throng clapped their hands and said "God save the king!" and again "God save the king!" and louder the shout rang till the queen heard it in her house which was not far off. The nearer the church, the farther from God, as has been wittily said. She hastened to the sacred place to know the reason of this hilarious tumult, and when the case was made clear to her, she shrieked and cried "Treason, treason!" and the voice had no echo in the hearts of men. Not a soul fluttered, not a heart started up in royal defence—the woman, the evil daughter of an evil mother, was taken out by the way by the which the horses came into the king's house, and the sword she had thrust into the throat of others drank her own blood. In an event of this kind there must be some great lessons for all time. These are not merely momentary ebullitions of wrath or malice: they have history in them, they are red with the common blood of the whole race.
Very few men stand out in ancient history with so fair and honourable a fame as good Jehoshaphat. It is like a tonic, intellectual and spiritual, to read his vivid history. He was a grand king, long-headed, good-hearted, honest and healthy in purpose of doing wondrous things for his kingdom and for the chosen of God. But is there not a weak point in every man? Does not the strongest man stoop? Does not great Homer sometimes nod? Jehoshaphat had this weakness, that he hankered after some kind of connection with the wicked house of Ahab. He had a son, whose name was Jehoram or Joram, and he wanted his son married. He must look round for royal blood: explain it as we may—no man has explained it fully yet—Jehoshaphat wanted to be connected with the evil house of Ahab. To that house he looked for a wife for his son Jehoram. His son married Athaliah, and Athaliah brought into the kingdom the idolatrous-ness of Ahab and the fierce blood-thirstiness of Jezebel. That was the root of the mischief. Some roots lie a long time before they begin to germinate. There may be roots in our lives which will take ten years or forty years to develop, but the root will bring forth according to its kind. Let us take care what roots we plant in our life, what connections we form.
Jehoram, the son of good Jehoshaphat, walked in the evil ways of the kings of Israel, and he wrought that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. For—mark the reason given by the inspired historian—Jehoram did that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord, for "he had the daughter of Ahab to wife"! What secrets were indicated by that one reason! What a whole volume of tragedy is wrapped up in that brief sentence! The responsibility seems to a large extent transferred from him and placed upon his wife, who was a subtler thinker, a more desperate character, with a larger brain and a firmer will, with more accent and force of personality. Jehoram played the evil trick, repeated the foul habit, went in the wrong direction, bowed down to forbidden altars, for—he had the daughter of Ahab to wife. She lured him, the seduction was hers, she won the conquest: when he would have bowed the knee to the God of heaven, she laughed at him and mocked him into Baal-worship—he fell as a victim into her industrious and cruel hands.
"Be not unequally yoked together:" do not look upon marriage lightly; do not suppose that it is a game for the passing day, a flash and gone, a hilarious excitement, a wine-bibbing, a passing round of kind salutations, then dying away like a trembling echo. Beware what connections you form, and do not suppose that the laws of God can be set aside with impunity. Get out of your heads the infinite mistake that you can do as you like and escape the operation of divine law. Deliver yourselves from the cruel delusion that you can sow tares and reap wheat. Be not deceived: God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Our family life explains our public attitude and influence. What we are at home we are really abroad. Wives, do not destroy your husbands: when they would do good, help them; when they propose to give to the cause of charity, suggest that the donation be doubled, not divided; when they would help in any good and noble work, give them sympathy, and prayer, and blessing. We never knew a man yet of any enduring public power that was not made by his wife, and we never knew a public yet that fully appreciated the value of that ministry. It is secret; it is at home; it does not show, it is not chalked on a black-board, it is not gilded on a high ceiling, it is silent—but vital. We have seen a man go down in his church life, and we have wondered why, and it was his wife, the daughter of Ahab, who was degrading him, narrowing him and dwarfing him in his thinking and sympathy. We have seen a man go up in his public influence, and we have found that it was his wife who was encouraging him, helping him, telling him that he was on the right way, and wishing him good luck in the name of the Lord. See to it that your home is right: have a beautiful home—morally and religiously; a sacred house, a sanctuary where joy is the singing angel, and then, when you come abroad into the market-place, into the pulpit or into parliament, or into trading and commerce, or into any of the social relations of life, you will bring with you all the inspiration that comes from a home that blooms like a garden or glows like a summer sun.
Do not suppose that the divine purpose can be set aside by Athaliahs or Irenes or Laodices, or any false, furious, or desperate characters of any kind. The Lord promised David that he should always have a candle in Jerusalem. The light was very low sometimes, it was reduced to a spark in young Joash, but it was God's candle, and Athaliah's wild breath could not blow out that light. The word of the Lord abideth for ever. Our confidence in the final reclamation of the world from the grip of evil is not in the eloquence of tongues, nor in the vividness of prophecy, nor in the dauntlessness of courage—but it is in the written and sealed oath of the Almighty Maker and Redeemer of his own universe.
Observe a very strong peculiarity in human nature, as shown in the conduct of Athaliah. She went into the temple and saw the young Joash with a crown upon his head and she shrieked out, "Treason, treason!" Poor innocent Athaliah! who would not pity so gentle a dove, with a breast of feathers and a cruel dart rankling in it. Sweet woman, gentle loving creature, injured queen—her hands were perfectly clean; she was the victim of a cruel stratagem; she was outwitted by heads longer than hers; she, poor unsuspecting soul, had been brought into this condition, and all she could do was to cry in injured helplessness, "Treason, treason!"
How moral we become under some circumstances! How very righteous we stand up to be under certain provocations! Who could but pity poor Athaliah, who had nursed her grandchildren with a wolf's care? We do this very self-same thing very often in our own lives. Where is the man who does not suppose that he has a right to do wrong? But let other people do wrong, and then hear him. Given a religious sect of any name whatsoever, that has the domination of any neighbourhood, and the probability is that that religious sect will use its supremacy somewhat mischievously in certain circumstances. It will not let anybody who opposes its tenets have an acre of ground in that neighbourhood, nor will it allow any sect that opposes its principles to build a church there. No, it takes a righteous view of the circumstances; it will not trifle with its responsibilities; it can allow no encroachment; it is charged with the spirit of stewardship, and must be faithful to its sacred obligations. So it cants and whines, whatever its name be: if it be the name we bear religiously so much the worse. We speak of no particular sect, or of any sect that may be placed in such peculiar circumstances as to claim the domination and supremacy in any neighbourhood. Now let any member of that sect leave that particular locality and go to live under a different set of circumstances, and apply for a furlong of ground, or for a house that he may occupy as tenant; then let it be found that his religious convictions are a bar to his entrance upon the enjoyment of local properties and liberties, he will call "Persecution, persecution!" How well it befits his lips. The very man who in one district persecuted to the death those who opposed him removes to another locality where a screw is applied to his own joints, and he cries out, "Persecution—persecution!" It is Athaliah's old trick, and will have Athaliah's poor reward.
See how the cry of the wicked is unheeded. She was a woman, and by so much had a claim upon the sympathy of the strong. No man's heart went out towards her in loyal reverence. With what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged. With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. "As I have done," said a sufferer of old, "to others, so the Lord hath requited me." Though hand join in hand, yet the wicked shall not go unpunished. If you are treating any of your family, your wife or husband or child, with base cruelty, it will surely come home to you some other day. If you are kind, gentle, true, honest, the wheel will turn in your favour. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Forget not to send a portion to the hungry, and extend a hand to the helpless—these are investments that cannot go down; their value increases with the ages. "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again." A voice will be heard saying, "Is there any left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?" And some day you will receive great rewards and special honours because of your father's generosity to a former generation. Fathers, you are laying up treasures for children that you know nothing about. You think all you are laying up for your children is to be measured in pounds, shillings, and pence—you are doing kindnesses and rendering services that will come up twenty years hence and longer, and your children will then sit down at tables which you are spreading now.
Jehoash, or Joash, as the name was shortened, was trained in the temple, under the good Jehoiada. He was blessed in his aunt—for it was his aunt that took him, the daughter of Ahab, but not by the mother of Athaliah—and Joash did good all the days of Jehoiada the priest. See the influence of a noble life, see how religion may help royalty, and how that which is morally true lifts up patriotism to a higher level. No country is sound at heart, through and through good, and likely to endure, that draws not the inspiration of its patriotism from the loftiness and purity of its religion.
All these tragedies are making the earth reek with abomination today. Athaliah lives in a vigorous progeny. The times are drunk with iniquity, our streets are the hunting-grounds of all manner of vice, the earth is furious against the Lord, and righteousness is as a bruised angel, trampled and insulted in the highways of the world. Do not decorate the ghastly tomb, and call it the abode of life; let us look at the wild tragedies that are about us on every hand openly in the face, and ask how the deadly mischief can be counteracted. O temple of the Lord, temple of the Lord, search thyself with the candle of heaven, and see if there be aught in thee that keeps up the history of the world's base Athaliahs.
The great question to be raised and answered by the Christian expositor is this—How is this mischief to be cured? It is not to be cured by Associations reading papers to one another at stated times in the year; it is not to be cured by clever ecclesiastical organisations, by multiplying bishops and ministers and Christian agencies, merely as such. How then is it to be cured? It took God to answer that question. He and he only could find the reply to a question accented with fire, and made urgent with blood. What is the divine answer? There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved, but that of Jesus Christ the Son of God. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," and he said in one of his tenderest discourses, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." Except a man be born of the la ver of regeneration—which laver is filled with blood—and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
This is the answer, poignant, tragical, sublime, tender. Who art thou, poor plasterer, running up and down the world's broken walls, and daubing them with untempered mortar? Who art thou, crying "Peace, peace," when there is no peace? Who art thou with an inch of gilt, seeking to decorate the world's death? The message must be vital, the gospel must be one of blood—"the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin," and not until we realise the grandeur of that doctrine shall we rouse ourselves from playing at philanthropy, and become inflamed and inspired with the desire to save the world.
Athaliah still lives—the connection with the house of Ahab still has evil results: evil-doers will turn round and complain of being badly used when their turn comes, the merciless will meet with no real mercy, the pitiless will have to confront the sword of their own cruelty, and amid all the world's sin and woe and death there is but one hope, and its name is—The Cross of Christ.
"And the captains over the hundreds did according to all tilings that Jehoiada [known by Jehovah] the priest commanded" (2Kings 11:9).—Several persons of this name are mentioned in the Old Testament, of whom the one most deserving notice is he who was high priest in the times of Ahaziah and Athaliah. He is only known from the part which he took in recovering the throne of Judah for the young Joash, who had been saved by his wife Jehoshebah from the massacre by which Athaliah sought to exterminate the royal line of David. Jehoiada manifested much decision and forecast on this occasion; and he used for good the great power which devolved upon him during the minority of the young king, and the influence which he continued to enjoy as long as he lived. The value of this influence is shown by the misconduct and the disorders of the kingdom after his death. He died in b.c. 834, at the age of 130, and his remains were honoured with a place in the sepulchre of the kings at Jerusalem.
Almighty God, thou dost give us our bread day by day, and our thought, our light, and our revelation. Thou dost keep us in continual dependence upon thyself. This is well. We know it now to be so. Once we were like a bullock under the yoke, and we chafed under the discipline of heaven: but now we know we are under divine care and guidance, that the spirit of providence is a spirit of education and progress. Even affliction is meant for our chastening and sanctification; our loss is intended to be the beginning of our gain. We see things now as we never saw them before: a man that is called Jesus anointed our eyes, and we see. Of this we are certain. We now contradict all the things we said in our own wisdom. They were but superficial; they did not take in the whole horizon; they were mere conjectures: but now we have brought the power of an endless life to bear upon the concerns of the passing time. This is the miracle which Christ has wrought in our heart. We read time in the light of eternity; we look upon earth through the light of heaven; we measure affliction by the purpose of God. We have changed all our standards and measures and methods of looking at things, so that now we see brightness where we saw nothing but gloom; the wilderness rejoices and stony places are beautiful with flowers. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. This is the daily miracle. We now know the power of the Spirit within ourselves. As to thine energy in things that are round about us, as to the miraculous displays of thine almightiness, we know nothing; we cannot tell why they have ceased to attract our vision, but we feel the inward miracle, the spiritual marvel, the personal surprise. Our prejudices are destroyed, our view is enlarged and brightened, our charity has displaced our censoriousness, and now we live a beautiful life—a life of aspiration and love and sacrifice in which there is joy: this also is the miracle of God. What we shall yet do who can tell but thyself? We may even yet live to forgive our worst enemy; thou mayest even now spare us to clasp hands with him whose heel has been lifted up against us; we may yet make room for the prodigal whom we have forsworn for ever; we may yet kill the fatted calf for the man whose name at this moment we dare not mention. We cannot tell what thou hast in store for us. The most iron heart may be melted, the most stubborn will may yield to the persuasion of thy grace, and we may yet be glad with a new joy, and invested with an everlasting liberty. Thou hast many things to say unto us, but we are not able to bear them now; when we are a little older and wiser and stronger, then thou wilt speak the secret word, and it will come to us as a revelation self-testifying, and we shall open our hearts and receive it and give it glad welcome. In the meantime, keep us quiet, patient, restful: may we know the meaning of waiting for God as well as waiting upon him; give us that long-enduring patience which is quite sure that the door will be opened at last, and that the angel of God will come with sweet messages to our heart. Thou knowest our estate, what trouble we are in, what fear darkens upon us, what a cold cloud now and again crosses the line of our life; thou wilt have pity upon us; thy mercy shall be tender, thy kindness shall be loving, and thy coming to us shall be a miracle of redemption. Oh that we were wise—really, spiritually, largely, wise; then fear would be killed within us, and hope would light her lamp, and show us all the way, and then thy Spirit would dwell with us, and we should be without apprehension. Could we measure things aright, we should change all our verdicts. Save us from all sophism, all fallacy in practical reasoning, and may we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, daring all coming worlds in this grace of thine. Then it shall be well with us; the eventide shall be a period of rest, and the morning shall call us to service in which there is no weariness. We have been taught these prayers by Jesus Christ our Saviour. He died for us. He has told us all we know of thyself, and of thy purposes; and behold thy name is love, thy purpose is goodness, the intent of thine heart towards this whole creation is an intent of redemption and blessing. Thus saith thy Son, the Son of man, the Saviour of the world. Help us to receive his cross, the mystery of his sacrifice, and all the blessings of his priesthood, and make us rich with promise, and rich with possession, so that the time that now is may be brightened by the time that is to come, and the time that is to come may not lure us from the work which has now to be done. Put a blessing into every heart; shed a new light upon the way of every life; and at last bring us in thine own way to the great Zion on high, the sweet home, the abiding sanctuary, where the labour is delight, where the service is song, where the light never declines. Amen.