07 December 2015

Athaliah: Turning Tables

2 Chronicles 21-23

Dear Father: You have used me,
turned me into a commodity.
My body is the bribe
with which you buy friendship,
selling me like a slave
into the arms of a stranger.
I am nothing but a pawn
in your game of politics -
now watch me turn the tables
and rise.

Dear Husband: I will use you,
turn you into my puppet.
I will bewitch you,
twist you round my little finger,
till you beg me for mercy
and do all that I wish.
I will make you a pawn
in my game of politics,
as I turn the tables
and rise.

Dear Father-in-Law: You have used me,
bought me as your commodity.
Now I rob you of your success,
and I rob you of your sons,
throw your glory down,
make you twist in your grave.
You are all pawns
in my game of politics -
now watch me turn the tables
and rise.

Dear Son: I will use you;
as you rise, so will I.
I will rule the land through you,
you will do as I advise.
You will stay in my pocket
and I will twist your mind.
You are my pawn
in my game of politics,
as I turn the tables
and rise.

See me now, all you men,
who thought you were strong,
and thought I was weak.
See me now, all you who used me,
who bought me and sold me:
see me and grovel,
see me and die:
I am your Queen
who spills your blood
and ends your line.

Dear God: They have used me,
so I had my revenge -
but I cannot fight for freedom
by binding others down.
Injustice can't buy justice;
evil can't end evil.
By becoming a queen
I made others my pawns -
now they turn the tables
and I fall.


[5. December 2015]

Athaliah was the only queen of Judah; her reign was short (7 years) but had a violent beginning and end. While writing this I viewed her as a girl bundled off into an alliance marriage against her will, rising up and taking power for herself.
On the one hand I wanted to understand her situation as a woman used by men as an object and political tool to fulfill their purposes; on the other hand it's clear she chose the wrong solution, in which she (the formerly oppressed) became an oppressor. The way Athaliah was treated was not right - but her violent reaction was not right either. The solution to oppression is not retaliation, because retaliation and revenge only create more victims. Athaliah's reign, which began with the killing of her own sons and grandsons for the sake of securing the throne, ended just as violently in a coup where she was deposed. Nobody missed her; in fact they were happy about her death (2. Chron 23:21).

Stanza 1:
"Now Jehoshaphat had great riches and honor; and he made a marriage alliance with Ahab." (2. Chronicles 18:1)
Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, is given to Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram in marriage.

Stanza 2-3:

"When Jehoram had ascended the throne of his father and was established, he put all his brothers to the sword, and also some of the officials of Israel. [...] He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done; for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." (2. Chronicles 21:4+6)
Athaliah is an influence on her husband Jehoram. He kills all his brothers (thus making sure none of them will try to claim the throne) - hence "rob you of your sons". Athaliah also robs Jehoshaphat of his success by propagating idolatry which he fought against all his life.

Stanza 4:
"Ahaziah was forty-two years old when he began to reign; he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly." (2. Chronicles 22:2-3)

Stanza 5:
"Now when Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, saw that her son was dead, she set about to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah." (2. Chronicles 22:10)
After Ahaziah's death, Athaliah kills all her grandchildren - she "ends the line", removing all male heirs (hence: "I am your Queen / who spills your blood / and ends your line"). If not for Jehoshebah who saved one of the children, the line of David (upon which lay God's promise) would have ended! (Which is why I believe this story - like many stories in the books of Kings and Chronicles - shows how God keeps His promise and protects the family of David despite all the attacks, setbacks, unfaithfulness etc.)

Stanza 6:
The coup happens (2. Chronicles 23): Joash, the child saved by Jehoshebah, is crowned king, Athaliah is put to death.
This last stanza is probably not what she was thinking (since I doubt she came so far as to regret her actions and see the wrong in them), but my interpretation / conclusion. Athaliah suffered injustice, and she had her revenge by turning things around and controlling the men around her, her husband and her son, and (almost) destroying the line of David. She rose to power, but by doing so she only inflicted suffering and oppression on others, and in the end had to pay for it with a fall from power and a violent death. We can't vindicate ourselves by taking revenge. We can't heal our wounds by wounding others. That's the lesson I take from this story.

Picture by Gustave Doré

No comments:

Post a Comment