Women in the Bible – Athaliah – Queen of Judah During the Reign of King Jehoram, and Later Became Sole Ruler of Judah for Five Years.
2 Kings 8:26 (ESV)
Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah; she was a granddaughter of Omri king of Israel.
2 Kings 11:1-3 (ESV)
Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the king’s sons who were being put to death, and she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus they hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not put to death. And he remained with her six years, hidden in the house of the LORD, while Athaliah reigned over the land.
2 Chronicles 22:1-12 (ESV)
And the inhabitants of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, his youngest son, king in his place, for the band of men that came with the Arabians to the camp had killed all the older sons. So Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah reigned. Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah, the granddaughter of Omri. He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, as the house of Ahab had done. For after the death of his father they were his counselors, to his undoing. He even followed their counsel and went with Jehoram the son of Ahab king of Israel to make war against Hazael king of Syria at Ramoth-gilead. And the Syrians wounded Joram, and he returned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds that he had received at Ramah, when he fought against Hazael king of Syria. And Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to see Joram the son of Ahab in Jezreel, because he was wounded.
But it was ordained by God that the downfall of Ahaziah should come about through his going to visit Joram. For when he came there, he went out with Jehoram to meet Jehu the son of Nimshi, whom the LORD had anointed to destroy the house of Ahab. And when Jehu was executing judgment on the house of Ahab, he met the princes of Judah and the sons of Ahaziah’s brothers, who attended Ahaziah, and he killed them. He searched for Ahaziah, and he was captured while hiding in Samaria, and he was brought to Jehu and put to death. They buried him, for they said, “He is the grandson of Jehoshaphat, who sought the LORD with all his heart.” And the house of Ahaziah had no one able to rule the kingdom.
Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal family of the house of Judah. But Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the king’s sons who were about to be put to death, and she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus Jehoshabeath, the daughter of King Jehoram and wife of Jehoiada the priest, because she was a sister of Ahaziah, hid him from Athaliah, so that she did not put him to death. And he remained with them six years, hidden in the house of God, while Athaliah reigned over the land.
2 Chronicles 23:12-21 (ESV)
When Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she went into the house of the LORD to the people. And when she looked, there was the king standing by his pillar at the entrance, and the captains and the trumpeters beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets, and the singers with their musical instruments leading in the celebration. And Athaliah tore her clothes and cried, “Treason! Treason!” Then Jehoiada the priest brought out the captains who were set over the army, saying to them, “Bring her out between the ranks, and anyone who follows her is to be put to death with the sword.” For the priest said, “Do not put her to death in the house of the LORD.” So they laid hands on her, and she went into the entrance of the horse gate of the king’s house, and they put her to death there.
And Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the LORD’s people. Then all the people went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And Jehoiada posted watchmen for the house of the LORD under the direction of the Levitical priests and the Levites whom David had organized to be in charge of the house of the LORD, to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, as it is written in the Law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, according to the order of David. He stationed the gatekeepers at the gates of the house of the LORD so that no one should enter who was in any way unclean. And he took the captains, the nobles, the governors of the people, and all the people of the land, and they brought the king down from the house of the LORD, marching through the upper gate to the king’s house. And they set the king on the royal throne. So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword.
2 Chronicles 24:7 (ESV)
For the sons of Athaliah, that wicked woman, had broken into the house of God, and had also used all the dedicated things of the house of the LORD for the Baals.
I don’t know how I have lived almost fifty-seven years and never knew that Judah had a queen. Did you know this? Athaliah was a member of royalty from birth. Apparently she took her position very seriously, to the point she tried to wipe out the entire royal family in order to make herself Queen of Judah. I know I included a lot of scripture in this post, but I wanted you to see the story for yourself.
Athaliah comes from the Hebrew word ʿatalyāhû and means “Jah has constrained.” This name is interesting because it appears she was relatively unconstrained in her actions after her son, Ahaziah, died. She had allowed her privileged life to cloud her perspective of what was important. She assumed that she was above the law and could do whatever was necessary to maintain power and control. Athaliah had a reputation of being evil. Undoubtedly it was an accurate depiction of her character.
However, she achieved something that most women of her day could not. She ruled Judah for five years as her Queen. She was not a worshiper of Jehovah. Instead she worshiped Baal. But like her name she was given, Athaliah was constrained by Jehovah. The people of Judah realized the error she had brought during her reign and revolted against her, and the god, Baal. They destroyed the temple that had been erected for Baal and restored worship in the House of David, worship to the one true God, Jehovah. Their rage continued until Athaliah had been put to death.
Her death marked the end of a very bad era for the nations of Israel and Judah. The last line in 2 Chronicles 23 tells it all. “So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword.” (2 Chronicles 23:21) The legacy left by Athaliah could have been totally different. She could have helped keep her son on track to worship Jehovah and spare him from a horrible death. She could have enabled another generation to worship the One True God, and help a nation seek the Lord’s counsel and live under the protection and blessing of God. Instead she chose a selfish path of power grabbing and inflicting pain and suffering on an entire nation of people.
I suppose that is the reason I’ve never heard of her until now. It is unfortunate that when people have the opportunity to really make an impact on their family, other people, and even an entire nation, they choose to think only of what can gain from it. Let us purpose to live differently.