The Usurper Queen and History’s World/s Worst Grandmother


Texts: 2nd Kings 8-11; 2 Chronicles 21-23

Reader: The Usurper Paul Palmer

Grandmothers are commonly portrayed as being cuddly, loving bakers of cookies and cakes who would do anything to defend and care for their grandchildren. Well, today we will read about a lady, a queen of Judah, who was possibly history’s worst-ever grandmother. First, though, an explanation of where she came from, for her origins were not in Judah but from the other nation, Israel, that followed the breakup of what is known as the “united kingdom of Israel”. The king of Israel split apart was King Solomon. His family line continued on through the new nation of Judah and his son Rehoboam was its first king. The first king of the other new nation, Israel, was a man named Jeroboam. He led his people into idolatry, erecting two golden calves, one each in the cities of Bethel and Dan, and then he instructed his people to forget about Israel’s God, YHWH, and to worship only those golden calves, for in Jeroboam’s words, it was them, not YHWH, who had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

Jeroboam’s rejection of YHWH God, and his promotion of idolatry – the worship of false gods – was adopted by Israel’s kings who came after him: Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, and Omri. With each king came increasing wickedness, climaxing with Omri, as the Bible says:

Omri did evil in the eyes of the LORD and sinned more than all those before him. (1 Kings 16:25)

But, as things turned out, it was actually Omri’s son, Ahab, who would win the title of the worst king in Israel’s history. About him we read,

Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. (1 Kings 16:30)

None of the kings of Israel who followed Ahab reached his level of sin. That was for one reason only because with Ahab,

He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him. (1 Kings 16:31-33)

Queen Jezebel brought Baal and Asherah worship to Israel. She made the worship of those gods the state religion, forcing those who worshipped Israel’s God – our God – YHWH, into hiding (that is, if she hadn’t first captured and murdered them). Jezebel was the daughter of a priest who was also the king of Sidon, which was located on the Mediterranean coast. Her father’s name was Ethbaal (which means “with Baal”). Jezebel controlled Israel. After her husband Ahab died, Jezebel became the Queen Mother, a position of great influence which she perfected. While their son, Ahaziah, and upon his death, their other son Joram, may have been the official rulers Israel, during their reigns it was really the Queen Mother, Jezebel, who actually controlled the nation. Seeing the awful influence of that the former King Omri had begun, God had prophets Elijah and Elisha anoint a military commander named Jehu as king, also instructing him to wipe out Omri, Ahab and Jezebel’s family in Israel (which Jehu obeyed in doing).

Though their family was now gone from Israel, guess what? It was still alive and thriving, having been established in the neighbouring nation of Judah. This was because Jehoshaphat of Judah, a softie who was an-easy-to-manipulate king if ever there was one, had agreed to marry off his son Jehoram to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. This new power couple had many children through whom the family line would continue, but with them, it was in Judah, not Israel. Now, King Jehoshaphat had been a worshipper of the one true God, YHWH, but he simply hadn’t enough discernment to see the dangers that lay in partnering with people who were strongly anti-God, anti-YHWH. That Jehoshaphat was prone to being manipulated was the fatal flaw in his character. The wedding of Jehoram and Athaliah may have been viewed as the wedding of the century in those nations, for it really was the sealing of a peace pact between those nations, Israel, but in having his son Jehoram marry Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter Athaliah, Jehoshaphat had unwittingly allowed a poisonous viper to enter into family line and his nation of Judah. Now, Jehoram had been raised in a home which honoured YHWH God, whereas Athaliah had been taught to hate YHWH and serve Baal and Asherah. Which belief system would win out? Athaliah’s and Jezebel’s, which is almost always the case when a believer marries a non-believer and which is why God continually cautioned against a believer being “yoked” or joined together with a non-believer. Like her mother, Jezebel, Athaliah was a strong personality able to dominate her husband.

Then Jehoshaphat rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the City of David. And Jehoram his son succeeded him as king. Jehoram’s brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat, were Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azariahu, Michael and Shephatiah. All these were sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel. Their father had given them many gifts of silver and gold and articles of value, as well as fortified cities in Judah, but he had given the kingdom to Jehoram because he was his firstborn son. When Jehoram established himself firmly over his father’s kingdom, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel. Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD. Nevertheless, because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever. (2 Chronicles 21:1-7)

Jehoram killed all his brothers for they were a potential threat to his reign. Evil! But God would not allow the entire family line to be wiped out for even though Jezebel’s family line had joined it through Jehoram’s wife Athaliah, Jehoram’s side of the family was a righteous line, the family line of King David through which would come the Messiah, God’s own son, Jesus. God, thus, continually acted to David’s line so that the Messiah could come. But God was not happy with Jehoram. We read that during the reign of Jehoram, the neighbouring countries attacked Jehoram’s nation Judah, including a Canaanite nation named Libnah.

Libnah revolted at the same time, because Jehoram had forsaken the Lord, the God of his ancestors. He had also built high places on the hills of Judah and had caused the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves and had led Judah astray. (2 Chro 21:8-11)

Things even got so bad under Jehoram that Elijah, who was God’s prophet exclusively to the northern nation of Israel, not to the southern nation of Judah, decided his time had come to intervene.

Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said: “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: ‘You have not followed the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah. But you have followed the ways of the kings of Israel, and you have led Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves, just as the house of Ahab did. You have also murdered your own brothers, members of your own family, men who were better than you. So now the Lord is about to strike your people, your sons, your wives, and everything that is yours, with a heavy blow. You yourself will be very ill with a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out.’” (2 Chronicles 21:12-15)

Bad times lay head for Jehoram, and those bad times would be from the Lord. It is true that the Bible overwhelmingly teaches that God is patient, ever-merciful and loving, but there are limits to His graces, particularly when it comes to leaders who abandon Him and intentionally turn their people against Him. That was true back in Bible times and is still so with leaders and nations today, I believe.

The Lord aroused against Jehoram the hostility of the Philistines and of the Arabs who lived near the Cushites. They attacked Judah, invaded it and carried off all the goods found in the king’s palace, together with his sons and wives. Not a son was left to him except Ahaziah, the youngest. (2 Chronicles 21:16,17)

As we read, Jehoram had earlier killed all his brothers, but now the Philistines and Arabs took things one step further, killing all the sons of Jehoram and Athaliah, excepting their youngest son, Ahaziah. Things were so bad during Jehoram’s reign that what comes next is one of the most brutal indicting take-down, verses in the Bible;

He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings. (2 Chronicles 21:20)

Ken Bender jokingly asked me if I have ever had to do a funeral for a person whose death was “to no one’s regret”? I never have for there is always someone who regrets another’s death. Not Jehoram. Not even his wife Athaliah seems to have regretted his death, that is how despised Jehoram was.

The people of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, Jehoram’s youngest son, king in his place, since the raiders, who came with the Arabs into the camp, had killed all the older sons. So Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of Judah began to reign. Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem one year. His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. (2 Chronicles 22:1,2)

Why was grandfather Omri mentioned here in connection to Athaliah? Because it was through him that their family of rulers began in Israel, for Omri became king only after murdering the then-reigning king, Zimri, thus Omri was the first of his family to be a ruler. Through Omri came son Ahab, who married Jezebel, from them came daughter Athaliah, the one who crossed over into Judah’s royal line after marrying Jehoram, the son of Judah’s King Jehoshaphat. Their son Ahaziah took over as king. People in Judah may have wondered how things would now be with Ahaziah as the new king. They wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.

He too followed the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him to act wickedly. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done, for after his father’s death they became his advisers, to his undoing. He also followed their counsel when he went with Joram son of Ahab king of Israel to wage war against Hazael king of Aram at Ramoth Gilead. (2 Chronicles 22:3-5)

The evil influence of Ahab and Jezebel upon Judah grew after the death of Jehoram and the rise of Ahaziah to the throne of Judah for the main advisors to Ahaziah turned out to be his mother Athaliah and others from the “house of Ahab”. Things wouldn’t end well for Ahaziah, though, for within one year, he was put to death by the future king of Israel, Jehu, who on the same day, had Queen Jezebel of Israel thrown out of a high window from her palace, thus ensuring her death. So, the Queen Mother of Judah, Athaliah, in one fell swoop, on the same day, lost both her mother Jezebel, and her son Ahaziah. How did she respond? With mourning? No. The Bible says with murderous intent.

So, there was no one in the house of Ahaziah powerful enough to retain the kingdom. When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah. (2 Chronicles 22:9b,10)

Athaliah’s seized sole control of Judah. She was a usurper queen, but she had learned all about doing so from her mother, Jezebel, who had attempted the very same thing in Israel. The first thing Athaliah did upon learning that her son Ahaziah was dead was to put to death all of her grandchildren, all the “seed royal” (as they were called) of Judah. Her own grandchildren! Truly, she is right up there in the ranking of the worst grandmothers in human history!

By the way, you may be wondering why Athaliah’s and any other’s sinful acts were written down and recorded in the Bible? Such bad behaviour was not preserved for us to admire or emulate but so that we might be horrified enough by sin and its consequences to learn from them and become the best, most faithful and righteous servants of God and our community we can possibly be. The only reason for bad things to have been written down, according to the Apostle Paul, was so they would be a “warning” to us. (1 Corinthians 10:11), that we might learn from them and be better, more faithful people as a result.

Returning to Athaliah, she thought she had killed her entire family…

But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Because Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and wife of the priest Jehoiada, was Ahaziah’s sister, she hid the child from Athaliah so she could not kill him. He remained hidden with them at the temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land. (2 Chronicles 22:11-12)

Athaliah’s stepdaughter, Jehosheba, who was a sister to Athaliah’s son Ahaziah, and thus Joash’s aunt, and who was a worshipper of YHWH God, along with her husband the priest Jehoiada, acted quickly and decisively, hiding her nephew Joash and his nurse from Athaliah’s henchmen. The Temple was the safest place to hide the child for they knew that Athaliah, in her hatred of YHWH God, would never enter the Temple to worship Him. Joash, the last surviving member of King David’s family tree and thus the only one through whom Israel’s Messiah, God’s Son, our Lord Jesus, could come, survived Athaliah’s killing spree, hidden from her sight and knowledge for 6 years.

In the seventh year Jehoiada showed his strength. (2 Chro 23:1a)

Jehoiada the priest, the uncle of Joash, recognized that the time had come for a palace coup, to unseat Athaliah and place Joash on the throne. Jehoiada arranged with the commanders of the military, as well as the Levites who served in Jerusalem’s Temple, to guard seven-year-old Joash, the rightful king of Judah. In a fitting nod to Joash’s connection to King David, Jehoiada even handed out David’s old spears and shields for Joash’s protectors to use, if need be. We read,

The Levites and all the men of Judah did just as Jehoiada the priest ordered. Each one took his men—those who were going on duty on the Sabbath and those who were going off duty—for Jehoiada the priest had not released any of the divisions. Then he gave the commanders of units of a hundred the spears and the large and small shields that had belonged to King David and that were in the temple of God. He stationed all the men, each with his weapon in his hand, around the king—near the altar and the temple, from the south side to the north side of the temple. Jehoiada and his sons brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him; they presented him with a copy of the covenant and proclaimed him king. They anointed him and shouted, “Long live the king!” When Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and cheering the king, she went to them at the temple of the Lord. She looked, and there was the king, standing by his pillar at the entrance. The officers and the trumpeters were beside the king, and all the people of the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets, and musicians with their instruments were leading the praises. Then Athaliah tore her robes and shouted, “Treason! Treason!” Jehoiada the priest sent out the commanders of units of a hundred, who were in charge of the troops, and said to them: “Bring her out between the ranks and put to the sword anyone who follows her.” For the priest had said, “Do not put her to death at the temple of the Lord.” So, they seized her as she reached the entrance of the Horse Gate on the palace grounds, and there they put her to death. (2 Chro 23:8-15)

A spiritual cleansing of the land from all the evil that Athaliah, and her mother and father Jezebel and Ahab, had brought into the land came next. The people of Judah rejoiced at all that was happening!

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…All the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was calm, because Athaliah had been slain with the sword. (2 Chro 23:16,17,21)

When her husband Jehoram passed away, it was “to no one’s regret” and when Athaliah died, “all the people rejoiced”. You see, people of faith recognize it when evil descends on their nation through sinful or bad rulers. And so the people are relieved and rejoice when the evil is dealt with. Scripture reveals that God has “placed eternity in the hearts of every person”, so people know right from wrong, godliness from godlessness. God has placed a conscience within our souls and minds. Aunt Jehosheba and Uncle Jehoiada knew that something had to be done to protect their nation and to preserve the family line of King David and end the evil and near-ruin that the family of Omri, Ahab and Jezebel, Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Athaliah had brought to Israel and Judah, and so they acted. Truly, it was the courageous actions of the people, led by Jehosheba and Jehoida, against their evil rulers that preserved the line of David and eventually would result in the Messiah, Jesus, coming to our world. We read,

Joash was seven years old when he became king. (2 Chro 24:1a)

We will look at Joash’s reign next week but let’s conclude today by looking at a couple of verses on how we should live as followers of the Messiah, Jesus, in our fallen world where too much evil prevails.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Colossians 3:17)

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Specifically, from today’s readings we have seen four things.

First, the danger of linking yourself to someone who does not honour, worship, even hates God.

We have seen, second, that parenting, grandparenting, being an uncle or aunt, will affect those young ones in our charge. Righteousness displayed by an older person produces righteousness in future generations. Wrongdoing, though, produces wrongdoing.

We have seen, third, sin has consequences and, sometimes direct intervention by God.

And, fourthly, we have seen that attempting to hold onto power or control when it is not yours to hold onto will never be blessed by God or accepted by others. Let’s put it all together by saying out loud the words we just heard from the apostle Paul:

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Colossians 3:17)

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

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