Christianity 201

October 26, 2021

A Story of Compounded Tragedy

When I first started blogging, a popular destination was Internet Monk, a site founded by Michael Spencer. After Michael’s untimely death, the iMonk community continued to keep it alive, but in January it was decided to suspend new posting, and many in the iMonk community migrated to a new site, Mystery and Meaning. The new site is a combination of serious articles and reviews, and Saturday silliness. It was there we found today’s article, and you’re encouraged to read this at its point of origin there, by clicking the header which follows. The author of this piece is Paul Mitchell.

The Tragedy of Jehoiada and Joash

When studying Scripture, one of the things I enjoy most is rediscovering the small stories, the overlooked details, the passages that rarely get attention. This past week, my reading led me to a section of 2 Chronicles that is, frankly, heartbreaking. 2 Chronicles is not terribly optimistic to begin with. Israel and Judah are in a downward spiral, both spiritually and culturally, and that spiral continues to accelerate throughout the book.

Our story begins in 2 Chronicles 22 with the death of Ahaziah, king of Judah. Upon Ahaziah’s death, we are introduced to Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother. Athaliah is from Israel, of the house of Ahab. She married into the Judean royal family. Now, we know the house of Ahab is bad news. A pretty easy case could be made for Ahab being one of the worst kings of Israel. So knowing Athaliah is a descendant of Ahab should already make us nervous for what comes next, and we are not disappointed. Seeing an opportunity to seize power, Athaliah makes a move to kill all the heirs of the royal family of Judah.

One of Ahaziah’s sons escapes: a young boy, only a year old, by the name of Joash. He is rescued by his aunt Jehoshabeath, who is married to a priest named Jehoiada. They hide Joash in the temple for six years. Jehoiada the priest, the young boy’s uncle, eventually allies with military leaders and the Levites to place Joash on the throne, deposing Athaliah, the boy’s grandmother.

This is where things get interesting. In 2 Chronicles 24:2, it says that Joash “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” Jehoiada not only hides and protects Joash, he helps place him on the throne, and continues to advise him. As long as Joash has this mentor, this spiritual figure, he is just and Israel prospers.

When Jehoiada dies at 130 years old, he is given a special honor. He is buried among the kings of Judah because, as verse sixteen records, “he had done good in Israel, and toward God and his house.”

Soon after the death of Jehoiada the priest, other advisors step into his place and turn Joash to idol worship. The Spirit of God comes on Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, and he confronts Joash and the people of Judah, saying in verse 20, “Why do you break the commands of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper?” In response, Zechariah is killed, stoned to death by command of the king.

While reading, this was the part that left me shocked. Joash was saved by Jehoshabeath and Jehoiada, his aunt and uncle. His uncle helped put him on the throne. Together, they worked to repair the temple. But soon after Jehoiada’s death, Joash has Jehoiada’s son, his own cousin, killed. As it says in verse twenty-two, “Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son.”

Joash dies not long after. Those who conspire against him and bring about his death do so specifically because of the murder of Zechariah. And as the story closes, in one last bit of irony, Joash, because of his evil, is not buried in the tombs of the kings, where Jehoiada the priest was buried.

So why has this passage stayed with me over the last few days?

Part of what stands out is the symmetry of the whole story. Jehoiada the priest saves Joash’s life, then Joash turns around and kills his son. The priest in his righteousness is buried with kings, while the king in his wickedness is not.

Part of what stands out is the tragedy of the whole story. There was a chance for things to go well, even after the atrocities committed by Joash’s grandmother. Part of what stands out is how little agency Joash seems to have in the whole story. As long as Johoiada is around, Joash follows God. As soon as the priest is gone, others lead Joash into idol worship.

It is interesting how much of what we think of as “our character” may be the influence of others, for good or ill. No overarching moral or lesson today. Simply a sad story that has stuck with me, making me think.

Second Helping: Read another thoughtful article at Mystery and Meaning by Paul Mitchell: Cultural Divides and the Kingdom of God.

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