The reign of Athaliah (841–835 B.C.), the queen mother of Judah and the daughter of Jezebel, is one of the two lowest points in the history of Davidic rule (22:10–12).
Jehu emerges at a time when the Israelite army had assembled at Ramoth-gilead (Tell er-Ramith) in order to defend this Transjordanian border town of Israel against attacks by the Syrians. Border clashes between Israel and the Aramean state centered around Damascus had flared up anew following the collapse, in the wake of Hazael’s usurpation of the throne in Damascus, of the military alliance of Syrian and Palestinian states which had earlier been established by Hadadezer of Damascus, Irḫuleni of Hamath, and Ahab of Israel in order to check Assyrian expansion. During this conflict in the vicinity of Ramoth-gilead, the Israelite king Joram had been wounded and had been forced to leave his army behind as he returned to his residence in Jezreel (Zerʿin) to recuperate from his wounds (2 Kgs 8:28–29; 9:14–15). This was the occasion for the coup staged by Jehu. The immediate stimulus for it, however, came from another quarter.
While encamped at Ramoth-gilead, Jehu was sought out by a disciple of the prophet Elisha. Acting on behalf of his master, this disciple anointed Jehu king over Israel and then confirmed the anointing by means of an oracle from Yahweh.
HAZAEL (PERSON) [Heb ḥăzā (h)ʾēl (חֲזָהְאֵל)]. Powerful king of Aram-Damascus between ca. 842–800 B.C.E., remembered by the Israelites as one of their most brutal enemies. Hazael is known from biblical and Assyrian sources, from an inscribed ivory fragment found at Arslan Tash (among booty seized by the Assyrians) which refers to him as “our lord, Hazael,” and from a cylinder seal found at Aššur which mentions booty taken from Mallaḫu, one of his royal cities.
Hazael was a usurper to the throne of Aram. 2 Kgs 8:7–15 portrays him as a high official in the royal court who, after being told by the prophet Elisha that he was to become king of Aram, murdered the ailing king Ben-hadad and seized the throne. The annals of Shalmaneser III also indicate Hazael’s status, calling him “the son of a nobody,” i.e., a usurper. There is some question concerning the identity of the king that Hazael assassinated, and it is likely that the latter’s name was Hadad-ʿizr, rather than Ben-hadad (see BEN-HADAD).
Information concerning the reign of Joram is found in 1 Kgs 22:51—Eng 22:50; 2 Kgs 8:16–24; 2 Chronicles 21.
that Ahaziah entered along with Joram, Ahab’s son, upon the war which was to bring about the destruction of Ahab’s house, and to cost him his life, on the advice of Ahab’s relations. There is no doubt that Joram, Ahab’s son, had called upon Ahaziah to take part in the war against the Syrians at Ramoth Gilead (see on 18:28), and that Athaliah with her party supported his proposal, so that Ahaziah complied. In the war the
Ahaziah is probably not condemned for participating in the war as such. Rather, by failing to separate himself from Jehoram, he made himself liable to suffer the same punishment that God had previously announced against Ahab’s house and which he had chosen Hazael and Jehu to carry out (cf. 1 Kgs 19:15–17; 2 Kgs 8:11–13). This lack of discernment shows itself in several attendant ironies. Firstly, though Israel and Judah had been reunited, it was on the basis of self-interest and idolatry rather than the covenant. Secondly, joint action against the Syrians at Ramoth Gilead had already led to one disaster (ch. 18). Thirdly, Jehoram’s attempt to recover (v. 6, NIV, REB, NEB, etc.), literally ‘be healed’ (NRSV, RSV) at Jezreel is probably a tacit rejection of the Lord’s offer of healing through repentance (cf. 2 Chr. 7:14; 30:20). His action may also have been compounded by further idolatry if family tradition is an adequate guide (cf. 2 Kgs 1:2–6, 15–17).
Athaliah now attempts what God had not been willing to do, that is, to destroy finally the house of Judah (v. 10; cf. 21:7), but even in this she is thwarted by divine providence. Destroy (NIV, RSV, etc.) is a rare word, and if it is not a corruption of the corresponding word in 2 Kings 11:1, means ‘remove’ or even ‘exterminate’. God’s protection of baby Joash (v. 11; cf. 21:17) is but one example of several vulnerable children through whom God fulfils his purposes (cf. Exod. 2:1–10; 1 Sam. 17; Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Jer. 1:4–8), of whom Jesus is of course the most notable (cf. Matt. 1:13–23; Luke 1:26–33; 2:1–40). His people’s destiny is always safe in his hands, no matter how intense their suffering.
This incident is really a tale of two women. One ruled the land for six years (v. 12), though the lack of the usual formulaic framework shows that the author regarded her reign as illegitimate. She had taken the throne by violence, and was the only non-Davidic ruler in Judah (Begrich gives her dates as 845–840, Thiele as 841–835). The other woman was ‘Jehoshebeath’ (or Jehosheba, as in 1 Kgs 11:2; so NIV, REB, NEB, JB here), who was Athaliah’s daughter or stepdaughter and the wife of the priest Jehoiada (the usual pre-exilic term for the high priest). The Chronicler has inserted a phrase into verse 11 (cf. 2 Kgs 11:2), explaining how as Ahaziah’s sister she had access to the baby and that her courageous faith was just as vital as her husband’s in restoring the legitimate kingship (cf. ch. 11).
The priest in Jerusalem who organized the overthrow of Queen Athaliah and placed Joash son of Ahaziah on the throne as the rightful heir of the Davidic family (2 Kgs 11:4–20). Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, had seized control when her son was killed in battle. In order to secure her hold on the throne, she ordered all other members of the royal family executed. Joash, the infant son of Ahaziah, was hidden by his aunt Jehosheba and protected for 6 years. Jehoiada then enlisted the help of the palace guard and publicly revealed the existence of the young Joash.
The first aim of the coup to see Joash anointed as king (v. 11) took place in three stages. The first stage (vv. 1–3) is an assembly of Levites and heads of families in Judah (vv. 2–3), convened with the help of some military officers (v. 1).
Jehoiada’s specific instructions constitute the second stage (vv. 4–7), though the details are hard to unravel. There are two main difficulties, of which the first is the relationship between the various groups. While Chronicles has three groups of guards officiating at the temple and the palace with the rest of the people gathered in the temple courts, 2 Kings 11:5–7 speaks of three rather different groups accompanied by two companies of temple guards. The second problem is that Chronicles (but not Kgs) identifies some of these men as priests and Levites (vv. 6, 8) whereas Kings speaks only of ‘the Carites and the guards’, i.e. the royal bodyguard (2 Kgs 11:4). Although the Chronicler has not simply substituted the former for the latter (cf. vv. 1, 5, 10, 20 with 2 Kgs 11:4, 6, 11, 19), he does seem to have interpreted those who guarded the king in the temple precincts as Levites (cf. v. 6; 2 Kgs 11:7). Since the Levites were not exempt from military service, they would have been armed just like everyone else (cf. 1 Chr. 11:22–24; 12:26–28; 27:5–6). Further, Chronicles’ inclusion of laymen (vv. 2–3) and of all Judah (v. 8), together with Kings’ mention of temple guards who were presumably Levites (2 Kgs 11:7), suggests that both Kings and Chronicles refer to laymen and Levites, with the latter as usual emphasizing the Levites’ contribution.
The plan depended on two crucial elements. One was that the timing would not create suspicion, since the changing of temple and palace guards on the Sabbath involved the natural movement of the maximum number of armed men. The only irregularity was that all leave was cancelled (v. 8). The second was that Athaliah probably knew very little of what went on in the Lord’s temple, since she worshipped Baal (v. 17). The element of surprise is therefore realistic.
The third stage culminated in Joash’s anointing and acclamation (vv. 8–11). The weapons used by the guards (v. 9) were readily available in the temple, and were probably a mixture of trophies captured from David’s defeated enemies (1 Chr. 18:7–11) and decorated weapons specially made for Solomon (2 Chr. 9:15–16). The word translated small shields (NIV, NRSV, RSV, JB; ‘buckler’, REB, NEB) is probably ‘quivers’ (cf. also 1 Chr. 18:7)..
As the boy king came out of the front of the temple, he seems to have been fully protected by armed men standing between the temple and the altar and flanking him to left and right (north and south, v. 10). Ironically, this was the same general area where Joash would later order Jehoiada’s son to be murdered for speaking out of turn (2 Chr. 24:21). The word for side (NIV, RSV ‘corner’, REB, NEB, JB) may well refer to part of the entrance between the main opening and the next corner.68
2 Chronicles 23:16-21
The renewal of the covenant, extirpation of Baal-worship, and the solemn entry of the king into his palace, as in 2 Kings 11:17–20, and already commented on in that place. The remark as to the renewal of the covenant is in v. 16 (Chron.) somewhat more brief than in Kings, v. 17; and בֵּינֹו, between himself, the same as between himself, the high priest, as representative of Jehovah. In Kings. v. 17, the matter is more clearly expressed. In v. 18f., the statement, “the priest set overseers over the house of Jahve” (Kings), is expanded by the addition of the words, “by means of the Levitic priests whom David had distributed for the house of Jahve to offer sacrifices; … and he placed doorkeepers at the doors of the house of Jahve,” etc. The meaning is: Jehoiada again introduced the old arrangement of the public worship in the temple as David had settled it, it having either fallen into decay or wholly ceased under the rule of the idolatrous Athaliah.