a third shall be at the gate of Sur, and a third at the gate behind the guards. You are to take turns guarding the temple--
I. JEHOIADA'S PREPARATIONS.
1. Joash produced. The good priest found it necessary to proceed with caution. His measures were taken with skill and secrecy. He first took into his confidence the five centurions of the life-guards, made them swear an oath of fidelity, then produced the king, and showed him to them. The soldiers entered into his plan at once. The risks were enormous, but God's shield was around this one remaining "lamp" of David's house, and did not allow its tremulous light to be extinguished. The boy-king was the feeble ark that bore the fortunes of David's house and of Messianic promise. Had he perished, God's Word would have fallen to the ground. The Chronicler tells how the captains of hundreds went forth and secretly spread among the Levites and chief of the fathers of Israel the tidings that there was still a living heir of David's line, and how these came to Jerusalem, and saw the young king too (2 Chronicles 23:2, 3). It is remarkable that a fact known to so many persons did not in some way leak out. But the people were of one heart and one soul, and Athaliah was left in her false security without a single friend to warn her of her danger.
2. The events sabbath. The day chosen for the public production of the king was probably a feast-day. Otherwise the large concourse of people from all parts of the land could hardly have failed to attract attention. It was a sabbath and an high day - "the better the day, the better the deed." What was contemplated was indeed a revolution, and might involve bloodshed; but it was also a reviving of the fallen theocracy, a replanting of the red of Jesse, and therefore fit work for the sabbath. Nothing that favorably affects the fortunes of the kingdom of God is out of place on the sabbath day. Jehoiada made careful strategic preparations, combining apparently the Levites who went on and off duty in the temple with the life-guards under the captains, and assigning to different companies their respective posts.
3. The place and temple guarded. Guards were told off both for the "king's house" and for the temple.
(1) those who entered on duty on the sabbath were divided into three parts, and posted round the palace. One third was posted at the principal entrance; a second third at "the gate Sur" - perhaps a side gate - and the remaining third was placed at a gate which communicated with the temple (ver. 19), where the guards or "runners" were usually stationed.
(2) Those, again, who went off duty on the sabbath were placed within the court of the temple, stretching across from side to side, to guard the person of the king. To these weapons were given from David's spears and shields, which were in the temple of the Lord. While trusting in God, Jehoiada thus took every human precaution. Faith and works co-operate in God's service. Our dependence should be as entirely in God as if human means were unavailing, yet our use of means should be as diligent as if everything depended on their employment.
II. THE KING CROWNED.
1. The safety of the king's person. When the young king Joash was brought forth, and placed on a raised stand in the temple court, his guard stood firmly around him, each man clutching his weapon. The instructions were that any person attempting to break through the ranks should at once be slain. The person of David's son was too precious to be left without an effectual guard. Yet more effectual is the guard which God places round his sons (Psalm 34:6, 7).
2. The ceremony of coronation. The act of coronation of the child-king was then proceeded with. Jehoiada presided at the ceremony.
(1) The crown - visible symbol of royal office - was placed upon his head. God's priest could well preside at the coronation of God's king. As son of David, Joash was the legitimate heir of the throne. Royal authority is from God, and investiture at the hands of God's ministers is our acknowledgment of this. Only those who rule by Divine favor can look for a blessing on their crown.
(2) He had put upon his head "the testimony," i.e. the Law of Moses, by which kings of Judah and Israel were to be guided (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). "Finely are both the crown and the book presented to the king, that he might be not only mighty, but also wise, or, as we may say, know God's Word and right. Thus, even now, we make kings with a sword and book (Luther). The highest in the land are not above the authority of God's Word. He by whom "kings reign" is mightier than the mightiest, and requires from the monarch the same allegiance as from the humblest of his subjects. A nation is happy, prosperous, and blessed only when God's Law is made the rule of its policy and the foundation of its government (Deuteronomy 4:6-8).
(3) He was anointed with oil. For where God gives office he gives also qualification for that office. Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Word without the Spirit to interpret it, and to give strength for obedience to it, is useless. Kings need the grace of God for the discharge of their duties as much as, even more than, ordinary people. Jesus is God's King, "anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows" (Hebrews 1:9).
(4) He was acknowledged as king by popular acclamation. "They clapped their hands and said, God save the king!" The Divine choice was ratified by the free election of the people. While kingly, like all other authority, is derived from God, a throne is only strong when it rests on the loyal affection of the body of the people.
III. THE DEATH OF ATHALIAH.
1. The shout of a king. Athaliah, though queen of Judah, was not a worshipper of the God of Judah. While the scenes above described were being transacted, she was either in her own "house of Baal," or in the palace. But now the ringing shouts of the people apprised her that something was wrong. The sight of the guards posted round her palace would add to her alarms. She hastened to the temple, and there beheld a spectacle which told her that her hour was come. The young Joash was standing on his platform, the crown on his head, the captains and trumpeters around him, while the air rang with the joyful huzzas of the people, with the notes of the silver trumpets, and with cries of "Let the king live!" Only in part could Athaliah read the meaning of the scene, for she did not know who this crowned boy was. But she saw enough to tell her that the loyalty of the people had found a new center, and that her power was gone. The rejoicings of the people would be gall and wormwood to her heart, for they told her, not only that it was all over with her authority, but that the people were glad it was so. How swiftly, as by a bolt from a clear sky, does retribution often fall upon the wicked! An hour before Athaliah had no suspicion of any calamity. She had but to speak, and guards and servants were ready to yield her all obedience; now her authority has departed like a pricked bubble, and she stands helpless among a multitude - none so poor as to do her reverence. The passage is an illustration of the proverb, "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn" (Proverbs 29:2).
2. Treason to a traitress. When Athaliah saw what was being done, heard the shouts, and witnessed the rejoicings, she rent her garments, and cried, "Treason! Treason!" Treason is an act or series of acts designed to compass the overthrow of a constituted government, and is generally held to be punishable by death, It is wicked and illegitimate governments which make most of the crime of treason, and most severely enforce the penalties against it. Yet it is plain that these penalties are justified only on the supposition that the government against which the treason is directed is a legitimate one. A government which is itself born and bred of treason has no moral justification for punishing treason in others. Athaliah was queen, not by God's will, but in defiance of all right and morality. She had usurped the throne, and killed (or thought she had killed) the rightful heirs to it. Treason against such a government, itself the offspring of the blackest treachery, was not a crime, but might be the highest duty. Still, as if some horrid iniquity was being practiced, the traitress rends her clothes, and cries, "Treason!" Her own treason is unthought of; she sees only the treason of her enemies. Is not this state of mind too common? Men are loud in denouncing transgressions which they themselves are flagrantly guilty of. They point to the mote in another's eye, without reflecting on the beam in their own. Callous as to their own falsehood, selfishness, and dishonesty, they detect in an instant, and loudly denounce, the same vices in their neighbors, especially when practiced towards themselves. It is this which renders them inexcusable. For the power to detect sin in others implies a knowledge of the law which condemns the person judging if he does the same things (Romans 2:1).
3. Just retribution. The order of Jehoiada was that if any one ventured to follow Athaliah, he was to be killed with the sword. But no one seems to have shown any pity for the fallen queen. The downfall of her power was thus complete. A new government having been constituted, her own attempt to excite rebellion now fell under the category of treason, and was punishable. Jehoiada gives orders for her being taken beyond the temple bounds, and there slain. We see hands laid upon her, and she is led away, or goes, "by the way by the which the horses come into the king's house," and in that place of stables meets her death. An inglorious end! But what glory can we look for to crown a career of sin? In Athaliah, the last member of Ahab's cursed house met a deserved doom. Judgment against the sinner may not always be executed speedily, but the stroke will surely fall at last (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
IV. A COVENANT WITH JEHOVAH.
1. The covenant with God renewed. The people had received, as if from heaven, a new king of the line of David, and the moment was auspicious for a new covenant being entered into, and formally ratified, with God. It is good when special mercies are made an occasion of renewal of vows. The covenant promoted by Jehoiada wan twofold.
(1) It was a covenant between the king and people and Jehovah. In this transaction they solemnly pledged themselves to be the Lord's people. National covenanting is only appropriate when it springs from the spontaneous impulse of the masses of the people. Among the Hebrews, who, by the very form of their national existence, were a people in covenant with Jehovah, such renewal of religious vows was specially suitable. The idea of a "people of the Lord" is now embodied, not in a national form, but in the Church of Christ. Great is the honor of forming part of this "chosen generation," this "royal priesthood," this "holy nation," this "peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9), and we should often recall the fact to ourselves, and make it the basis of new consecration.
(2) It was a covenant between the king and the people. He, on his part, would pledge himself to maintain the government according to the Law of God; and they, on theirs, would promise him loyalty and obedience. Happy is it, when rulers and people stand in this bond of mutual confidence!
2. Zeal in religious reform. The earnest spirit awakened by this solemn act of covenant immediately showed itself in zealous efforts for the removal of abuses. We read that, not one or two, but "all the people of the land," set themselves to reforming, work.
(1) They went into the house of Baal, and brake it down. A house of Baal in Jerusalem, and possibly on the temple hill, was a deliberate insult to Jehovah. No respect for the beauty or costliness of the building was allowed to save it from destruction. When higher interests are involved, artistic and sentimental considerations must go to the wall.
(2) They brake in pieces "thoroughly" Baal's altars and images. Idolatry was to be thoroughly rooted out in accordance with the word of the testimony (Deuteronomy 12:1-3).
(3) They slew Mattan, the high priest of Baal. By the Law of Israel his life was forfeited through the practice of idolatry.
(4) They restored the worship of the temple. This is implied in the statement, "The priest appointed officers over the house of the Lord." It is evident from the next chapter that the temple service had been allowed to become greatly disorganized. The zeal of these reformers had, therefore, its positive side. They sought to build up as well as cast down. The false worship of God was replaced by the true. Court fashion goes a long way in determining preferences in religion. When Athaliah worshipped Baal, it was fashionable to neglect Jehovah; now that Joash restored the worship of Jehovah, people flocked back to the temple. Those in high stations have great responsibilities, and not least for the examples they set in religion.
3. The joy of the people. Joash was now escorted in grand procession to the palace of his fathers. Athaliah was dead, and he sat on the throne of the kings. Joy filled the people's hearts, and quiet reigned in the city. When godliness is victorious, it diffuses peace and gladness through all minds. - J.O.
Jehosheba... took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king's sons which were slain.
I. The first thought from this subject is, THAT THE EXTERMINATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS AN IMPOSSIBILITY. Superstition rises up and says: "I will just put an end to pure religion." Domitian slew forty thousand Christians, Diocletian slew eight hundred and forty-four thousand Christians. And the scythe of persecution has been swung through all the ages, and the flames hissed, and the auto da fe rattled, and the guillotine chopped, and the Bastile groaned; but did the foes of Christianity exterminate it? Did they exterminate Alban, the first British sacrifice; or Zuinglius, the Swiss reformer; or John Oldcastle, the Christian nobleman; or Abdallah, the Arabian martyr; or Anne Askew, or Sanders, or Cranmer? Great work of extermination they made of it. Just at the time when they thought they had slain all the royal family of Jesus, some Joash would spring up and out, and take the throne of power, and wield a very sceptre of Christian dominion. Infidelity says: " I'll just exterminate the Bible," and the Scriptures were thrown into the street for the mob to trample on, and they were piled up in the public squares and set on fire, and mountains of indignant contempt were hurled on them, and learned universities decreed the Bible out of existence. "In my Age of Reason I have annihilated the Scriptures," said Thomas Paine. "Your Washington is a pusillanimous Christian, but I am the foe of Bibles and of churches." O, how many assaults upon that Word. Said one man, in his infidel desperation, to his wife: "You must not be reading that Bible," and he snatched it away from her. And though in that Bible was a lock of hair of the dead child — the only child that God had ever given them — he pitched the book with its contents into the fire, and stirred it with the tongs, and spat on it, and cursed it, and said: "Susan, never have any more of that stuff here!" How many individual and organised attempts have been made to exterminate that Bible. Have they done it? Have they exterminated the Bible Society? Have they exterminated the thousands of Christian institutions whose only object it is to multiply copies of the Scriptures, and throw them broadcast around the world? Yea, if there should come a time of persecution in which all the known Bibles of the earth should be destroyed, all these lamps of life that blaze in our pulpits and in our families extinguished — in the very day that infidelity and sin should be holding jubilee over the universal extinction there would be in some closet of a backwoods church a secreted copy of the Bible, and this Joash of eternal literature would come out and come up and take the throne, and the Athaliah of infidelity and persecution would fly out the back door of the palace, and drop her miserable carcass under the hoofs of the horses of the king's stables. You cannot exterminate Christianity! You cannot kill Joash!
II. The second thought from my subject is, THAT THERE ARE OPPORTUNITIES IN WHICH WE MAY SAVE ROYAL LIFE. You know that profane history is replete with stories of strangled monarchs and of young princes who have been put out of the way. Here is the story of a young king saved. But why should we spend our time in praising this bravery of expedition when God asks the same thing of you and me? all around us are the imperilled children of a great king. They are born of Almighty parentage, and will come to a throne or a crown, if permitted. But sin, the old Athaliah, goes forth to the massacre. Murderous temptations are out for the assassination. But sin is more terrific in its denunciation. It matters not how you spell your name, you come under its knife, under its sword, under its doom, unless there be some omnipotent relief brought to the rescue. But blessed be God, there is such a thing as delivering a royal soul. Who will snatch away Joash? This afternoon, in your Sabbathschool class, there will be a prince of God — some Cromwell to dissolve a Parliament, some Beethoven to touch the world's harp-strings, some John Howard to pour fresh air into the lazaretto, some Florence Nightingale to bandage the battle wounds, some Miss Dix to soothe the crazed brain, some John Frederick Oberlin to educate the besotted, some David Brainerd to change the Indian's war-whoop to a Sabbath song, some John Wesley to marshal three-fourths of Christendom, some John Knox to make queens turn pale, some Joash to demolish idolatry and strike for the kingdom of heaven. There are sleeping in your cradles by night, there are playing in your nurseries by day, imperial souls waiting for dominion, and whichever side the cradle they get out will decide the destiny of empires.
III. The third thought from my text is, THAT THE CHURCH OF GOD IS A GOOD HIDING-PLACE. When Jehosheba rushes into the nursery of the king and picks up Joash, what shall she do with him? Shall she take him to some room in the palace? No; for the official desperadoes will hunt through every nook and corner of that building. Would God that we were all as wise as Jehosheba, and knew that the Church of God is the best hiding-place. O, men of the world, outside there, betrayed, caricatured, and cheated of the world, why do you not come in through the broad, wide open door of Christian communion? I wish I could act the part of Jehosheba to-day, and steal you away from your perils and hide you in the temple. How few of us appreciate the fact that the Church of God is a hiding-place. More than that, you yourself will want the Church for a hiding-place when the mortgage is foreclosed; when your daughter, just blooming into womanhood, suddenly clasps her hands in a slumber that knows no waking; when gaunt trouble walks through the parlour, and the sitting-room, and the dining-hall, and the nursery, you will want some shelter from the tempest. Ah, some of you have been run upon by misfortune, and trial; why do you not come into the shelter? I said to a widowed mother after she had buried her only son — months after, I said to her: "How do you get along now-a-days?" "Oh," she replied, "I get along tolerably well, except when the sun shines." I said: "What do you mean by that?" when she said: "I can't bear to see the sun shine; my heart is so dark that all the brightness of the natural world seems a mockery to me." Oh, darkened soul, oh, broken-hearted man, broken-hearted woman, why do you not come into the shelter? I swing the door wide open. I swing it from wall to wall. Come in! Come in! You want a place where your troubles shall be interpreted, where your burdens shall be unstrapped, where your tears shall be wiped away.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
I. THE INSECURITY OF EVIL. This is very clearly illustrated in the incident before us. Athaliah's scheme was a sweeping one. It was summary in its execution. The argument which she employed was the sword; and it seemed as though all obstacles had gone down before it. But one point was left exposed, and through that point entered destruction. And it is wonderful how common such mistakes are, even in the most cunningly planned iniquity. When the evil-doer has arranged all his devices, and they seem to be turning out just as he would have them turn out, very often he seems smitten by judicial blindness, and he leaves some clew by him unperceived. Or we may say Providence gathers up some witness in its concealing folds, and lo! all at once it leaps out upon him. Take some of the grosser instances of iniquity. The thief, as he supposes, clears away every thread of detection; but, in the most unthought of way, the keen eye of justice picks out some slender filament of guilt, and presently the entire web is dragged into the light. The calumniator constructs his charge so-plausibly, that as it seems his victim can find no flaw for escape, when accidentally some minute test of truth is applied, and the lie shriven, and shows all its blackness. The murderer drops some bloody hint of his deed. He makes a footmark in the leaves, or babbles his secret in the revelations of a dream. But let us proceed to the consideration of less conspicuous instances. A man conducts business on a system of petty frauds. For a while they glide quite smoothly, and he secretly chuckles at his own practical demonstration that dishonesty is the best policy. But in time his meanness gets wind: custom drops off, and he sinks in credit. Or his good fortune, if good fortune he has, is tainted by his reputation, men will worship a golden calf for the sake of the gold; but there is apt to be a .polite sniffing at gilded carrion. Another finds it convenient, now and then, to oil the hinges of opportunity with a little lying. Quite likely he does so with very slight compunction or thought. It may serve his purpose. And yet it is just as possible that he will find a nest of trouble in it. Perhaps, in some unlucky moment, the truth strikes him flat in the face, and brings him to open shame. Or he has to fabricate a series of lies to support the first, until the chain breaks of its own weight, or tangles and trips him; and it turns out that it costs more to keep a set of lies in tune than it would to have told the truth in the outset. A man who cannot afford to lose money by speaking the truth, and who has enthroned himself on lies, is always likely to encounter some uncomfortable Joash that will bring him down. Then, again, there are some evil devices that one cannot carry out alone — they must be helped by other people; and this creates the insecurity of participated council. The confederate may be bribed to treachery, or become conscience-stricken. At least we may be quite sure that one who will connive at fraud or mischief can have but slight anchorage in principle; and no seal of "honour" so-called, or even of interest, is strong enough to assure the wrong-doer that he is not plotting with a town tattler or a State's evidence. The doctrine of consequences is a doctrine of secondary considerations, which a good man does not want, and which a bad man means to dodge. And that is a very ungodly sorrow which is only sorry for the exposure, Nevertheless this is one argument against evil: its methods and its instruments are insecure. Good men will make mistakes. Good men will commit oversights. Perhaps they are more likely to do so than those of the other class. Trusting simply to the right, they may not keep their wits so keenly on the alert. Men who undertake to engineer a bad enterprise are very apt to be what are called "smart men." There are not many downright wicked fools. It is quite possible, that, for a time, the knaves will foil mere righteousness; and, where cleverness is the only point in consideration, they may show themselves superior to those who are simple enough to trust in honesty. And throughout every department of human action, there is this essential difference between fraud and truth, treachery and loyalty — whatever exposure may take place, the good man has no reason to fear. The exposure may demonstrate that he was weak in judgment, or unskilful in execution; but the right motive will redeem his work. But the least slip may ruin the knave and unfrock the hypocrite. The short-sightedness of the right intention is an honest mistake; the oversight of the base purpose is a fatal error. Therefore, in the first instance insecurity means a very different thing from what it does in the last. Yes, life is an uncertain sea, and the good as well as the bad may suffer the shipwreck of their hopes. But the one has done the best he could. He has laid a well-intended course, studying his chart, and observing heaven. The other of his own accord has run his ship among quicksands and breakers. Both are liable to mistakes; but, I say once more, the insecurity of the good is not like the insecurity of the bad.
II. There is another argument against evil in the fact, that in any wrong course there is an INTRINSIC INCONGRUITY. This truth, perhaps, is easier felt than expressed. But I may be able to convey some idea of my meaning by saying that evil does not tally with truth. It cannot profoundly and completely simulate the good. In one word, it is contrary to God. Now, I have already admitted that evil methods do sometimes — indeed, I must say do frequently — succeed. Nevertheless, I do not admit that this triumph is a final triumph. Very likely it will turn out that the consummated guilt does not set well. It wears a doubtful aspect. Suspicion warps it, although detection may not lay it open. It does not fit snug into the general order. I have spoken of a tainted reputation. And I ask, does not a bad man find it Somewhat difficult to hide his real character? The process is apt to develop undue clumsiness, or extra facility, too little heat, or too much zeal. The painting is over-coloured; or else it is quite evident that the face is wax and the eyes are glass. Some time since, I was examining a sample of ore that looked very much like gold: I was informed that the material has often been taken for gold. Perhaps in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand it would pass for gold. Is there, then, no test by which it may be distinguished from the nobler metal? Yes: it does not weigh quite so much as gold. So base-metal acts, that look like shining gold, may sometimes get weighed. So do the elements of sin sometimes burst their glittering disguises; guilty passion glares through all the proprieties; and in the witnessing presence of God's own universe the intrinsic incongruity of evil appears. Besides this, we must remember also that wrong always occupies the place of some right. It exists by repressing that right. Therefore it is exposed to the re-action of that right. Referring to instances that are important enough to remain visible above the horizon of time, we find, that, as the world moves, there goes on a rectifying process. Justice sifts and sifts, until the verdict abides with the right, even though "canonised bones" are stirred in their cerements, and the graves give up their dead. As we retreat from the past, the eternal disc of truth emerges from temporary obscurations, while on the great ecliptic of history everything fails into its proper posture. The schemes of wicked policy, and the idols of a deluded veneration, lie crushed and exposed. The memory of the tyrant blackens, and the martyr has his palm. No wrong can go down secure and compact through the ages. It does not assimilate with God's order, and it bears no fertility of blessedness in its bosom. The celestial movements may seem slow and wearisome: nevertheless, "the stars in their courses fight against Sisera." There is no peace for the wicked, though robed in the most splendid success. There is no security for the wrong, however sealed and established. Evil may seem to be as well as the good. But it is not as well. Like that guilty Jewish queen, it falsely occupies the throne; and sooner or later justice comes, like the lawful heir, and claims the birthright.
III. But, after all, the great argument against evil is THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF EVIL. Suppose Athaliah, instead of being overtaken by that signal punishment, had kept the throne, and died in ripe old age, a crowned and successful sovereign. Would anyone really envy Athaliah's career? Would her position have been a desirable one? Would it have been really a success and a blessing? No. The essential evil in her case appears in what the guilty woman was in herself. Here, then, is the actual point. We must reject evil for what it is in itself; and, in this, all its sophistries are exposed. Surely there is no instance in which a man deliberately elects wickedness for itself alone, and as the final cause of his action. No man who employs fraud or falsehood maintains that his chief good is in the fraud or falsehood. They are his instruments. Hence, he defends them, or acquiesces in the use of them. Thus he lies and cheats, not for the heartfelt satisfaction of lying and cheating, but for the purposes of a worldly policy. He spins some dishonest scheme, because he thinks this the best way to secure his end. He would just as soon use the morality of the Ten Commandments if he thought the stock was as available. But, agreeably to his experience, falsehood makes the money stick to his fingers a little closer than clean-handed honesty will. And that is why he uses falsehood. But now here arises the consideration that evil does become an end, remains an end, when the object sought for has failed or vanished. The gains of the unscrupulous seeker may crumble, his pleasure may taste upon his lips like the lees of dead wine, and in the end of his ambition he may find only the arrows of calumny or the scoffings of popular change. But the evil itself does not desert him. The agent which he has cherished and used — the falsehood and the baseness — stick and abide in his soul, which he may have forgotten, but upon which at some time he must fall back. There, within, — in the elements of his own personality, — what meanness and accusation, what woe and ruin! All the capital that the guilty man possesses is this perishable stuff without, and within a world whose dark recesses he dares not fathom, in which lurk ugly memories and fearful thoughts, and where conscience rolls its low, deep thunder.
(E. H. Chapin.)
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