After taking the throne by force, and during her six-year reign, Athaliah, Judah’s only non-Davidic ruler, attempts to destroy the house of JudahJudah was the name of Jacob's fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. More. God thwarts her attempts through the courage of Jehoshabeath, the half-sister of Ahaziah and the wife of the priestA priest is a person who has the authority to perform religious rites. In New Testament times priests were responsible for daily offerings and sacrifices in the temple. More Jehoiada.
Athaliah is somewhat of an anomaly. She is Judah’s only non-Davidic ruler, the only woman to rule in either Israel or Judah, and the only foreigner to sit upon the throne. Since neither Kings nor Chronicles gives an accession formula or any details of her six-year reign, it is generally assumed that both considered her reign illegitimate, though the reason for this is not clear. Essentially the text is an account of the defeat of Baalism in Judah and the preservation of the promised heir to David’s throne in fulfillment of God’s promise (1 Chronicles 17).
The report has the feel of a drama, a drama that relates the near extinction and miraculous preservation of David’s line. The drama has three acts, ostensibly ordered around the infant Joash:
- his deliverance from an attempt on his life (22:10-12)
- his enthronement (23:1-15)
- a theological discussion of the covenantA covenant is a promise or agreement. In the Bible the promises made between God and God's people are known as covenants; they state or imply a relationship of commitment and obedience. More (23:16-21)
The three acts are matched by three main characters: Jehoiada, the faithful priest, and two strong, decisive women, Athaliah and Jehoshabeath.
Athaliah, the wife of King Jehoram through a foreign alliance with her father King AhabKing of Israel who opposed Elijah More of Israel, becomes the only adult claimant to the throne upon the death of her son Ahaziah. She proceeds to consolidate her power by assassinating the remaining members of the Davidic line (v. 10). Her plans are frustrated, however, by the heroic efforts of Jehoshabeath, Jehoram’s daughter, who rescues her infant nephew Joash and hides him in the templeThe Jerusalem temple, unlike the tabernacle, was a permanent structure, although (like the tabernacle) it was a place of worship and religious activity. On one occasion Jesus felt such activity was unacceptable and, as reported in all four Gospels, drove from the temple those engaged... More for six years, with her husband Jehoiada the priest, thus preserving the Davidic line (vv. 11-12).
When Joash reached the age of seven, Jehoiada marshaled the forces of the Levites and instigated a revolt against Athaliah. Proper translation of verse 3 is crucial here. Since young Joash is not brought before the assembly until verse 11, the translation “Here is the king’s son” (23:3, NRSV) is premature. NIV, however, is too tame in its indicative reading, “The king’s son shall reign.” Reading the initial hinneh (“behold”) as a predicator of existence and reading the following verb (“shall reign”) as a jussive would yield, “(Since) there is a royal son, (therefore) let him reign, as the LORD promised concerning the sons of DavidSecond king of Israel, David united the northern and southern kingdoms. More.” Thus addressed, the Levites, who believed Athaliah had exterminated the Davidic line, would be motivated to carry out the bloody coup that would restore Joash to the throne.
The final act, verses 16-21, presents a covenant banishing the worship of Baal and restoring the exclusive worship of the Lord throughout the land. The restoration of proper worship is based upon David’s organization of the cult in accordance with the Mosaic legislation (v. 18). This has been added by the Chronicler. In 2 Kings the covenant is between the people and God (11:17); here, in order to emphasize the enhanced role of the high priestThe high priest was the most powerful priest in the temple in Jerusalem. The high priest Caiaphas held the office during the trial of Jesus. Later, in the New Testament book of Hebrews, the role of merciful high priest is ascribed to the resurrected Jesus. More in the Chronicler’s postexilic community, the covenant is cut between Jehoiada, the people, and the king (2 Chronicles 23:16). They would also be encouraged to hear that the six-year gap in which no Davidic king occupied the throne did not annul God’s promise to David. They, too, could hope for a restoration of the Davidic monarchy.