Jehoiada: Sunday School Lesson Introduction
As you prepare to dive into the life of Jehoiada, perhaps you are not even aware that such a man existed! His name is not a prolific name in the biblical record. He appears nowhere in the New Testament, and only in the Old Testament in the brief accounts of his impact in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. He is not a king and only has a loose connection to one. No, Jehoiada is just a priest. Nonetheless, when God puts him into a position to exert influence for the good of God's people, Jehoiada's faithful action earns him a spot in the annals of Judah's exemplary leaders.
Jehoiada faced the challenge that almost all of us face. That is, how do we exert influence when we have so little power? After all, unless you are a political leader, a pastor, a military leader, a corporate boss, or a handful of other titles, you likely spend more time following the directives of some leader over you than giving directions to those under you. Just like Jehoiada had to find a way to leverage what minimal influence he had so that the kingdom of God could advance, we also find ourselves sometimes stuck in the middle of a power structure, yet wanting to make a difference. Such a position calls for skill, humility, and patience. Perhaps Jesus' commandment in Matthew 10:16 that we be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (NIV) is applicable. This is what business writers often call "managing upward" - finding a way to leverage what influence we do have on the right people for the maximum good.
Often, those who do this well are the most unknown. Norman Borlaug is probably the most unknown hero in the world, one whose accomplishments in horticulture and farming have saved the lives of a billion people. He is only one of five individuals to have won the Nobel prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. The other four are Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Elie Wiesel. Borlaug was born poor and rejected by the University of Minnesota. Yet his work has helped reduce the percentage of the world's population experiencing hunger at some point each year from 60 percent (1960) to 14 percent. Just a normal scientist, Norman Borlaug used the small influence he had, and a billion people's lives are the better for it.
I. Stand for God's ways (2 Chron. 22:10—23:3, 8-17)
Some time has expired since righteous Jehoshaphat completed his remarkable reign and breathed his last in the peace of God. In fact, despite the tremendous character of Jehoshaphat and his reign, Judah has been in chaos ever since his death. His son Jehoram proves to be a villainous tyrant, forsaking God to serve pagan idols. Upon Jehoram's atrocious death by the hand of Yahweh (2 Chronicles 21:18-19), his son Ahaziah takes the throne, simply because he is the only son left (2 Chronicles 22:1). Since he is the youngest son of Jehoram, he has not been adequately prepared to rule on his own. Thus, his mother, Athaliah, rises to become the ruler in proxy over Judah. When an unfortunate turn of events results in the death of Ahaziah, she has free reign over the kingdom. The results could destroy Judah altogether, were it not for an uncommon priest named Jehoiada.
A. Genocide in the House of Judah
"But when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah. But Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king's sons that were slain, and put him and his nurse in a bedchamber. So Jehoshabeath, the daughter of king Jehoram, the wife of Jehoiada the priest, (for she was the sister of Ahaziah,) hid him from Athaliah, so that she slew him not. And he was with them hid in the house of God six years: and Athaliah reigned over the land" (2 Chron. 22:10-12).
Upon the death of Ahaziah, Athaliah finally has no governance over her evil impulses. Impassioned to claim the throne for herself once and for all, she begins a murderous campaign on the royal court of Judah, slaughtering anyone with even the slightest connection to the throne. She misses baby Joash though, still so young that he requires a nurse.
Here we discover that Jehoiada is married to the former King Ahaziah's sister (v. 11). That is, he is the former king's brother-in-law and the son-in-law of the king before Ahaziah—Jehoram. Jehoiada finds himself faced with a critical choice. He does not have anywhere near the power of Athaliah, and he knows that sheltering Joash is nothing short of treason. Nonetheless, as God's priest, he submits to the divine law and will.
Like thousands of German heroes during the holocaust of World War II, who risked their lives to hide Jews in their homes, Jehoiada finds a way to raise Joash in the Temple and to keep him out of sight. Again, it is not just the business of raising a child at Jehoida's age that is important here; it is the risk involved. Athaliah is in complete control of the kingdom. Should she find out, not only will Joash be killed, but so will Jehoiada. Undoubtedly, he knows that he must have a plan to move the boy into power behind Athaliah's back without causing a stir among the people.
B. Behind-the-scenes organization
"And in the seventh year Jehoiada strengthened himself, and took the captains of hundreds, Azariah the son of Jeroham, and Ishmael the son of Jehohanan, and Azariah the son of Obed, and Maaseiah the son of Adaiah, and Elishaphat the son of Zichri, into covenant with him. And they went about in Judah, and gathered the Levites out of all the cities of Judah, and the chief of the fathers of Israel, and they came to Jerusalem. And all the congregation made a covenant with the king in the house of God. And he said unto them, Behold, the king's son shall reign, as the Lord hath said of the sons of David" (2 Chron. 23:1-3).
For six long and tumultuous years, Jehoiada lies low. He watches his back. He wonders about spies. He keeps the boy stolen away, known to only a select few. Still he knows the odds of keeping the secret much longer are minimal at best, so for years now he has been at work behind the scenes, fortifying the relationships that will aid in overthrowing the evil queen.
All along, Jehoiada has been building his strength over and against the strength of Athaliah. An insurgency against her rule has been building throughout the land. Apparently, Jehoiada simply finds a way to bring these insurgents together. The names listed in verse 1 are not known elsewhere, so we have little insight into the importance of these personages. Whoever they are, Jehoiada has chosen them wisely. What is more, he enters into a covenant, a sacred contract, with each of them. Personal covenants are serious business in Jehoiada's time. The covenant means they are bonded together, even to death.
The initial mission of Jehoida's secret band is to gather the priests and town leaders to assemble in Jerusalem at a set time. It is notable that Jehoiada begins his enlistment with those he knows best - the Levites (v. 2). When they arrive in Jerusalem, Jehoiada finally unveils his grand scheme.
His initial covenant with a few key leaders now blossoms into a covenant with the wider community of Levites and town leaders (v. 3). Now they have true momentum! What is more, the covenant is sacred, taking its vow in the Temple itself. It appears, however, that the covenant is one of solidarity against Athaliah before Jehoiada lets them in on Joash's survival. This gives us some insight into just how wisely Jehoiada operates. He does not present Joash and then allow the people to vote. He enters into covenant with them and then presents the answer to their common problem. That answer is a seven-year-old named Joash.
C. A new day dawns in Judah
"Then they brought out the king's son, and put upon him the crown, and gave him the testimony, and made him king. And Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and said, God save the king. So they laid hands on her; and when she was come to the entering of the horse gate by the king's house, they slew her there. And Jehoiada made a covenant between him, and between all the people, and between the king, that they should be the Lord's people. Then all the people went to the house of Baal, and brake it down, and brake his altars and his images in pieces, and slew Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars" (2 Chron. 23:11, 15-17).
Jehoiada's next move is an elaborately orchestrated coronation ceremony to thrust Joash into immediate power. He knows if they can rally the nation, the coup will be complete, but the timing has to be perfect. If the fanfare is too quiet, Athaliah will crush the revolt. If the timing is off, people will be unaware what is going on. So stationing the Levites in strategic positions to protect the boy king, Jehoida officially "goes public" against Athaliah, personally leading the shouts of acclamation for Joash's assumption to the throne.
Jehoiada's behind-the-scenes work pays off. The nation does rally. The celebration is jubilant. And Athaliah is caught in the middle. Though she bursts into the ceremony tearing her robes and proclaiming the treason that it technically was (v. 13), her power has essentially been stripped from her. At Jehoida's command, she is cut down, and her tyranny comes to a bloody end.
This new day in Judah has deeper implications than just a new political scene. Jehoiada realizes what is truly at stake in this regime change. A covenant with five key leaders began the process of deposing the wicked queen. A covenant with the assembly that they brought together put the actual plan in motion. Now, however, a much more far-reaching covenant is necessary. It is not a covenant that Jehoiada must create; it is simply the covenant to follow what is already in place in the Torah. Judah is to live as Yahweh's people.
The sincerity of their renewed covenant with the one true God is proven by the ceremonial destruction of Baal's temple complex and priestly dynasty. Truly, it is a new day for Judah.
II. Promote Godly living (2 Chron. 23:18—24:14)
The kingdom of Judah is faced with a practical problem: Joash is just seven years old. Therefore he will rule, at least for several years, by the wisdom and the authority of his advisers. This was the same sort of arrangement that had allowed Athaliah to seize power. The guarantor that such a scenario would not occur anytime in his lifetime is none other than Jehoida. He does not install the new king and then exit the scene. He remains a faithful servant of Yahweh and His people.
A. A priestly dynasty
"Also Jehoiada appointed the offices of the house of the Lord by the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of the Lord, to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained by David. And he set the porters at the gates of the house of the Lord, that none which was unclean in any thing should enter in. And he took the captains of hundreds, and the nobles, and the governors of the people, and all the people of the land, and brought down the king from the house of the Lord: and they came through the high gate into the king's house, and set the king upon the throne of the kingdom. And all the people of the land rejoiced: and the city was quiet, after that they had slain Athaliah with the sword" (2 Chron. 23:18-21).
After the jubilant celebration of regime change, Jehoiada must now get onto the business of bringing the Temple back into order. This means restoring the house of God to its central place in Judah's life after the neglectful years of Athaliah. He realizes that regime change will require a new spiritual awakening, not just a political one. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann notes, "It turns out that God's reign is not simply about power. It is about a relationship of caring fidelity . . ." (Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church). The Temple is key to this relationship in the Old Testament, so Jehoiada takes pains to aid its function.
First and foremost, the Temple's operation is handed over to its rightful operators - the priests and Levites. Gone are the days when the Jerusalem Temple could be commandeered by a ruler for political purposes. It will be a place of pure worship again. This renewal includes the proper cycle of sacrifices on the altar, the singing of the hymns of David, and strict adherence to the Torah with regard to the unclean. The dual references to David make a powerful point: Jehoiada is fulfilling nothing less than the reinstatement of David's vision of Israel having a centralized place to worship God (see 2 Samuel 7:1-13).
Jehoiada does all he can to ensure that the nation follows his wise recommitment to God. He will not simply get the Temple running properly and assume the people will honor it. No, he gathers the nation with its rulers and leaders yet another time before the Temple. However, this is not a time as in previous meetings for covenant-making or plotting. This is a simple and joyous celebration of the goodness of God. The people parade from the Temple to the palace, where Joash takes his place on the throne. The statement "the city was quiet" (2 Chronicles 23:21) indicates that God blessed Jerusalem with peace after the tumultuous reign of Athaliah.
B. The fruit of Jehoiada's labor
"And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. And it came to pass after this, that Joash was minded to repair the house of the Lord. Now it came to pass, that at what time the chest was brought unto the king's office by the hand of the Levites, and when they saw that there was much money, the king's scribe and the high priest's officer came and emptied the chest, and took it, and carried it to his place again. Thus they did day by day, and gathered money in abundance. And when they had finished it, they brought the rest of the money before the king and Jehoiada, whereof were made vessels for the house of the Lord, even vessels to minister, and to offer withal, and spoons, and vessels of gold and silver. And they offered burnt offerings in the house of the Lord continually all the days of Jehoiada" (2 Chron. 24:2, 4, 11, 14).
In chapter 24, a shift in focus takes place from Jehoiada to Joash. The familiar formula introduces Joash's reign, beginning in his childhood, then tellingly summarizes this king's life (vv. 1-2). The latter half of verse 2—"all the days of Jehoiada the priest"—suggests what comes later, that something will significantly change after Jehoiada dies. Nonetheless, the fact that this priest could successfully work for God's ways in Judah during his lifetime is a testimony to his character and ability.
As Joash moves from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood, his reign is extremely promising (v. 4). Apparently, despite the reforms of Jehoiada, the Temple was still in disrepair due to financial neglect. The portion of the tithe allocated to caring for the house of God had not been collected for some time. This practice began when Yahweh was worshiped in the Tabernacle (see Num. 18), but its importance continued with the Temple. Although Joash empowers the priests and Levites to travel throughout Judah to collect the tithe for the Temple's repair, they hesitate for some reason (2 Chron. 24:5). Perhaps they fear the stigma that goes with tax-gathering, or even for their own safety. Joash, however, is persistent, so he summons the one who he knows can handle the job - Jehoiada. The priest gets things moving in the right direction, developing a simple but effective plan that will gather the tithe without overly pressuring the people.
Jehoiada will allow the people to give voluntarily and trust that God will provide for the needs of the Temple. He orders a simple chest to be placed outside the gate and a royal edict to be proclaimed throughout the land. It is met with an overwhelming response. In fact, verse 10 records that all of Judah's families participate, giving cheerfully. The chest does not prove large enough for the monies collected, so secretaries and trustworthy officers are employed to count and watch over the offerings. Jehoiada sees to it that the offerings go straight to the contractors who begin to work furiously on renovating the Temple. According to the design of Solomon, they complete the restoration quicker than Jehoiada had hoped. And there is even money left over for furnishings!
Verse 14 describes the perfect ending to Jehoiada's life. His mission is complete. A godly king rules and the Temple operates according to God's laws. The fruit of his sacrifice and risk is fully realized as he lives out the rest of his days in peace.
III. Heed Godly council (2 Chron. 24:15-25)
Complacency is often the death of leaders. After a string of successes, even godly leaders can become spiritually lazy and give into temptation or bad advice. We see this both in the political realm and in the church. This is precisely what happens in the latter half of Joash's reign—a warning to all followers of God today. The end of Joash's life stands as a testimony to the importance of choosing the right counselors. As Proverbs 13:20 teaches, "He who walks with the wise grows wise" (NIV).
A. The forgotten priest
"But Jehoiada waxed old, and was full of days when he died; an hundred and thirty years old was he when he died. And they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, both toward God, and toward his house. Now after the death of Jehoiada came the princes of Judah, and made obeisance to the king. Then the king hearkened unto them. And they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served groves and idols: and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass. Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the Lord; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear" (2 Chron. 24:15-19).
At the ripe old age of 130, Jehoiada had much to look back on with pride. This centenarian presided over a magnificent regime change in Judah and gloriously served as general contractor for the restoration of God's temple in Jerusalem. Because of his faithful service and fame, he earns a burial plot beside Judah's kings, recognized by all as a remarkable leader. It does not take long, however, for much of his legacy to unravel.
When a power vacuum is created by the death of a leader such as Jehoiada, others will come calling to fill the newly opened slot. This appears to be the case in verse 17. Soon after the death of Joash's most powerful adviser, other princes seek to take his place. They come paying homage to Joash, undoubtedly telling him the kinds of things he wants to hear. Unfortunately, Joash forgets his training under Jehoiada and gives into his own ego and to these powerful local leaders, who revive the worship of idols.
Joash, of course, was a child when these gods were formerly worshiped in Judah. Perhaps he was too young to retain any memory of those days. Perhaps the princes of the cities of Judah are able to convince him that religious syncretism is acceptable or even preferable. Why not have all their bases covered when it came to the divine realm? Did Yahweh really demand exclusive worship? It was not that they wanted to do away with the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. They had just led in that Temple's rebuilding! No, they simply wanted the comfort of other gods alongside Yahweh's temple. Yahweh, of course, is a jealous God, so His wrath is provoked.
Even in His anger, God mercifully continues to woo the kingdom of Judah. He sends multiple prophets in the attempt to turn the hearts of Judah's leadership back to Yahweh (v. 19). However, it is no use. No one will hear them. What a miserable downfall from Joash's former years! This boy king who had it in his heart to restore God's temple to the days of Solomon's splendor now wallows before pagan idols of wood, stone, and metal. Yet his downfall has just begun.
B. A martyred son
"Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, The Lord look upon it, and require it" (2 Chron. 24:22).
Even among the chaos of Joash's backslidden state, Jehoiada's influence persists. His son has carried on the priesthood in his place, and Zechariah can speak from the authority of that bloodline. However, he is unable to operate along the lines of his father's leadership ability. Going straight to the people, he holds a public rally, castigating the people for disobeying God's commands. Without garnishing any support from Judah's leaders, Zechariah is as good as dead. No one wants to hear Zechariah's clarion call. They are quite pleased with their religious situation. Ironically dragging him to Yahweh's temple, they stone him to death. As he lays dying, Zechariah says, "May the Lord see this and call you [Joash] to account" (v. 22 NIV).
Zechariah's dying wish comes to fruition toward the end of that same year. With a small force, the king of Damascus in Aram (Syria) marches out to invade Judah, decimating Judah's larger force and plundering Judah's towns. A wounded Joash might have recovered were it not for his own officials who kill him in his bed. In fact, the death of Zechariah is the catalyst for this assassination. Joash dies in shame, a sad testimony to the consequences of forsaking God.
Jehoiada: Sunday School Lesson Conclusion
Scripture is full of examples of persons given the opportunity to lead from the middle of the pack through exerting godly influence. Joseph, Esther, and even Paul all dealt with power structures that were less than godly, yet they left them better than they found them. The leadership of Jehoiada in the early kingdom of Judah is an extended example of what it means to be an influential person for God. Through Jehoiada's godly living and savvy leadership, we find practical methods for influencing the world around us.
Golden Text Challenge
"Jehoiada made a covenant between him, and between all the people, and between the king, that they should be the Lord's people" (2 Chron. 23:16).
The new political reality in Judah - ruthless and truthless Queen Athaliah had been deposed in favor of King Joash - was not sufficient to turn the nation in the right direction. Judah also needed a spiritual revolution.
Representing the Lord God in his role as high priest, Jehoiada "made a covenant that he and the people and the king would be the Lord's people" (NIV). This happened right after Athaliah was killed, becoming the foundation on which Joash's reign would be built.
The only hope for our nation as we enter a new year is that we as the people of God will renew our covenant with Him and pray that many others will join us.
M. Take a Stand (Exodus 32:19-29)
T. Follow God's Commands (Deuteronomy 5:28-33)
W. Walk in God's Ways (2 Chronicles 17:3-9)
T. Obey God Despite Opposition (Acts 4:13-22)
F. Do Not Harden Your Heart (Hebrews 3:7-15)
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Photo credit: Unsplash/Robert Bye