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:
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 Ahab 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 temple 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 David." 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 priest 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.
10 Now when Athaliah, Ahaziahs mother, saw that her son was dead, she set about to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah. 11But Jehoshabeath, the kings daughter, took Joash son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the kings children who were about to be killed; she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus Jehoshabeath, daughter of King Jehoram and wife of the priest Jehoiadabecause she was a sister of Ahaziahhid him from Athaliah, so that she did not kill him; 12he remained with them for six years, hidden in the house of God, while Athaliah reigned over the land.
23But in the seventh year Jehoiada took courage, and entered into a compact with the commanders of the hundreds, Azariah son of Jeroham, Ishmael son of Jehohanan, Azariah son of Obed, Maaseiah son of Adaiah, and Elishaphat son of Zichri. 2They went about through Judah and gathered the Levites from all the towns of Judah, and the heads of families of Israel, and they came to Jerusalem. 3Then the whole assembly made a covenant with the king in the house of God. Jehoiada* said to them, Here is the kings son! Let him reign, as the Lord promised concerning the sons of David. 4This is what you are to do: one-third of you, priests and Levites, who come on duty on the sabbath, shall be gatekeepers, 5one-third shall be at the kings house, and one-third at the Gate of the Foundation; and all the people shall be in the courts of the house of the Lord. 6Do not let anyone enter the house of the Lord except the priests and ministering Levites; they may enter, for they are holy, but all the other* people shall observe the instructions of the Lord. 7The Levites shall surround the king, each with his weapons in his hand; and whoever enters the house shall be killed. Stay with the king in his comings and goings.
8 The Levites and all Judah did according to all that the priest Jehoiada commanded; each brought his men, who were to come on duty on the sabbath, with those who were to go off duty on the sabbath; for the priest Jehoiada did not dismiss the divisions. 9The priest Jehoiada delivered to the captains the spears and the large and small shields that had been King Davids, which were in the house of God; 10and he set all the people as a guard for the king, everyone with weapon in hand, from the south side of the house to the north side of the house, around the altar and the house. 11Then he brought out the kings son, put the crown on him, and gave him the covenant;* they proclaimed him king, and Jehoiada and his sons anointed him; and they shouted, Long live the king!
12 When Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she went into the house of the Lord to the people; 13and when she looked, there was the king standing by his pillar at the entrance, and the captains and the trumpeters beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets, and the singers with their musical instruments leading in the celebration. Athaliah tore her clothes, and cried, Treason! Treason! 14Then the priest Jehoiada brought out the captains who were set over the army, saying to them, Bring her out between the ranks; anyone who follows her is to be put to the sword. For the priest said, Do not put her to death in the house of the Lord. 15So they laid hands on her; she went into the entrance of the Horse Gate of the kings house, and there they put her to death.
16 Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lords people. 17Then all the people went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan, the priest of Baal, in front of the altars. 18Jehoiada assigned the care of the house of the Lord to the levitical priests whom David had organized to be in charge of the house of the Lord, to offer burnt-offerings to the Lord, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, according to the order of David. 19He stationed the gatekeepers at the gates of the house of the Lord so that no one should enter who was in any way unclean. 20And he took the captains, the nobles, the governors of the people, and all the people of the land, and they brought the king down from the house of the Lord, marching through the upper gate to the kings house. They set the king on the royal throne. 21So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been killed with the sword.
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