Athaliah, Female Ruler of Judah

Use with AtheliahReferences: 2 Chronicles 22:10 – 23:15
Heart of the Story: When Ahaziah king of Judah was killed, his mother usurped the throne. Six years later, Judah learned that there was a survivor of Athaliah’s purge. Athaliah was killed and her grandson declared king of Judah.

Story Line: Athaliah was the daughter of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel. Her marriage to King Jehoram Judah was a political marriage that formed an alliance between the two countries. Like her parents, Athaliah worshiped the Phoenician god, Ba’al-Melqart, a sun and nature god. She built a temple to Ba’al in Jerusalem and introduced his worship into Judah.

At this time in Judah’s history, a number of factors combined to reduce the size of the house of David. Athaliah’s husband King Jehoram murdered his brothers. With the exception of Ahaziah, Jehoram and Athaliah’s sons were killed by marauding Arabs. The king of Israel, Jehu killed King Ahaziah and 42 members of the royal house of Judah. When Athaliah learned that King Azahiah was dead, she killed his children who would have been her grandchildren. Then, she declared herself ruler of Judah.

One of Ahaziah’s sons, Joash, was saved from Athaliah’s deadly rampage. His aunt Jehosheba stole him from the royal nursery before he could be murdered. Jehosheba was married to Jehoiada, high priest in Solomon’s Temple. Likely it was only Jehosheba’s marriage to a chief priest that kept Athaliah from killing her. When Jehosheba took Joash from the royal nursery, he was about one year old and not weaned. Jehoiada hid Joash and his nurse in a Temple bedroom.

The next six years Jehoiada waited while Athaliah ruled Judah. When Joash was seven years old, Jehoiada staged a coup against Athaliah. He assembled the Levites and heads of Israelite families from every town in Judah. He made a covenant with the commanders of military units to support Joash. On a Sabbath day, they assembled at Solomon’s Temple. Because Athaliah was a Ba’al worshiper, she paid little attention to men going into the Temple.

Jehoiada brought Joash from inside the Temple, set the crown of David on his head, and presented him with a copy of the covenant that proclaimed him king. The assembled people began to shout, “Long live the King.” Military commanders acknowledged Joash by standing on both sides of him. Levite choirs played musical instruments, sang and lead the people in psalms. Trumpets sounded. What a wonderful celebration. A lost member of the royal house of David was found and declared king!

Hearing the noise, Athaliah came to Solomon’s Temple. She saw the crowned boy standing by a Temple pillar with officers and trumpeters around him. Immediately, Athaliah knew what happened; one of her grandson’s lived. He was the new king of Judah. She tore her robes in passion and shouted, “Treason, Treason.” Jehoida, ordered the commanders to take Athaliah outside the Temple and kill her. Anyone that followed her was to be killed. When Athaliah reached the Horse Gate on the palace grounds, the commanders killed her. The Bible doesn’t record that anyone was killed with her. Not even the royal bodyguard (Carites) was willing to die with Athaliah.

Analysis of the event: When Athaliah killed her grandchildren, she believed that she destroyed the entire royal house of David. If her plan had succeeded, Israel could have claimed Judah. The Davidic dynasty was over. The queen of Judah was the daughter of the former king of Israel. Judah didn’t reject Athaliah because she was a woman, but because she was a usurper to the throne of Judah and because of her behavior. To secure her ascension, Athaliah killed her grandchildren and the last of David’s royal line.
Athaliah’s behavior uncharacteristic of even the most deviant individuals in history. Thinking back over my years as an adult, I remember no news’ stories or incidents where a grandmother intentionally killed a grandchild or multiple grandchildren. From time to time, parents kill children; but, normally grandmothers nurture, even dote on, grandchildren. Friends who are grandmothers, told me that Athaliah’s actions showed she was either mentally ill or possessed by Satan.

Reflection: With the exception of the six years that Athaliah ruled Judah, David’s dynasty ruled over Judah 400 years. Satan used Athaliah to try to destroy the house of David through which the Messiah was to be born. How does Satan use government leaders today to hurt Christ’s kingdom?

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