Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab, and we can probably assume that Jezebel was her mother.
Her marriage to the son of Jehoshaphat was part of the deal, when Ahab and Jehoshaphat agreed better relations between their two kingdoms.
As a result, her impact on the religious life of Judah was similar to Jezebel’s impact on the religious life of Israel.
They were each responsible for promoting the worship of Baal, the god of Jezebel’s homeland.
It’s a little surprising, to be sure, that Kings and Chronicles don’t highlight the obvious parallel between mother and daughter. Athaliah could
have been the daughter of a secondary wife, but in that case she would have less reason to follow Jezebel’s example.
When Jehoshaphat died, Athaliah’s husband Jehoram succeeded to the throne of Judah.
Her brother Jehoram was already king of Israel (the coincidence of names may be connected with the practice of adopting a “throne-name”).
Once her husband found himself firmly in power, “he slew all his brothers with the sword, and also some of the princes of Israel”.
This was the same fate which Bathsheba had feared when Adonijah looked like becoming the successor to David (1 Kings ch1).
There was a period in Ottoman history when this was almost a normal event at the accession of a new Sultan, until they adopted the more humane
practice of keeping all their brothers in prison.
It’s one of the side-effects of polygamy, which produces too many candidates for the succession with different kinds of claim.
However, this is the only occasion when it’s recorded in the history of Judah. This king may have been prompted by his wife, brought up in a kingdom
with a very brutal political history.
The killing of kings in kingdom Israel
Apart from that, he “walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done; for the daughter of Ahab was his wife”. That is, she
encouraged him to imitate their worship of other gods, including Baal.
“And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles ch21 vv1-6).
When Jehoram died, he was followed by their son Ahaziah.
Ahaziah himself had married into the house of Ahab, so he was under the double influence of wife and mother.
So in the one year that he reigned, he too “walked in the way of the house of Ahab and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings ch8
Chronicles, incidentally, gets Ahaziah’s age wrong, and makes him two years older than his own father (2 Chronicles ch21 v20–ch22 v2).
Ahaziah went north to join his uncle in war with the Syrians. When Jehoram retired to Jezreel, to nurse the wounds he had received in battle, Ahaziah
joined him and kept him company.
The prophet Elisha chose this moment to launch a coup, sending someone to anoint the army commander Jehu as king over Israel.
The dramatic events of Jehu’s revolt led to the death of Jehoram, the death of Jezebel, and the death of Ahaziah.
The overthrow of the party of Baal was complete in the northern kingdom.
But this left Athaliah in Jerusalem.
When she knew about these events, “she arose and destroyed all the royal family”, including her own grandchildren, the sons of Ahaziah. The only
exception was the baby Joash, who was hidden in the Temple by one of his aunts.
So it looks as though Athaliah was aiming at personal power, rather than power for her dynasty.
She also wanted to promote the worship of Baal.
At the time of her death, six years later, there was a house of Baal in Jerusalem, with altars and images and an appointed priest.
I’m rather puzzled to know what Athaliah was expecting to happen in the long term.
Her policy would come to an end at her death, unless she arranged for a successor.
If she tried to bring in a prince from outside the kingdom, she would meet with resistance from the people.
As it was, her tenure of authority probably depended on the absence of any visible alternatives.
Athaliah’s nemesis was the priest of the Temple, Jehoiada.
Obviously he knew about the secret of the hidden child.
2 Chronicles adds the detail that his own wife was the aunt who rescued Joash, which helps to explain the choice of hiding-place.
The priest made his plans with careful forethought.
He intended to reveal Joash to the people on the Sabbath, when they would be gathered in the Temple already.
Before the event, he called a meeting with the captains of the guard, swore them to secrecy, and showed them Joash in person.
They agreed to arrange a double detachment of guards to protect him on the day of the general disclosure. The guards who were supposed to come on duty
on the Sabbath would be joined by those who were supposed to go off duty at the same time.
There was a problem about weapons. There were only enough, perhaps, for one detachment at a time. The new detachment could not bring in fresh weapons,
even if they had them, because that would give away the fact that something was happening.
Fortunately the Temple was storing spears and shields from the time of King David.
Jehoiada distributed these relics to the captains, and the incoming guards were able to receive them behind the scenes.
When Joash was brought out and shown to the people, the guard marched out at the same time and formed a protective shield round him, ready to kill
anyone who approached their ranks.
The coronation could then be carried through without interference.
The elements were;
They placed the crown on his head.
They gave him the “testimony”; perhaps an early version of the Pentateuch, combining the laws with an account of Israel’s history.
They proclaimed him as king.
They anointed him, and the loud rejoicing of the people followed.
The noise brought Athaliah blundering onto the scene (probably through the direct access from the palace), so that she could be captured easily and
did not have time to rally her supporters.
Once Athaliah had been dealt with, Jehoiada “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord’s people” (2
On the face of it, then, the history of Athaliah is the story of a political intervention in the religious life of the nation, hostile to the Lord but
The danger that the line of David might be broken had been averted.