Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Jehoash, sometimes written Joash or Joas, was the king of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, the sole surviving son of Ahaziah. William F. Albright dates his reign to 837-800 B.C.E., while E. R. Thiele puts it at 835-796.
While still an infant, Jehoash was reportedly saved from a massacre commanded by his grandmother Athaliah after an even bloodier coup in the northern Kingdom of Israel had killed her mother, brothers, and son, Jehoram’s father Ahaziah. Hidden by the high priest Jehoiada in the Temple of Jerusalem, Jehoash was brought forth and proclaimed king at the age of seven, while Athaliah and her supporters were put to death.
Under Jehoiada’s influence, the young Jehoash strictly enforced the exclusive worship of the Hebrew God Yahweh but later criticized Jehoiada’s poor stewardship of Temple funds and liberalized his religious policy. For this, Jehoash was denounced as bringing God’s judgment on the land, which suffered under a Syrian invasion. Soon afterward, Jehoash was assassinated by critics of his policies. He was succeeded by his son Amaziah.
As one of the Davidic line of kings, Jehoash was one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ in Christian tradition, although he is omitted from the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
Jehoash was born during a period of peace and military cooperation between the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel. His grandmother, Athaliah, was the daughter of the northern king Ahab and his Phoenician wife Jezebel. Jehoash’s grandfather, Jehoram of Judah, was the son of King Jehoshapat. Israel and Judah had been at war in earlier generations, but during the time of Jehoshaphat, the two nations formed an effective alliance against the Syrian threat. This resulted in Ahab and Jehoshaphat contracting a marriage between their royal children, Athaliah and Jehoram.
After Jehoshaphat’s death, Jehoram became Judah’s king with Athaliah as his queen. Meanwhile, Athaliah’s brother, also called Jehoram (Joram), became king of Israel following Ahab’s death. In terms of his religious policy, Jehoram of Judah supported the worship of Yahweh, but also tolerated Baal worship, no doubt in part due to Athaliah’s influence, since her own mother was a devotee of the Phoenician Baal Melqart.
Athaliah gave birth to Ahaziah and probably other, older sons and daughters. However, according to 2 Chronicles 21:16-17, only Ahaziah survived, due to raids by Philistine and Arab enemies. After Jehoram’s death, Ahaziah thus became Judah’s king at the age of 22. He continued the policy of military alliance with Joram of Israel against the threat of the Syrian empire, a policy which troubled the biblical writers, who saw Israel as an apostate kingdom. Meanwhile, the northern prophet Elisha, together with the military commander Jehu, engineered one of history’s bloodiest coups against Joram of Israel. At this very time, Ahaziah was visiting Joram, who had been wounded in battle against the common Syrian foe, and Ahaziah was assassinated along with Joram at Jehu’s orders. Thus, Athaliah lost both her brother and her son on the same day, both of them kings. Her mother, Jezebel, also soon died at Jehu’s hands, as did scores of other members of her extended family, both northerners and southerners.
Jehoash in the Temple
Not willing to allow the Yahwist faction in Jerusalem follow Jehu’s example and seize power, Athaliah ordered the assassination of any member of the royal family with a claim to the southern kingship and claimed the throne of Judah for herself. However, Ahaziah’s sister Jehosheba—who may have been Athaliah’s daughter but more likely the child of a rival wife—succeeded in getting control of the infant Jehoash. She placed him in hiding under the protection of her husband, the high priest Jehoiada, at the Temple of Jerusalem.
Although the biblical writer indicates otherwise, whether Athaliah intended to kill her own grandson in her coup is debatable. The story in 2 Chronicles 24:7 refers to other “sons” of Athaliah who supported her, and since Jehoash was just a toddler at the time of his “rescue,” it may be that he was kidnapped by Jehosheba and Jehoiada. If so Athaliah probably intended to make him king when he became of age, and he was in effect kidnapped by his aunt and uncle who saw in him an opportunity to seize the throne for the Yahweh against the Baal-tolerating Athaliah. However, there is no reason to doubt that Athaliah would have ordered the murders of any royal sons who were not of her own lineage, given the bloodbath carried out by Jehu against the lineage of Ahab in the north.
Athaliah reigned for six years, the only ruling queen of either Judah or Israel. The Bible says little of Athaliah’s reign, but it is clear that she followed her husband Jehoram’s policy of tolerating both the worship of Yahweh and that of Baal. A temple of Baal existed in Jerusalem during her time, but it is not clear whether it was built before her reign or during it.
During this time, little Jehoash was being fostered in secret under Jehoiada’s tutelage. After six years, Jehoiada mustered his military allies, brought the seven-year-old Jehoash from his hiding place, and declared him to be the rightful ruler. “Station yourselves around the king,” he ordered the assembled guards, “each man with his weapon in his hand. Anyone who approaches your ranks must be put to death. Stay close to the king wherever he goes.” (2 Kings 11:8)
In a carefully orchestrated ceremony, Jehoiada then brought Jehoash into the Temple courtyard and crowned him before an assembled crowd, anointing him with holy oil, to shouts of “Long live the king!” Athaliah, being apprised of the attempt to usurp her throne, rushed into the Temple area, apparently unattended by her own guard. As soon as she saw the newly crowned boy-king, she rent her clothes in despair, and cried defiantly, “Treason! Treason!” The innocent Jehoash must have looked on as his grandmother was seized by his uncle’s guards and hustled away from the Temple, where she was immediately put to death.
Now the de facto ruler of Judah, Jehoiada immediately engineered an attack on the Jerusalem’s Temple of Baal. A crowd of Yahwist zealots smashed its altars, destroyed its icons and artifacts, and murdered its priest in front of its main altar.
The young king Jehoash then took his place on the royal throne.
The biblical writers praise Jehoash’s early reign under Jehoida’s regency. “Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” (2 Kings 12:1) However, although Ba’al worship was no longer officially practiced in Jerusalem itself, the Bible admits that even under Jehoiada’s de facto reign, “the high places were not removed” and “the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” The text is not clear as to whether these sacrifices were offered to Yahweh only, or also to other deities.
After Jehoash came of age, he ordered a collection of money for the restoration of the Temple of Jerusalem. However, the now adult king grew dissatisfied with Johoiada’s stewardship of these funds, for “by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the temple.” Thus, at the age of 30, Jehoash took the repair project out of the hands of the apparently corrupt priesthood, and the restoration immediately began to make real progress. Jehoash was now clearly in charge in his own right. Meanwhile, the Book of Chronicles reports, support for Athaliah’s party had not completely died out, for “the sons of that wicked woman Athaliah had broken into the temple of God and had used even its sacred objects for the Baals.” (2 Chronicles 24:7)
The venerable priest Jehoiada soon died, leaving Jehoash freer than before to pursue his own religious policy. The people and officials of then Judah urged the king to adopt a more pluralistic attitude, a fact reported with disdain in 2 Chronicles 24:17-19. As a result of Jehoash’s liberalized policy, Jehoiada’s son Zechariah, Jehoash’s own cousin, now spoke out against the king publicly in prophetic fashion: “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.'” (2 Chronicles 24:20) Zechariah was immediately stoned to death by Jehoash’s supporters, and Jehoash added his own denunciation of Zechariah’s treason, declaring as his cousin lay dying: “May the Lord see this and call you to account.”
At the same time, since the alliance between Judah and Israel had fallen apart after the northern coup by Jehu, King Hazael of Syria had become a major threat. After successfully attacking the Philistine city of Gath, Hazael turned toward Jerusalem. The price Jehoash paid to bribe Hazael to withdraw included a rich storehouse of booty that had been dedicated to Yahweh, as well as a great deal of gold from both the Temple and royal treasuries.
These and other troubles put Jehoash on shaky ground politically, and 2 Kings reports that “His officials conspired against him and assassinated him at Beth Millo, on the road down to Silla.” Unlike his grandmother Athaliah, however, he was buried with honor “with his fathers in the City of David.” His son Amaziah succeeded him as king.
The intrigues which surrounded Jehoash’s reign—from his coming to power to his death—did not stop when his son Amaziah ascended the throne. Amaziah is considered by the biblical writers to be one of the good kings, but his history presents a much more checkered picture. He began his reign by avenging his father’s murder and then moved to regain the territory of Edom, which had reasserted its independence from Judah two generations earlier. However, pressure from Judah’s prophetic party forced him to break his renewed alliance with the Kingdom of Israel, leading eventually to war against the north. This resulted in disaster, as Jerusalem was sacked by Israel. Like Jehoash, Amaziah, too, died as a result of a palace conspiracy which placed his son, Azariah (Uzziah) on the throne in Jerusalem.
In Christian tradition, Jehoash is one of the ancestors of Jesus. However, he is one of four kings omitted by Matthew (1:8) in Jesus’ genealogy, the other three being his father Ahaziah, his son Amaziah, and the later king Jehoiakim.
More recently, Jehoash’s repairs of the Temple of Jerusalem became the subject of a major archaeological controversy. In 2003, an inscription was published, known as the Jehoash Inscription, which appears to be a record of repairs made to the Temple during Jehoash’s reign. Following extensive scientific tests the Israeli archaeological authorities declared it to be a forgery and initiated a prosecution of its “discoverer,” Oded Golan.
- The account in 2 Chronicles tells this story differently, indicating that the Syrians actually carried out their attack against Jerusalem and severely wounded Jehoash, who was then murdered in his bed in retaliation for the killing of Zechariah.
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- Rosenbaum, Mary Helene. Jezebel’s Daughter. Lexington, Ky: Blue Grape Press, LLC., 2007.
- Smith, Mark S. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002.
- Thiele, Edwin R. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Kregel Academic & Professional, 1994.
Originally published by New World Encyclopedia, 12.18.2018, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.