Joash, King of Judah
The condition of which we have spoken did not last. The reign of Joash is a sad example, given us by the Word, of a happy beginning in the power of the Spirit of God and an end from which everything the beginning had promised disappears. Byway of exception, Chronicles exposes to us the details of Joash's final unfaithfulness, whereas Kings, no doubt to establish the contrast between the worship of the true God reestablished in Judah and the idolatrous religion of Israel, speaks to us only of the happy and blessed beginning of this reign. Let us then begin with this, but let us first of all examine that which in Joash's character could lead to completely deny the principles that characterized the beginning of his career.
The first words of our account inform us as to this: "And Joash did what was right in the sight of Jehovah, all the days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him" (v. 2). Joash, brought up in the law of the Lord from most tender years, guarded with pious care from all outward temptation through the solicitude of Jehoiada and Jehosheba, gifted with a pliant character, distinguished more by his submission than by his energy, submitting to good influences as long as they prevailed, but in danger through lack of "virtue" of yielding to evil influences-Joash was accustomed from childhood on to enjoy a relationship with God through an intermediary without feeling the need for direct communion with the Lord. Not that he lacked the spirit of initiative; the course of piety in which he was enlisted rendered him capable on occasion of reproving even the high priest himself (v. 7); but he lacked the immediate direction of the Spirit of God.
Children of Christians often offer this spectacle. Their parents' faith guides their first steps, a thing which is legitimate and approved of God. They later manifest a genuine faith, but not stripped of its first habits, looking to men rather than to God Himself. Their conscience has never been deeply exercised about man's sinful state and his natural distance from God. They believe that which they have always believed; however one cannot doubt that they have life. Their conduct leaves nothing to be desired, and they have a real interest in the things of God. The Word is not unknown to them, and one sees a Joash reminding even the high priest of the "tribute of Moses the servant of Jehovah laid upon the congregation of Israel, for the tent of testimony" (2 Chr. 24: 6). But the hour of their spiritual emancipation has not yet sounded, when it should have taken place long ago. Knowledge and real piety do not make up for the lack of a direct relationship of the soul with the Lord. The Christian must seek this before all else. Thousands of godly souls remain in a condition of childhood, depending first of all upon their parents, and later upon their spiritual leaders, instead of depending upon God and the Word. Let the leader disappear, and their godliness disappears with him; let him turn aside, and their soul turns aside after him. However amiable certain traits of this piety may be, let us be kept from it, especially during the difficult times that we are passing through. Let us meditate often on this word of the apostle, addressed to the "little children": "And ye have the unction from the holy one, and ye know all things" (1 John 2: 20, 26‑27). Not that obedience to leaders should be wanting Christians are to obey their leaders and submit to them because "they watch over your souls"; the apostle also charges them to "Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the word of God" (Heb. 13: 7, 17). In no wise, however, does this imply that they must submit to all these without discernment, nor, if they would be kept, that they should refrain from seeking direct and immediate communion with the Lord. Joash obeyed leaders indiscriminately, whether Jehoiada or the princes-and that was his ruin.
Leaders may change or fail; Christ alone does not change: He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is "the great shepherd of the sheep." It is to Him that we must cleave. This is one of the solemn instructions that the character and career of Joash offers us.
From the beginning of his reign, one thing, apparently secondary, foretold its decline: "Only, the high places were not removed: the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places" (v. 3). From Solomon's reign on, the presence of the high places was tolerated, for in the beginning, before the erection of the temple, these had not necessarily been idolatrous. Solomon had sacrificed to God at the great high place of Gibeon (1 Kings 3: 2‑4); but already the people, encouraged by the king's example, were seeing something else in this, and their superstitious or idolatrous thoughts rose up with the incense that was burned there. Through these high places of Rehoboam, Solomon's son, had allowed shameful idolatry to get a grip upon his kingdom. From thenceforth none of Judah's faithful kings had the courage to abolish them. Asa, whose "heart was perfect with Jehovah all his days," did not remove them (1 Kings 15: 14). Jehoshaphat, who "walked in all the way of Asa his father,' who "turned not aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of Jehovah," allowed them to remain (1 Kings 22: 43‑44). The high places are not spoken of in connection with Abijam the son of Rehoboam, Jehoram of Judah, and Ahaziah, because these ungodly kings followed the ways of the kings of Israel and engaged in worse idolatry than they. The same thing that is mentioned about Joash is mentioned again about Amaziah his son, although he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 14: 34); about Azariah (or Uzziah) the son of Amaziah (2 Kings 15: 34); about Jotham the son of Uzziah (2 Kings 15: 34‑35); whereas Ahaz the son of Jotham, who followed the ways of the kings of Israel, used the high places for his abominable idolatry (2 Kings 16: 34). With Hezekiah and the first true restoration of Judah, the high places at last disappeared (2 Kings 18: 4). Ungodly Manasseh, his son, rebuilt them (2 Kings 21: 3); Amon, Manasseh's son, followed the way of his father. Lastly, Josiah, at the time of the second restoration was not content merely to remove them like godly Hezekiah, but destroyed them altogether, defiled them, and filled the places where they had been with bones (2 Kings 23: 8, 13‑14). This destruction was so complete that none of the evil kings that followed found it possible to rebuild them. In actual fact, only one king of Judah, Josiah, and that near the end of the history of the people, definitely extirpated this evil, this permanent danger for the people of God. These end times, this time of ruin corresponding to our own day, give us such an example. If, as in Josiah's days, God's present testimony is of much lesser importance and extent in the eyes of men, if they even consider it according their own expression, as a negligible quantity, it is not so in God's eyes. The testimony of a Hezekiah or of a Josiah is recorded in His "book of remembrance," and although it raises but a temporary dike against the course of decline and but temporarily postpones the execution of judgment, it brings out the character of God in this world and serves as a means of salvation or edification for the good of souls.
Joash's first concern was the temple of the Lord, the place of God's presence in the midst of His people. When there is a revival of godliness, this neglected object requires a totally new value. God's children feel the need of gathering there where the Lord has been pleased to make His name to dwell, and of honoring His presence in the midst of His own by their activity, by their devotion, and by all their conduct.
"And Joash said to the priests, All the money of the hallowed things that is brought into the house of Jehovah, the money of every one that passes the account, the money at which every man is valued, and all the money that comes into any man's heart to bring into the house of Jehovah, let the priests take it, every man of his acquaintance; and let them repair the breaches of the house, wherever any breach is found" (vv. 4‑5).
As we have said before, we see here with Joash an exact knowledge of the law of the Lord which had been given him at his coronation. A goodly sum must have been employed, according to the king's order, for the restoration of the sanctuary. First of all, we have "all the money of the hallowed things that is brought into the house of Jehovah." This included all the cases mentioned by Moses of voluntary gifts and gifts of "a willing heart" for the building of the sanctuary (Ex. 35: 5, 20‑29; Num. 7). Money from the spoil may be included in this category (Num. 31: 25‑54). Atonement money and ransom money made up the second category (Ex. 30: 11‑16; Num. 3: 44‑51). Lastly, the money at which every man was valued at consisted of every voluntary gift which was not prescribed by any law or ordinance. This was given at different times, as some of the passages referred to show us. To Joash the important thing was to go back to "the tribute of Moses the servant of God laid upon Israel in the wilderness" (2 Chr. 24: 9), and not to turn aside from the word of the law, when it was a matter of honoring the house of God and all that was connected with it. It is the same in our day, No more than for Joash is it a question for us of beginning to build the house, of re‑erecting a new Church; it is only a matter of repairing the breaches, and for that God does not abandon us to our own initiative which would but add new breaches to the ancient evils. In the Word of God we too have our tribute of Moses, the indication of what God is expecting of us; and if our hearts are "willing," they will seek but one thing, the interests of Christ and of the house of God upon earth.
If Joash is full of zeal at this moment, he does not find this same degree of zeal in the priesthood or even in godly Jehoiada who is its head. The priests were employing for their own use the gifts they received from their acquaintances (vv. 7‑8). It was not that they did not have the right to live from the things offered at the altar, but their own interest were taking precedence in their hearts over those of the Lord and of His house; their conduct showed this. They lived from their gifts, and the house of God retained its breaches. Jehoiada himself let them do so without protesting Further down (v. 15) we see that people without any official character, from among those who were set over the work down to the carpenters and masons, "dealt faithfully," much more so than the priests themselves. May we exhort ourselves, following the example of these men, to show the same heart for the work and faithfulness in the service entrusted to us, in order to "adorn the teaching which is of our Savior God in all things" (Titus 2: 10).
On the other hand, those who had the money in hand to distribute to the workers, did not distrust them, for they recognized the selflessness brought to light by their entire conduct. Thus a happy communion reigned among all, and nothing came in to hinder the orderly advance of the work. Such a result is always produced when the interests of the house of God, instead of being relegated to the background, are considered as the chief thing.
In spite of this, the needs of the priests were not forgotten. Certain sums (the monies of the trespass and sin offerings) were not deposited in the chest placed at the entry of the house of the Lord, and these remained set apart for the priesthood (v. 16). Thus everything was provided for with order and measure.
Between verses 16 and 17, the account in 2 Chronicles 24: 17‑22 is woven in, that is to say, the fall of Joash who went as far as to murder Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada. When we come to the books of Chronicles, there will be time to meditate upon this last sad year of such a lovely reign; but this deed was enough to destroy the fruit of Joash's testimony.
Hazael, the king of Syria, God's rod, comes up against Jerusalem after having seized Gath, located at the foot of the mountains of Judah and which formed the key to the land on the side of the land of the Philistines. Joash, in order to pay his ransom to Hazael, sent him all the hallowed things of the house of God. What had become of his wonderful zeal for all that pertained to Jehovah? According to 2 Chronicles 24: 23‑27, this did not prevent Hazael from presenting himself at Jerusalem with a small number of men, to the shame and disgrace of Joash's great army, now without strength because he had forsaken the Lord, the God of his fathers. All the princes of the people who had incited the king to evil and had conspired against Zechariah are put to death. Thus the word spoken by that dying prophet was fulfilled: "Jehovah see and require it." Joash himself, left "in great diseases" by the enemy, is slain by his servants, an Ammonite and a Moabite, unconscious instruments of divine justice, this also avenging the blood of the son of Jehoiada upon the king according to the word of the prophet.