Friday, November 2, 2012

A Grim Queen

Once upon a time, there was an evil queen who craved power.  She was content to be the power behind the throne for a while, directing her husband the king to do evil.  As a result of her wicked deeds, most of her children were carried off to a distant land, and her husband died of a wasting sickness.  She never grieved them but continued to manage affairs when her last remaining son had the throne.  As soon as she found out her son was dead, she killed as many of her grandchildren she could find and took the throne for herself.  This story sounds like one of the Brothers Grimm more twisted tales, the kind we skip in our bedtime story routine.  Unfortunately, this horrible narrative instead chronicles one of the darker times in the history of the kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 8:16-29, 11:1-21; 2 Chronicles 21-23).

In the divided kingdom, Judah was the one that occasionally had good kings who honored God, like Jehoshaphat.  However, in his desire to create a lasting peace with his brothers in the northern kingdom, Jehoshaphat made a glaring error in judgment.  He created an alliance with Israel by having his son, Jehoram, marry Ahab and Jezebel's daughter, Athaliah.  She soon followed in her celebrated mother's evil footsteps.  Jehoram's reign was marked by idol worship, warfare, and fratricide, as he had all of his brothers killed.  As a punishment for Jehoram's sins in following his wife's idolatry and killing his family, God allowed neighboring nations to carry off some of his wives and children.  He also afflicted Jehoram with a disease in which his bowels "came out because of his sickness, and he died in great pain" (2 Chronicles 21:19).  The only son left to Jehoram was Ahaziah, and the wicked queen Athaliah continued her evil counsel when he began to rule.  

The only good thing to be said about Ahaziah's rule is that it was short.  He was killed one year after his father died while visiting his uncle, King Joram of Israel.  In fact, Jehu killed him at the same time that he killed Joram and Jezebel, in order to fulfill prophecy.  Athaliah needed no further prompting.  As soon as she heard that her last son was dead, she murdered all of the royal offspring she could find.  She killed her own grandchildren so that she could continue to be the power in Judah.  

Until this point, our story sounds like one of those tear jerker movies I hate so much, the kind with a sad ending, where you leave feeling depressed.  But Jehovah was still in charge.  He said that his Messiah would come from the line of David, and He meant it.  So He used one of his faithful daughters, Jehosheba, to save one of the sons of the king.  Jehosheba was Ahaziah's sister.  She was definitely the daughter of Jehoram. Whether she was also the daughter of Athaliah is not clear in the text.  In reading commentaries, I've seen it both ways.  Either way, she was also married to one of the true priests.  She saved Joash, Ahaziah's son from Athaliah and hid him for six years while the evil queen ruled in Judah.  After that time, her husband the priest conspired with the men of the army to crown Joash king and have Athaliah killed.  No one in Judah regretted her death, and Joash became one of the better kings of Judah.

There are several things we can learn by comparing the characters of Athaliah and Jehosheba.  One is that it matters whom you marry, and it matters whom your children marry.  Typical American women don't get married for political reasons, but isn't it just as bad to marry someone who does not share your faith because you "fell in love?"  Don't worry, I'm not going to go all Ebenezer Scrooge on you.  Love is a wonderful thing!  But in that love we have to consider how our spouse will affect our future choices.  Jehoram had a chance to be a good king.  His father Jehoshephat was a good king.  Instead, he took the counsel of his evil wife and committed terrible sins.  We don't know the circumstances of Jehosheba's marriage to a priest.  But we do know that they worked together to attempt to bring the kingdom of Judah back in line with God's will. 

Jehosheba and Athaliah also show that while sin sometimes runs in generations, it doesn't have to!  Athaliah indeed followed in her evil mother's footsteps and brought great harm to her family and the kingdom of Judah.  However, even though Jehosheba's father followed his wife in evil, Jehosheba herself chose a better path.  She saved her nephew Joash and ultimately helped him to take the throne. 

I think I like the Biblical version of a fairy tale better than any I read as a kid.  Athaliah was a much scarier villain than any fictional evil queen, and our heroine Jehosheba was much braver than a princess out of Grimm.  She more closely fits the role of the Huntsman in Snow White, but her courage and character exceed his in every way.  She didn't just set Joash loose, she hid him at great personal risk.  Both Athaliah and Jehosheba are lesser known women of the Bible, and their story is one of the great hidden gems in Scripture.  Thank you for taking the time to dig it out with me!

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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