2 Kings 12:4-5
The young king Jehoash (or Joash) had begun to reign “in the seventh year of Jehu” (12:1).
Reform in Judah began, as we have learned, seven years later than in Israel under the rampaging king Jehu. This was due to the six-year reign in Jerusalem of the usurper, Queen Athaliah.
With the advent of Jehoash of Judah we are still in the reign of pharaoh Amenhotep III of Egypt. And, if, as some scholars believe, there was a significant co-regency between Amenhotep III and IV (Akhnaton), then Jehoash would have begun to reign close to the time of Akhnaton’s beginning.
Whatever be the case, the reform in Egypt against Atonism, as conducted under Ay and Horemheb, would have post-dated (by about one or two decades) the reform in Judah.
Jehoash was generally a good king whose reign matched in length those of David and Solomon (12:1-3):
“Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there”.
He was blessed, like the young Solomon, to have a wise mentor. Solomon had his father, David, and Jehoash had the high priest Jehoiada.
Work on the Temple slow
There were reasons why the Temple now stood in need of repair, e.g., “the sons of Athaliah”: https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/2-kings/12.html
“Though Solomon built it very strong, of the best materials and in the best manner, yet in time it went to decay, and there were breaches found in it (v. 5), in the roofs, or walls, or floors, the ceiling, or wainscoting, or windows, or the partitions of the courts. Even temples themselves are the worse for the wearing; but the heavenly temple will never wax old. Yet it was not only the teeth of time that made these breaches, the sons of Athaliah had broken up the house of God (2 Chr. 24:7 ), and, out of enmity to the service of the temple, had damaged the buildings of it, and the priests had not taken care to repair the breaches in time, so that they went worse and worse”.
Young king Jehoash may have had a strong motivation for wanting to repair the Temple.
The Matthew Henry Commentary suggests this:
“Because the temple had been both his nursery and his sanctuary when he was a child, in a grateful remembrance of which he now appeared zealous for the honour of it. Those who have experienced the comfort and benefit of religious assemblies will make the reproach of them their burden (Zep. 3:18 ), the support of them their care, and the prosperity of them their chief joy”.
However, despite the king’s own zeal to have the Temple repaired, and despite his partnership with the zealous Yahwist, Jehoiada, the work was not finished still some two decades later (12:6): “But by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the Temple”.
Even Jehoiada the priest appears to have received a rebuke over it from the king.
Matthew Henry Commentary again:
“However, we commend his zeal, and blame him not for reproving even his tutor Jehoiada himself when he saw him remiss; and so convincing was his reproof that the priests owned themselves unworthy to be any longer employed, and consented to the taking of some other measures, and the giving up of the money they had received into other hands, v. 8. It was honestly done, when they found they had not spirit to do it themselves, not to hinder other people from doing it. Another course was taken,1. For raising money, v. 9, v. 10. The money was not paid into private hands, but put into a public chest, and then people brought it in readily and in great abundance, not only their dues, but their free-will offerings for so good a work. The high priest and the secretary of state counted the money out of the chest, and laid it by in specie for the use to which it was appropriated. When public distributions are made faithfully public contributions will be made cheerfully”.
As with King Solomon, so with King Jehoash, when the influence of the mentor began to lose its impetus, and the ruler was now becoming his ‘own man’, serious errors would begin to creep in. Although King Jehoash largely receives a good press in the account given of him in 2 Kings, the corresponding account in 2 Chronicles tells of his falling into extreme wickedness with the passing of the high priest Jehoiada (24:17-22):
“After the death of Jehoiada, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king, and he listened to them. They abandoned the Temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols. Because of their guilt, God’s anger came on Judah and Jerusalem. Although the Lord sent prophets to the people to bring them back to him, and though they testified against them, they would not listen.
Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, ‘This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you’.’
But they plotted against him, and by order of the king they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s Temple. King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account’.”
This was the incident to which Jesus Christ referred, linking it all the way back to Abel of old to tell of the long history of persecution as undertaken by the inhabitants of the region (Luke 11:51): ‘… from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all’.
In light of this terrible incident, King Jehoash’s seeming zeal for the House of the Lord may have been somewhat superficial, as according to the Matthew Henry Commentary: “His apostasy, at last, gives us cause to question whether he had as good an affection for the service of the temple as he had for the structure. Many have been zealous for building and beautifying churches, and for other forms of godliness, who yet have been strangers to the power of it”.
Now wrath would come to visit itself upon the king himself.
The long-lived reformer-king Hazael the Syrian (“of Aram”) of the “Sinai Commission” was still operating, and he would cause Jehoash to strip the Temple and palace to pay him off (vv. 17-18):
“About this time Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it. Then he turned to attack Jerusalem. But Joash king of Judah took all the sacred objects dedicated by his predecessors—Jehoshaphat, Jehoram and Ahaziah, the kings of Judah—and the gifts he himself had dedicated and all the gold found in the treasuries of the temple of the Lord and of the royal palace, and he sent them to Hazael king of Aram, who then withdrew from Jerusalem”.
The great King Hezekiah of Judah will act similarly at a later time, when confronted by Sennacherib and his belligerent Assyrian army.
The account of the Syrian assault as given in 2 Chronicles tells us a lot more than this.
The much larger army of Judah was routed by the small force that Hazael had sent up.
The Syrians “killed all the leaders of the people”.
The king of Jerusalem was “severely wounded” (24:23-25):