Friday, May 18, 2012

Athaliah and Jehosheba: Two women among the Kings of Judah

Athalia and Jehosheba

This first entry in this series involves two women whose stories are intertwined. This is the story of Athaliah - a Queen of Judah who reigned for seven years after the assassination of her son Ahaziah. And Jehosheba (aka Jehoshabeath) who rescued her infant nephew, Joash (aka Jehoash), from his murderous grandmother, Athaliah. Joash later becomes King of Judah, restoring the Davidic line.

Their story, and that of their contemporary relatives, is found in both 2 Kings 8-12 and 2 Chronicles 21-24.

I created a basic family tree above (to the best of my ability) in hopes that it will help you keep the people organized. While it seems clear that Jehosheba was the sister of Ahaziah - I couldn't find anywhere that gave the name of her mother. (I'm assuming that they shared a father, but that she wasn't Athaliah's daughter since it never refers to them as such)

Here is a brief synopsis of their story:

Athalia was the daughter of Ahab. The family was known for it's worship of Baal. Her husband, Jehoram, ruled Judah for eight years and worshipped Baal as well. One of his first acts as King seemed to be to kill all of his brothers - we're not talking about positive family values going on around here. His reign ended when, as predicted by the prophet Elijah in punishment for his sin, he contracted a disease of the bowels which caused them to fall out. It says he died in great agony. 2 Chronicles tells us that he departed with "no one's regret." (21:20)

Then, Jehoram and Athalia's son, Ahaziah, ruled Judah. He was assassinated after only a year, and that's when Athalia decided to rule rather than passing the reign down to a son of Ahaziah. She had the entire royal family murdered in order to secure her place on the throne.

However, here was another woman though that showed bravery. Her name was Jehosheba. As Athalia began her murderous rampage Jehosheba "the sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the kings sons who were being put death." She hid him and his nurse away in a room and he remained with her and her husband, the priest Jehoiada, hidden in the house of the Lord for six years.

Eventually Jehoiada would organize an overthrow of Athalia. One day, Athalia heard noise of the guards and of the people and she went to investigate. There in the house of the Lord she found the young crowned King Joash. There were captains and trumpeters standing near the king. The people were rejoicing. It was too much for Athalia who had thought she had destroyed all of the successors of her son Ahaziah. Her rule had come to an end so she tore her clothes and cried, "Treason! Treason!" and then Jehoiada had her put to death outside of the house of the Lord.

This child-King earns the coveted words proclaiming that he "did right in the eyes of the Lord" - however it limited to the days of Jehoiada. Once Jehoiada died, Joash began to listen to the opinions of others rather than the Lord. God sent a prophet to call him back, but Joash had the prophet killed - the prophet was the son of Jehoiada.

There's much more to the story of Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Joash - but I want to focus on Athalia and Jehosheba.

When I was first glancing at the story of Athaliah, I thought, "A queen of Judah? I didn't know they had a queen who ruled! How cool!" And then read a bit more and realized she is solidly in the column of those who did not honor God in their rule. Part of me is shocked that a woman could be so cruel as to murder her entire family in order to falsely secure the throne for herself. But she is not the only person in the Bible who murders for the sake of power and authority. It is an intoxicating goal that has destroyed many. She has the title of the first and only Queen of Judah - but it not a title of honor.

And then I got to Jehosheba, and I cheered for her. I wanted her bravery to save the world, to matter. And it did, but it didn't make everything perfect. While Jehoiada was around, Joash listened to him. However, as soon as Jehoiada died it seems Joash fell into the ways of his grandmother's family: honoring power and authority rather than honoring God. Even so, Jehosheba still did something great. She saved an heir to the throne and raised him in the Lord. She couldn't control the future or how his reign would ultimately unfold, but that was not her job nor a power she seemed to seek. She did what was right at the time and that is a good and honorable thing. In the much greater scheme of things: this woman, Jehosheba, saved the Davidic line, the next heir in the tribe of Judah. Many generations later, it will be into that line that Jesus will be born. In that generation, her actions didn't seem to change the world or set the Kings of Judah on an unshakeable path of righteousness, but its effects down the line were irreplaceable.

My story-loving, detail-oriented brain longs to fill in the gaps. What was Athalia like as a child? When she learned she would be married to the King of Judah was she then beginning her plot for how to claim the authority for herself? Or, did that idea spark when she heard of her son's death? Did she pause at all before ordering the deaths of her grandchildren? And Jehosheba. She was raised in this environment. What is the love story of her and her God-honoring husband? Did Jehosheba act as quickly to save her nephew as Athalia acted in order to murder him? Did she tremble as she walked through the halls of the palace or were her movements confident and sure? How is it that Jehosheba and Jehoaida raised one young man (Joash) who would turn from the ways of the Lord and another who would die proclaiming it?

These are not answers we're given in the recorded story. If someone ever fictionalized the story of this family, I would certainly want to read it.

As I've been thinking on these two women for the past week I've been trying to come up with some lesson or application or great revelation. Something strong to write as I close out this first entry in the series. All I keep hearing in my head is, "Just tell their story."

I said that I wanted this just to be about shining some light on the many women of varying character and personalities in the Bible and not about engaging in some doctrine battle on women's "place" in the context of church. I'm hoping that as I continue God will teach me something, but for now I just want to "see" these women. To know who they are. For the time being I have no great revelation, no gem of truth from their lives to guide me on my path. I simply know now something I didn't ten days ago: they existed. They lived and breathed and made decisions that altered the course of a nation, of a world. God saw fit to have their stories included not once, but twice, into the collection of writings we now call The Bible. It is good for me to see them, whether they come with clarifying truth about my life or not.


  1. I think the purpose of your writing this goes much further than yourself. So many people get caught up in the big stories of the Bible; those seen as most important (guilty as charged). They forget the importance of the entire story or rather the entire collection of stories. You've shed some light to those stories today. Thank you for that.

  2. Oh and I now see what you were referring to the other day about wanting/needing to have a large area to chart out these lineages.

  3. I agree with Melody. I think it is wonderful that you shed some light on the stories that tend to get forgotten in the bible. As I read this I vaguely remembered it from a bible class I took last semester.These women did matter and so did there stories. Thanks for writing these! I'm looking forward to the rest of this series :)

  4. Thank you for the family tree. It helped keep who-was-who straight.

    I also liked your questions in the "story-loving" paragraph. It turned them from flat names to 3D people in my mind.

  5. I really like the chart!

    The Old Testament plot line of preserving the lineage of Christ always strikes me as so profoundly dramatic. It often gives me chills when I see the story unfold. Though these women's stories may not be as "prime time" (haha)as the more popular bible stories, it's certainly noteworthy that two women are featured here.