If you would turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Kings chapter 11; it’s found on page 317 in your pew Bibles. One of the songs we’ve sung over the last few days and weeks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” you know the first line, “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.” That couldn’t be true, could it? We know what it was like in Bethlehem. There was no room for them in the inn. It was crowded with all the people who had come to be registered according to the decree of Caesar Augustus. And even if the city had been quiet at the time of Jesus’ birth, it didn’t stay that way very long because in his attempt to destroy the One who had been born King of the Jews, Herod sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and the surrounding region who were under two years old. And so the city was filled with weeping and loud crying. It’s horrific. It’s an unimaginable tragedy. A cold and ruthless display of terror on the part of Herod against his own people and in his own land. It’s really unappealing to talk about; it’s unappealing even to think about. And yet it’s an important part of the story of Jesus’ birth because, for one thing, it’s a fulfillment of prophecy given through Jeremiah, but secondly it’s a reminder to us that Jesus’ life was a life of suffering and conflict from the very first day. And that conflict fits into a bigger story of conflict that exists throughout the Bible - the conflict of the seed of the serpent and the promised seed of the woman. In fact, that’s the story of the Bible. It’s God’s faithful commitment to His promise against the constant attempts of man and Satan to thwart that promise. Our passage tonight coming from the Old Testament, 2 Kings chapter 11, may be one of the most striking examples in the Old Testament that when God’s promise is most seriously threatened, it is no less sure and certain. With that in mind, let’s pray and then we’ll go to God’s Word.
Father, we give You thanks that You have given us Your Word. You have given us Your promises. Give us faith now as we read Your Word. Help us to understand it and to apply it to our hearts that we would live in faithful obedience and joy to You our God and our King. We pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.
2 Kings chapter 11. We’ll read the first three verses:
“Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the king’s sons who were being put to death, and she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus they hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not put to death. And he remained with her six years, hidden in the house of the LORD, while Athaliah reigned over the land.”
The grass withers and the flowers fall but the Word of our God endures forever.
- The Promise Threatened
I want us to see really two ideas that come out of this passage tonight and the first is, the promise threatened, and then secondly, the promise secure. The promised threatened. Any way you look at it, the death of Ahaziah that we read about in verse 1 was a big deal. It’s not because he had been a great king or because he ruled over a great kingdom. In fact, he was an unfaithful king! He did evil in the sight of the Lord and he was only king for one year. And he ruled over a kingdom, over Judah, the nation of Judah, which it was God’s people but it was nothing what it had once been. The kingdom of Israel had divided into Israel in the north and into Judah in the south and now this territory that Ahaziah is king over is roughly twice the size of the state of Rhode Island. But Ahaziah was the king and politically he set the direction for the nation. He was in charge of the army and he ruled over hundreds of thousands of people. So this is a time of the transfer of power and there were political concerns at stake here at this time.
Ahaziah a descendent of David.
But his position as king was even more significant and substantial when we understand it theologically. And that is because Ahaziah is a descendent of King David, and as such, he was in the line of God’s promise to David given in 2 Samuel chapter 7. It’s that promise that God said that He would raise up an offspring from David and He would establish the throne of his kingdom forever. And that promise of God and His faithfulness to that promise is one of the main points of 1 and 2 Kings. As the writer takes us through the succession of kings in the land of Judah, one king after the other coming in the line of David, and he contrasts that with the record of the faithless kings in the nation of Israel. And that promise is even more significant for us, I think, as we sit on the other side of the manger in Bethlehem and we look by faith at the Son of David, at King David’s greater Son, the long expected Jesus, the King of kings who is on the eternal throne, and we have a clear view of the magnitude and the immensity of this promise. This fulfillment of this promise is the point of the whole Bible in that it announces salvation to sinners in Christ, in Jesus. And so it has eternal significance as we come to this passage and we read about the death of Ahaziah. And the writer of Kings records the perpetuation of David’s offspring on the throne of Judah. When he’s doing this throughout this book we learn that even when David’s descendents were unfaithful and even when one king was dead and buried, that God’s promise was still alive and well and that there was still hope.
Athaliah’s Bold Assault on the Promise of God.
But when we get to Ahaziah and to his death and where we would expect for the next son of David to come in line, what do we find? We find this simple statement which really stresses the brutality of it. It’s that Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, arose and destroyed the royal family. This is her own family! These are her grandchildren, her own flesh and blood. Her actions here really cut against the natural order. It’s unthinkable! It’s so cold and so heartless. We almost can’t even imagine how this could be the case that she destroys her own family here. And yet we have to think that even in our own country how many unborn children are killed each year and it can be talked about so casually and so flippantly. It should produce in us really a gnaw in the gut that these kinds of things take place. And that’s the effect, the impact that this verse should have on us. And the way that this verse actually reads, it literally reads that she destroyed the seed of the kingdom. You see, it’s not just that she is assaulting the royal family and she’s assaulting the line of David, but she is assaulting the promise of God going back to the opening pages of the Bible - the seed of the woman against the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman would destroy the seed of the serpent. She is assaulting that promise and that promise is carried on into the family of Abraham. You remember what God promised Abraham when He said that “from your seed, all the nations, all the people of the earth will be blessed.” And here we come in verse 1 here and this promised seed and God’s plan of redemption comes to a dead end. It’s wiped out completely, except, for this one baby saved from destruction that we read about in verse 2.
But do you see how God’s promise here in these verses appears so fragile? It seems to be hanging by a thread. It’s just so unimpressive and it has ruthless opposition threatening to cut it off completely. And I think what makes this threat all the more devastating is the fact that it comes from within the house of David itself. You see, this is not an oversized enemy like Goliath and the Philistines. It’s not an age-old foe like Egypt and Pharaoh. It’s not even a nearby danger like Syria or Samaria. But it’s coming right at home in Judah. And that’s the subtlety of it! The subtlety of the threat makes it so dangerous. And the writer of Kings wants us to pick up on that, that here is Athaliah, she is the daughter of wicked King Ahab. You remember Ahab, don’t you? The most notorious of the idolatrous kings in the northern kingdom. He was the one that challenged Elijah, along with all the prophets of Baal, on Mount Carmel. And Athaliah is his daughter. And Joram, King of Judah, marries Athaliah and she continues in the way of her father, King Ahab. And Joram goes right along with her and he also does evil in the sight of the Lord, walking not in the ways of David but walking in the ways of Ahab. In fact, we can see how much this cult of Baal had taken root in the nation of Judah just by the fact that - where do they hide the baby? They hide him in the temple, in the house of God! Athaliah knew nothing about the house of God. She was all about the house of Baal that was in Jerusalem. And Joram and Athaliah, they have a son, Ahaziah, that we talked about in his death. During Ahaziah’s lifetime, he strengthened the allegiances between Judah and Israel and now here’s Athaliah reigning in Jerusalem and she’s behaving just like, I think what the writer of Kings wants us to see is that she is behaving just like Pharaoh and she is trying to wipe out the Hebrew children.
Judah’s Indifference to the Promise of God.
But what may be the most disturbing of all of this is the way that the people in Judah seem so indifferent, so apathetic to these events and to the promise of God. You see, enough time had passed since David, and maybe the way that God was fulfilling His promises was lagging behind the people’s expectations. And they were following after idolatry themselves and they had forgotten God’s Word and forgotten God’s ways. And when Athaliah takes the throne, we’re not told of anyone questioning how she came into this position of power or doing anything about it. She reigns for six years and we’re not told of one record of opposition against her. You see what’s happening here. There is no son of David on the throne, and instead there’s a daughter of Ahab and the majority of the people don’t seem to care or even notice. How can that be?
And isn’t that a warning to us? A warning against growing cold to the promises of God, against measuring the truthfulness of God’s Word by the standards of man. And how often do the idols of our culture and the idols of our own hearts cause us to turn from God’s way and we pursue significance and we pursue rest by our own efforts and it leads us away from faithfulness. It leads us away from the distinctiveness that God calls us to be. Or maybe we’re so far from the fulfillment of this promise that maybe it’s lost some of its appeal, or some of its wonder? It may be that we’re so far from Christ’s coming that we have a casual response or a familiar response to God’s work of salvation. But think about it! Think about how this promise to David was fulfilled. It was by God taking on flesh and being born as a man in the person of Jesus Christ. That “the One who was rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake became poor.” Does that lead us to wonder and adoration or are we sometimes bored with worshipping Jesus and hearing about Him?
Derek Kidner has said that “the shrug is the most hopeless of all comments on life.” Do we shrug at the promise of God in Christ? That appears to be what is going on in the nation of Judah during this time, during the time of Athaliah. And as a result, the promise is threatened to the brink of destruction. And it’s threatened not by enemies out there but it’s threatened by enemies within, right at home. And I think for us, as we approach the end of a year and the beginning of a new year, we may face various threats to our wellbeing in the coming year. But our greatest threat is not the culture, it’s not terrorism, it’s not disease. But our greatest threat for the coming year is the idolatry and the sinful desires that reside in our own hearts.
There’s a story about G.K. Chesterton - I don’t really think it’s true because it sounds too much like a sermon illustration but it illustrates the point fairly well! It’s that the writers of a certain newspaper had sent out inquiries to some notable writers and they said, “Send us back your response about what is wrong with the world. Answer the question, ‘What is wrong with the world?’” And the story goes that Chesterton said in his letter, “Dear sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.” You see what he’s illustrating, what he’s saying, is that the greatest threat to our hope, the greatest threat to rob our joy is the idolatry and the sinful desires that exist within all of us. We can’t let popular opinion or comforts or the desires of the flesh lead us to put our hope in anything else but in the sure promises of God in Christ Jesus because the promise is secure.
- The Promise Secure.
And that’s the second thing we see in this passage - the promise secure. Verse 2, we’re introduced to Jehosheba. Jehosheba is the daughter of King Joram; she’s the sister of Ahaziah. We’re told in 2 Chronicles that she is married to Johoiada, the priest. The only other place where Jehosheba appears in the Bible is actually in this parallel account that’s found in 2 Chronicles. She’s one of those people in the Bible that we really don’t know much about and yet because she trusted in God’s Word and because she placed her hope in Him, she had a major role in the progress of God’s kingdom. And see, that’s what sets Jehosheba apart from Athaliah and also apart from the majority of the people who were living in Judah is that she believed the promise of God to David and she rescued this lone surviving member of the house of David, this baby Joash, and she hid him away in the house of the Lord for six years. Ralph Davis calls Jehosheba “the lady who saved Christmas.” And that’s true! It’s because it was her commitment to and her hope in God’s Word that preserved the line of David.
The Faithfulness of Jehosheba.
And so that over eight hundred years later Gabriel could appear to Mary, who was also one of those quiet and seemingly unimpressive figures who trusted in God’s promise. Gabriel came to Mary and said, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name, Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” You see, what Jehosheba does here in this passage in 2 Kings 11, makes it possible for Jesus to come from the line of David to fulfill this promise that God has been keeping throughout His Word and throughout history.
I think just to stop for just a moment and think about Jehosheba and how humble a character she is and really what a simple and quiet thing she does. She takes this child and brings him into the temple and raises him according to God’s Word and according to God’s ways. Doesn’t that give a great importance and emphasis to doing those simple things in our families and raising our children according to God’s Word and according to His ways and leading them to trust in these promises? Jehosheba does that and she makes a major impact in the progression of God’s kingdom. And you see, what we find out here is that God is faithful to His promise. His kingdom is unshakeable. The King is one the throne!
And again, we need to remember that as we come to the end of a year and to the beginning of another. Think back, think back to where you were this time last year. Some of you could never have guessed the way that your life changed in an instant. The things that happened to you that came out of nowhere; you never saw it coming! And none of us knows that tomorrow brings. Some of us could face some difficult trials in the coming months. We could face the loss of a loved one or a cancer diagnosis; violence and crime could strike at home and lead to fear and insecurity. We will all likely face the mounting pressures of living in a secular culture where convictions to God’s Word is intolerable and will be scorned. Now as I mentioned a few minutes ago, those things are not the greatest threat to our hope, and yet they are challenges and they will threaten to diminish our hope and to rob us of our joy. And yet as the writer of 1 and 2 Kings is telling us, God is faithful to His Word and His promise is secure. And if the promise is secure, then hope can thrive even in the most challenging circumstances. The question is, “Will you trust Him?” We have plenty of evidence from our lives, from our experience, from God’s Word, and in Christ Himself that God’s kingdom stands and His ways will prevail.
The Way of Humility.
I think we see even in this short little passage reminders of the way in which God carries out His kingdom purposes. And let me just note three characteristics of the kingdom as we seek to be faithful in the challenges of this world. And the first is that the way of the kingdom is the way of humility. Joash, as we see here, is another one of the leaders of God’s people who is least according to the standards of the world. He’s not the firstborn of Ahaziah’s household, of Ahaziah’s sons. He is the last. He is the youngest. And so along with Isaac and Jacob and Gideon and David and on and on and on, we see what Jesus teaches in the gospels that the first will be last and the last will be first, that our place in God’s kingdom doesn’t come because of our merit or our strength or our reputation but it comes by grace. And if we face ridicule and we face mockery and we face trials we know that our reward that God gives is so much greater than anything that the world can give.
The Way of God’s Providence.
And we can face those things knowing secondly what we see about the kingdom is that they way of the kingdom is the way of God’s providence. Notice that this preservation of Joash that we find in these verses, it’s an illustration of what we learn from Joseph back in Genesis chapter 50, that, “what man means for evil, God means for good.” Because if Joash had remained in the palace, if he had remained in the family of Ahaziah and under the influence of Athaliah, then he would likely have been influenced by the cult of Baal and followed in the ways of his grandparents and of his father, doing evil in the sight of the Lord. And yet what do we see Joash doing as he’s being raised in the house of the Lord? He’s being raised by the influence of the priests, of Jehoiada and Jehosheba. And so he’s being prepared to follow in the ways of God, to do right in the eyes of the Lord, and to turn the people back to the Lord and worship when he becomes king. In fact, 2 Chronicles chapter 24 when it tells us about Joash, it ties him with Jehoiada and it says that “he followed the Lord and he was obedient to the Lord, all the days of Jehoiada.” But when the priest died, Joash went astray and he went away from the Lord. But what we see in this passage is that God uses the evil scheme of Athaliah to further His kingdom designs through Joash.
That’s the same thing that we see happening with Christ Himself, that He went through the same sort of preservation through suffering and that suffering made Him just the kind of King and just the kind of Savior that we need. Because He was tempted in every way just like we are and He was touched by our infirmities, and now He is ready to hear our concerns and to sustain us by His grace. And we can know that even in our own sufferings that God preserves us. He will preserve us and He will work all things together for His good. And that that suffering, those sufferings, will make us like Christ. He is shaping us into the image of Christ by doing that.
The Way of Worship.
And the third thing we see about the kingdom is that the way of the kingdom is the way of worship. You see, here in this passage and throughout 1 and 2 Kings, the temple plays a crucial role in the kingdom. And the ideal king is one who would live according to the presence of God and in sincere devotion to Him. When we come to our true and our eternal King, He is God with us. He is Immanuel, righteous and holy, Prophet, Priest, and King. He is the fulfillment of this promise. He is the ideal King and He is worthy of our worship. So what we see here in this passage is that there is no hope apart from the worship of Christ. We need worship to strengthen our trust. We need worship to maintain our distinctiveness and to be faithful even when the promise seems to be hanging by a thread.
A month ago marked the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. And a book was published this year called, Killing A King, and it details some of the background and some of the impact that that assassination made in the Middle East. And the writer takes his title, Killing A King, from a letter that the brother of the assassin wrote kind of describing their reason for carrying out that plan. And he had this line in his letter. It says, “According to Judaism, killing a king is profoundly significant. It affects the entire nation and alters its destiny.” Athaliah knew that, and so she attempted to wipe out the seed of David. Herod knew that, and so he carried out his deadly schemes on the city of David and sought to kill the infant Jesus. And yet, years later when a son of Herod, along with Pontius Pilate, crucifies Jesus and He is dead and buried in the tomb and the promise of God appears not to even be hanging by a thread anymore but it appears to be broken and lost forever, it is at that moment that Jesus rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven, He reigns in glory, and He will return victorious at the last day. God is keeping His promise, all for stubborn sinners who He loves with a stubborn grace. There will be times when God’s promise will be threatened, His kingdom will be threatened, and yet Christ has secured all the promises of the Gospel and He will make those blessings a reality for us, a deep and lasting reality, an eternal reality, when He returns on the last day. And so until that time, we know that the promise is secure and that gives us hope to live in joyful obedience to our King. Let’s go to Him in prayer.
Our Father, we do praise You for Your steadfast love, for Your great faithfulness. We thank You that You have kept Your Word. You are a God who makes and keeps promises and we confess our own inability and weakness and pray that You would draw us closer to You. Strengthen our trust in You. Strengthen our faith and lead us in worship. We pray all of these things in Christ’s name, amen.
©2015 First Presbyterian Church.
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