Studies in the Book of Kings 2 Kings 12:1-21


2 Kings 12:1-21

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Now remember where we are. Joash, one of the sons of Ahaziah, king of Judah, whom Jehu had executed, was spared death at the hands of the queen mother, Athaliah, by the daring intervention of Jehosheba, the wife of the faithful priest Jehoiada. When Joash was seven, Jehoiada engineered a palace coup that placed Joash on the throne. So finally after a seven year hiatus there was a descendant of David once again on the throne in Jerusalem. Athaliah was executed and Jehoiada renewed the covenant between the Lord, the royal house, and the people of Judah to the great rejoicing of many. All of that in chapter 11. Chapter 12 reports the reign of Joash, a long reign of some 40 years. More of the story of his reign is recounted in 2 Chronicles 24 and that narrative is more explicit in its criticism of Joash, a criticism that is more implicit here in 2 Kings 12.

Text Comment

v.1       The longer form of Joash’s name, Jehoash, is used here, but Joash is also used, especially to distinguish this man from a northern king of the same name. Note the two names together in 13:10. His mother was from Judah, not a northerner.

v.2       The statement “because Jehoiada the priest instructed him” is no minor detail. We learn in 2 Chronicles 24 that as soon as Jehoiada’s influence was removed, Joash began to do evil. There are a great many people in the world, including Christians, who will act wisely and well so long as they are receiving good counsel and so long as their lives are being directed by others. How many young people, for example, have fallen apart spiritually speaking when they left home for college and came under the influence of peers or professors who had no concern for the truth of God?

v.3       Joash was a good king, the Scripture says he was, but his reign was not without its marked failure, the same failure as marked the reigns of Asa and Jehoshaphat before him. The high places kept wide open the door to paganism because of the practices associated with them.

v.4       The revenue of the temple came from the daily offerings, from the annual tax of half a shekel for each Israelite male laid down in the law of Moses, and from the voluntary payment of vows and other gifts brought by worshippers under some spiritual compulsion. But the suggestion here, in context, is that what began under Joash was what nowadays we would call a capital campaign, donations sought and received precisely to fund work on the temple. [Provan, 225] In 2 Chron. 24:9-11 we learn that the existence of the collection box and its purpose were broadcast throughout the land. [House, 302]

v.5       There was a good deal of repair needed in the 124 year old building complex after the depredations of Athaliah who neither cared to maintain the temple nor hesitated to ransack it of anything that might be useful for her sanctuary to Baal.

v.6       The priests, to whom the work was entrusted, proved lackadaisical, perhaps because of a lack of supervision by the now aging Jehoiada who died in the middle of Joash’s reign, we are told in Chronicles, at the age of 130 years!

v.8       The implication is that the priests were taking the money and using it for themselves.

v.10     This is actually the first reference to a “high” or “chief” priest in the Bible, though the office itself obviously originated with Aaron. Once the people learned that the money would be used for the purpose for which it had been collected they gave generously. But notice that the king’s secretary was present whenever the box was opened. The king obviously trusted the priests only to the extent that he could see what they were doing.

v.14     We learn in 2 Chron. 24:14 that there was money left over when the repairs to the building were complete and this money was used for making utensils for the temple service.

v.15     In other words, these men were more trustworthy than the priests had been.

v.18     We read of the punishment here, but not of the sin that was being punished. But in 2 Chron. 24:17-19 we learn that after the death of Jehoiada Joash was convinced by some of the princes of Judah to reinstitute certain forms of pagan worship.

In any case, Joash was like Solomon: a builder of the temple and one who provided the implements of its worship, but his temple was a far cry from Solomon’s and long gone are the days when Judah had peace on every side (1 Kings 5:4). [Provan, 224]

v.21     We are not told here why Joash’s officials struck him down. It might seem to have been disaffection after the staving off of a Syrian invasion by paying tribute, which required the plundering of the temple to pay it. But we learn in Chronicles that it was, in fact, punishment for Joash’s execution of Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah the high priest, after he criticized King Joash for reintroducing idolatry. As Zechariah was dying from the stoning he had cried out: “May the Lord see and avenge!” [2 Chron. 24:22] We learn that by the end of his reign Joash had become so unpopular that he was denied burial in the tomb of the kings. He was buried with his fathers in the City of David but not in the tomb where their bodies lay.

Joash was an immense improvement over the southern kings just before him who had been dominated by influences from the north, Israel and Samaria. But in other ways he was a great disappointment and there is no hiding that fact. He started well in an effort to repair and reconstitute the worship of the temple. But by this time the priests were incompetent or worse. He then assumed direct responsibility for the work and got it done. That is all to the good. But when Hazael came calling Joash did not pray to God for deliverance, he didn’t turn to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Judah and David. He did what any ANE king would have done. He calculated the odds of victory and decided that tribute was the better part of valor. He plundered the very temple he had spent so much time and money rebuilding and restoring. He did not show himself a man of faith and, if we doubted that, Chronicles leaves the matter beyond dispute.

Some of the repeated themes of Kings are found again in this history told us in chapter 12.

1. A righteous man may have some signal failings that bear mightily on the fortunes of the kingdom of God. We have found that with David, with Solomon, and with Asa and Jehoshaphat. They were good kings and are said to have been good kings who, in certain ways, sinned greatly and whose sins had devastating consequences for the kingdom of God.

We find here, in other words, that constant and emphatic dialectic found everywhere in Holy Scripture. The righteous remain sinners and genuinely sinful people who have living faith in the Lord are nevertheless righteous people, righteous not only because they are forgiven in Christ, but righteous also because they live righteously, genuinely righteously, in many ways, even if not in all.

And, as well, their sins are both forgiven and sometimes horrific in their consequences. When we hear of a believer sinning, sinning greatly, and hard things coming of his or her sins, our first thought of course ought to be, “there but for the grace of God go I,” or, perhaps, “I have done things as bad and, in God’s kindness to me, have not been found out as that man was.” What depth there is to God’s ways! But, of course, those sins are forgiven in Christ. We do not ever want to minimize that fact or fail to deal with it in thinking about the sins of others and our own sins. At the same time, however, the consequences of those sins, forgiven though they be, can be terrible beyond words. David ruined his family and sent some of his children to hell. Solomon sent the kingdom of Israel off on its course of spiritual death. Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Joash did not arrest Judah’s decline into spiritual death and, in fact, in some ways, they hastened it.

Think of the man Paul describes in 1 Cor. 3, the man who built with wood, hay, and stubble, and whose works, as a consequence, were burned up. They did not stand the test (some of those “works” were undoubtedly human beings that were burned up and did not survive and did not stand the test!). This man was saved, Paul says, yet as through fire. In our lingo we might say he was saved by the hair of his chinny chin chin, but so much was lost that needn’t have been. That is a solemn thing and a wonderful thing at the same time: salvation is always wonderful but perhaps especially when a man is saved from sins that everybody can see have had such horrific consequences. But it is a solemn thing as well to hear that the Lord will not be mocked and whatever a man sows he and others may very well reap. We are glad that Joash was a good king, but who is not sad that he reigned so miserably at the end that even his people, who were hardly paragons of biblical faith and obedience, didn’t think he ought to be buried with the kings who had reigned in Jerusalem before him.

2. A second familiar theme and one that will be repeated still more times before we are finished with Kings is that half-hearted and temporary reforms will not stem the tide of divine judgment. It is high irony, and we are meant to feel it, that Joash began his reign with the renewing of the temple and finished it by plundering the same building.

It is not the case, of course, that Judah descends king by king lower and lower into full-fledged apostasy. The progress is delayed under some kings, sped up under others, actually reversed under a few kings, such as Hezekiah whom we are yet to meet. But the infection of unbelief was never thoroughly destroyed in the body of Judah and over time it worked its inexorable way through the entire people until so little faith was left that only judgment could clear away the spiritual rot. Under Joash the decline was slowed, nothing more, and that for only a period of years. That is some accomplishment, but hardly one to boast of, all the more when there were things that Joash could have done – destroy the high places, for example – that would have changed things for the better much more radically. Half-hearted reform is no answer to the principle of rot set loose by unbelief. Unbelief must be attacked with a vengeance.

But I want to spend a few minutes tonight picking up the thread of another piece of this history. If there is an evaluative viewpoint in 2 Kings 12, a thematic statement, it is probably to be found in v. 2: “Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days because Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” The significance of faithful, wise Jehoiada to Joash’s earlier and latter reign is made even more the theme of the account of that reign as we are given it again in 2 Chron. 24. Joash did well so long as Jehoiada was advising him (even directing him as he had when Joash was young). The king simply fell apart when the old priest no longer advised him and especially when Jehoiada died.

I never read this history without thinking of Andre Trocmé and Celisse. You find this bit of history in the wonderful book Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, one of the great books of the 20th century. The book is chiefly the thrilling and poignant story of a Reformed pastor and his congregation in a small village, Le Chambon, who hid Jews during the Nazi occupation of France and, in what they understood to be loyalty to the Lord, refused to lie about what they were doing even to the Germans. It is one of the great stories of Christian faithfulness to come out of the Second World War and I think out of the twentieth century. You should all read Lest Innocent Blood be Shed. But before he reached Le Chambon Trocmé had a pastorate in a French mining town near the Belgian border. And there over a period of three months early on in Trocmé’s ministry occurred a remarkable revival, what was called “the awakening” in the town of Sin-le-Noble. Over the course of those three extraordinary months all the disputes and divisions in the church simply disappeared. People came to be dear to one another, saw one another with new eyes. One of the men touched with the grace of salvation was a miner, a drunk by the name of Célisse.

“The man was Flemish…with a big, square head, the neck of a bull, and vast hands. The [men of the church and town] knew him; like most of the alcoholics in that industrial community, he was destroying his mind and body and brutalizing his family. His wife’s skin was gray from suffering, fear, and hunger; it was she above all others who felt the full force of his violent temper and of his cruel neglect. Piece by piece, he had sold almost all of their furniture for drink, and though they had a decent little house on the outskirts of Sin-le-Noble, when Trocmé and [his devout men] entered it, they found the usual home of a drunkard: almost completely empty rooms, and children lying in a corner on a pile of rags, with terror in every line of their faces and bodies.

Under Trocmé’s influence, [we would say under the influence of the Gospel and the Spirit of God through this faithful pastor’s ministry] Célisse [became a Christian],  stopped drinking, visited people, prayed with them, and labored to convince his fellow miners to take the oath against drink. He became the single most effective force…for saving people from drunkenness, anger, and remorse. All the power in his mighty body and simple mind was turned toward saving people…and he blossomed during it all, like a great sunflower.

At the end of six years in Sin-le-Noble, the Trocmé family left. The air had been hard on the health of the family and there was great fear of tuberculosis for their children. On the day the family left, Célisse, his wife and his children appeared all washed and combed at the [manse]. That good-bye, so full of love and sadness, was one of the most memorable and heartbreaking events in Trocmé’s life. One of the reasons it became so painful for Trocmé was that soon after he left, Célisse started to drink again and committed suicide.

With his pastor gone Célisse could not restrain his desire to drink. He knew he could not return to a life of drunkenness. His pastor had taught him to obey God’s commands without compromise and to do that, Célisse felt, required that he leave this life. [69-71]

This has happened on a smaller scale to be sure, times without number. It was not always a pastor, of course, but some Christian who makes it possible for another to live in devotion to Christ when he could not have done so by herself or himself. Nowadays we are particularly prone to think, “But the Lord was with him, surely that was enough.” But here is the Word of God reminding us of what we have learned in life in any case: how the Lord uses means and invests them with such power and importance that Joash could be one king with Jehoiada present to direct him, but he became another king entirely when Jehoiada was no more.

Jehoiada was the key to Joash’s fortunes and the virtue and fruitfulness of his life. I could, of course, make a point of the fact that this history underscores the great importance of the Christian ministry. But, true as that is, it is simply a single application of a still larger principle. At the end of James you remember reading that a man who turns another from his sin saves that man. Remarkable! For the fact is, what was true of Jehoiada in his priestly office, is true of every Christian who is himself or herself also a priest in a more general way. We all have responsibility for the spiritual lives of others and we all have the office and ability, God given and God blessed, to make something better, much better, out of the lives of others.

It is possible for us, individually, by our encouragement, our challenge, our expectations, our rebukes and demands, and our sympathy, understanding, and support, to lift our brothers and sisters to a higher level of spiritual achievement than they would ever manage on their own! That is a wonderful thought, surely, but a bracing thought as well. It is a fact that carries with it a summons.

In Romans 14:15 and elsewhere the Apostle Paul reminds us that we can “destroy” our brother or sister by what we say and do. But we can also help them and lift them up far higher than they otherwise would ever go. “Live so as to be missed…” was the motto of Robert Murray McCheyne and the best way to do that is to be a Jehoiada, a man or a woman who makes other believers better than they would have been on their own.

Think of, say, a Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt in the judgment day. They spent their lives making people worse than they otherwise would have been. They invested in the diminishment of other human beings, thousands upon thousands of human beings who, under their influence, became more and more the worst versions of themselves, as they became addicted to the lower, baser passions of the human flesh.

But then think of the multitude of people, Christian men and women, whose lives were the blessing and benefit of many others. People of whom it could be said something like this:

  1. “Jonathan encouraged David in the Lord…”
  2. “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”
  3. Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

 

Now, to be sure, much of the help we receive from others comes from our parents if we were born and raised in Christian homes. No one exercises a more profound influence on our characters, no one can lift us up higher than the parents who raise us. That sentence in 12:2 is a summons to parents. And then, of course, husbands and wives should be great helpers of one another. Then there are those who preach and teach the Word of God to us. I cannot begin to tell you what blessing and help and encouragement and correction has come my way through the ministries of such men, both living and dead. I remember what help John Owen gave me as a young man struggling with the typical temptations of that time of life. He lived in the 17th century, but he might as well have been standing over my shoulder as I read his great works on sin and temptation. What a great thing to say of a Christian man that he is still helping others to be better men four centuries after his death! A youth pastor greatly encouraged my faith and zeal when I was in high school. My pastor in college regularly provoked me to deeper things as I sat under his ministry for four years. I got great help from my pastor and preacher, William Still, during those three years in Scotland in the mid-70s. And so on.

And then, in my case, I cannot possibly tell you what a difference to my Christian life was made by a galaxy of great Christian writers and preachers as I have read and heard them through the years. I remember my first encounter with Alexander Whyte and the great impression he left on my mind and heart and then how quickly I became a collector of everything Whyte ever published and how I loved each volume as I read it and entered literally hundreds of notes from them into the margins of my Bible. Whyte has been a Jehoiada to me!

And then what of friends who have encouraged me and inspired me to be a better Christian. I’m not sure that anything has a greater influence on the aspirations of a Christian than to know Christians whose lives seem beautiful and good. People like that, in whom the grace of God and the love of Christ shine particularly brightly, are a powerful recommendation of the gospel. And more than that, they show us in the clearest way how to live the Christian life, what it means to live as a Christian in the world, what a Christian does, what a Christian is, how a Christian speaks, how a Christian behaves.

In fact, the memory of my past life is littered with individuals who, in one way or another, both defined for me the nature of my life as a Christian and inspired me to higher things in Christian holiness. We heard on Thursday many things said to the praise and credit of Alice Seifert who was in some very important ways a model Christian. People who knew her think about her and about the way she thought and the way she spoke and almost invariably want to be more like her in all those ways. She left her mark on those who knew her.

And I can think of others like her who have had a similar influence on me. There were some dear women in the Gilcomston South church in Aberdeen whose interest in the Lord’s work and whose cheerful encouragement of every Christian they knew was a model of other-centeredness for me. One of these dear women, Aileen Stewart, had in her life never traveled even as far as Edinburgh, a mere one hundred miles south of Aberdeen. Hers was a simple life lived close to home. But she was scrupulously faithful to the Lord’s house, she kept in close contact with any Christian work of which she came to know, she prayed and she wrote letters and encouraged many.

Another such woman was Edith Ingram, the pastor’s secretary. Always speaking of others, always interested, really interested in what was happening in your life; she was a splendid example of an other-centered life. When it came time for her to leave her home of years to move to an assisted living center – the fate of so many older folk these days – she distributed her possessions to a great many people whom she had come to know and love through the years. Florence and I were hardly her longest or dearest friends, but she sent us a lovely set of sterling shrimp forks. She could have sold her possessions, but it was so typically Edith to think of blessing others with what she couldn’t keep in any case. So all over the world possessions were distributed from her house to the people she knew, loved and prayed for many years. Our dog Murray arrived in our home just when the gift came from Scotland. He was named for Edith because she had lived in Aberdeen on Murray Terrace! It was a way for this dear woman to live on in our collective memory. It’s wonderful to have Christians friends like that: they make you want to be a better Christian and give you all manner of ideas as to how to go about that.

When I think of humility, the bottom grace of the Christian character, I always and immediately think of one of my seminary professors, Dr. Wilbur Wallis. No man ever wore his learning so lightly. He was reading German monographs and absorbing their scholarship into his own, but he never thought to mention how wide his reading actually was.  I remember distinctly a chapel service that was held to honor him, I think on his retirement. After a number of others had spoken in appreciation, Dr. Wallis got up to respond, as always gratefully and graciously. But do you know what I remember from his remarks? Somehow in response to all the adulation concerning his learning, he somehow managed to recollect entirely without affectation: “I can still see on my report card that C+ in Thucydides in my classical studies at UCLA.” It’s probably the only C+ he got in his life, but he didn’t want anyone to think that he hadn’t got such a grade.

No professor was ever kinder to his students, more patient with lazy or inept students, more willing to find the flake of gold in the dross of the work that was submitted to him than Wilbur Wallis. I devoted my three years of graduate study to working out a suggestion of his, and I’m quite sure that one of the reasons I thought it a valuable thing to do was that it was a way of repaying the grace and generosity of so kind a man.

And I could go on and on. Dawn Darby’s dad, Bill McColley set a great example for me. I remember distinctly thinking of him that I never left a conversation with him without having learned something. What a great thing to say about anyone, but especially a Christian minister. His life was instruction in the very nature of the case. He always had something to add to your life, your thinking, your understanding. I’ve known other men like that and have wanted to be around them for all that I would inevitably soak up in simply listening to them talk. What a great thing to say of someone’s speech, an area of life in which so many of us regularly stumble, that you wished you could hear everything they said because their speech was so full of interest and wisdom and goodness. I remember of one close family friend, Rudy Schmidt, that I can’t recollect him ever saying anything unkind about anyone. I want to be like that.

Alexander Smellie once wrote of Robert Murray McCheyne that godliness seemed to be so natural to him. Well I have met people like that. They were not without their faults, of course. Who among us can be faultless in this world? But in one way or another, or in many ways, they seemed so naturally to act as Christians ought to act and to speak as Christians should. I could very easily mention some of you and the encouragement you have been to my Christian life. It would not be wise to do so, but I could.

And no doubt you are thinking of people who have had such a role in your own lives, exemplary Christians who have inspired you or instructed you or corrected you by their example: a parent, a minister, a Christian friend, whomever it might be.

“Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” That is a kindness on the part of the Spirit of God to say that because of course he didn’t do it all his days. As soon as he lost Jehoiada he lost his way.

Now, my friends, here is the question posed to us by this text: what do other believers get from your life? What blessing and benefit do you bring them? How do you make them better than otherwise they would be? Every Christian can be such an influence. How are you such an influence? For what are others grateful about you?

It is a very useful way to think about your life, your example, your influence. Think now: what is it that you can be and you can do that will lift up other Christians around you? I know very well that many of you are doing just this. How do you make them better, encourage them, help them, inspire them, instruct them, and correct them? What is it in your case? Don’t rest until you have found it and until you have made the cultivation of that grace and that practice one of the great objects of your life. Christ saved us to be the instruments of his grace to others. “Our of [our] bellies,” he said, would flow “rivers of living water.”

“Live so as to be missed…” What a great way to think about your life day by day. People, Christian people especially should miss you when you are gone. They ought to feel they have lost something important, something that meant a great deal to them. What will they miss you for? Be sure there is something: your humility, your kindness, your thoughtful generosity, your patience, your cheerfulness in the face of life’s trials, your faith in God, your love for him often and cheerfully spoken. Whatever it is, it isn’t only for you. God gave you that grace as much for the sake of others. Remember that. Your gifts are your calling, so is your character. You have another reason to put on holiness in the fear of the Lord and in gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ for his saving grace: that reason is the wonderful difference it makes in the lives of others! As Christ was for us; we are to be for others in his name.