May 14, 2017
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
WORST MOM EVER
II Kings 11:1-3
Mother’s Day sermons went out of style just about the time I started preaching. It happened for many reasons, one of which was simply how many women were being offended by well-intentioned but unbelievably insensitive Mother’s Day sermons. I can say that because I’ve preached a few of them.
Preaching on Mother’s Day is a bit like walking through a mine field. The word “mother” is emotionally charged and not in the same way for all of us.
Some of you have mothers like June Cleaver. And some of you are saying, “June Cleaver? Who’s that?” She, by the way, was the Leave it to Beaver mom who was way too perfect to be real. Others of you have moms who left you some deep and painful emotional scars. You go to the store hunting for the perfect card for your mom but it’s pretty much impossible because you can’t find a card that says, “Dear Mom, thanks for nothing.”
Many of you have lost your moms. And some of you have lost children. Others of you would dearly love to have been a mom. Or you haven’t given up hope yet, but it’s not looking good. So for many of you, this is a tender day.
My plan is to make you all feel better. How am I going to do that? By telling you a story from the Bible about the worst mom ever. If you had a bad mom, she wasn’t this bad. If you have insecurities about how you’ve done as a mother, you did better than the mother we are going to be talking about today. And even if you have no emotional involvement with Mother’s Day whatsoever, it’s a story sick and strange enough that I think it will hold your interest.
You’ve already heard the story. It’s all there in the three verses we read from II Kings this morning. But it probably didn’t make much of an impact on you because you had no idea what it was about. So I’m going to give you a little historical background that might help.
The story of the worst mom ever dates back to around 850 B.C. This was after the big three had lived and died. The big three were King Saul, King David, and King Solomon. After them, the Kingdom was divided. There was Israel in the north and there was Judah in the south. That meant from here on there were twice as many kings to remember, and I’m guessing you don’t remember many of them.
In Israel, as we get into today’s story, the king was Ahab and the queen was Jezebel. You may have heard of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, but I doubt if we have too many who have heard of King Ahab. However, you’ve probably heard of his wife. You’ve probably heard of Queen Jezebel. She’s not the worst mom ever, but she’s right up there in contention.
“Jezebel” has become part of the English language. It’s defined in my dictionary as “a woman who is evil and scheming”. Jezebel is not on the list of the top 250 names for baby girls, probably for that very reason.
The original Jezebel was a princess in Phoenicia. She was not raised to worship the one true God. Her god was baal, the ancient god of fertility. It’s been suggested that the “bel” at the end of her name is short for “baal”.
Ahab was a prince, not yet a king, when it was decided that he should marry Jezebel. She was maybe 12 or 13 at the time. It wasn’t his choice to marry her. It wasn’t her choice to marry him. It was one of those politically arranged marriages. And one thing that Jezebel brought to the table was the worship of baal.
Jezebel is not favorably depicted in the Bible. She was raised as a princess to expect that she would always get her way. If Jezebel wanted something, she got it. Even if she had to kill to get it.
One example was Naboth. Naboth had a vineyard that happened to be near the king’s palace. Ahab decided that he would kind of like to own that vineyard. Naboth wasn’t interested in selling, and the king wasn’t interested in pursuing the matter any further.
That’s when Jezebel got involved. She couldn’t believe her linguine-spined husband would give up so easily. She said, “You’re the king! You can have whatever you want!” Ahab said, “I know, but I could just never take Naboth’s vineyard away from him.” So Jezebel took business into her own hands. Not by eminent domain, but by cutting off the head of Naboth (I Kings 21). That took care of that.
Jezebel and Ahab had several children. I’m just going to mention one. Her name was Athaliah. When Athaliah was about 12 or 13, her marriage was arranged to Jehoram, the crown prince of Judah. Jehoram’s parents die, and now Jehoram is king of Judah and Athaliah is queen of Judah. You’re with me so far? I know this is confusing.
Jehoram and Athaliah, king and queen of Judah, have children, two of whom are named Ahaziah, a boy and Jehosheba, a girl. I mention these two because they are both mentioned in our scripture. Ahaziah gets married. We don’t know the name of his wife. They have children. We don’t know how many.
At this point, Jehoram is the king. He dies, so his son, Ahaziah is now king. As it turns out Ahaziah is king for only one year before he is killed in battle.
That’s what has just happened as we begin today’s scripture reading. King Ahaziah is dead, so now the way the transfer of power should go is that Ahaziah’s oldest male child, even though he may be only four, five, or six years old, becomes king. But that is not the way it went. That’s not the way it went because of the king’s mother, Athaliah. This is one of the most stunning, shocking, disgusting verses in all of scripture:
When Athaliah, the mother of King Ahaziah of Judah, learned that her son was dead, she killed all of his children (II Kings 11:1)
You read that and you say, what?? Did I really read what I just thought I read?? Athaliah, the queen mother, has just murdered her own grandchildren. She wanted to be queen, she wanted power, and with all her grandchildren now out of the way, she had the power she craved. She no longer had any grandchildren, but at least she was now queen. She reigned for six years. Never again would a woman rule over Judah or Israel until 1969 when Golda Meir was elected prime minister of modern-day Israel.
You don’t hear about a grandmother who kills her grandchildren very often. And you certainly don’t expect to hear about one in the Bible. But here she is. Grandma Athaliah. Now Queen Athaliah. And she sure misses all those adorable little grandchildren she used to have! I would say Athaliah is in a league of her own. She is the “worst mom ever.”
Like mother, like daughter. Her mother was Jezebel, who was about as evil a woman as we can imagine. Well, I guess now we can imagine worse. Worse was her daughter, Athaliah. Jezebel would kill anyone who got in her way, but even Jezebel drew the line at her own grandchildren.
This brings up an interesting topic of conversation. For good or for bad, we often become our parents. I have a sister who is so much like our mother and becoming more like her all the time. Which is a good thing, for the most part. We all have a few of our own little idiosyncrasies, and my mom has a few. And I will frequently tell myself that I have become my dad. Which is a very good thing, but again, there are a few areas where I think my wife might have been perfectly content if I were not quite such a carbon copy.
We are free moral agents. We are not pre-destined to become our moms or our dads. But still, our parents did a lot to shape who we are today. We cannot escape their influence.
And it can work two ways. There are qualities in our parents that we really want to emulate and we are so blessed when we do. Or there can be qualities in our parents that we promise ourselves at an early age we will avoid at all costs. There is no way in God’s green earth that we will ever be like that! And we are so blessed when we become unlike our mom or our dad. Even so, some of those unwanted qualities do have a way of seeping through.
Athaliah became her mother, except worse. So we dedicate this Mother’s Day sermon to her. Worst mom ever. And I will understand if you also say, worst Mother’s Day sermon ever.
The Bible gives us negative as well as positive examples. Let’s just quickly run through some of the examples we are given in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. The first mom ever, of course, was Eve. Eve disobeyed God, as did her husband, Adam, introducing sin into the world. And they raised two boys, Cain and Abel, who didn’t get along real well. In fact, Cain killed Abel. That’s the Bible’s first murder, long before Athaliah.
Another mother early in the Bible was Sarah. Sarah was not having much luck starting a family, so she suggested that maybe her husband, Abraham might want to sleep with their maid, Hagar. Thus Ishmael is born. Later Abraham and Sarah have a son, Isaac, and Sarah decides she’s had enough of Ishmael and Hagar and she sends them both away, knowing full well they will probably both die in the desert.
Isaac marries Rebekah, another mother who probably would not win mother of the year. She has twins, Jacob and Esau. She does what all parents are told not to do. She plays favorites. She makes sure they both know that she loves Jacob more. Then she helps her favorite son cheat Esau and Isaac so that Jacob gets the birthright he doesn’t deserve.
Jacob goes on to marry two women, Leah and Rachel. Their maids get involved, so essentially he has four wives.
I could go on, but that is probably enough for you to see that the Mother’s Day material in the Book of Genesis is not the greatest. When I hear people say we need to return to the family values of the Bible, I have to smile.
But I’m so glad the Bible isn’t just full of June Cleavers! Aren’t you? Because that wouldn’t be true to life. We are all imperfect people doing the best we can and relying every day on the grace of God.
So the Mothers’ Day word I want to leave you with today is “forgiveness”. Much as we love our moms, it’s also really important that we forgive our moms. Because no matter how wonderful our moms were, there are some things that need to be forgiven. And no matter how wonderful we have been as our mother’s daughters and sons, we need to seek their forgiveness as well. And yes, that is still possible even if they are no longer with us. Maybe, most important of all, we need to forgive ourselves. Moms and women especially, I have observed, have a way of carrying around a lot of misplaced guilt and regret. Let it go. Give it to God. After all, at least you aren’t as bad as Athaliah!
So back to that wonderfully wholesome Mother’s Day story. There is a fascinating twist. Remember where we left off? Grandma Athaliah is now Queen Athaliah because she has killed all her grandchildren. Well, the truth is, she thought she had killed all her grandchildren. She missed one. She missed the youngest, a one-year-old boy named Joash.
There’s a reason she didn’t murder baby Joash along with all the others. He had an aunt named Jehosheba. Jehosheba is the hero of this twisted story. We’re told that she rescued baby Joash.
She stole him away from the rest of the king’s children who were waiting to be slain, and hid him and his nurse in a storeroom of the Temple. They lived there for six years while Athaliah reigned as queen (II Kings 11:2-3).
Let’s think about this for a moment. Who was Aunt Jehosheba’s mother? Athaliah. Who was Aunt Jehosheba’s grandmother? Jezebel. So why wasn’t Jehosheba like them? She’s living proof that you don’t have to become your mother. You don’t have to become your father. You don’t have to be your grandmother or your grandfather. You can break the family tree of dysfunction. Jehosheba did just that.
And she risked her life to do so. If Athaliah, who didn’t mind killing her grandchildren, had discovered that her daughter had crossed her, do you think she would have hesitated for a moment before killing Jehosheba?
We didn’t read the rest of the story, but it goes like this. After six years, little Joash is now seven. Plenty old enough to be king. So his aunt, Jehosheba and his uncle, Jehoiada take him out of hiding, put a crown on his head, give him a copy of the Ten Commandments, and anoint him with oil. Queen Athaliah cries out, “Treason!” but no one is listening. Her evil reign is over. She is put to death. Joash is now king.
This is a day to celebrate our mothers. This is also a day to celebrate our Jehoshebas. These are the women or men who, though not our parents, were there for us when we needed them and we will be forever indebted to them. It may have been a Sunday school teacher, or an elementary school teacher, or a camp counselor, or a friend, or an aunt, or a grandma, or somebody else. Somebody who saw you and noticed you and cared.
At the mayor’s prayer breakfast a few days ago, our speaker was Judge Sergio Gutierrez, who serves on the Idaho Court of Appeals. A very impressive man of faith. He told us his story. His father abandoned him. His step-father hated him. His mother was mentally ill and abused him. So he was raised by his grandmother, his Jehosheba. She died when he was 12, but that was long enough for her to teach him about God’s love and to get his life going in the right direction. Family trees of dysfunction can be broken. And sometimes all it takes is a Jehosheba .
So two questions as we close: Who is your Jehosheba? And to whom will you be a Jehosheba?
Our twisted story has a happy ending. Joash becomes king at age seven, and even though his family tree is not the greatest, he becomes one of the greatest kings Judah ever knew. He was related to some people who did a lot of things that were very wrong, but we are told of King Joash, “All his life, [he] did what was right”
(II Kings 12:2).
We may not be as good as Joash, and I know for sure we aren’t as bad as Athaliah. But thanks be to God that whoever we are and whatever our faults or virtues, God’s love can be made real through us.
Dear God, we thank you on this special day for the women who brought us into this world. We thank you for moms and dads and sisters and brothers and grandmas and grandpas, and the wonderful blessing of family. We thank you also for those who were not part of our family, but were there for us as though they were. And God, we thank you also, that even for those of us who missed out on all this loving nurture, we still have you. Human beings, even our mothers, can let us down. But you never will. Finally, dear God, open our eyes and open our hearts to those we meet every day who need someone to care about them. Someone patient enough to get past what might at first repel us, and to show them what it means to be loved as you love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.