Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Becoming a good man…

When I think of posthumous tributes, I always tearily remember the final scene in Saving Private Ryan: the now-elderly former soldier who was the subject of the daring bring-him-home mission pauses at the graveside of one of those who died in the effort and implores his wife, “Tell me I’m a good man.”

Like Jehoiada, perhaps, whom I stumbled across as I recently wandered through some of the daytime soap opera story-line that is the Old Testament. Seriously, some of the stuff that went on back then makes the family dysfunction trotted out on television dramas these days seem tame by comparison.

Anyway, Second Chronicles 22 relates how when Ahaziah—the king of Judah—is killed, his mother (Athaliah) orders a royal bloodbath of the next in line so she can reign instead. Unbeknownst to her, Ahaziah’s son, Joash, is spirited away by the boy’s aunt, Jehoshabeath, thereby avoiding the cull. Young Joash is kept hidden away for six years while his wicked grandmother rules.

Finally enter Jehoiada, Jehoshabeath’s husband and a priest. Second Chronicles 23 opens by telling how “in the seventh year Jehoiada took courage…” (ESV). He forms an alliance with military leaders, overthrows Athaliah, leads Judah’s return to God, and oversees the repair of the Temple. When he dies many years later, at 130, he is remembered because “he had done good” (Second Chronicles 24:15). Not a bad epitaph.

Reflecting on Jehoiada’s story offers me some challenge, and comfort, when I think about possibly being remembered the same way (at some hopefully rather distant point) in the future.

Inaction has consequences. When Christians talk about sin, we usually focus on the things we shouldn’t have done. But what about those things we should have done? Like stepping up to confront wrongdoing? Jehoiada’s failure to act left those for whom he was responsible, as a priest, under evil rule for a long time. I wonder: Where and how does our stillness and silence have negative consequences for others?

Action involves risk. When Jehoiada finally decided to act he had to put himself on the line—any of those he talked with as they plotted the rebellion could have easily ratted him out to Athaliah. We may have to expose ourselves, risking betrayal and even death (if only of our reputation), to secure freedom for ourselves and others.

All this is rather uncomfortable, but there’s some good news, too.

It’s never too late. After six years, most people in Judah were probably at the point of thinking that things would never change. What made Jehoiada rise up after so long? Had Jehoshabeath been nagging him? Unlikely; shame doesn’t tend to make us brave, only browbeaten. More likely what was always deep within him finally came to the surface: as he led the revolution, Second Chronicles 23:6 notes how he reminded his co-conspirators of God’s calling on the Levites, in whose line he stood.

What is in you (and me) that may have been in hiding too long? And, is this the year for it to come out as you (and I) take courage?

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