What was the source of God’s people’s pagan religion? The answer can be found even as Yahwism was being created via one woman who had lived three centuries earlier: Athaliah.

Athaliah was the daughter of King Ahab and possibly Queen Jezebel of Israel. She was the queen consort of Judah as the wife of King Jehoram, a descendant of King David. Athaliah was later queen regnant c. 841–835 BCE. (Source) Her parents were two of the most wicked rulers in Jewish history. They reigned in Israel, not in Judah. (2 Chronicles 22:1-23:15).

Athaliah was a worshiper of Baal, a pagan god of fertility, as well as numerous other Phoenician gods. Jezebel, probably Athaliah’s mother, was a Phoenician princess. Jezebel made certain to teach her sons and her daughters all of the evil practices she knew. In bringing pagan rituals and actions into the Southern Kingdom of Judah, Jezebel was the villain behind the history of Judah’s falling away from God. When Jezebel married King Ahab of Israel (ruled c. 874–853 BCE), she persuaded him to introduce the worship of the Tyrian god Baal-Melkart, a nature god. Most of the prophets of Yahweh were killed at her command.

Jezebel taught her pagan ways particularly to her daughters, deliberately aiming them in marriage to the royal sons of Judah. Athaliah was the one who blended pagan rituals into the worship of God, resulting in Yahwism, for she was not a believer, but a pagan.

Queen Athaliah is the only woman in the Hebrew Bible reported as having reigned as a monarch within Israel/Judah. She is the daughter of either Omri, king of Israel (2 Kgs 8:26; 2 Chr 22:2), or, more probably, of his son King Ahab (2 Kgs 8:18; 2 Chr 21:6; the Jewish historian Josephus cites this in Antiquities), who ruled from 873 to 852 b.c.e. There is no evidence that she was the daughter of Ahab’s chief wife, Jezebel. Athaliah married Jehoram (reigned 851–843 B.C.E.) of Judah (2 Kgs 8:18; 2 Chr 21:6). After Jehoram’s death, their son Ahaziah reigned for one year, and “his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly” (2 Chr 22:3).

“After Ahaziah (Athaliah’s son) was killed in a dynastic struggle (2 Kings 9), Athaliah sets out to kill the rest of the royal dynasty and seizes the throne of Judah in Jerusalem (2 Kings 92 Chr 22:10–23:21). She manages to remain sole monarch for six years (842–836 B.C.E.). In the seventh year a revolution led by Jehoiada the priest puts on the throne the seven-year-old Joash, Ahaziah’s child who was rescued by his paternal aunt (and Jehoiada’s wife) Jehosheba from the royal bloodbath six years earlier. The overthrow takes place in the Jerusalem temple. Athaliah is killed in what she terms “treason” against her reign (2 Kings 11:142 Chr 23:13).

The biblical evaluation of her rule is negative. Both 2 Kings 11 and 1 Chronicles (especially chap. 24) connect Athaliah with Baal worship, even though her name contains the theophoric element yah[u] (yhwh), like the names of other figures in the story.”

(Source: The Shalvi-Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women)

Jehoash, also known as Joash, was the eighth king of Judah, and the sole surviving son of Ahaziah after the massacre of the royal family ordered by his grandmother, Athaliah. His mother was Zibiah of Beersheba. Jehoash was 7 years old when his reign began, and he reigned for 40 years.

2 Kings 8:16-11:16 contains the account of the life of Athaliah as does 2 Chronicles 22:10-23:15.

To avoid this Athaliah-infused as well as the Babylonian paganism from following them home to Judah, the ancient Jews returning home from Babylon had to discern what had happened to bring paganism to them in the first place. Northern Israel as well as into Southern Israel had caved completely to idolatry. So had Judah, as well as the kings of even the lineage of King David.

How did Athaliah’s worship of Baal, other idols, and her ancient pagan rituals impact Israel so thoroughly?

Athaliah had foolishly and recklessly been brought right into the royal family of the ruling lineage of Judah through a marriage covenant. She brought with her the corruption of her knowledge of all the ancient religions and all the pagan rituals and actions of her parents. Of course, she taught them to her children, who interacted with other children of the court.

People, because we are sinners, will typically cave toward sensuality, rather than resisting. We gain the power to resist through the power of our God in us.

God’s people, bit by bit, added foreign and pagan entities to their worship, making the same pagan sacrifices as their Canaanite neighbors, even to the point of eventually killing their own children as offerings. Satan hates people, especially people who believe in God and love Him.

Therefore, the practice of paganism resulted in harm to Israel, but also to Judah. Their choices illustrate how their falling away took place. No true worship of Yahweh can ever be polytheistic. God is One. Comprising the One is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in perfect unity, harmony, and agreement, always working, acting, and thinking as One.

No true worship of Yahweh can ever be polytheistic. #God is One. The One is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in perfect unity, harmony, and agreement, always working, acting, and thinking as One. Click To Tweet

Do we have our own false gods that we honor more than the Lord? Pause to consider.

This was God’s first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3). And then many instructions followed about avoiding the worship of pagan gods and goddesses, and avoiding the casting/making of idols like the tribes did who already lived in the land — Exodus 34:11-17.

No other entity is part of the Trinity, the one God, Yahweh. God is One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together as One in perfect harmony. Click To Tweet

No other entity is part of the Trinity, the one God, Yahweh. This is the God who gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments on the mountain, who saw them through their wandering in the desert, and who brought them to the Promised Land. Him, they were to worship.

His people, the descendants of Abraham, were to eliminate the idol worshipers, and yet, having lived in Egypt and having grown accustomed to paganism, they were comfortable with Canaanites’ gods as well. And so, instead, they made the Canaanites their servants, intimate members of their Jewish households. As a result, fewer and fewer Israelites were true to the Lord God for they adopted the Canaanites’ pagan ways.

It is now as it was then. You see that in this modern definition of Yahwism in Israel and Judah, the particular paganism of the northern tribes is assumed to be the norm for ancient Israel.

But what will happen when they return home? We’ll examine that next week.

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