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1 October. 2 Chronicles chapters 22-24
This marks one of the lowest points in the history of Israel/Judah. If the accounts of the Chronicler are to be believed (admitting that they are written from a Judean viewpoint), the northern kingdom of Israel had been effectively a pagan country for several generations. Now in the reigns of Azariah, Athaliah and Joash, so is Judah.
Azariah represents the last of a continuous line of descent of male rulers, and was seemingly the worst of them in terms of his treatment of his people, and ignoring the religious covenant on which the nation had been founded. The throne is seized after his death by his mother, who makes no pretence of following Israelite religion, but desecrates the Temple, promotes the worship of the false god Baal, and comes to murder her own grandchildren to stop them inheriting the throne. Such is the extent to which absolute power can corrupt people.
All seems to be lost, except for the actions of one woman, Jehoshabeath, the late king’s sister. Her actions are told in a way that is perhaps intended to mimic the story of Moses being hidden in a basket and found by the Pharaoh’s daughter, for she takes Joash, the youngest of the royal family, and hides him in the Temple with his nurse. Miraculously, he lives there undiscovered for six years.
One of the constant refrains in the Bible is that however bad things get, however much the forces of secularism or false religion seem to be winning the spiritual battle, God will always keep a remnant of faith alive, like embers in a hearth, to burst into flame again at the right time. For Joash this comes at the age of seven, when there are enough true believers among the influential people of Judah to stage a coronation and a coup. The priest Jehoiada, Jehoshabeath’s husband, is the driving force behind this.
Joash seems to deliver on the expectations people had of him, and as a young man he restored the Temple both physically and spiritually. But as soon as Jehoiada dies, he listens instead to the voices of the “old guard” who had counselled his father, and reverts to paganism. A weak ruler who lets himself be manipulated by whoever had the upper hand.
The lesson, if there is one, from this dark period of Judah’s history, is that there needs to be not only a political ruler with a willingness to allow the practice of religion, but also a spiritual leader with at least as much influence. Without both, a country soon loses its spiritual compass.