As you read chapter twelve, you will be tempted to remark of Joash: “What a fine fellow, a remarkable change from the dynasty of Ahab.”
But be careful. All is not what it seems. When we read Chronicles we get an entirely different picture of Joash. Both books tell us he was spiritually nurtured by Jehoiada the priest and under Jehoiada’s mentoring, he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Yet later, according to Chronicles, he would abandon the temple and the Lord and even have Jehoiada’s son murdered (see 2 Chronicles 23).
This last part is not mentioned in 2 Kings and it leaves us with a different picture of the king.
One should not (as we often so erroneously do with the Gospels) jam Kings and Chronicles together in order to try and get the “whole picture.” When we do that, we miss the picture intended by the authors in favor of one of our own making.
Nearly half of the verses in 2 Kings 12 are devoted to Joash’s refurbishing the temple. While kings customarily paid for the support of the local shrine in the ancient world, Joash correctly observed that this should be the responsibility of all the people – as well as the king. He put various reforms in place. First, the priests were either ill-suited for the repair of the temple, or couldn’t be trusted to do it, so the work was turned over to craftsmen who could do it properly. Second, care of the money donated became a civil and religious matter with the counting of the money a partnership between the royal administration and the High Priest. Third, repairs on essentials came before luxuries – function was more important than form. And finally, the repair work was on a “pay as you go” method. Credit was neither used nor extended.
As a minister, I find some good advice in all this. Church leaders often get involved in the very material tasks of property management – and are usually poor at it. Property gets neglected and member frustration sets in (not to mention that newcomers often go elsewhere). Money is too often spent on new programs rather than keeping up the ones already in process (it’s always easier to raise money for something new). Work is too often assigned to people who cannot do the job rather than professionals (I’ve lost track of the number of church buildings with faulty wiring or bad plumbing because those tasks were assigned to members who were cheap rather than skilled). But I’m not sure any of these points are intended by the writer of Kings.
Instead, we come to the end of the chapter and all the progress is “given away” to the foreigner Hazael as a ransom for not attacking Judah – and Joash is assassinated. Where was God while his temple was being looted and his anointed killed? The problem was not with God, but still with His people and His king. Their focus seemed to be on the right spot: the temple of the Lord. But that was but an external. While a beautiful building was being refurbished, the spiritual lives of Judah and Joash were falling apart. Attention to the temple didn’t mean repentance, and repentance was what was needed. “The high places were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”