Athaliah “…that wicked woman”
2 Kings 8:16-11:16; 2 Chronicles 22:10-23:15
Bible in my hand who was the most wicked woman in all of Israel’s land? Who was the worst wife? Who was the worst mother? Who was the worst grandmother? Who was the worst queen? Athaliah is perhaps the answer to all these questions. She is referred to as “that wicked woman” (2 Chr. 24:7).
Athaliah became queen over all of Judah because of a politically arranged marriage between the children of the evil King Ahab of Israel and the good King Jehoshaphat of Judah. Jehoshaphat was a godly king who “did not turn aside from doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Kings. 22:43). Arranged marriages were nothing novel or immoral. Abraham arranged the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah. Yet, as a good king, Jehoshaphat should have avoided giving his son over to a marriage to the prodigy of Ahab and Jezebel.
Athaliah’s mother was the evil and murderous Jezebel. She was a princess of Sidon who brought Baal worship with her and planted it in Israel. After the great defeat of her prophets by Elijah on Mount Carmel she had sought out and killed many of the sons of the prophets. To pacify the greed of her husband for Naboth’s vineyard, she simply had Naboth killed.
The father of Athaliah was considered the most wicked king Israel ever endured. Jehu was sent by God to eliminate his dynasty. Ahab was killed in battle with an arrow. Jehu had Jezebel cast from her window to the street later her dead body was eaten by dogs. While Jehu was delivering God’s judgment against the royal house of the north, Athaliah was about to exterminate the house of David in Judah.
“Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Jehoram his son reigned in his place” (2 Chr. 22:1). As soon as Jehoram began his reign, he adopted the practice of the heathen kings and had all rival heirs to his throne executed (2 Chr 22:4). It is of little doubt that Athaliah was the one who stirred up her husband to do this great evil (1 Kings 21:25). Jehoram did not walk after the righteous ways of his father or the godly example of David, instead “he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chr. 22:6). After all, like mother, like daughter. Her mother promoted Baal worship in Israel, now she does the same in Judah “For the sons of Athaliah, that wicked woman, had broken into the house of God, and had also presented all the dedicated things of the house of the Lord to the Baals” (2 Chr. 24:7).
As God punished the household of Ahab, the wickedness of his daughter in Judah would not go unnoticed. God punished Jehoram with war (2 Chr. 21:16,17). A terrible disease was sent upon him by God. “After all this, the Lord struck him in his intestines with an incurable disease. Then it happened in the course of time, after the end of two years, that his intestines came out because of his sickness; so he died in severe pain. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning for his fathers” (2 Chr. 21:18,19). Dead at age 40, Jehoram would not be missed. No one seems to have regretted his passing. No fancy funeral or stone monument would be prepared in his honor or for the remembrance of his ignoble reign. “He was thirty-two years old when he became king. He reigned in Jerusalem eight years and, to no one’s sorrow, departed. However they buried him in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings (2 Chr. 21:20).
With the death of his father, Ahaziah became king at age twenty-two Immediately, the scriptures inform us, “His mother’s name was Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri, king of Israel” (2 Kings 8:26). Why mention the king’s mother and great-grandfather. “Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:25). His son, Ahab married the wicked Jezebel and produced the queen-mother Athaliah. His family’s spiritual heritage was notoriously evil. This did not mean he had to follow in their footsteps. Yet his evil ways led to his early demise. When Ahaziah sought to war with Jehu he killed the princes of Judah, then Jehu searched for Ahaziah; and they caught him (he was hiding in Samaria), and brought him to Jehu. When they had killed him, they buried him, ‘because,’ they said, ‘he is the son of Jehoshaphat, who sought the Lord with all his heart.’ So the house of Ahaziah had no one to assume power over the kingdom” (2 Chr. 22:9).
Within about a year’s time, Jerusalem is facing another funeral and an empty throne. Athaliah was no longer the king’s daughter, the king’s wife or even the queen-mother. What is a wicked woman to do now that she was no legitimate claim to power? “Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal heirs of the house of Judah” (2 Chr. 22:10). She obviously did not like the sound of being hailed the “queen-grandmother.” I once met a grandmother who was a Christian. She bragged openly about paying for her daughter to have an abortion. However, Athaliah sought to wipe out all her grandchildren just to become queen.
If Athaliah was successful, the entire linage of David would come to an end. God’s promises to him and through him could not come to fruition. By the grace and power of God, a single surviving grandchild of Athaliah was saved by his paternal aunt. “But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king’s sons who were being murdered; and they hid him and his nurse in the bedroom, from Athaliah, so that he was not killed” (2 Kings 11:2). With her husband, Jehoiada, the high priest, Jehosheba raised the young prince, Joash, for six years while his grandmother continued her reign of darkness over the Kingdom of David. The hope of God’s people is on the verge of extinction. No darker or evil time had been in all the history of God’s chosen people. Satan was about to claim victory.
At age seven, Joash’s uncle Jehoiada organized a coup. This made Joash the youngest king in Judah’s history. Jehoiada won the support of the army by giving them the weapons of David that had been stored in the temple (2 Kings 11:10). The coronation of the young king was set for the Sabbath. “they made him king and anointed him, and they clapped their hands and said, “Long live the king!” (1 Kings 11:12). “Now when Athaliah heard the noise … she came to the people, into the temple of the Lord” (2 Kings 11:13). Realizing what was happening Athaliah tore her robes in an act of grief and anger and began to scream. “Then Jehoiada the priest commanded the captains of the hundreds, the officers of the army, and said to them, ‘Take her outside under guard, and slay with the sword whoever follows her.’ For the priest had said, ‘Do not let her be killed in the house of the Lord’ So they seized her; and she went by way of the horses’ entrance to the king’s house, and there she was killed” (2 Kings 11:15,16). The woman who killed without mercy, died without mercy. She had no one left of her family to extend mercy but a seven-year-old king.
After the coronation came the reformation. “And all the people of the land went to the temple of Baal, and tore it down. They thoroughly broke in pieces its altars and images, and killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest appointed officers over the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 11;18). True worship had been restored in Judah and peace and quiet had finally been restored to Jerusalem. It happened according to the true proverb, “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is shouting” (Prov. 11:10).
— Daniel R. Vess