Updated 6/18/2015. After this post was published there was some great discussion in the comments about the meaning of מֵעַמָּ֖יו in Lev 21:14, which has been translated either “of his own kin” or “of his own people”. While some scholars see this as meaning a high priest had to marry within his tribe, others see it as meaning he just had to marry an Israelite. The post was amended to reflect this uncertainty (see note 4).
Redemption is one of the most beautiful themes in the Bible.
God creates something good but it’s subverted for evil – then comes in again and redeems it, giving it back the purpose and goodness it was always meant to have. We often think of ‘Christ the redeemer of our souls’, but redemption is more than that – God not only rescues us, but rescues all of creation.
The movement for women’s equality can be seen as the redemption of the relationship between men and women, bringing us back to God’s original good design.
I want to examine a wonderful glimpse of this redemption, found in the Old Testament books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles:
The people of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, Jehoram’s youngest son, king in his place, since the raiders, who came with the Arabs into the camp, had killed all the older sons. So Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of Judah began to reign. Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem one year. His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. He too followed the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him to act wickedly. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done, for after his father’s death they became his advisers, to his undoing.” 2 Chronicles 22:1-4 NIV
When King Ahaziah dies, it seems none of his children are old enough or have enough power and influence to take the throne, so his mother Athaliah steps in:
When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Because Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and wife of the priest Jehoiada, was Ahaziah’s sister, she hid the child from Athaliah so she could not kill him. He remained hidden with them at the temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.” 2 Chronicles 22:10-12 NIV
(The names in this story can be confusing, so see the handy “Cast of Characters” chart below for reference, courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Athaliah was the daughter of Jezebel and King Ahab of Israel . Her marriage to King Jehoram of Judah was a political alliance that eased the tensions between the two kingdoms but also brought the negative influence of her family line along with it. Upon the death of her son the king, she seizes the throne and all the young heirs are set to be murdered .
Can we pause and think about how evil that is? Murdering your very own grandchildren in order to seize power?
Yet in the face of that atrocity, only one person stands in the way – the princess Jehosheba.
The daughter of Athaliah’s deceased husband, King Jehoram , Jehosheba hides the young Joash and his nurse to prevent him from being murdered. She and her husband, the priest Jehoida, protect Joash in the temple for six years until Athaliah is finally dethroned.
I love how God not only saves Joash, but uses Jehosheba to redeem the role of women.
Where the evil leadership of the land culminates with the actions of one woman, Athaliah, another woman acts as savior. It’s as though God is underlining the truth that it isn’t gender which matters but hearts and actions.
We cannot point to this story as an example of a woman causing great evil without also pointing to another woman who was a forerunner of Jesus himself, saving and redeeming God’s people through her brave intervention.
We also see that Jehosheba and Jehoiada together are agents of redemption for marriage.
This whole situation started with the marriage of Athaliah and Jehoram, a union of the people of God with the people of Baal. The Old Testament law forbade this marriage between religions: their union was not in line with God’s plan and the results were the continuance of an evil line and the spreading of Israel’s wrong to Judah. Athaliah continues in the way handed down to her, and she and Jehoram pass it on in turn to their son.
Surprisingly, Jehoiada and Jehosheba may have been in a similar situation. As high priest, some scholars believe Jehoiada would have been restricted to marrying only daughters of the tribe of Levi (Lev 21:14); but his wife Jehosheba was a direct descendant of King David of the tribe of Judah. There are differing interpretations of the priestly marriage restrictions and Jehoiada’s status , but it is possible that their marriage was as forbidden as that of Jehoram and Athaliah .
Either way, where Athaliah and Jehoram continued in disobedience and brought great disaster, Jehosheba and Jehoiada worked together for the good of God’s people. Her position as a member of the royal family allowed her to save Joash from death; his position as priest provided a sanctuary to protect Joash and a platform from which to restore the kingdom.
I love this story of redemption because it underlines so clearly that our character and actions are what counts to God – not our gender.
It’s a beautiful story of redemption for women: God saves the rightful heir from a woman, by a woman. A woman with power and position was not the problem – it was what she did with that which mattered.
It’s a beautiful story of redemption for marriage: Where great evil had been wrought by one couple, God uses another couple for great good. Their individual positions and gifts worked together to save a young child and continue the royal line, just as God had promised.
And finally, it’s a beautiful story of the redemption of the line of King David, eventually leading to Jesus; bringing about redemption for us all.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Ahab was the seventh king of Israel since Jeroboam I, the son and successor of Omri, and the husband of Jezebel of Sidon, according to the Hebrew Bible. Ahab became king of Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa, king of Judah, and reigned for twenty-two years.
Jezebel was a princess, identified in 1 Kings 16:31) as the daughter of Ethbaal, King of Sidon (Lebanon/Phoenicia) and the wife of Ahab, king of northern Israel. According to the biblical accounts, Jezebel incited her husband King Ahab to abandon the worship of Yahweh and encourage worship of the deities Baal and Asherah instead.
Joash (alternately Jehoash) was a king of Judah, and the sole surviving son of Ahaziah after the massacre of the royal family ordered by his grandmother, Athaliah. He was also the first Judahite king to be descended from both the House of David and the House of Omri. Joash was 7 years old when his reign began, and he reigned for 40 years. (2 Kings 12:1,2 Chronicles 24:1)
All citations from Wikipedia.
 There is some controversy over Athaliah’s identity because she is identified in 2 Kings 8:26 as a daughter of Omri and in 2 Kings 8:18 and 2 Chronicles 21:6 as the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Some translations identify her as Omri’s granddaughter.
 Bronner notes that Athaliah recognized that “if one of her sons or grandsons, the young princes, became king, her place as queen mother would be usurped” (p. 55).
 Jehosheba is described in 1 Kings 11 as the daughter of King Jehoram and the sister of Ahaziah, and in 2 Chronicles 22 as also being the wife of the priest Jehoiada.
 Added 6/18/15. There are differing interpretations of the Hebrew מֵעַמָּ֖יו in Lev 21:14. It is most often translated as “of his own people”, but can also be read as “of his own kin”. So while some scholars see this as meaning a priest had to marry within his tribe, others see it as meaning a priest just had to marry an Israelite. For example, according to the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship “the rules pertaining to the priests’ marriage…corresponded to their standing in the cult. A high priest could marry only a virgin of his own kin (Lev 21:13-14); a priest could probably marry an Israelite virgin or widow of a priest” (T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, 2000, p. 424). There are also conflicting reports regarding whether or not Jehoiada was a high priest or just a prominent priest. Josephus mentions Jehoiada as high priest in his Jewish Antiquites Book 9, Chapter 7: “Athaliah reigned over Jerusalem for five [six] years, when Jehoiada the high priest slew her.” However, a Jehoiada is not in his list of High Priests (Antiquities of the Jews 10:151-153).
FOR FURTHER STUDY
Branch, Robin Gallaher. (2009) Jeroboam’s Wife: The Enduring Contributions of the Old Testament’s Least-Known Women. Hendrickson Publishers.
Bronner, Leila Leah. (2004). Stories of Biblical Mothers: Maternal Power in the Hebrew Bible. University Press of America.
Latest posts by Lydia Leigh (see all)
- The Promise of Pentecost: Your Sons and Daughters Will Prophesy - May 19, 2016
- Athaliah & Jehosheba: Rebellion & Redemption in the Old Testament - June 16, 2015
- The Intervention of Zipporah: Protector of Moses - November 15, 2014