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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 11

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The reign of this wicked woman must be accounted as the low point in the history of Israel thus far. Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, the daughter of a king, the mother of King Ahaziah whom Jehu had slain, the wife of still another king Jehoram king of Judah; but in this chapter we have the record of how she murdered all of her own grandchildren and everyone else whom she recognized as a possible threat to her authority; and although she was not recognized by Judah as a legitimate ruler, she nevertheless exercised tyrannical authority for over six years.

“Athaliah was a true daughter of Jezebel. She saw to it that all of her husband’s (Jehoram’s) brothers were murdered so that his authority might not be challenged (2 Chronicles 21:4). She made the worship of Baal the national religion of Judah; the High Priest Jehoiada was degraded; and all the cruelties, immoralities and irreligion of the house of Ahab were reenacted in the Southern Kingdom, which now fell to the lowest level in its history.”(F1)

The true people of Judah never recognized Athaliah as a legitimate ruler of their kingdom. “The sacred author did not speak of her as a valid ruler at all, gave no date of her usurpation, nor of her death or burial; and when her successor Jehoash (Joash) was named, it was not written that he reigned `in her stead’ (as in the usual records), but merely that, `he began to reign’ (2 Kings 11:21).”(F2)

The purpose of Athaliah’s six-year rule is evident in what she did. Her purpose, as stated by Josephus, was to “See that the entire house of David might be exterminated.”(F3) And it was only the providence of God that prevented Athaliah’s success in that endeavor. However, there was another purpose. She fully intended to establish the worship of the pagan Canaanite deity Baal as the official and exclusive religion of Judah. In line with that, she established and promoted the temple of Baal near Solomon’s temple itself, and she degraded Jehoiada from his position of High Priest. The Bible does not fully speak of her cruel tyrannies and murderous deeds, focusing rather upon her murder by the very priest of Jehovah whom she hated and upon the installation of that remaining heir to the throne of David whom she happened to overlook the night when she perpetrated the massacre of David’s descendants.

Verses 1-3


“Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal. 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 that were slain, even him and his nurse, and put them in the bedchamber; and they hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not slain; and he was with her hid in the house of Jehovah six years. And Athaliah reigned over the land.”

“God had assured David of the continuation of his family; and this cannot appear but a great thing… Here David’s line was almost exterminated, and yet wonderfully preserved.”(F4) It was by no means all the posterity of David which was threatened with destruction by Athaliah, but only that portion of it that pertained to the dynastic kings. The near-total irrelevance of those wicked sons of David who sat on his earthly throne appears in the fact that the Messiah came through an absolutely independent line of David’s posterity, through Nathan, not through Solomon and that parade of reprobate kings.

“Jehosheba, daughter of king Joram, sister of Ahaziah” From Josephus we learn that she was a half-sister of Ahaziah. Ahaziah was the son of Athaliah by Joram, and Jehosheba was the daughter of Joram by another woman, not by Athaliah. Still she was the aunt of the infant Joash; and her prompt and courageous action preserved the dynastic posterity of David

“She put him in the bedchamber, and they hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not slain” The bedchamber mentioned here was a storage room where mattresses and such things were kept.(F5) The problem of keeping him from being discovered by his evil grandmother Athaliah was easily solved. Jehosheba’s husband was the High Priest Jehoiada, and they prepared an appropriate place and secreted him in the temple for a period of six years.

“And Athaliah reigned over the land” Her six year rule deserved no further comment. Independently of this passage, we learn that, “She established the exclusive worship of Baal throughout Judah; she shut down all services in the temple, gave over the sacred vessels of the sanctuary to the priests of Baal, and used the temple itself as a quarry from which materials were robbed to embellish and build the temple of Baal.”(F6)

Verses 4-8


“And in the seventh year Jehoiada sent and fetched the captains over hundreds over the Carites and of the guard, and brought them into the house of Jehovah; and he made a covenant with them, and took an oath of them in the house of Jehovah, and showed them the king’s son. And he commanded them, saying, This is the thing that ye shall do: a third part of you, that come in on the sabbath, shall be keepers of the watch of the king’s house; and a third part shall be at the gate Sur; and a third part at the gate behind the guard: so shall ye keep the watch of the house, and be a barrier. And the two companies of you, even all that go forth on the sabbath, shall keep the watch of the house of Jehovah about the king. And ye shall compass the king round about, every man with his weapons in his hand; and he that cometh within the ranks, let him be slain: and be ye with the king when he goeth out, and when he cometh in.”

“Jehoiada” This man is designated as the High Priest in 2 Kings 12:10, but, in this chapter, he is called merely the priest. From this, certain radical scholars have postulated an impossible proposition, namely, that, “The high-priestly office was probably post-exilic.”(F7) Ridiculous! The high-priestly office existed continually throughout the history of Israel from the times of Aaron in the shadow of Mount Sinai to Caiaphas who engineered the crucifixion of Christ.

A number of scholars have attempted to explain exactly how this conspiracy was supposed to work; but no account which we have read is very convincing. Whatever the plan was, it was carefully and deliberately laid; the captains of various divisions of the armed troops were made party to the conspiracy to overthrow Athaliah; and their willingness to do so is an eloquent comment upon the general detestation in which the people held that wicked woman.

“The Carites” Cook identified these with the Cherethites (1 Kings 1:38).(F8) They were mercenaries employed by kings as guardians. “These people, along with the Pelethites and Gittites, were Philistine mercenary troops who were fiercely loyal to David and the Davidic dynasty (2 Samuel 15:18; 1 Samuel 30:14; Ezekiel 25:16; Zephaniah 2:5).”(F9)

Matthew Henry pointed out that Jehosheba, the wife of Jehoiada, was a daughter of King Joram and a sister of Ahaziah, and that she actually had a better right to the throne of Judah than Athaliah.(F10) It is an interesting question as to why Athaliah did not attempt to murder her. The fact that she was the wife of the High Priest might have been the reason.

Verses 9-12


“And the captains over hundreds did all that Jehoiada the priest commanded; and they took every man his men, that were to come in on the sabbath, with those that were to go out on the sabbath, and came to Jehoiada the priest. And the priest delivered to the captains over hundreds the spears and shields that had been king David’s, which were in the house of Jehovah. And the guard stood, every man with his weapons in his hand, from the right side of the house to the left side of the house, along by the altar and the house, by the king round about. Then he brought out the king’s son, and put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony; and they made him king, and anointed him; and they clapped their hands, and said, Long live the king!”

“The spears and shields that had been king David’s” “The priests would not normally have had weapons; and thus the explanation is here given that these weapons had been stored in the tabernacle by David,”(F11) and later deposited in the temple by Solomon.

Anointed by the High Priest as king, formally proclaimed in the sacred area of the temple itself, and hailed with the traditional cry, “Long live the king!” Joash was elevated at the age of seven years to a position that he would hold for more than forty years.

“The presence of a multitude indicates that this revolution occurred on a feast day.”(F12) Jehoiada had not neglected any of the details of his conspiracy against Athaliah.

“And (they) gave him the testimony” Stigers declared that this “testimony” included at least the Decalogue;(F13) but the view of this writer is that it included, as a bare minimum, the Five Books of Moses, commonly called the Pentateuch. Without that entire corpus of sacred writings, the continuity of Israel with its elaborate system of religion could not have survived. even as long as it had already existed at that time. We reject out of hand the foolish efforts of critics to render the word for “testimony” in this place as “bracelets.”(F14) “Handcuffs” simply don’t fit this situation at all!

Keil here identified the “testimony” as the “Book of the Law,” the Torah, indicating that it would be the rule of his life and action as king, according to the precept in Deuteronomy 17:18-19.(F15)

Verses 13-16


“And when Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she came to the people in the house of Jehovah: and she looked, and, behold, the king stood by the pillar, as the manner was, and the captains and the trumpets by the king; and all the people of the land rejoiced, and blew trumpets. Then Athaliah rent her clothes, and cried, Treason! treason! And Jehoiada the priest commanded the captains of hundreds that were set over the host, and said unto them, Have her forth between the ranks; and him that followeth her slay with the sword. For the priest said, Let her not be slain in the house of Jehovah. So they made way for her; and she went by way of the horses’ entry to the king’s house: and there she was slain.”

Josephus tells us that she stormed out of the palace with her army;(F16) but she rushed into the temple courts totally unaware of the fully armed troops within it. Once she did that, she was totally separated from her armed escort. She heard the ringing sound of the trumpets, saw the young king standing by one of the pillars, perhaps Jachin or Boaz, and the multitude shouting, “Long live the king!” There was absolutely nothing that she could do except rend her clothes and scream “Treason! Treason”! “She had realized, all too late, what was happening,”(F17) and had inadvertently already delivered herself into the hands of those who were determined to put her to death.

“Her hour had come, and her doom was sealed. Thus in the Southern Israel as in the Northern, we behold the end of the house of Ahab. Here it reached its termination in the death of his daughter Athaliah who incarnated in her nature alike the superb abilities and utter moral depravity of her parents. Was there ever a more dramatic illustration of the eternal law, `The soul that sinneth, it shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:4)”?(F18)

This, of course, was a great victory; but the Chosen People were by no means at that time ready to repudiate finally and completely the orgiastic fertility rites of the licentious paganism that characterized the worship of the Baalim. The continual drift of the whole nation (in both kingdoms) into paganism was hindered only slightly and temporarily. Eventually, God would destroy both kingdoms and carry the Southern kingdom into Babylon, from which only a remnant would return to Palestine, where, in the fullness of time, the Messiah would be born to the posterity of the patriarchs as God had promised. There is nothing in human history that matches the epic tragedy of God’s chosen people!

Verses 17-21


“And Jehoiada made a covenant between Jehovah and the king and the people, that they should be Jehovah’s; between the king also and the people. And all the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and brake it down; his altars and his images brake they in pieces thoroughly, and slew Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest appointed officers over the house of Jehovah. And he took the captains over hundreds, and the Carites, and the guard, and all the people of the land; and they brought down the king from the house of Jehovah, and came by the way of the gate of the guard unto the king’s house. And he sat on the throne of the kings. So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet. And Athaliah they had slain with the sword at the king’s house.”

“And Jehoiada made a covenant” “This covenant was simply a renewal of that covenant which the Lord had made with Israel through Moses (Exodus 34).”(F19) It was a solemn declaration by which the people bound themselves to live as God’s people and to obey his commandments and statutes and also agreed to obey their king who, under the divine government, was also bound to be guided by the Word of God as revealed in the Torah.

“This renewal of the covenant was necessary, because under their former kings the people had fallen away from the Lord and worshipped Baal.”(F20)

“And he sat on the throne of the kings” Joash, then made king of Judah, was only seven years of age; but under the wise guidance of Jehoiada he was an effective ruler as long as Jehoiada lived. What happened after Jehoiada’s death is another story.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Kings 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-kings-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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