The Bible Story - Volume VI
When a Nation Turns to Idols QUEEN mother Athaliah, having ruled Judah for six years after usurping the throne, was one Sabbath morning bothered by music and shouts from the temple. Surrounded by a few of the royal guard and carried by four husky men in her curtained sedan chair, she was taken to the temple to see for herself what was happening. (II Kings 11:1-13; II Chronicles 22:10-12; 23:1-12.)
When she saw the unusually large, vocal crowd, and the temple surrounded by army commanders and armed clan chiefs, she became suspicious and angry.
"Stop here!" she commanded, and quickly stepped out of the lowered sedan chair before anyone could aid her.
End of an Evil Reign As she set out up the steps to the crowded temple porch, guards leaped to her sides. She waved them disdainfully back and went on by herself. As soon as she reached the porch she took in the figures by the altar — especially the boy with the crown on his head and the armed priests all around him. The scene had a shocking meaning for her. Furious, she shoved and elbowed her way into the crowd.
"This is treason!" she shrieked. "Who is responsible for trying to crown some child as king behind my back?"
By now all eyes were on the angry queen, including those of the high priest, who held up his hands to quiet the murmuring congregation.
"This child is your grandson Jehoash!" Jehoiada, the high priest, called out to Athaliah. "He escaped your murderous hands six years ago! He is the rightful ruler of Judah! There isn't room on the throne for more than one!"
The queen flew into a rage, tearing wildly at her clothing. Screaming madly, she ripped her costly tunic to shreds.
"Take her out of here!" the high priest ordered. "Don't let her die in the temple of God! And execute anyone who tries to stop you!"
Many hands closed on the screeching woman, forcing her back down the temple steps. Her guards, seeing the stalwart officers of the army and chiefs of the clans arrayed against them, held their peace.
"Go call the rest of the guards!" Athaliah screamed at them. "Summon the army!"
But the guards saw it was too late to carry any messages. The fiercely remonstrating queen was half dragged and half carried to a back street by which horses, mules and donkeys conveyed people to and from the palace. There Athaliah was slain. (II Kings 11:14-16; II Chronicles 23:13-15.)
While the people were still at the temple, Jehoiada told them that then was the time for looking fervently to God for the right way of living. He enjoined them to be obedient to the Creator and loyal to their new king.
An End to Baalism During her reign, Athaliah had caused a temple to be built for the worship of Baal in Jerusalem. Gold bowls, basins and other valuable utensils and furnishings had been stolen from God's temple and taken to the pagan temple to be used in the worship of Baal.
Soon after Athaliah's death, a crowd swarmed eagerly into the pagan temple. Mattan, the overbearing head priest, reluctantly emerged from the private quarters of the temple women to perform the repetitious rituals and mumble and chant invocations for his visitors. When he saw their expressions, he knew that they hadn't come to worship.
"We have come to take back the things that were stolen from the temple of God," one of the crowd firmly informed Mattan.
"Think twice before you attempt to desecrate this temple," Mattan said, furtively signaling one of his priests to call the royal guard. "Any who stir the great god Baal to wrath shall surely suffer for it!"
"If you won't give us the things we came for, we'll get them for ourselves!" another man in the crowd shouted. "If that makes Baal angry, we'll pull him down and scorch his nose on his own altar!"
"Sacrilege!" Mattan exclaimed angrily. "Leave before the royal guard gets here!"
At a word from the leader of the crowd there was a scramble for the doors, but not to those leading outside. Men broke into every room to ferret out what had been taken from God's temple.
The haughty head priest glared as the articles were carried away. His glare turned to abrupt fright when he glanced up to see the main image of Baal toppling toward him. It crashed down on the altar and from there smashed to bits on the floor moments after the priest had leaped back.
The men who had tipped over the image then threw all the smaller Baal replicas to the floor and went around the interior of the building to tear down and smash everything they could reach. Mattan and his priests and women fled outside, only to be seized by Jehoiada's men.
Mattan was put to death. There was no royal guard to save him because there was no longer a queen to use the guard for the defense of the priests of Baal. Jehoiada's men left nothing untouched in the pagan temple. They didn't stop until even the walls were pulled down and the building and its contents were a mass of rubble. This was the end of the evil thing Athaliah had brought to Judah. (II Kings 11:17-18; II Chronicles 23:16-17.)
Worship of God at the temple Solomon had built had declined during Athaliah's reign. Now, with none to interfere, people began to return. Jehoiada put more priests into service and stepped up activity at the temple of Solomon. He even reorganized the royal guard. Accompanied by these soldiers and marching bands, Jehoash was paraded from the temple to the palace, where he was to live for many years. (II Kings 11:19-21; II Chronicles 23:18-21.)
Restoring the Faith Under the priest's influence, Jehoash grew up to be a just and capable ruler. Although he followed God most of his life, he did little to abolish the sacrificing that occasionally took place in other places besides the temple, which had been vandalized by Athaliah's sons. (II Chronicles 24:7.) It was Jehoash's ambition, as he matured, to have it repaired, even though it would be costly to restore it close to its original condition. To raise the money, Jehoash suggested to Jehoiada and his priests that some of them travel around Judah and ask for contributions, as God had commanded through Moses. (Exodus 35:4-10.) The priests didn't succeed in collecting very much money, nor did they try very diligently. Jehoiada was a courageous and righteous high priest. But in this case he was somewhat slack in asking others to do their duty. (II Kings 12:1-8; II Chronicles 24:1-6.)
Jehoash was disappointed. But he did not lose faith in God or confidence in his high priest. He spoke to Jehoiada again about the matter a long time later, telling the priest to have a large chest placed at the gate of the temple by the right side of the altar. This heavy chest had a small opening at the top through which coins and gold and silver in other forms could be dropped by those who visited the temple or went by. It was announced throughout the country what the chest was for.
After a few days the chest was brought to the palace and opened. Both Jehoash and Jehoiada were surprised to find a great amount of coins, gold and silver in it. They were pleased at this display of generosity by the people. For weeks the wooden chest was put by the altar every morning and emptied every night. Enough money was taken in to finally start repair of the temple on a large scale. (II Kings 12:9-10; II Chronicles 24:8-11.)
For many months, skilled masons, carpenters, and metalsmiths worked on the temple. Together with their helpers and laborers, the work force was considerable. Thousands of stones were replaced, much new woodwork and many beams put in and metal decorations restored. When the work was finished there was more than enough money to pay for labor and materials. Jehoiada used most of what remained to fashion gold and silver bowls and utensils to be used by the priests in their functions.
With the beauty and equipment of the temple restored, more and more people came to worship. It was an era when the right kind of rulership resulted in greater welfare for the people, because so many of them, including the priest and honest workmen, followed their king's good example. (II Kings 12:11-16; II Chronicles 24:12-14.)
Thus conditions in Judah were much better, for two or three decades, than they had been since Jehoshaphat's time. Then an unfortunate event took place. It was Jehoiada's death at the age of a hundred and thirty years. For a long time this exceptional priest, aided by a wonderful wife, had exerted the power of a king, and to the country's advantage. He was considered so close to being a ruler that he was honored by being buried among the kings of Judah at Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 24:15-16.)
Idolatry Creeps In From then on, without the wise influence of Jehoiada, matters in Judah took a turn in the wrong direction. The change started when leaders from all parts of the nation came to bring gifts to the king and to praise and flatter him. They also came to ask a favor of him. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20; II Chronicles 24:17.)
"Our people have been offering sacrifices at the temple in great numbers," one of the leaders told Jehoash. "They have been coming here so often that many are becoming needy because of the time and expense required to make the round trip to Jerusalem. They want to continue being obedient, but they have no choice but to remain at home. Would it not be better to allow them to worship and sacrifice at nearer altars built at several more convenient locations in Judah?"
The king pondered. He knew what it would mean if the people were allowed to worship at other altars in places of their own choosing. Jehoash felt that this situation was somewhat exaggerated. The matter had been brought to him before. He had agreed with Jehoiada that there should be one place of worship — Jerusalem. But now, with Jehoiada gone, the king could gain a great measure of popularity by acceding to the desires of these influential men who had brought him such costly gifts in a deliberate attempt to wrongly influence his judgment.
"I wish everyone in Judah could come often to the temple," Jehoash observed, "but rather than have some miss the opportunity to make their offerings, now that the situation is growing worse, I think that it should be made possible for them to go to locations nearer their homes."
If he had studied God's law as required, he would have known it was prohibited to make sacrifices and offerings at altars in other places, and that God didn't expect the people to do more than they were able to afford. (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 12:1-7; 16:16-17; 17:18-20; I Kings 14:21.)
The visitors were elated at the king's decision, which meant that the idolatry they secretly favored would have more freedom to spread in Judah. At first, when the people learned they weren't required to go to Jerusalem, they sacrificed only to God on their various altars. Influenced by so-called priests who wanted to substitute other gods for the God of Israel, they were soon back to worshipping idols, including images of Baal and other hideous likenesses of animals.
This turn of events displeased God, but instead of immediately punishing the idolaters, He sent prophets to warn of disaster to come unless the idol worship ceased. The warnings were ignored. (II Chronicles 24:18-19.)
Jehoiada's sons took over management of the temple functions after the death of the high priest. Because of the influence of exceptional parents, they were very faithful to their responsibilities. One of them, Zechariah, one day was inspired to give his audience the same kind of warning the prophets had been delivering.
An Evil King's Verdict "Our king and many lesser leaders of Judah are breaking God's commandments by encouraging our people to follow pagan gods," Zechariah declared. "Neither they nor the people seem concerned about the terrible price they will have to pay for this corruption. They have forsaken God. Now God will forsake them. They will have no protection when calamity comes, and it's coming soon."
Zechariah's words were immediately reported to Jehoash, who was far from happy to learn that he had been referred to in any but a complimentary manner. Even though Zechariah's aged father and mother had saved Jehoash from being murdered when he was a child, King Jehoash, now influenced by evil younger leaders, callously issued a shocking order.
"I'm weary of prophets and priests nagging and advising me," Jehoash muttered angrily. "I'm going to make an example of Zechariah. Have people stone him. Use people who will appear to be a cross-section of the public, so that observers will receive the impression that many inhabitants of Judah don't approve of what he says."
An unusually large crowd gathered at the temple. Men and women throughout the congregation surged toward the priest and hurled stones at him. Most of the missiles missed Zechariah, but the few that found their mark fatally injured him. There was much shouting, running and confusion.
"Don't be too concerned about my attackers," Zechariah told those who tried to help him just before he died. "God will deal with them just as He will deal with whoever told them to do this thing." (II Chronicles 24:20-22.)
Meanwhile in Samaria... Before this, up in Samaria, King Jehu had begun to be troubled by invasions of Arameans in Syria under the command of Hazael, as Elisha predicted would happen. After Jehu died, his son Jehoahaz became king of the ten tribes of Israel. (II Kings 10:30-36.)
At first he wasn't much of an improvement over his father, but after struggling through a miserable period of war with the Arameans, he decided to look to God for help.
By this time the Arameans had taken over Israel's territory east of the Jordan river, which was land belonging to the tribes of Manasseh, Reuben and Gad. The invaders moved westward slaughtering most of Jehoahaz' army. They brought most of the people of the ten tribes under subjection, and it was at this point that the king of Israel desperately appealed to God to spare the nation.
God intended to bring Israel out of the grip of the Arameans, but not through Jehoahaz or because of his prayers for help. The king of Israel did nothing to put idolatry out of his nation nor even out of Samaria.
Worship of the goddess Astarte or Ishtar, who was supposed to have come from an egg, had become almost as popular as that of Baal. Most people today believe we have no part in pagan practices. We do in many ways, however. Many observe Easter (the word came from the name Ishtar or Astarte) with displays of colored eggs that are rolled, given away in baskets, hidden for children to find, etc.
Anxious to push on to further conquest, the Arameans left Samaria and moved southward, leaving Jehoahaz with only fifty horsemen, ten chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers left alive — a small fighting force for most of the tribes of Israel. (II Kings 13:1-8.)
The coming of the invaders into Judah was a shock to Jehoash, who had vainly hoped that Hazael would be content with overrunning only the northern nation of Israel. As the hordes of Arameans neared Jerusalem, the king became increasingly frantic. He was convinced that it would be the same as suicide to pit his army against that of the enemy. He could see only one possible way of avoiding an attack on Jerusalem and its capture, and that possibility seemed very slim.
King Hazael, riding at the head of his army, was puzzled when he met a number of soldiers carrying boxes instead of arms and equipment. Through interpreters he learned that they had come up from Jerusalem to meet him.
"King Jehoash wishes you to know that he wants to remain at peace with you," the officer in charge explained. "To prove his sincerity, he has sent you gifts."
The men put containers before Hazael, who told his officers to open a few of them. When the Arameans saw the beautiful gold vessels, silver trumpets and ornaments set with precious stones, they grinned with pleasure. (II Kings 12:17-18.)
"If all the gifts are this valuable, there is a great fortune here," one of Hazael's officers whispered to him.
"I know," Hazael replied in a low voice. "What I'd also like to know is whether this is to pay us to stay out of Judah or whether it's bait to make certain that we go directly to Jerusalem for more — and fall into some kind of trap."
"Your army is too big to trap, sir" the officer said. "The God of Judah is supposed to live at Jerusalem," Hazael said. "He has done some unbelievable things to Judah's enemies."
The king of Syria was trying to decide whether to go on to attack Jerusalem or turn around and return to his native country.