Just as we can learn from the godly lives of Old Testament characters who lived “by faith” (Hebrews 11), so our Lord also wants us to learn lessons from those Old Testament people who refused to submit to His will. In fact, the conduct and decisions of such unrighteous folks serve as “our examples” (1 Corinthians 10:6).
To say that Athaliah was not a good example for us to imitate would be a tremendous understatement. That woman was wicked to the core. Information about her life is recorded in two books of the Bible: 2 Kings (8:16-18,26; 11:1-20) and 2 Chronicles (21:5,6; 22:1-3,10-23:21; 24:7). Let us consider some truths about Athaliah and see what spiritual lessons we can learn from her disastrous life.
Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (2 Chronicles 21:5,6; 22:2,3). Ahab was the most evil king in Israel’s history, and Jezebel’s wickedness was on par with his. From that union came Athaliah. There are cases in which the child of ungodly parents becomes a righteous servant of Jehovah (Ezekiel 18:14-17). The church is blessed with many such members today. Yet, in far more instances, children of rebellious people turn out like Athaliah, whom God’s word describes in the simplest, yet fullest, language: “. . . Athaliah, that wicked woman . . .” (2 Chronicles 24:7).
Athaliah married Jehoram, the king of Judah (2 Chronicles 21:5,6). Yes, Jehoram was royalty, and Athaliah came from a royal family, too. However, in God’s sight, their’s was no fairy tale union. Seeing the kind of stock from which Athaliah came, we have to wonder what in the world Jehoram was thinking when he decided to marry her! He certainly was not thinking about his spiritual well-being (or that of his children) when he did so. Jehoram was evil, and Athaliah was a big part of his wicked lifestyle, as the Bible informs us that “he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife . . .” (2 Kings 8:18). So, just as Jezebel had stirred up Ahab to do evil (1 Kings 21:25), so Athaliah influenced her husband to do the same. Jezebel and Athaliah truly were a case of “Like mother, like daughter” (Ezekiel 16:44). My sisters, how are you training and influencing your daughters? They are watching, and they will repeat your actions. That is what Athaliah did.
After Athaliah’s husband died, their son, Ahaziah, became king in Judah. And what kind of mother was Athaliah to him? Ahaziah “walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother [Athaliah, rdc] advised him to do wickedly” (2 Chronicles 22:3). Athaliah was her boy’s personal trainer, and she led him “to his destruction” (22:4). Under Moses’ law, parents were charged with the duty of teaching God’s word to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). Athaliah failed miserably. Christian parents need to set a godly example (Matthew 5:16) and teach their kids how to serve the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Nothing is more important.
Athaliah murdered her own grandsons. You read that sentence correctly: this queen of evil intentionally killed her offspring (2 Chronicles 22:10,11). Why? So she herself could rule over Judah. What kind of woman is so power-hungry and ruthless that she will kill her own grandkids?! Someone like sweet Athaliah! She is a prime example of what the Bible calls “unloving” (2 Timothy 3:3), which is translated as “without natural affection” in the KJV. Sadly, today we see some mothers failing to show natural love for their kids. Many murder them via abortion even before they are born. Others abandon them shortly after their birth. Still others forsake their husband and kids to run off with another man. Child-killers and child-forsakers deserve to have their name changed to “Athaliah,” for they are following in her steps.
Athaliah reigned for six years over Judah (2 Kings 11:3). Sure, she got what she wanted, but not all that makes a human happy pleases the Lord, as King David had learned earlier (2 Samuel 11:27). While some believe that a “good” result justifies any methods used in achieving it, the Bible teaches no such thing (Romans 3:8). Those who seek positions of rulership in modern times need to remember that God expects reverence for Him and justice from those who lead (2 Samuel 23:3).
Athaliah brought Baal worship into the Southern Kingdom (2 Chronicles 23:14; 24:7). No real surprise there, as her mother had done the same thing in the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 16:30-32). At some point, Athaliah broke into the temple of Jehovah and “dedicated things of the house of the LORD to the Baals” (2 Chronicles 24:7). She had no respect for the true God, had no respect for what He said, and showed no reverence at all for holy matters. If she had had such respect, she would have served Him “in sincerity and in truth” (Joshua 24:14). None of us is perfect, but let us maintain reverence for the holy God of heaven and His will.
When Athaliah died, all the people of Judah rejoiced (2 Kings 11:20). I think we can understand why! Athaliah may have been “the cutest kid ever,” a person of great talent, and possessor of a charming personality. No such traits or any other matters could change the reality of her adult years: her spiritual life was horrific, perhaps even worse than Jezebel’s!
Let us do more than itemize and count the sins of Athaliah. Let us learn from them. Let us be lovers of righteousness and commit ourselves to pursuing it.
— Roger D. Campbell