Her character: Granddaughter of Omri, one of Israel's most idolatrous and evil kings, she was the daughter of Ahab and most likely of Jezebel as well. She was the only woman to rule over Judah. While Ahab and Jezebel spread Baal worship in the northern kingdom of Israel, Athaliah was busy promoting it a few years later in the southern kingdom of Judah. Controlled by her need for power, she murdered her own family members to secure it. Her sorrow: That her attempt to destroy the royal line of Judah failed. Her joy: That her ruthlessness paid off, at least for a time, making her the ruler of Judah. Key Scriptures:2 Kings 11; 2 Chronicles 22; 23:11-21
Her name means: "The Lord Is Great"
Her character: A princess and the wife of the high priest, she was a courageous woman whose actions preserved the line of Judah, from which the Messiah would come. Her sorrow: To have endured Athaliah's reign in Judah and to have suffered the loss of many of her nephews at the queen's hand. Her joy: To have preserved the life of her brother's youngest son, Joash, so that he could become the rightful king of Judah. Key Scriptures:2 Kings 11:2; 2 Chronicles 22:11
Wicked queens are the stuff of fairy tales. Remember the snow queen in the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, or the evil queen in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Athaliah was at least as bad as her fairy-tale counterparts, a queen who chilled the hearts of God's people by murdering her own grandsons and promoting Baal worship in the southern kingdom of Judah, just as her parents, Ahab and Jezebel, had promoted it in the north.
Athaliah married the king of Judah, thereby cementing an alliance between the northern and southern kingdoms. But after a few years he died and was succeeded by Athaliah's son, Ahaziah. In just a few months, Jehu, Jezebel's nemesis, slaughtered the new king.
After Queen Athaliah's husband and son were killed, she must have felt vulnerable and isolated, doubly so since her father Ahab's line had also been destroyed in Israel. Her paranoia and lust for power formed a toxic mixture, moving her to murder her own son's children to secure Judah's throne for herself. Indeed she may even have gloated that she, Baal's emissary, had snuffed out Judah's royal heirs, making it impossible for God to fulfill his promise of a future Messiah from David's line in the tribe of Judah.
For a few years, from about 841-835 bc, Athaliah reigned in Judah, promoting Baal worship and leading the people further and further from God. But right under her nose a conspiracy was brewing. Unknown to her, one of her grandsons still lived. Her own stepdaughter, Jehosheba, had hidden the infant, Joash, before the queen could murder him along with Ahaziah's other sons. Married to the high priest, Jehosheba risked her life by tucking the royal heir away in the temple for six years. Then, when the boy turned seven, her husband arranged a coup, crowning young Joash king.
As soon as Athaliah caught wind of the plot, she rushed to the temple, tearing her robes and screaming, "Treason! Treason!" But like her mother, Jezebel, before her, no one paid the slightest attention. Instead, Queen Athaliah was promptly seized and executed just outside the temple. As soon as the queen was dispatched, the people of Judah celebrated by destroying the temple of Baal along with its chief priest.
While the comparisons between Athaliah and Jezebel are all too obvious, their story reminds us of another that took place seven hundred years before. Egypt's Pharaoh, determined to destroy God's people, had ordered every male baby drowned in the Nile River. Like Pharaoh, hoodwinked by one of his own children (his daughter saved Moses and raised him as her own), Athaliah was fooled by her stepdaughter, Jehosheba. Once again a woman's courage and compassion helped to subvert evil and keep the promise alive.
God always wins. That's a pretty simplistic way of saying it, but it's true nonetheless. Even when people like Athaliah try to stomp out an entire family and put an end to God's plan for redemption, when people like the priests of Baal lead others to worship idols instead of the true God, God will always triumph in the end. The negative forces of our culture make us wonder where we're headed as a people. Many of our leaders show little integrity or morality, and dishonesty is overlooked in the workplace. Kindness is often the exception rather than the rule. But don't despair. This is not a battle God plans to lose. In the end, he will prevail!