We’ve jumped on a couple of kings – the sad fallout from Jehoshaphat’s marriage alliance with the House of Ahab. People might like to read those intervening chapters though because we read there of how Joash became king and we’re introduced to the godly Jehoiada. His reign as king is a reign of two halves: he starts well, but finishes badly – like a number of others in the book, surely a warning to us.
The early years were good years, all the more so because of the dark days that had preceded them. The temple had been neglected for years and fallen into disrepair, and so Joash determined to put God and true worship back at the centre of the nation’s life. It was a matter of urgency – “Do it now!” he tells the Levites when instructing them to collect the annual tax for the upkeep of the temple. It’s unclear why the Levites dragged their feet – maybe they felt the people would be put off religious reform if they felt it hit their pockets, or maybe selfishly they feared the people’s contribution to their stipend might suffer – but whatever the reason, the king would brook no delay. It is scarcely the main point of the chapter, but since we know at the time Chronicles was written giving was issue that needed to be addressed, I think it is likely that we are meant to see v.10 as instructive. Notice how all gave and gave gladly (with the chest placed where it was the sense is that it was less a duty than an expression of their worship) and generously (“a large amount”). The gifts are put to good use, enabling burnt offerings to be sacrificed each morning and evening as required by the law, reminding people of their need for atonement and symbolising too their proper response to God in giving themselves wholly to Him.
The watershed moment in his life is the death of Jehoiada. When his godly mentor dies, Joash’s faith is soon shown to be rootless and second-hand. Not that his earlier profession of faith had necessarily been insincere, but clearly it had never truly touched his heart. He was a man-pleaser, rather than a God-pleaser: for years he had sought to please Jehoiada, but now his flattering officials, who had perhaps held back from pushing their agenda while Jehoiada was alive, grab his attention. In vv.17-19 the point is clearly made that he listened to them rather than to the Word of God. He even sanctions the prophet Zechariah’s murder – Jehoiada’s own son, presumably brought up almost as a brother to Joash! He turns his back on God’s Word to keep in step with the world.
The prophet had warned (a warning that comes a number of times in the book), that if he forsakes the LORD, then the LORD would forsake him. So sure enough punishment follows, punishment which fits the crime. He had plotted against Zechariah, now his officials plot against him; he had killed Zechariah, now his officials kill him. Unlike Jehoiada he is buried without honour.
The story of Joash is a stark warning about the danger of drifting – not dissimilar from the warnings we heard a number of times when looking at Hebrews. Is it the Word or the world we listen to? Is our faith second hand, simply borrowed convictions? Are we at heart simply man-pleasers, such that if we do the right thing it is chiefly because of our Christian family or our Christian community? In many ways this story is profoundly unsettling, yet there is encouragement we should take too. As long as the High Priest Jehoiada was around, Joash was ok, but like all the High Priests of the Old Testament he died. So remember the wonderful encouragement in Hebrews of our High Priest who lives forever, and therefore one we can trust to save us completely, keep us till the end.