Commentary on 2 Chr 24:17-25
“We turn today to Second Chronicles for a further unhappy episode in the history of Judah. The zealous high priest Zechariah, son of the same Jehoiada who had saved King Joash, is murdered in the Temple area. Jesus referred to this sad story (Matt 23:31).” (Vatican II Missal)
Our reading is taken from the Second Book of Chronicles but, chronologically, it follows on the events of yesterday’s reading where we saw the young Joash, who had been rescued from certain death at the hands of his murderous grandmother, Athalia, and made king through the instrumentation of Jehoiada, the high priest. Sadly however, as happens so often in these accounts, treachery again takes over.
When Jehoiada died, officials began to work on King Joash who listened to what they had to say.
As a result, the people of Judah began to abandon worship in the Temple and turned to various forms of idolatry. As a result “wrath [i.e. God's anger] came upon Judah and Jerusalem” – the southern kingdom and its capital. The Hebrew word for ‘abandon’ or ‘forsake’ is repeated three times in the passage, indicating the reason for the divine punishment which follows. There are many similar examples in other parts of the Old Testament.
When prophets were sent to bring them back to their senses and to God’s ways, the people refused to listen. Their rejection of these prophets was a rejection of Yahweh himself and thus sowing the seeds of the destruction to follow.
Then Zechariah, the son of the former high priest Jehoiada, was inspired to call the people back to the worship of Yahweh. “Because you have abandoned the Lord, he has abandoned you,” he told them. But instead of listening to his appeals, they plotted against him and, at the orders of the king, stoned him to death right there in the Lord’s Temple. A terrible sacrilege had taken place.
The blame is laid fairly and squarely on King Joash. It was an extraordinary act of ingratitude to the son of the man who had rescued the king as a young child from the same fate. As he died, Zechariah cried out, “The Lord sees and he will avenge.” The cry is a contrast to the words of Jesus on the cross and of Stephen before his martyrdom. In the Old Testament justice is often achieved through vengeance, violence met with violence. In the New Testament, violence is not the way.
This cruel death is referred to indirectly by Jesus: Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus says “You testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murder the prophets” (Matt 23:31).
The retribution was not long in coming. A year later an army of Aramaeans attacked King Joash and executed his officials, perhaps those very ones who had led him and the people astray to the worship of idols.
Although the Aramaean forces were not large in number, they were, by God’s power, able to overcome the much larger army of the Joash and the Judeans for deserting their God. Just as God had helped the small army of Judah against overwhelming odds when the king and people were faithful to him (14:8-9; 20:2,12), so now in their unfaithfulness they are defeated by a much smaller force of invaders.
Joash was treated as, in the thinking of the time, his royal status deserved but they left him a very sick man. Finally, his own officers, the ones perhaps who had helped Jehoiada engineer the coup against Athalia, moved to avenge the death of the high priest’s son Zechariah, and murdered the king in his bed. He was buried in the citadel of David but not in the tombs of the kings.
Once again, sin does not pay.