The family of Ahab is among the most impressive illustrations in history, of maternal influence for evil on the character of offspring. The nefarious Jezebel not only gave birth to Athaliah, but laid a shaping hand on her destiny; and evidently with a sibyl’s enthusiasm, opened before her youthful feet the very descensus Averni in the mysteries of crime, hitherto unknown in royal annals. We have no biography of her early years; her career of dissipation and bursts of passion while a maiden, within the magnificent walls of her father’s palace.
The pious Jehosaphat, who reigned in Judah, strangely sought her hand for his son Jehoram. No other motive can be imagined than the policy of kings, who live in jealousy or fear of each other. And when her husband, yet a youth, took the sceptre, she threw around him the magical power of her wiles, and put forth the guiding energy of genius—a force, which under the mad rule of passions, like the sun‐chariot in Phæton’s hand, makes ever a brilliant, disastrous and brief career; and,
is overtaken by the retributive thunderbolt, at last.
One after another, Jehoram’s five brethren, who held posts of honor in the kingdom, and others of the nobility, disappeared suddenly under the assassin’s stroke, or poison administered by Athaliah, until he sat in solitary and sullen authority, on a throne behind which was “a power greater than itself.” (2Ki 1:17.)
Naboth’s history had furnished a precedent the queen was not unwilling to follow, and the tragedies in both branches of an impious line, remind us of the Borgia family of modern history, who have written their names in blood, on the ecclesiastical, and civil records of Italy. The king was smitten with disease, and after lingering for two years, till a loathsome spectacle to his friends, died, and left the crown to Ahaziah.
This son, unlike his predecessor, was not involved in the suicidal war with a conscience made tender by the piety of a father, but with pliant docility listening to the dark counsels of Athaliah, was striding onward in power that spared neither Jewish altar, nor the form of a rival, when, during a visit to Joram, he was slain at Jehu’s command, with the retinue that escorted him to Jezreel.
This gradual extinction of her family did not move the lion heart of Athaliah. She resolved, with demoniac ambition, to strew around the summit of dreaded pre‐eminence, the slain “seed royal,” from the infant to the manliest youth; and firmly hold a sceptre dripping with the life current of her own household. The order was given, and, as she thought, the massacre complete, and, a gloomy despot, she could repose upon a throne whose shadow would terrify, while the sword that guarded it would cut for her a pathway whither a sublimely desperate will might guide her footsteps.
But she had a daughter, not yet insensible to human helplessness and the voice of love. Among the bodies of her brother’s sons, which lay heaped together for interment, Jehosheba discovered the infant Joash, gasping for life, and secretly conveyed him to her chamber. For six years the child was hidden, and Athaliah reigned without a rival in the holy city. (2Ki 11:2.)
At the expiration of that period, Jehoiada the priest, observing that the people were ripe for revolution, conferred with the centurions, captains and guards, and obtaining from them an oath of fidelity to his cause, showed them Joash in the house of the Lord. They had supposed the royal line extinct, and when they looked on the boy, who returned their caressing with shrinking wonder, old associations were revived and many a veteran, who remembered the glorious days departed long ago, felt the quickening pulsations of slumbering loyalty, and his brow began to glow with an enthusiasm which seemed to have vanished forever. (2Ki 11:4-11.)
The venerable priest then stationed the battalions at the principal gates of the Temple, and around the king, who stood in the bloom of his boyhood, half unconscious what all this preparation meant, encircled by a wall of men and gleaming weapons. Placing the crown upon his head, and the law of God in his hand, he poured on that fair forehead, the anointing‐oil. Then the multitude “clapped their hands, and said, God save the king!” till the arches of the sacred edifice echoed back the acclamation, and the lofty columns rocked before the steady tramp of thousands, rushing to this scene of coronation. (2Ki 11:12.)
The jubilant trumpets, and the deepening shouts caught the ear of Athaliah, and she hastened to the house of God. When she saw the splendid array and the surging waves of excited men, and the youth crowned in the midst of them, while “God save the king” rolled in a deafening chorus to the swell of trumpet blasts, her fallen glance read the truth that sealed her doom—and as a last struggle, she rent her flowing robes, and shouted, “Treason! Treason!” (2Ki 11:13-14.)
But none flew to the rescue of the frantic queen. “Have her forth,” cried Jehoiada, “without the ranges; and him that followeth her kill with the sword.” (2Ki 11:15-16.) The command was obeyed, and her body lay in the highway to the palace, trodden in the soil by the horsemen, who but a few hours before quailed before her eye of flame. Mother and daughter, alike in unblushing impiety which vaulted to the stars, perished equally wretched in their hurried and hopeless departure from a world they made more desolate, to an abode where Justice completes his work.
To what a towering greatness in guilt the intelligent creatures of God may attain! Those whom poets call angels, and who may be so amid the suffering
“On life’s broad field of battle,”
become sirens on the shoals of ruin, or quaff with a smile of glorying the wine‐cup of unmingled depravity.
And through all the history of the Hebrew nation, the lesson is enforced which Jehovah taught by the prophet, “In my wrath I gave them a king” (Hsa 13:11)—as if monarchy were a dernier ressort when the dignity of self‐government was gone, and His image so nearly effaced from free intelligences, that the sovereignty is insufficient, which, “like the atmosphere we breathe, is felt only by resistance.”