Was Jehosheba Another Scarlet Pimpernel?
Reading: 2 Kings 11
Each time I read this story, I can't help but think one day it should be made into a movie, or possibly the backdrop to a historical novel—maybe because I so enjoyed the 1982 movie version of “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”1 There a young heir to the king is imprisoned, facing sure peril, but then he is rescued and whisked away into hiding to one day safely be put on the throne. The account here in 2 Kings is one of assassination, power grabbing, a wicked woman killing her grandchildren, rescue of infants, and more. Parts of this story may be more familiar to us that we at first recognize.
2 Kings 11:1 picks up the story of the Kings of Judah, the descendants of David from 2 Kings 8:26-27; 9:27. Ahaziah was in the royal line through which the Messianic King has been promised. So a lot is at stake in these events. When Athaliah saw that her son was dead, instead of doing the right thing and protecting her various grandchildren, so the rightful heir could reign on the throne, she wanted to hold on to her powerful position and increase it. She “arose and destroyed” or as the NET Bible points out in its notes, the sense is that she embarked on a campaign to destroy the royal offspring.
Princess Jehosheba, aunt of the royal heir, Ahaziah's sister, stole her brother's son away at about one year old and hid him in the temple for the next 6 years. The wicked grandmother was unaware that she hadn't succeeded in killing off the legitimate king. So when the child is seven, and the priest Jehoiada, in concert with the armed guards set the rightful king in place declaring, “Long live the king,” she comes out to see what the noise is all about and sees what is happening (2 Kings 11:13-14). There we read,
She looked and there was the king, standing by the pillar, as the custom was. The officers and the trumpeters were beside the king, and all the people of the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets. Then Athaliah tore her robes and called out, “Treason! Treason!”
She was subsequently taken and put to death, and that is the end of her. Or is it? Is it possible that Athaliah is more prominent that at first perceived? Is it possible that she is a foreshadowing, a type of Judah herself who in the Bible's storyline has embarked on a campaign to destroy the royal offspring?
As I read this account, I consider its similarity to how God's people rejected God as King (1 Samuel 8:7-8, 19-20), wanting an earthly king. In Matthew 21:33-39, Jesus tells a parable of how the people of Israel, now the identity of the remaining tribe of Judah, had rejected the servants God had sent to them (prophets), and and how when the son was sent, the legitimate heir, they killed him saying, “This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.” Just like Athaliah, they wanted to take for themselves was not rightfully theirs and were willing to kill in order to achieve it. (And they too were unaware that though they had killed him, they hadn't succeeded in killing off the heir, for He would rise again!)
When I read of Athaliah coming out and seeing the king standing by the pillar of the temple and her shouting, “Treason, Treason,” I recall the scene of Jesus, the legitimate heir to the throne, standing before Pilate and the people, accused of treason, and the shouts of the people, “Crucify, Crucify!” It is there that the story comes full circle from the rejection of Yahweh as King in 1 Samuel 8 (and in the Garden of Eden) as the people declare, “We have no king but Caesar,” swearing their loyalty to the earthly king over God. (See John 19:4-6, 12-16.)
Of course, if Athaliah is a picture of the Jewish revolt against Yahweh, then they are representatives of all mankind—the cream of the crop of humanity as the chosen people—in our rebellion and rejection of God. I know, you may be thinking, “But she is the antagonist in the story... the bad 'guy'! I more naturally think of myself as the rescuer (Jehosheba, or Jehoiada) or the one being rescued (Joash); I don't like being compared to Athaliah.”
Fair enough. But if the shoe fits.... Reality is that we have all, ever since Adam and Eve, rejected God as king and ultimately it is our sins that crucified Him, killing the legitimate heir. But the fact is, you can relate to the one being rescued also. For, thanks be to God that in the power and wisdom of God, the very act of rebellion in which Christ was crucified becomes the means through which God rescues us from our sin and redeems a people who will now come under the reign of Christ as King and serve the King in His Kingdom. Oh the glorious grace of God.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1If you haven't seen this, one of my very favorite all time movies, you may want to put it on your must see list.