Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II CHRONICLES CHAPTER 22
The alliance between the House of David and the house of the wicked Ahab king of Israel almost led to the extinction of the royal line of David after the death of King Yehoram of Judah, son of King Yehoshaphat, which we read about at the end of the previous chapter (II Chron. 21:19-20). In retribution for Yehoram's leading Judah into idolatry, an invading army of Philistines and Arabs had captured and apparently killed all his sons and wives, leaving only his smallest son Yeho-achaz (ibid. v 16-17). When Yehoram died at the age of forty, the people of Jerusalem chose Yeho-achaz (also called Ahaziahu and Azariahu) to succeed him.
"Ahaziahu was FORTY-TWO years old when he reigned." (verse 2). It is impossible to take this verse at face value since this would mean that Ahaziahu had been born before the birth of his father Yehoram, who died at the age of only FORTY (II Chron. 21:20). In II Kings 8:26 it says that Ahaziahu was TWENTY-TWO when he reigned. Rashi on verse 2 of our present chapter explains that when Ahaziahu came to the throne, it was FORTY-TWO years since the decree of destruction that had been made against the House of David two years before the birth of Yehoram, when King Asa had married his son Yehoshaphat to the daughter of Omri, Ahab's father. This tradition is based on Midrash Seder Olam and Tosephta of Sotah, but the written Biblical text itself nowhere states that Yehoshaphat married the daughter of Omri, although it does say that Yehoshaphat "made a marriage alliance with Ahab" (II Chron.l 18:1). This may refer to his marrying Ahab's sister, although it is usually understood to refer to Yehoshaphat's marrying his son Yehoram to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, who plays a central role in our present chapter and the next.
From the above-quoted comment by Rashi, we see how the text alludes to something that is not at all explicit: namely, that the association between the House of David and the family of Omri and Ahab had already begun in the latter years of the reign of Asa, when Omri rose to power as king of Israel. Perhaps this was intentionally obscured in our text in order not to impugn the honor of King Asa.
Athaliah, who was the daughter of Ahab (despite her being called daughter of Omri in v 2, see RaDaK ad loc.) and a formidable woman in her own right, was the mother of the new twenty-two year old king Ahaziahu, and it was all but inevitable that he would fall prey to her insidious advice and follow the idolatrous path of Ahab that she and her late husband Yehoram had introduced in Judah.
King Ahaziahu's alliance with Ahab's son and successor, Yehoram King of Israel, in the latter's military campaign against Aram in Ramoth Gil'ad, led to the death of both kings at the hands of Yehu ben Nimshi, who had been anointed by the prophet Jonah at the command of the prophet Elisha with the mission of destroying the house of Ahab. The entire story, which is given in brief in our present chapter (II Chron. 22:5-9), is told in greater detail in the parallel account in II Kings 8:28-9:28.
When Athaliah saw that her son King Ahaziahu had been killed, she immediately set out to kill all male members of the Davidic royal line in Judah in order to destroy all possible opposition to the tyranny she now intended to impose there under herself. Rashi based on hints in the written text (II Kings 11:2) states that Athaliah used sorcery and poison to bring a protracted, painful death upon them. "It was of this generation that David said, 'LaMnatzeach Upon the Eighth' (Psalms 12:1). He saw with holy spirit that in the eighth generation all his seed would be killed by Athaliah, for from Solomon until now there were eight generations, and he prayed that his seed should be left as a memorial and said: 'Help, HaShem, for the godly man ceases.' (ibid. v 2)".
It was only the courage of another woman - Yehoshav'ath, daughter of King Yehoram of Judah and sister of the slain King Ahaziahu - that saved the Davidic line from complete extinction when she took Ahaziahu's one-year old baby son Yo'ash and hid him in the "chamber of the beds" (verse 11). According to rabbinic tradition, this was in the Holy Temple , either in the priests' sleeping quarters in the Temple Courtyard where Yehoshav'ath lived with her husband Yeho-yada, who was the High Priest, or in the upper storey over the Holy of Holies (Rashi on v 11). The Holy of Holies is called the "chamber of the beds" because "He lays down between my breasts" (Song of Songs 1:13,) i.e. between the poles of the Ark (see KNOW YOUR BIBLE commentary on II Chron. 5:9). Of this moment of dire peril, when the survival of his entire line was in danger, King David had prayed, "For He will conceal me in His tabernacle on the day of evil" (Psalms 27:5).
Evidence of the comprehensive tyranny that Athaliah wielded over Judah lies in the fact that Yo'ash had to be concealed in the Temple for six full years before Yeho-yada the High Priest felt strong enough to reveal him to the people. During those six years Athaliah raided the Temple treasures in order to pay for the construction of the idolatrous temples and altars she was busy building in order to entrench herself in Jerusalem and Judah.
"And in the seventh year Yeho-yada strengthened himself." Yeho-yada the High Priest had received the prophetic tradition from Elisha and was a key link in the transmission of the Torah tradition from Moses to the later prophets: Yeho-yada's son Zechariah (II Chron. 24:20ff) handed the tradition to the prophet Hosea (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Introduction). All the true prophets knew that God had promised never to cut off the seed of King David completely, while Elijah and Elisha had prophesied that the House of Ahab would be cut off. The time now came for Yeho-yada the High Priest, heir to the prophetic tradition, to take the initiative to overthrow Athaliah, who was the last surviving vestige of the House of Ahab after Yehu ben Nimshi had killed all the other members, and to re-establish the House of David through the public coronation of Yo'ash. The Cohanim and Levites, as guardians of the Temple and its services, were also direly threatened by Athaliah and her idolatrous ambitions, and now stood at the side of the royal line of David in an alliance that had begun with the marriage of Aharon the High Priest to Eli-sheva daughter of Aminadav, Prince of the tribe of Judah .
Yeho-yada took what today would be called maximum security measures in the Temple to ensure that the coronation of the seven-year old King Yo'ash would proceed without any danger from Athaliah and her mafia. Only trustworthy Cohanim and Levites were to be admitted into the inner Temple precincts, and flanking the Temple building and the young king were heavily armed guards. Yeho-yada's public display of Yo'ash after six years of concealment must have been a moment of consummate drama.
"And they brought forth the son of the king and put upon him the CROWN." (v 11). This was the crown that David had taken from the head of the king of Ammon (I Chronicles 20:2). David had it studded with a precious magnetic (charismatic?) stone engraved with the name of HaShem. The crown weighed a centenarium of gold, and was testimony for the House of David, for any king who was not from the seed of David was unable to fit the crown on his head and bear its weight. When the people saw that it fitted Yo'ash and that he was able to bear it, they immediately proclaimed him king (Targum on v 11, cf. Rashi ad loc.).
On hearing the celebrations in the Temple, Athaliah rushed to find out what was happening, discovering to her dismay that a successful coup had already put an end to her regime. Yeho-yada had her killed, after which he struck a Covenant between himself, the people and the king returning the kingship to its true mission of making Israel the people devoted to HaShem (v 16). While the people cleansed Judah of the Baal worship instituted by Athaliah, Yeho-yada re-established the Temple services of the priests and Levites, which had perhaps fallen into partial disuse during her tyranny. The king was escorted to his palace to sit on his throne and the people rejoiced.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved