Spiritual Decline: Joash
R. V. Court, Bristol, England
The beginning of the life of Joash was tragic. His own father Ahaziah (a godless man) was slain by Jehu, 2 Chron. 22. 9, and following his death the grandmother of Joash, Athaliah, attempted to eliminate all the family of her son, so destroying all claimants to the throne. Behind the action of this wicked woman we may trace the determined attempt of Satan to destroy the line through which was to come the Messiah, and it seems as though he almost succeeded. We say "almost" because, in spite of the chaos and turmoil of the times, God was still working "all things after the counsel of his own will", Eph. 1. 11. This wicked woman is marked out in Scripture as one who set herself to train her son, Ahaziah, in the ways of wickedness, 2 Chron. 22. 2-3. How sad and solemn are the words that the Holy Spirit has caused to be written concerning her, "his mother was his counseller to do wickedly". This same determined opposition to truth is seen in her attempt, while usurping the throne, to destroy the worship of the true God; see 2 Chron. 24. 7.
In the general massacre of the royal family one precious life was spared by the courageous act of Jehoshabeath, wife of the high priest, who snatched baby Joash, then about twelve months old, and hid him, with the compliance both of her husband, and, one assumes, of the priesthood serving in the temple. Again we see God's control of events. Had Ahaziah not been slain, Joash would have grown up under the influence of a godless father. Instead, he was removed to a place where, during the first seven impressionable years of his life he was influenced by the godly life and example of Jehoiada the high priest. Meanwhile, Jehoiada was planning, at the risk of his own life, for the day when Joash could be declared the rightful king of Judah. 2 Chronicles 23 tells of the careful arrangements made as Joash came to the age of seven. The successful outcome of the arrangements is detailed for us in this chapter, which tells of the crowning of the king and the death of the usurper Athaliah.
Joash began his reign well. 2 Chronicles 24. 2 records that he "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord". Obviously as a child he was subject to the guidance of others, and the inspired historian draws attention to this as he adds, "all the days of Jehoiada the priest". It is clear that the godly priest had a very great influence on the lad, an influence for good, and the common people of the land were benefited by this as Joash "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord". 2 Chronicles 24 tells of the repair of the house of the Lord, and the record shows that it was the king who was the moving force behind this. Verse 14 seems to indicate the restoration of the offerings, but here again the influence of the older man is seen, as it is plainly stated that "they offered burnt offerings in the house of the Lord continually all the days of Jehoiada".
"But Jehoiada waxed old ... (and) died", v. 15. This was inevitable, but the comment that he was "full of days" indicates that God had permitted a long life, which meant that a great part of the life of Joash was lived under his influence. Surely after all this he can now stand on his own feet! Whatever our expectation might be, we read in verses 17 and 18, "Now after the death of Jehoiada came the princes of Judah . . . Then the king hearkened unto them. And they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served groves and idols". The speed with which this falling away came suggests that there were those who were waiting for the moment when the godly influence of Jehoiada would be removed, but it comes as a shock to discover that Joash was so quickly and easily influenced. God's anger, v. 18, is understandable, but he sent messengers to His people in an endeavour to bring them back, without success. Then in a further attempt to reach the hearts of the people, the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah, the new high priest, son of the one who had championed the cause of the king so valiantly, and he was moved to declare "because ye have forsaken the Lord, he hath also forsaken you", v. 20. This, alas, did not result in any repentance, and verse 21 tells of the base ingratitude of the king toward his benefactor in that he commanded that Zechariah, whose only crime was to declare the word of the Lord, should be stoned to death. This was done in the court of the house of the Lord. Verse 25 implies that the sons of Zechariah also suffered at this time.
The story moves on apace, and at the end of the year Joash is faced with a Syrian invasion. Verse 23 solemnly records that the invaders destroyed "all the princes of the people". The previous time when the princes were mentioned, they were leading the king astray —God is now indicating His displeasure. Verse 24 is startling: "the Syrians came with a small company of men, and the Lord delivered a very great host into their hand, because they had forsaken the Lord God of their fathers". This reverses what God promised would happen if they were faithful, "One man of you shall chase a thousand". One cannot prosper in sin. Joash is, however, spared, and in 2 Kings 12. 17-18 we find that he robbed the house of God of its treasures in order to bribe the Syrian king to go away—taking the things dedicated to God to give to the godless. His story ends in tragedy in 2 Chronicles 24. 25 with his assassination at the hands of his own people.
When we see this man's sad decline, we find it hard to believe that once it had been true of him that he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord. How can we explain his strange behaviour? We think of the words of Paul to the Galatian Christians, "Ye did run well; who did hinder you?". Yes, Joash ran well but something happened. As we read the record seeking to find an explanation of what this "something" was, we come to the conclusion that during the earlier and brighter days of his life he was so largely influenced by the godly Jehoiada that the priest became a prop for him. While Jehoiada was there he found it easy to do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but when the prop was removed things changed at once. It seems as though Joash had no personal spiritual development; he did not "know God", and his spiritual life was completely dependent upon the spiritual life of another. We hear the words of Paul, "examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith", 2 Cor. 13. 5, and we are challenged in relation to our own spiritual standing. If left to stand alone with no other believer to give support, would our spiritual life collapse? Are we so dependent on those of our family, on those of our assembly, that there has been no individual development? Can it be that there has been no personal study of the Word, no personal communion with the Lord, and in consequence no growth "in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ"? Can it be said of us by the Lord, "thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead"?