Know what you believe.
In the Final Analysis, your devotion and dedication to Jesus is something with which you must wrestle on your own.
For a moment, 2 King 12 sees the historian serving up a brief reprieve from the bloody narratives which have comprised the better part of this second volume tracing the rise and fall of God’s people. But don’t be fooled: just because there’s not as much blood doesn’t mean this narrative is any less tragic. In fact, in many ways the account before us is one of the more upsetting and unsettling accounts in the historian’s arsenal — not because it is filled with “shock-and-awe” and a high body count, but because it is a slow-burn of dashed hope.
Joash, the boy king who was courageously rescued from the violent paws of his grandmother, sits on Judah’s throne (2 Kings 11:21). His deliverance and eventual coronation was, of course, all thanks to the faithful efforts of Aunt Jehosheba and Uncle Jehoiada, who, in a way, become substitute parents. After establishing Joash as Judah’s king, Jehoiada continues mentoring the boy-king, ministering to and instructing him in the ways of Yahweh (2 Kings 12:1–2). And, for the most part, Joash listened (2 Kings 12:3). Jehoiada was, for all intents and purposes, the voice in Joash’s ear, directing him in the “way of David,” paving the way for an era of immense optimism. Indeed, Joash’s rule was brimming with hope. He was, in those days, the paragon of Davidic promise who, seemingly, had his priorities settled and purposes aligned with the Word of the Lord.
Early on in his reign, Joash calls for the priests to begin taking collections. It was time to “repair the breaches” in God’s house (2 Kings 12:4–5). The “house of the Lord” had been neglected for far too long. What was once a structure constructed with meticulous splendor was now a shabby mess; a place of cobwebs and cracked beams and dilapidated grandeur. Rats had taken up residence where holy rituals were once performed. The temple falling into disrepair is an obvious parallel of the hearts of the people. They, too, had fallen into disrepair, with the words of Yahweh being discarded as scrap or disregarded altogether. Under the tutelage of Jehoiada, however, Joash seeks to bring that place — and, likewise, the people — back to its former glory.
But to illustrate what a decrepit mess Judah’s spiritual state was in those days, the historian reminds everyone how long it actually took before anything was done with the deteriorated brick and mortar of the temple. “But it was so,” we’re told, “that in the three and twentieth year of king Jehoash the priests had not repaired the breaches of the house” (2 Kings 12:6). Twenty-three years! Two whole decades, and then some, the temple project-managers twiddled their thumbs, collecting funds for an “eventual” building project that never seemed to arrive. Their constant answer to questions regarding the timeline for the repairs was, “We’re working on it.” Only they never did, frittering away twenty years of possibility, purpose, and hope. You might rightly wonder what in the world they were doing for all those years. Some imagine the priests embezzling the collected monies, laundering and, perhaps, living lavishly off of it themselves. The text doesn’t say that, but it does leave the impression that they were severely lazy.1
Indifference defined this generation of priests. How else could you explain twenty-three years of gross inaction? This, again, is indicative of the hearts of all the people of Judah. They are dispassionate and unconcerned when it comes to the words and ways of Yahweh. A frustrated Joash finally calls for Jehoiada to get some answers:
Then king Jehoash called for Jehoiada the priest, and the other priests, and said unto them, Why repair ye not the breaches of the house? now therefore receive no more money of your acquaintance, but deliver it for the breaches of the house. And the priests consented to receive no more money of the people, neither to repair the breaches of the house. But Jehoiada the priest took a chest, and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one cometh into the house of the Lord: and the priests that kept the door put therein all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord. (2 Kings 12:7–9)
He decides to cut out the middlemen by setting up collection boxes within the temple structure itself (2 Kings 12:10–14). This money would be bagged up and given directly to the contractors who were overseeing the repairs, rather than exchanging hands another time. The priesthood, according to the historian, couldn’t be trusted — which is further evidenced in the historian’s subtle jab at them in verse 15: “Moreover they reckoned not with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money to be bestowed on workmen: for they dealt faithfully.” There was no need to audit “the workmen” and what they did with the money because they, unlike the priests, were faithful, diligent, and truthful with what they were given.
These developments are relayed with no shortage of hopeful notes and purposeful exuberance. The people of God are, seemingly, on the right track once again. An heir of David is on the throne. God’s house is being repaired. And God’s people are turning back to him. The historian doesn’t want us to miss the tremendous promise of these early years of Joash’s reign. But, suddenly, all of that changes:
Then Hazael king of Syria went up, and fought against Gath, and took it: and Hazael set his face to go up to Jerusalem. And Jehoash king of Judah took all the hallowed things that Jehoshaphat, and Jehoram, and Ahaziah, his fathers, kings of Judah, had dedicated, and his own hallowed things, and all the gold that was found in the treasures of the house of the Lord, and in the king's house, and sent it to Hazael king of Syria: and he went away from Jerusalem. (2 Kings 12:17–18)
The dread of war looms over Judah yet again, as the Syrians go on the warpath, with Hazael at the helm. Gath is sacked and Jerusalem is next. Joash gets word of this and makes a rash decision to avoid battle by liquidating the temple treasury and using those assets as a bribe to throw at the feet of the storming Syrian king. Rather than risk another war, Joash convinces Hazael to just take the money, and it works. God’s people are, seemingly, saved from further conflict and casualty. But within such shrewd policy-wrangling manifest in Joash’s quick thinking is, in fact, a detestable measure of distrust. Joash writing a cashier’s check to get out of battle is a sign of his lack of confidence in God. Rather that trust in the promises and provisions afforded to him and his people in the Word of Yahweh, he entrusts the hope of his people’s deliverance to his own means.
This, by all accounts, is a stark shift from the earlier portion of the narrative. Joash is far removed from that youthful optimism which colored those early years — and the rest of his days do not get much better. The historian condenses the remainder of his reign to a single verse, appending the conclusion with a brief note on how he was assassinated (2 Kings 12:19–21). This, I think, it meant to be as stunning as it is unfulfilling, with the end of this once hopeful story leaving you deflated, defeated, and disappointed. It begs the question, “What happened?” Where did Joash go wrong? How did a monarchy which began with such promise end so pitifully? This is where the chronicler helps us.
The parallel account in 2 Chronicles 24 is enlightening, beginning with, perhaps, the most revealing detail about the rise and fall of Joash: “And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chron. 24:2, emphasis mine). Joash’s promising devotion to Yahweh is qualified by the persistence influence of Jehoiada, with the insinuation being that king’s faith is co-dependent on his priest’s presence. The chronicler’s rendition of these events brings that to bear. After Jehoiada passes way, Joash’s life takes a plunge:
But Jehoiada waxed old, and was full of days when he died; an hundred and thirty years old was he when he died. And they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, both toward God, and toward his house. Now after the death of Jehoiada came the princes of Judah, and made obeisance to the king. Then the king hearkened unto them. And they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served groves and idols: and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass. Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the Lord; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear. (2 Chron. 24:15–19)
Old age takes Jehoiada and, along with him, his determination for fidelity to the words of Yahweh. Joash, then, begins listening to other voices. Rather than “hearkening” to God’s Words, he “hearkens” unto the “princes of Judah,” with their influence resulting only in idolatry, iniquity, and infidelity running rampant. It’s not as though Yahweh just gave up on Joash, however. “He sent prophets to them,” including one named “Zechariah the son of Jehoiada,” who came with the “Spirit of God” upon him (2 Chron. 24:20). These divinely dispatched prophets are suggestive of God’s intent that his people not be given over to sin and sedition. They are evidences of Yahweh’s heart pleading with Yahweh’s people to return to him.
But the people of Judah wouldn’t have it. They dismiss the other prophets and have Zechariah murdered. “And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord” (2 Chron. 24:21). How quickly Joash departed from the things he had be taught as a boy! The grace and kindness and compassion of his youth was jettisoned for popular favor, so much so that he executed the son of his beloved mentor (2 Chron. 24:22). And such is when, like the historian, the chronicler informs us of Joash’s steep descent. Things continued to go “south” for him, with his twilight years being filled with invasion, bribery, betrayal, and assassination.
The promise and potential, optimism and hope of Joash’s youth faded into disappointment and ended in abject disaster. His tombstone bears in the inscription, “What might’ve been.” Such is the despondent epitaph on Joash’s reign.2 You and I would do well to learn from this boy who became king. In fact, as I see it, there are two points of application that, I think, we can glean from this narrative. First, Joash shows us why we are so desperate for a truer and better king. One who never disappoints, who never fizzles out, who never fails or falls away when he’s needed most. In that way, Joash’s disastrous reign drives us to revel and rejoice in King Jesus. His failures, as Dale Ralph Davis points out, “should only lift our eyes to the Descendant of David who does not disappoint.”3 Where Joash failed, Jesus always succeeds. He is the King forever (Ps. 9:7; 10:16; 29:10; 45:6; 102:12; Heb. 1:8), the King who is always faithful to his word (Deut. 31:6, 8; Josh. 1:5, 9; Heb. 13:5).
Second, Joash demonstrates what it looks like for someone to grow up “in something” — or “with something” — without ever personally believing in that “thing.” Indeed, his story is one that might be all too familiar to many. How many times have you heard this story? A boy grows up going to church with his parents every Sunday, eventually making a profession of faith at the ripe young age of 5. He continues to thrive and flourish in the church, learning all the verses, winning all the awards, attending all the camps, doing all the things “good church kids” should do. He talks about becoming a pastor in a local church or becoming a missionary overseas. The banner over his future reads: potential. But then one day, he goes off to college, and where before he read Scripture, he now reads the “wisdom” of other philosophers and secular theorists. Eventually, his life changes trajectories, one that’s vastly removed from anything “Christian.” In fact, he doesn’t want anything to do with Jesus or the Bible or the church at all. That stuff is for boomers, holdovers from a different era. The ingredients that made his youth promising are all but gone, with those who used to know him opining, “Oh, what might’ve been.” That really is a “tale as old as time.”
But despite however often we might hear such a story, that doesn’t make it any less tragic. This, to be sure, isn’t a diatribe against higher education or parental negligence or ecclesiastical nonchalance. Rather, this is a cautionary tale that surfaces the paramount importance of truly knowing what you believe. Jesus himself reminds us of this ruinous trajectory in his in his parable of the sower. “Some fell upon stony places,” the Savior says referring to the seed, “where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them” (Matt. 13:5–7). The rocky, thorny ground of Jesus’s parable is a fitting portrait of Joash’s heart.4 All that was good and promising about little Joash’s future was “choked” to death. Which is just to say that listening to Yahweh’s Word is one thing, but it’s another thing entirely to cherish that Word with heart, mind, and soul — to make it your life.
Joash’s story hits close to home for me, both as a pastor and a parent. As a pastor, I can only take my sheep so far. I can only do so much through teaching, preaching, discipling, and shepherding the flock which the Lord has called me to shepherd. My singular charge is to remain faithful in proclaiming the good news of “the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Matt. 26:28) and the interminable reign of the King of kings. I cannot force anyone to believe in such truths. Neither can I force anyone into putting what the Scriptures say into practice. That’s the Spirit’s job, not mine. The preeminent task of the preacher is the faithful explanation of the Word of God for the express purpose of “the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). But, in the end, a life of loyal, passionate, self-sacrificial faith lived to the glory of God is not “taught.” Rather, it’s caught, when we ourselves are captured by the grace and Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Final Analysis, your devotion and dedication to Jesus is something with which you must wrestle on your own.
As a parent, that scares the daylights out of me, sobering me up to the reality that my kids have a soul over which I have little authority. I can (and should) invest in their souls and pour into them the truth of God’s love for them. I pray, daily, that my little ones would be brought to a knowledge of God’s salvation in his Son’s death and resurrection. But just as saving faith cannot be “inherited,” neither can faithfulness. A life of loyal, passionate, self-sacrificial faith lived to the glory of God is not, ultimately, a matter of heritage either. A sinner’s eternal standing before the Judge isn’t an issue of parental legacy. It’s one of sheer faith in the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Christ the Lamb. All of which leads, I’d say, to a series of pointed questions:
“Do I really believe what I say I believe?”
“Do I believe it because I’ve been taught it, or do I believe it because I believe it?”
“Is this belief mine or someone else’s?”
“Is my faith just in the head or has it taken root in my heart and life?”
The thrust of the gospel and, likewise, the heart of the Father, is for every sinner/saint to be able to say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). He welcomes one and all to fall into his comforting embrace, despite our doubts, despite our stumbling, despite our stubborn unbelief. He revels in reaching into the pit of our distrust and setting our feet upon his Rock (Ps. 40:1–2). He delights in taking our weak-kneed and mustardy faith and steadying it according to the indefatigable truth of his Word.
“We do not need to accuse them of intentional embezzlement, but certainly they were guilty of carelessly letting the money slip through their fingers, and a good deal of it stick to their hands” (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944], 3:1.21).
“Once a promising, God-fearing young ruler, Joash died a disappointment. By bribing Hazael with Temple treasures, he tarnished his one great achievement, the Temple restoration” (R. L. Hubbard, Jr., First and Second Kings, Everyman’s Bible Commentary Series [Chicago: Moody Press, 1991], 185).
Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury (Ross-shire, England: Christian Focus, 2020), 189.
In fact, to further drive home this parallel, the Hebrew word for “instruct” (2 Kings 12:2) can also mean “to throw” or “to cast.” This paints the picture of the priest Jehoiada “throwing” the seeds of Yahweh’s words continually into the heart and mind of his protégé Joash. But, as time wears on, it’s apparent that not many of those seeds took root. One might also reflect upon the tragedy of Joash in light of Psalm 1:1-6.