Joash was the eighth monarch and seventh king of Judah, and the ninth man in the line of David that lead to Jesus. Born in 841 BC, he reigned in Judah for forty years, from 835 BC until his death in 796 BC.
Joash’s father Ahaziah was king of Judah before him. Ahaziah was the nephew of King Joram of Israel, and had the misfortune to be in the vicinity of Joram when Joram was killed by Jehu, who took the opportunity to rub out Ahaziah before supplanting Joram on the throne of Israel. Sounds confusing? Don’t worry, it’s just the back story.
After Ahaziah died, his mother, Athaliah, who as the wife of the king (Ahaziah’s father, Jehoram) and then the queen mother enjoyed having some sway over politics, decided that she had it in her to rule Judah as queen, and taking advantage of the confusion over succession, proceeded to exterminate all contenders for the throne within her own family. Her reasoning was probably linked to the fact that she was closely related to the royal family of Israel, who had just been wiped out in a bloodbath coordinated by Jehu, who was acting in Yahweh's best interests (or so he thought).
Thinking to herself, "I'll see your bloodbath, and I'll raise you one," Athaliah rounded up all of Ahaziah’s children, and ordered their execution. Unfortunately for her, however, one was spirited away at the last minute, and no one was the wiser. We can only assume that in her thirst for power she had lost track of exactly how many grandchildren she had (odd for a grandmother), as young Joash, who was but an infant at the time, was never missed. She obviously gave no credence to the words of Yahweh who, some 160 years previously, had declared to David through the prophet Nathan that David’s line would never fail. Here it held on by the barest thread.
As it happened, Joash was rescued by his aunt and uncle. His aunt, Jehosheba, was Ahaziah’s half-sister, and she was married to the high priest of Yahweh, Jehoiada, a godly man. For six years, they harboured Joash and his nurse in the temple in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. Joash’s grandmother was also a pagan and apparently had no interest in the temple of Yahweh, and so never discovered the secret growing behind its walls.
In the seventh year of Athaliah’s reign, Jehoiada decided that the time was ripe for a revolt in favour of his young nephew and, conspiring with five army commanders and most of the religious and political leaders in Judah, and with the assistance of some local mercenaries, he pulled off a coup, proclaiming the seven-year-old king. Athaliah, hearing the fuss of the sudden coronation, realised too late her peril, and was captured and led to the city gate, where she was duly executed. Given this widespread opposition to her rule, it should come as no surprise to the reader to find that she was an unpopular monarch, and that the people of Judah rejoiced at her end, and wholeheartedly supported the new king.
As Joash was so young, however, the rule of the kingdom was in fact handled predominantly by his uncle. Joash ruled Judah until his death forty years later, and for most of that time, even when he came of age, he operated under the guidance of Jehoiada, the high priest. Joash’s two marriages were even arranged by Jehoiada. Judah thus enjoyed a time of peace and balance. Idol worship in Jerusalem was stamped out, and the ancient laws of Moses were observed for the first time in over a hundred years. The temple of Solomon, which had been looted by Athaliah’s followers, and had fallen into disrepair, was slowly patched up.
The little story behind that little episode is illuminating in its reflection of the common people of the day. Joash, acting independently for once, reinstated the legislated temple tax to be levied throughout the nation, and ordered that some part of the income be used to fix up the temple. Some time passed, and still the temple was not mended satisfactorily. Joash went to Jehoiada to enquire about this, and found that the priests had been using the money for everything but repairing the temple. Joash pressed the matter, and had Jehoiada install a big chest before the temple, into which people could contribute funds for the temple’s restoration. The people responded with enthusiasm, and the chest was filled many times over! The people were more into Yahweh than even the priests!
Jehoiada eventually died – I use the word eventually deliberately, as he made it to the age of 130 – and such was his impact upon the health of the nation that he was appointed a royal funeral, and was buried amongst the past kings of Judah.
Following his uncle’s death, Joash, who had been guided by him his entire life, and who was used to ruling only under advice, fell into bad company very quickly, and by the time he died within a few years, was accounted an evil man. Idol worship was once again restored, and the prophets of Yahweh were ignored. One of these prophets, Zechariah – Joash’s own cousin, the son of Jehoiada – was stoned to death on the temple grounds, by order of the king. At the very end of his life, with Judah under attack from the nearby kingdom of Aram, Joash pilfered the temple – that temple which he had caused to be restored – to come up with enough money to bribe the invaders to leave Judah alone for the time being.
Joash’s hold on his kingdom simply came to nothing in the years following Jehoiada’s death, culminating in his assassination following a battle with the Arameans. The truce with Aram had not lasted, and Joash was eventually severely wounded. Recuperating in bed, two of his advisers killed him. After his body was brought back to Jerusalem, he was given an ordinary burial, rather than being laid to rest with his ancestors. It is almost too poetic to suggest that his rightful place had been taken by his uncle, who more deserved the honour. Joash fell into such disregard, and was remembered so poorly, that he is not even listed in the royal genealogy of Jesus Christ listed in the Gospel of Matthew, despite the fact that he was a direct ancestor of Jesus in the line of David (although to be fair, there are a number of names left out of that genealogy, for aesthetic purposes).
And then what happened?
Everyone always wants to know what happens to the assassins in stories like this, so here’s the dirt: Joash was succeeded by his son, Amaziah, and this new monarch had the assassins executed. So there you go. Not very surprising, hey?