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Finally, a Good King… Maybe Not

MORNING MESSAGE: John Cline

2 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 24

Here is what the apostle Paul wrote as he was nearing his life’s end:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2nd Timothy 4:7)

Paul finished his life well. Not so with the king of Judah whose life we will be looking at today: Joash. The life of King Joash is a story of contrasts. In his early years, he was a “good” king, but he finished as a “bad” one. Joash did not fight “the good fight”, “finish the race” of life well, or keep “the faith”. I was asked if I am enjoy preaching through this series on the 19 kings and one queen (Jezebel) of the northern nation of Israel and the 19 kings and one queen (Athaliah, Jezebel’s daughter) of Judah. My answer is “No”! I am not enjoying this sermon series because it is so disappointing to realize there were such a small number of “good” kings – 0 in Israel, 8 in Judah – and the 8 “good” kings in Judah were all flawed to some extent. However, going back to the apostle Paul, he wrote about how these difficult Old Testament stories were preserved in the Bible for us to learn from their sins and mistakes, and to learn from their sins and mistakes. Their stories were preserved not for us to admire or emulate but to be wiser and more faithful people as a result. In any case, let’s look at their timeline.

The key difference about the kings of Israel and Judah is that the kings of Israel were not in it for God. None of them took the throne with the thought of giving their all to God. The one exception possibly was Jehu whom God had anointed as the king of Israel in order to wipe out the evil reign of Ahab and Jezebel’s family. With the kings of Judah, though, there was a clear understanding that God was with them because their lineage was that of King David’s, the family line through whom the Messiah would come. God had told King David:

The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2nd Samuel 7:11b-13)

Joash ruled in Judah about 150 years after King David had died. The six kings of Judah before him were bad, bad, good, good, bad, bad (in that order) with the last two kings being “bad” because of their family ties to Queen Jezebel, a princess from the city of Sidon on the Mediterranean coast who had married Ahab, the king of Israel. She did not worship Israel’s God, YHWH, but the Sidonian and Canaanite gods, Baal and Ashtoreth. So,

Queen Jezebel brought the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth to Israel. Her daughter Athaliah became the queen of Judah and established the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth in that nation.

Athaliah married Jehoram, the then ‘crown prince’ of Judah. Though Jehu wiped out Ahab’s and Jezebel’s family in Israel, that family line still flourished in Judah, with Athaliah doing as her mother Jezebel before her had done in Israel, acting as the de facto power-behind-the-scenes monarch of Judah. When Athaliah’s husband Jehoram died, their son Ahaziah inherited the throne. All of Ahaziah’s brothers had been killed by marauding Philistine and Arab warriors, so Ahaziah was the only one left. However, Ahaziah lasted only one year on Judah’s throne before being killed. He had many children but upon his death, his mother Athaliah seized the throne for herself and killed her son Ahaziah’s family, so she could reign unchallenged, an illegitimate, usurper queen of Judah. The appalling indifference of Athaliah at the news of her son Ahaziah’s death was exceeded only by her shocking cruelty and lust for power as is seen in her wiping out of his family.

What Athaliah didn’t know was that Ahaziah’s youngest son, Joash had not been included in the massacre, for kept safe by his Aunt Jehosheba and her husband, the priest Uncle Jehoiada, who had spirited him away and kept him and his nurse hidden away in Jerusalem’s Temple. Jehosheba and Jehoiada had correctly guessed that the Temple would be a safe place to hide Joash because they knew that Athaliah, like her mother Jezebel before her, worshipped Baal and Ashtoreth, and hated YHWH, and thus would never enter the Temple for it was reserved for the worship of YHWH God. Before they were killed by Philistine and Arab marauding soldiers, Athaliah did once have her sons do something in the Temple…

Now the sons of that wicked woman Athaliah had broken into the temple of God and had used even its sacred objects for the Baals. (2nd Chronicles 24:7)

The Bible is so honest. Athaliah was a “wicked woman”, the Bible says. So, Athaliah and her sons desecrated YHWH’s Temple by stealing its “sacred objects” and putting them in the temple Athaliah had built just outside Jerusalem for her god Baal. But try as she might, Athaliah could not thwart YHWH God’s eternal promises and purposes for the family line of King David. It had been reduced to one child – Joash but if Joash had been put to death with the rest of Ahaziah’s family, then God’s promise to King David could not have been fulfilled. In courageously rescuing their nephew Joash when he was one year old and then keeping him hidden for six years, Jehosheba and Jehoiada thus preserved the line of David and kept alive the hope of the coming Messiah. They hid Joash hid for six years, before deciding that the time was right for his coronation as king of Judah, when he was just seven years old. He would then have reigned as a kind of co-regent under Jehoiada’s guidance. When he was crowned king, the people of Judah caught Athaliah and put her to death. At that,

All the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was calm, because Athaliah had been slain with the sword. (2 Chron 23:21)

The people despised Athaliah. We need to recognize that. With her death, a new beginning, a time of righteousness, had come to Judah.

In the seventh year of Jehu (the king of Israel), Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. (2nd Kings 12:1,2)

Zibiah was Joash’s mother but, other than that, she is not mentioned in the Bible, so it is believed she was one of those killed in Athaliah’s murderous purge of Ahaziah’s family. So,

There are three heroes to the story of Joash: his unnamed nurse who looked after him, his brave Aunt Jehosheba, and her priestly husband, Uncle Jehoiada.

A good thing for us to recognize is the positive influence aunts, uncles, parents, and other older people can have on those younger than them. In this case, it was those three adults who had such a godly influencer in young Joash’s life that he became a “good” and righteous king. As we just read, “Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him”. But, in a puzzling move,

The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (2nd Kings 12:3)

Those “high places” were where people offered sacrifices and worshipped gods other than YHWH and were a continual spiritual problem in the nations of Israel and Judah. But, at the same time, we read of Jehoida and the people doing many correct spiritual acts following Joash’s coronation.

Jehoiada then made a covenant that he, the people and the king would be the Lord’s people. All the people went to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars and idols and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars. (2 Chronicles 23:16,17)

Jehoiada was a godly man who instructed Joash in the ways of God. After becoming king, Joash did as Jehoiada undoubtedly instructed.

Joash said to the priests, “Collect all the money that is brought as sacred offerings to the temple of the Lord—the money collected in the census, the money received from personal vows and the money brought voluntarily to the temple. Let every priest receive the money from one of the treasurers, then use it to repair whatever damage is found in the temple.” But by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the temple. Therefore, King Joash summoned Jehoiada the priest and the other priests and asked them, “Why aren’t you repairing the damage done to the temple? Take no more money from your treasurers, but hand it over for repairing the temple.” The priests agreed that they would not collect any more money from the people and that they would not repair the temple themselves. (2nd Kings 12:4-8)

Jerusalem’s Temple – which had been built in King Solomon’s time over 100 years prior – had suffered not merely from neglect but also from vandalism and plunder during the time of the wicked Queen Athaliah (as we read earlier). The Levitical priests who took on the task were either incompetent and unable to do the needed work, or they were enjoying having money handed to them with no accountability as to what they did with it. Either way, Joash called them out after 23 years of the Temple not being fixed, though the funding had been given to them. At that point, King Joash asked his mentor, Uncle Jehoiada the priest to follow a different system, thus no longer would the priests be collecting the offering money. Instead, the offered money would be kept hidden from sight before being daily doled out to the workers.

Jehoiada the priest took a chest and bored a hole in its lid. He placed it beside the altar, on the right side as one enters the temple of the Lord. The priests who guarded the entrance put into the chest all the money that was brought to the temple of the Lord. Whenever they saw that there was a large amount of money in the chest, the royal secretary and the high priest came, counted the money that had been brought into the temple of the Lord and put it into bags. When the amount had been determined, they gave the money to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. With it they paid those who worked on the temple of the Lord—the carpenters and builders, the masons and stonecutters. (2nd Kings 12:9-12a)

The men in charge of the work were diligent, and the repairs progressed under them. They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design and reinforced it. When they had finished, they brought the rest of the money to the king and Jehoiada, and with it were made articles for the Lord’s temple: articles for the service and for the burnt offerings, and also dishes and other objects of gold and silver. As long as Jehoiada lived, burnt offerings were presented continually in the temple of the Lord. (2nd Chronicles 24:13,14)

Did you catch the foreboding there? As long as Uncle Jehoida lived, things were good and done correctly. But then Jehoiada died. He was buried with honour in that his body was placed in the portion of the graveyard outside Jerusalem reserved for kings to be buried in…

Because of the good he had done in Israel for God and his temple. (2nd Chronicles 24:16)

However, it seems that not everyone had loved Jehoiada’s devotion to YHWH God, and so, upon his death, certain court officials seized their chance to change things up by having Joash come under their influence. When I was in seminary, we were always told that when we went to a new church to beware of the person “who meets you at the bus stop” because they are meeting you in order to be the first to influence you (and, they will be the first to stab you in the back when you don’t do as they wish – which is what happened with me in both of the churches in which I have served as a fulltime pastor). Reminiscent of the original king of Judah when the southern kingdom first came into being, that king being Rehoboam who listened to foolish advice from certain people (his friends) which caused the united kingdom of Israel to split into two nations, Israel and Judah, when he listened to their bad advice, now Joash is tempted with foolish words:

After the death of Jehoiada, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king, and he listened to them. They abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols. Because of their guilt, God’s anger came on Judah and Jerusalem. Although the Lord sent prophets to the people to bring them back to him, and though they testified against them, they would not listen. (2nd Chron 24:17-19)

Those “officials of Judah” advised Joash to reinstitute idolatry. From the heady days of Jehoiada instructing Joash to worship and follow only YHWH God, now a precipitous slipping into sin, leading to disastrous times for Judah. God, in His graciousness, sent prophets such as the prophet Joel to minister during the time of Joash but it was a son of Jehoiada the priest who most notably spoke God’s word.

Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’” But they plotted against him, and by order of the king they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple. King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, “May the Lord see this and call you to account.” (2nd Chronicles 24:20-22)

Zechariah’s final prayer was not one of forgiveness in the vein of Jesus and Stephen the first Christian martyr (“Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing), but of vengeance. Joash should have reacted with humility and repentance, particularly because it was Zechariah’s parents Jehoiada and Jehosheba who had so lovingly hidden him and raised him, but instead, in anger and indignation, he had his cousin the prophet Zechariah killed. It wouldn’t be long before God responded by using an old foe, King Hazael of Aram whom Elijah and then Elisha had been ordered by God to anoint as Aram’s king.

About this time Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it. Then he turned to attack Jerusalem. But Joash king of Judah took all the sacred objects dedicated by his predecessors—Jehoshaphat, Jehoram and Ahaziah, the kings of Judah—and the gifts he himself had dedicated and all the gold found in the treasuries of the temple of the Lord and of the royal palace, and he sent them to Hazael king of Aram, who then withdrew from Jerusalem. (1st Kings 12:17,18)

As had other kings done before him, Joash didn’t turn to YHWH God for help but instead to foreign kings, this time being King Hazael of Aram.

Although the Aramean army had come with only a few men, the Lord delivered into their hands a much larger army. Because Judah had forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, judgment was executed on Joash. (2 Chronicles 24:24)

If we tell God to get out of our lives, in His love for us, He will honour that demand, but that means withdrawing His hand of protection from our lives. Ironically, this calamity of the Arameans successfully attacking Joash and humbling him, led those officials of his who had earlier led him astray to then blame not themselves but Joash for the calamity that had fallen upon Judah, tying it back to Joash’s decision to have the prophet Zechariah put to death.

When the Arameans withdrew, they left Joash severely wounded. His officials conspired against him for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest, and they killed him in his bed. So, he died and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings. (2 Chronicles 24:25)

Did you notice, whereas Jehoiada the priest had been buried in the portion of the graveyard reserved for kings, Joash was not. Ironic!

Those who conspired against him were Zabad, son of Shimeath an Ammonite woman, and Jehozabad, son of Shimrith a Moabite woman. The account of his sons, the many prophecies about him, and the record of the restoration of the temple of God are written in the annotations on the book of the kings. And Amaziah his son succeeded him as king. (2 Chronicles 24:26,27)

I wish that Joash had finished well, but he didn’t. Here’s a lesson to learn: When life presents itself as good and secure, and all seems peaceful and quiet, it’s in those times that we are most vulnerable to listening to bad advice. Perhaps it was pride on Joash’s part. Perhaps it was a desire to get out from the godly shadows of his caring unnamed nurse, his loving Aunt Jehosheba, and his righteous Uncle Jehoiada. Let’s not finish as Joash did, but as Paul did:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2nd Timothy 4:7,8)

Joash’s life is a big, yellow light flashing to us to remain vigilant and on guard for we can too easily abandon God, if we are not aware and wise. But obedience leads to God’s blessings, so let’s persevere in our service to God. He is good, and He is worth following wholeheartedly.

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