“And they clapped their hands and said, ‘Long live the king!’” 2 Kings 11:12
Tucked away in a corner of the Old Testament amid a lengthy list of rising and falling kings is a story about a baby named Joash, the evil Queen Athaliah, and an unlikely heroine named Jehosheba. Most Bible readers probably have never heard of these people. But because of Jehosheba’s courage and bravery, the throne of David was reclaimed after many years of vicious rulers.
Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles explain the circumstances that led to Jehosheba’s courageous act. It occurred during a dark time in Judah’s history when its kings rebelled against God, one after the next. They worshiped Baal and other gods, built altars on the high places, and hunted down God’s prophets (1 Kings 19).
One such king was Ahab. He and his wicked wife, Jezebel, gave birth to a daughter named Athaliah, who grew up to be equally wicked. She eventually married King Jehoshaphat’s oldest son, Jehoram, to cement an alliance between the northern kingdom of Israel and the line of Omri with the southern kingdom of Judah and the line of David. Together, they ruled over Judah so cruelly that no one mourned Jehoram’s young, tragic death only a few years later (2 Chr 21:19-20).
Upon Jehoram’s death, his youngest son Ahaziah was made king. His mother, Athaliah, “advised him to do wickedly (2 Chr 22:3),” including waging war against Syria and other nations. After twelve months, God had enough and sent the prophet Elijah to anoint Jehu, the commander of the late Ahab’s army, to cut off the house of Ahab from royal ascension.
Soon after, while Ahaziah was recovering from wounds sustained in battle, Jehu hunted down and killed all of former King Ahab’s seventy sons plus former King Jehoram’s forty-two sons (Ahaziah’s brothers). Soon after, Jehu’s army found Ahaziah and killed him too. Jehu then became ruler over the northern kingdom of Israel.
With no family left, Athaliah assumed the role of queen over Judah, but her lust for power intensified. So she set a goal to destroy the line of David forever by hunting down all the remaining heirs to the throne of Judah, including all her grandsons, and killing them to secure the throne for herself.
But there is one grandson she missed—a little boy named Joash.
Jehosheba was Athaliah’s stepdaughter and Ahaziah’s sister. Coincidentally (or perhaps divinely), she married a priest named Jehoiada. It is the only recorded marriage between a princess of the royal house and a priest in the Bible.
As a member of the royal house, Jehosheba learned that her stepmother planned to kill anyone who could or would take the throne. Astutely realizing that Joash was the last living heir to the throne of David, Jehosheba quickly whisked her infant nephew and his nurse away and hid them in the priest’s bedroom inside Jerusalem’s temple. We can only assume her husband Jehoiada assisted her. They both knew that if Athaliah were successful in murdering the boy, the line of David would be eternally lost.
But Athaliah was unsuccessful. She had no idea that Joash even existed any longer. And so, thinking she had eliminated all the rightful heirs, Athaliah claimed Judah’s throne outright. She ruled over Judah for six years, and to this day, she is the only woman ever to do so.
During this time, Jehosheba continued hiding Joash and his nurse in the temple while Athaliah promoted her corrupt practices among the people and ordered the worship of Baal. But in the seventh year of her reign, everything changed.
Jehoiada Plans a Revolt
The Bible does not explain why Jehoiada patiently waited so long. But in Athaliah’s seventh year as queen, he plotted to overthrow Athaliah and install little Joash as the rightful king. To begin, he quietly made a covenant with a wide range of influential people across Judah, including military leaders, mercenary soldiers, royal guards, the Levites (other temple priests such as himself), and highly reputable families (2 Chronicles 23:1).
With the support of a highly skilled, disciplined, and powerful revolutionary force, Jehoiada continued planning his coup. In 2 Chronicles 23:4-7, he commanded each group of people to make it appear as if nothing was happening. Everyone was to carry on with their usual activities. However, when time had come to install Joash as king, he had one-third of the Levites serve in the temple as usual while the remaining Levites staged a position in both the king’s palace and at the Fountain Gate.
Jehoiada also commanded that when the Levites in the temple went off-duty to stay at the temple and be ready to form a security ring around the new king when he arrived. At the same time, he commanded the soldiers to amass slowly in the temple’s courtyard. They were to enter the courtyard unarmed, but after they arrived, the priests on duty would hand them weapons from the arsenal stored in the temple since King David’s time.
With all the activity in and around the temple, Jehoiada saw the potential for the temple to suffer harm. So he gave explicit orders not to defile it. Its sanctity was not to be violated by any measure.
“No one is to enter the LORD’s temple but the priests and those Levites who serve. They may enter because they are holy, but all the people are to obey the requirement of the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 23:6)
Joash Crowned King
With everyone in place, Jehoiada likely called to his wife, Jehosheba, to bring little Joash to the temple so he could crown the seven-year-old boy king. Naturally, Athaliah became incredibly angry when she heard of the rebellion and promptly ran to the temple, where she saw a little boy standing next to the coronation pillar (v12) where kings are crowned. But she did not recognize Joash because she had never seen him, so she brushed past him to confront the guards surrounding him and the people, who were dancing and rejoicing. She tore her clothes at the sight and cried, “Treason! Treason (2 Kings 11:14; 2 Chronicles 23:13)!”
Jehu then called the captains and officers of the army and commanded them to take Athaliah out of the temple and march her to the king’s palace. There, in the house, the soldiers killed Athaliah.
Jehoiada then made a covenant between the Lord, King Joash, and the people that they would be the Lord’s people. The people immediately rushed to Baal’s temple to destroy it and kill its priest. Then they brought King Joash to sit on the throne, and “all the people of the land rejoiced (2 Kings 11:17-20).”
Joash was only seven years old when he sat on the throne of Judah. With Jehu ruling over Israel and Joash enjoying Jehoiada’s guidance, Israel and Judah enjoyed forty years of peace. And it is all because of one woman’s incredible act of courage.
Though chaos and wickedness occurred all around her, Jehosheba defended the last in King David’s ancestral line before his throne was lost forever to pagan kings. Thanks to her, the throne was saved and restored, and the people returned to serving the Lord.
Jehosheba was incredibly brave. But we must give credit to the One who put her there. Like many others in the Bible, she was undoubtedly made “for a time such as this (Esther 4:14).”