Engraving: Gustave Dore (1832-1883)
intersect, where the bible meets life
Matthew's Christmas Déjà Vu
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A power-hungry ruler in Israel feels threatened by a young boy who is the rightful heir to the throne. The crazed monarch then lashes out on a murderous rampage, a killing spree aimed at disposing of all his potential rivals.
But the family of the true king, this young heir to David’s throne, hides him from the blade of the mad monarch. Soon, the deranged despot dies and the boy king receives his rightful acclaim from the people of his kingdom.
This intriguing story came to my attention as I read the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. No, it’s not the story of King Herod and the slaughter of the baby boys when Jesus was born. That account is in chapter two. I’m talking about what happens in chapter one. Or, actually, I mean what does not happen in chapter one—what the text does not say.
If you read Jesus’ genealogy closely, you’ll notice some names missing from the roster of Judah’s kings descended from David. The latter part of verse eight reads, “and Joram the father of Uzziah.” Take a look at 2 Chronicles 21–26. For his own reasons, Matthew left out three kings between Joram and Uzziah: Ahaziah, Amaziah, and Joash (also spelled Jehoash). Uzziah was actually Joram’s great, great, great grandson; but the Hebrew writers often used “father” in the sense of a “grandfather” and beyond.
The Hidden King
The story I mentioned above about the blood-thirsty ruler and the hidden prince could have been about Herod and Jesus, but I had another incident in mind. Athaliah, a queen, was the monarch, and Joash, one of the “missing” kings from Matthew’s list, was the boy.
Yet the parallels between the two events are amazing, aren’t they? More than eight centuries before Christ’s birth Jehu assassinated King Ahaziah of Judah. Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, daughter of the infamous Ahab and Jezebel and a Baal worshiper, had all of her grandchildren killed in a desperate attempt to take over the throne herself—all, that is, except Ahaziah’s infant son Joash.
Joash’s aunt and uncle, Jehosheba and Jehoiada the priest, tucked the little boy away in a makeshift bedroom for six long years! They probably hid him “in plain sight.” However they managed the ruse—imagine trying to keep an infant then a toddler “quiet” for so long—Athaliah never knew Joash was alive until the fateful day when Jehoiada sprang his trap.
A Queen Comes to Church
The cunning priest arranged for all the temple guards and other servants to mass around Joash in a protective gauntlet as the boy stood by the pillars and received his crown. As a Baal worshiper, Athaliah rarely entered the Lord’s house, but she appeared that day when she heard the commotion. Ignoring her hypocritical cries of “treason, treason,” the guards escorted the stunned queen from the scene and promptly executed her near the place where horses entered the precincts. Read all of this in 2 Kings 10-11 and 2 Chronicles 22-23.
Redemption Hangs by a Thread
As suspenseful as the story is, it is more significant and relevant to Christmas than might appear on the surface. As with Herod’s vicious plot, Athaliah’s affront reminds us that God’s enemies will stop at nothing to foil His purposes. The Lord’s plan to bring a Redeemer into the world through David’s family is clear throughout the Old Testament. With Joash’s life in jeopardy, the Messiah’s line hung by a thread. Imagine it: the redemption of the world tucked away in a spare room for safekeeping, as it would one day be tucked away briefly in Egypt.
Yet God will do as He promises! He worked through a loyal priest and his brave wife who risked their lives to see the true king enthroned. Through it all, in the fullness of time, God’s Son, David’s son, entered the world on schedule. No Athaliah with her Baal, no Herod with his broadsword could prevent that, try as they might.
The little bundle in the manger testified to the universe of the power and will of the infinite Creator whose uncreated Gift creates limitless hope and endless joy in the hearts of those who receive Him as their Savior. Wrapped in those “swaddling clothes” was the fabric of God’s pattern for all the ages and all our hopes for all our days.
“O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.”
Next Intersect: Why Be a Christian? takes an in-depth at Romans 8 and the myriad benefits of being reconciled to God.
Intersect (Where the Bible Meets Life) is a regular column of ONE Magazine featuring Dr. Garnett Reid, a member of the Bible faculty at Free Will Baptist Bible College.