The beginning of the reign of King Joash (Jehoash) of Judah must have encouraged the Judahites who had remained faithful to the Lord. After all, he started out with an apparent devotion to the Lord, repairing Solomon’s temple after Judah had endured the idolatrous reigns of Joash’s predecessors (2 Kings 11:21–12:16; see 8:16–18, 25–27; 11:1–20). Any confidence that Joash would lead Judah back to faithfulness, however, was short lived. As we see in today’s passage, Joash did not persevere in righteousness.
Joash fell into idolatry after the death of Jehoiada the priest, Joash’s uncle who had done such good for Judah that he was honored in death with burial among Judah’s kings (2 Chron. 24:15–16; see 22:10–12). The king listened to the princes of Judah and abandoned the temple of Yahweh, the one true God and Lord of Israel. Also, they served “the Asherim and the idols,” images of the pagan goddess Asherah and others. But our patient God did not abandon Judah at this point; He sent them prophets to call the Judahites back to the Lord (24:17–19). One of these prophets was Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, who was not the same individual as the prophet who wrote the book of Zechariah. But Joash had fallen so far that he killed Zechariah. Jehoiada and his wife saved Joash’s life when he was an infant, and Joash repaid that kindness by killing Jehoiada’s son, his own cousin (vv. 20–22; see 22:10–12).
How could Joash have done this? Matthew Henry explains: “When [Jehoash] did that which was right it was not with a perfect heart. He never was sincere, never acted from principle, but in compliance to Jehoiada, who had helped him to the crown, and because he had been protected in the temple and rose upon the ruins of idolatry; and therefore, when the wind turned, he turned with it.” The faith of Jehoiada in the Lord, to which Joash outwardly conformed during his early reign, never took root in Joash’s heart. This serves as a warning to us all that we must personally trust in the Lord. We cannot rely on the faith of others for our salvation.
So, Joash’s reign ended under the judgment of the Lord. God granted success to Syria’s invasion of Judah that took part in the latter half of Joash’s reign. After being wounded in battle with Syria, Joash was killed by conspirators who sought to avenge the blood of Zechariah (24:23–27). Those who impenitently reject the Lord will not escape His wrath.