It’s safe to say that the mother to whom we’re introduced in 2 Kings 11 won’t win any Mother’s Day awards any time soon. Even while Jehu the Terrible was out killing everything that breathes (2 Kings 9—10), a particularly malevolent queen was doing him one better by killing all her nephews. Judah’s King Ahaziah was dead, falling victim to the hot pursuit of Jehu’s minions (2 Kings 9:27). When news of his passing reached home, his mom, the queen mother Athaliah, seized the opportunity to claim the throne for herself. Naturally, that meant destroying “all the seed royal” (2 Kings 11:1). As her first royal decree, she demands that every royal heir lose their head. The crown would be hers, and hers alone. She’d make sure of that. And even though these events are hair-raising, they’re not that surprising — after all, Athaliah was the daughter of that dastardly duo, Ahab and Jezebel. I guess the old saying is true: “The apple rarely falls far from the tree.”
During the massacre of the “seed royal,” however, an aunt acts more motherly than the queen mother herself (2 Kings 11:2). A princess named Jehosheba notices the plight of all those innocent royal heirs and decides to do something about it. She sneaks into the the royal nursery and snatches Joash, one of the king’s sons, before he, too, falls victim to Athaliah’s sword. She saves his life, hiding him away in a closet “in the house of the Lord” for six years (2 Kings 11:3).
Joash’s childhood was one of caution and seclusion, low voices and closed doors. The number one rule he was bound to follow was, “Don’t draw attention to yourself.” And all of this was for the sake of the crown. Jehosheba and Jehoiada demonstrate a stouthearted resistance to tyranny in their opposition to the queen mother Athaliah. And there is definitely something for us to glean from their defiance. In the face of abject evil, these two faithfully cling to the words and truths of he alone who is Good, Jehovah God. But their efforts for the good of the kingdom were actually much more significant than, perhaps, they ever even realized.
On Athaliah’s seven-year anniversary of her hostile takeover of Judah’s throne, Jehoiada began making moves. The chronicler offers us the insight that Jehoiada “strengthened himself,” summoned the courage, to bolster the ranks of those who were loyal to his cause (2 Chron. 23:1–3). This he does by “covenanting” with an array of captains by revealing to them that Joash, the rightful heir to the throne, was very much alive.
Jehoiada, then, divides the captains and their guards into groups of rotating sentries to keep watch over the house where Joash was (2 Kings 11:5–11). Eventually, Jehoiada organizes the coronation ceremony at which Joash would officially be recognized as Judah’s king. “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” (2 Kings 11:12). This, to be sure, is a momentous occasion, with a chorus of hope shaking the rafters of that hall. The crowning of Joash was not only one of royal policy but also one of religious fidelity. The applause of the people wasn’t merely because the rightful heir was back on throne. It was an expression of their desire to return to the ways of Yahweh.
The coronation causes a commotion, though, garnering the attention of Athaliah. She ventures outside to see what all the racket was about, only to find a crowd rejoicing over their newly crowned king: “When Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she came to the people into the temple of the Lord. And when she looked, behold, the king stood by a pillar, as the manner was, and the princes and the trumpeters by the king, and all the people of the land rejoiced, and blew with trumpets: and Athaliah rent her clothes, and cried, Treason, Treason” (2 Kings 11:13–14).
It is ironic that Athaliah’s first reaction was to cry foul at the sight of Joash wearing the crown. “Treason! Treason,” she shouts, when, in fact, the only treasonous player in the entire narrative was her. Jehoiada’s men seize the queen mother and promptly escort her outside the premises to be executed (2 Kings 11:15–16).
There is something deeper and truer about these events that we ought to recognize — something which certainly brings about deeper and truer comfort to each and every weary soul.
Afterwards, a great revival seizes the people (2 Kings 11:17–19). Yahweh’s “covenant” is renewed and the idols of Baal are demolished, with truth and justice appearing to return to the throne once again. “And all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was in quiet: and they slew Athaliah with the sword beside the king’s house” (2 Kings 11:20). I can’t help imagining the streets of Judah echoing with a rendition of “Ding-dong, the witch is dead!” as the people revel in their newfound peace. No doubt, this is a historic moment for the people of Judah. Evil is thwarted and truth is upheld. But, even still, there is something deeper and truer about these events that we ought to recognize — something which certainly brings about deeper and truer comfort to each and every weary soul.
The kingdom of Judah was, at this time, very much like their northern neighbors, in that they were a once-glorious kingdom that was now ransacked with iniquity and infidelity, rebellion and ruin. Yahweh was of no consequence to them. His words and worship were but a faint memory. Furthermore, the kingly line of David was standing “upon the edge of a knife,” as Lord Celeborn puts it (Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring, 372). Athaliah, of course, went on her rampage, killing “all the seed royal” (2 Kings 11:1). This was on top of Jehoram’s massacre of “all his brethren” (2 Chron. 21:4) — which was on top of invasion by the Arabians in which “all the eldest” were slain (2 Chron. 22:1) — which was on top of Jehu’s slaughter of all “the princes of Judah,” forty-two of them to be exact (2 Kings 10:13–14; 2 Chron. 22:8). The point being: Judah’s streets were filled with blood. And, more specifically, it was blood that streamed from the veins of David’s descendants. Indeed, “the house of David” appeared on the verge of crumbling to dust, which surely had many of the faithful in those days living in constant angst.
Decades prior to this moment, Yahweh made a promise to one of Israel’s most revered-yet-troubled kings, David. Despite all the havoc that David brought onto himself, and his kingdom, and his family, God was going to work wonders in and through him. In fact, it was through him that the Promised Seed, the Messiah, would come. “I will set up thy seed after thee,” Yahweh declares, “which shall proceed out of thy bowels . . . and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12–13; cf. Ps. 89:36). This, of course, is the Davidic Covenant, which, in essence, is a continuation of the covenant first given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, that one day the Seed of the woman would come and crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). For centuries, Israelite life and culture was centered on belief in this Promised Seed. It was their deepest longing and most earnest expectation that this Seed — which you and I know to be Jesus of Nazareth — would manifest in their day.
As the events of 2 Kings 11 unfold, the hope of that Promised Seed is all but snuffed out. The extinction of the “seed royal” was not only a threat to the royal family, it was a threat to the very promises of God, seeing that Joash was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of King David. Even though he was only seven generations removed from the time of the promise, that promise already looked more than a little doubtful, with God’s people running headlong into depravity and the “house of David” on the brink of being entirely wiped out. “Yahweh’s promise to David,” Dale Ralph Davis comments, “was one infant away from proving false and falling to the ground” (173). Never before had the words of God felt so shaky, so wobbly, so unsure.
Therefore, when Jehosheba saved Joash, she was not only saving his life, she was, in effect, saving the Davidic Covenant from certain disaster. “The whole promises of God,” notes Alexander Maclaren in his Expositions, “seemed to depend for fulfilment on one little, feeble life” (3:1.14). Her faith preserved both the life of an infant marked for death and the promise of the heaven’s hope. “Yet the Lord,” the historian says in a previous chapter, “would not destroy Judah for David his servant's sake, as he promised him to give him alway a light, and to his children” (2 Kings 8:19). Jehosheba and Jehoiada acted in faithful obedience to the words of Yahweh, even when that very faith was in jeopardy. They exhibited a belief that was bold, despite what the evidence seemed to indicate. Despite the circumstances, and the peril, and the risk, they clung, however feebly, to their Lord’s words.
God works in similar ways, even today. Maybe it looks like a worldwide pandemic, or an election gone wrong, or an economy on the verge of collapse, or a society on the brink of implosion — whatever it is, whatever it looks like, God has a penchant for putting his words and promises at risk. He allows circumstances to arise that seem to threaten our faith and cause us to question what he’s doing. He exposes his Word to the bedlam of death and destruction of human history, not because he enjoys seeing his children suffer, but because he desires to try our faith, as “with fire,” that it “might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).
Even in the dimmest of moments, not a single syllable of Yahweh’s promises will fail.
All of which begs the question: Are you walking by faith or by sight? St. Paul’s succinct assertion holds a world of truth for you and I today. “For we walk by faith, not by sight,” the apostle writes (2 Cor. 5:7). Living “by sight” will, no doubt, very quickly lead you to despair. There isn’t much to hope in, to believe in, going on what is seen. Living “by faith,” however, means trusting in what you cannot see. The essence of our faith is clinging to “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). We’re rarely privy to what God’s doing in and with the world around us. But, even still, you and I can rest assured that despite what it looks like, he’s still working. He’s still reigning. “Christ will never allow his kingdom to suffer eclipse,” Davis definitively says (170). Even in the dimmest of moments, not a single syllable of Yahweh’s promises will fail. “God watches over His purposes and their instruments when they seem nearest to failure,” Maclaren continues; “therefore, we are never to despair, even in the darkest hour, of the fulfilment of His promises” (3:1.19). The faith that defines us is a faith that makes a fool of what makes sense. A faith that trusts that the God of all things will live up to his word, even if we don’t know how. Even when it looks impossible.