In a dark day of murder, intrigue, and violence, one faithful priest of God emerged as a heroic defender of life. At this time, the city of Jerusalem had just experienced a bloodbath and a power struggle unlike any ever in its history. A wicked woman named Athaliah, the daughter of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, had just seized the throne through a parade of murders. The Bible records the horrifying way that Athaliah came to power in Jerusalem. At the same time as Jerusalem’s takeover, the king of Samaria, Jehoram, was killed by Jehu, one of his generals. On the same day that Jehu let fly an arrow that killed this king of Samaria, Jehu also ordered the death of Ahaziah, the king of Judah (II Kings 9:27).
The thrones of both kingdoms were empty in one day! Jehu, as prophesied in I Kings 19:17, was proclaimed king in the northern kingdom of Israel. However, his coming to power came as God’s specific judgments on wicked kings. But in Jerusalem, the dead king’s mother, Athaliah, selfishly and cruelly seized the throne in Jerusalem with her own bloody string of murders.
“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” (II Chronicles 22:10). In one of the most shocking massacres recorded in Bible history, a queen heartlessly killed her own grandchildren in order to seize the throne.
God had promised David “there shall not fail thee a man in my sight to sit upon the throne of Israel” (II Chronicles 6:16). This is one of the times in history when God’s promise seemed to hang by a very slender thread. With the killing of the royal seed and the ascension of Athaliah to the regency of Jerusalem, she thought that she had killed all her rivals. She was wrong!
One courageous man and his wife stepped forward to defend the life of one young prince that had been overlooked. This man was a priest in Jerusalem named Jehoiada. His name means “Jehovah has known.” His wife was Jehoshabeath, and she was a relative of the royal family. Her name means “The oath of Jehovah.” In a beautiful way, the names of Jehoiada and his wife can be put together to make the statement “Jehovah has remembered His covenant.”
The Bible records the courage and faith of this couple in sparing and hiding the young prince 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” (II Chronicles 22:11).
A rash man might have defied Athaliah immediately. But Jehoiada was a wise priest who patiently waited for six long years until the timing was right for the overthrow of the tyrant and the restoration of Biblical rule in Jerusalem.
While waiting for that time, Jehoiada was not idle. The young prince, Joash, needed to mature before he could wear the crown. Meanwhile, the priest and his wife sheltered the orphaned prince from harm. Jehoiada kept the fires at the Temple burning. He maintained the sacrificial system. He gathered about him a band of faithful captains in the Judean army and entered into a covenant with them for the restoration of the prince of Judah (II Chronicles 23:1). Jehoiada had a careful plan for the restoration of the king. As the various clans of the Levites came into Jerusalem by course to fulfill their duties, he “dismissed not the courses” (II Chronicles 23:8). This meant that Jehoida kept the priests and Levites in the city after their priestly duties were completed.
Over the course of several months, the number of priests and Levites in the city of Jerusalem swelled far beyond the normal number. Jehoiada armed the Levites with swords from Solomon’s armory (II Chronicles 23:7, 9). He divided the servants of Jehovah into three bands for the climactic moment that they would crown the prince as the new king in Jerusalem.
Finally, all was ready. The crucial moment of the coronation came. “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” (II Chronicles 23:11).
The palace overlooked the courts of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Bible records what happened when Athaliah saw the Temple swarming with armed priests and Levites, crowning her grandson as the rightful king of Jerusalem:
“Now when Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she came to the people into the house of the LORD: And she looked, and, behold, the king stood at his pillar at the entering in, and the princes and the trumpets by the king: and all the people of the land rejoiced, and sounded with trumpets, also the singers with instruments of musick, and such as taught to sing praise. Then Athaliah rent her clothes, and said, Treason, Treason” (II Chronicles 23:12–13).
Jehoiada’s deed was not treason! Athaliah was the traitor. She was the lawbreaker. She was the murderer. Jehoiada was the hero who had restored the throne of David. He had the Law of God on his side, and he knew it.
“Then Jehoiada the priest brought out the captains of hundreds that were set over the host, and said unto them, Have her forth of the ranges: and whoso followeth her, let him be slain with the sword. For the priest said, Slay her not in the house of the LORD. 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” (II Chronicles 23:14–15).
Jehoiada did not violate the sixth commandment by putting the wicked Athaliah to death. He upheld life by sparing the prince Joash, and he upheld life by ordering the execution of Athaliah on God’s terms and outside of the Temple precincts. Jehoiada restored Godly rule in Jerusalem, purged the city of idolatry, taught the young king God’s ways, repaired the Temple, and brought peace and stability to Jerusalem. “And all the people of the land rejoiced: and the city was quiet, after that they had slain Athaliah with the sword” (II Chronicles 23:21).
Jehoiada the priest died at the venerable age of 130 years. He had been born during the reign of Solomon and had seen many kings come and go. God says of Jehoiada: “he had done good in Israel” (II Chronicles 24:16). Our society is in need of faithful men like Jehoiada the priest: men who take God at His Word, men who love children and risk all to defend them, men who patiently but firmly resist tyranny, and men who love life and uphold God’s law in the church and in the state.