Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Thursday, August 17, 2006

ch.12 - Y(eh)oash, King of Yehudah

The figure of Yoash burst in to the public limelight a year or two back when a tablet surfaced that was said to have been excavated on Har HABayit itself. It quoted almost verbatim, certain lines from Divrei Hayamim that relate to Yoash. Unfortunately, the widespread assessment was that it was a fraud. (See the discussion.)

But in truth, Yoash doesn't need a modern day sensation to sell his story. Yoash's history is incredible: A prince who is snatched as an infant from the midst of a massacre, raised in secret and becomes a child king. He dedicates his life to the Mikdash, and then in his old age, for no obvious reason, turns away from God, and serves the Baal. His biography is colourful, interesting and intriguing. For me, the looming question relates to his unexpected attraction to Avoda Zara in his later life. Why would a person so entrenched in Avodat Hashem suddenly revoke his life's commitment? What happened?

We shall engage in a study of Yoash's life to seek some answers. To follow the story as told in our Tanach, we shall give it some structure. Broadly, we can divide it into THREE sections:
1. His infancy
2. His renovation of the Mikdash
3. Yoash's demise: Hazael's attack, and Yoash's assassination..

Reviewing the Story

1. Yoash, the Child King (age 1-7)
Athalia massacres all the male heirs to the throne. Yoash's aunt – Yehosheva - saves his life, somehow hiding the little prince and his wet-nurse. Now, this effort was not simple at all, after all, the baby's body would have had to be accounted for. There was certainly a team of conspirators who backed the "old-guard" and subverted Athalia. The most prominent ally of Baby Yoash was Yehoyada, the Kohein Gadol who certainly knew that the Yoash, heir to the House of David, was being raised in secret. Chazal reinforce this (see Rashi and other mepharshim) by suggesting that he was hidden in the Mikdash itself – in the secret chambers above the Kodesh Kodashim! At age 7 the secret is revealed. Yehoyada stages a revolution within the Beit Mikdash, (the depiction is very dramatic,) Yehoash is crowned king, and they depose of Athalia. Yoash is now king.

2. The reinforcing of the building funds for the Mikdash. – 23rd year of Yoash's reign.

In this story, Yehoash orders the Kohanim to take more care in the upkeep and maintenance of the Mikdash. He finds the Temple in a state of disrepair, and summons Yehoyada, accusing the Kohanim of negligence towards the Mikdash.

Up to this point, the Kohanim would receive donations. They were supposed to forward the funds to the Mikdash, but they apparently used it towards other purposes. Yehoyada's solution is to bypass the Kohanim by setting up a donation box into which every visitor to the Mikdash would deposit a donation. In this manner, the Israelite gives directly to the Temple without the intermediary of the Kohein.

Indeed this is the Haftara for Parashat Shekalim – a tradition that relates to annual contribution for the Korbanot Zibbur of the Mikdash.

3. Yoash's demise and Death

In Sefer Melachim we now hear of an attack by Hazael and the kingdom of Aram. To avert disaster, Yoash cleans out the Royal treasury and also the funds of the Mikdash and bribes/ offers a tribute in order to persuade Hazael to leave. And the next we hear, certain political opponents - government figures apparently - assassinate Yoash. Were they opposed to his war "strategy"?

But in Divrei Hayamim (II, ch.24), events far more sinister are described, and we understand a major political fight:
Here are the main points:

- Yehoyada dies and is given a royal burial.
- The king then selects a new group of advisors (In today's terms; a new bureau chief, political advisor, PR team etc.) He accepts their advise.
- The next we know, we find Yehoash serving Baal and Asheira. Apparently this trun to Avoda Zara is part and parcel of the new "image" suggested by the new "management team".
- As a result, Zecharia – son of Yehoyada – stands in the Mikdash and in a spirit of prophecy, rebukes the king for the idolatry. People in high positions have him killed by stoning, just in the courtyard of the Temple.
- As a punishment for this, God sends Hazael. Nothing is mentioned about Yoash paying him off. In fact it would appear that Yoash was seriously injured in battle with Aram.
- While he is bedridden from his wounds, loyalists of the Yehoyada family and the Kohanim come and assassinate Yoash.

A Political-Religious Analysis

Now let us at least put some shape to this intrigue. I would suggest that essentially there are two factions here , each seeking to exert influence upon the king. In fact, these factions represent very different philosophies, both political and religious.

We have the Right Wing – the religious, Temple faction of Yehoyada. These represent traditional Jewish values, with, I imagine, a more insular cultural worldview. This group has been Yoash's main support since his childhood.

And we have the Left Wing – a more cosmopolitan approach, more worldly. These people are still the residue from the Athalia period. Like her, they value other cultures – the Phoenician progress – and wish to see Israel culturally in-step with the rest of the world. They don't view Judea as an island that needs to fight against the world. Accommodation with enemies is just fine. After all, what do we have to lose?


Maybe we can talk about Yoash's story as a saga of "growing up."

As a child, he is cared for and influenced by the Mikdash. His mentor and surrogate father is Yehoyada.

Maybe let me take this to a further extreme. A seven year old king cannot govern! Effectively, during Yoash's childhood, youth and early adulthood, Yehoyada functions as the ruler, the governing power. He always tells Yoash how he acts in his better interests etc. But we can only imagine that as Yoash grows up, there are differences of opinion on certain policy issues. I imagine that Yehoyada sometimes tries to manipulate things in a direction different to that of Yoash, and that there are times when Yoash wishes that Yehoyada were less powerful.

So skip a few years ahead. Now Yoash is age 30. He wishes to strike a reputation of his own. He begins within his "safety zone," first flexing his muscles in the arena of the Mikdash. He accuses the Kohanim of abuse of funds. He begins to wrest away the control of the Mikdash from priestly hands and to begin to exert his influence and power of the institution of the Mikdash.

What is happening here is that both politically and personally, Yoash is trying to create his own sphere of influence, his own independence. He does not wish to see the central institution of the Mikdash with its enormous power - especially after many years with Yehoyada as surrogate King - unless it is under is thumb. He knows that if he is to govern, he must hold sawy in the Mikdash. Hence he instigates the crisis of the Mikdash and its run-down state to begin to circumvent Kohein control and to show that he can also control the purse fo the Mikdash and the designation of finances, and hence the priorities and direction of the Mikdash. He discredits the Koahnim and accuses them of financial indiscretion and irresponsibility. And he emerges as the primary financial conduit to the Mikdash with rennovations and repairs credited to the King rather than to the High Priest.

As time goes on, these processes intensify.

Yehoyada dies. While he was alive, we can suppose Yoash began to resent his presence. And yet, he is indebted to him, faithful to him. He respects him and will give to Yehoyada's more traditional leanings. During his life, he towed the party line.

But now, after his death, Yoash feels that he is un-tethered and he looks for a new political coalition; an alliance with which to strike ties and to build a new power base. He finds this in the Left Wing faction, who also have experience in government. Always open to world culture, even paganism – at the time the most progressive religious approach, the most popular religious reality. They persuade Yoash to widen his perspective, allowing his kingdom to accommodate the wider culture, and very soon, Baal is de riguer in Jerusalem.

The opponent, Zecharia , son of Yehoyada, accuses the king of selling out on Jewish values. He is stoned to death by government sanction. The new advisors are firmly in control.

We now understand that the people who killed him were the Koahnim loyalists – people who became his bitter enemy a he moved away from traditional values. They felt that he had betrayed God and the Jewish values which were the essence of the state. This faction had deposed the previous queen for her religious betrayal. Now they attack another king who followed idolatry! After all, these people also knew the corridors of power that they had walked for over 20 years.

What happened to Yoash? As a King who had taken the throne as a child, controlled by the decisions of others he simply needed to find his own space, to grow up, to make his independent decisions. He was concerned as he grew up to govern independently, to be seen as a strong King - not the Koahnim's puppet, but his own status as a policy maker, as a statesman and leader. Maybe psychologically, as a young adult, Yoash felt crushed, intimidated under the tutelage of Yehoyada. He yearned for his own voice. Religiously, as he grew up he found his room for independence specifically beyond the tradition within which he was raised. He resented the control of the Kehuna and the Mikdash.

And yet, ironically, in emancipating from its influence, he failed to achieve independence. He found his contribution to the country in the offerings of progress and trade, culture and development, the promises of the Athalia loyalists who most probably explained how the new direction would open the gates of trade and world approval for the State of Judea.

Ironically Yoash suffered from his abnormal upbringing. As he tried to shape an independent identity and a new political course, he brought the country into a new dangerous religious direction.