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Chest of Joash and the Surprising Importance of Maintenance (a study of 2 Kings 12:4-16)

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

Fix the thing that's broken.

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for 2 Kings 12:4-16

In this strange biblical aside about the one time the Israelites actually spent temple money on the temple, we are reminded of how tempting it can be to spend money not on its intended purpose. Just as the Israelites had a responsibility to maintain the temple complex, we have a responsibility to take care of our church campuses, as well.

So King Joash called the priest Jehoiada and the other priests and asked, “Why haven’t you repaired the temple’s damage? (12:7)

"Warning" -- I end up using church budgets and church building maintenance quite a bit for illustrations this week. If there are people in your group who don't know how churches "work", this lesson is a great opportunity to pull back the curtain for them. If your group members are well-versed in this sort of thing, then you may be skipping a bunch of paragraphs below 😊.

Getting Started: Things to Think About

The Trouble with Deferred Maintenance

Have you guys ever heard of "deferred maintenance"? Sure you have, even if you didn't know it. "Deferred maintenance" is when you put off maintenance that you know you should be doing. Not fixing the leaky faucet. Not changing the oil.

So, here's your topic -- what's the worst story you're willing to share about maintenance you put off for too long? Here's a recent story from my home to yours. When we moved into our house, we could tell that the floor was a little squishy in the guest bathroom. Floors should not be squishy. But, we had a lot of other things to fix when we moved in, so it got put on the back burner. Eight years later, I finally got around to doing something about it. Guess what I found when I pulled the floor up?

What a nightmare. So, after pulling everything out (including the subfloor, which I paid a professional to do), we have a brand-new guest bathroom.

There are two ways of looking at this. (1) At least no one fell through the floor. Or (2) it probably would have been a better idea to take care of the problem when we first noticed it.

Share your nightmare stories. (Or just show any episode of any HGTV show. "We found a broken pipe. It'll cost you a million dollars." "We found a crack in the foundation. It'll cost you a million dollars.")

Or a better twist might be this -- share your "just in time" stories. I have a lot of stories that start, "If we had put that off for one more week..." God takes care of us in ways I'm sure we don't appreciate.

Or, bring in an item that's mostly broken and then "use" it hard enough that it breaks.

At the church building, we deal with this all the time. We have a facility staff to take care of as much day-to-day stuff as possible. We also have a Property and Space Committee to keep an eye on bigger needs. Like everybody who owns a building, we have more needs than money, and so we have to weigh what needs to be fixed now, and what can become "deferred maintenance".

Examples in the pictures below: the bathrooms in the youth building were in rough shape, there were some upstairs windows that weren't completely sealed, and our decades-old sidewalks had shifted.

How did we decide to take care of those? Like everybody in every building, we have to weigh different factors. How urgent is it? (As in, is it a matter of safety, a problem that will continue to get worse?) How expensive is it? (As in, can we afford to do it even if we want to?) How feasible is it? (As in, do we have access to the solution?)

Sometimes, we will tackle a smaller project because the person/company who has the know-how to fix it is currently available. And sometimes, we will push back a project that's already been approved because something more urgent has come up.

My favorite part of church maintenance is our "just in time" stories. I can't tell you how many times we have been protected from greater consequences by work having been done "just in time". (Btw, "just in time" means God was taking care of us.) Consider these pictures below: a cast iron pipe that had completely cracked but leaked into a closet; a rotten section of wood but the person who could fix it was miraculously available that next day; a bum sanctuary HVAC but we had recently agreed on a plan to fix it if it were ever to happen.

Here's the connection with this week's passage: it's entirely about deferred maintenance on the Temple in Jerusalem. This opening topic is designed to help you appreciate the importance of what Joash was trying to do. We should applaud Joash for trying to get on top of this maintenance, and we should be encouraged to take a look at our own lists, at home, at our business, or at our church.


This Week's Big Idea: The Value of Money

This is one of many major issues in the news right now, so you may have already used it as an illustration. One of the challenges with maintenance in today's world is a major moving target: cost. If you have had to do a major project on your home, or if you have looked at buying a home, you have seen this to the extreme. Here's a grossly oversimplified economics lesson. People say that a dollar is "worth less" than it was when they were kids, and they're absolutely right. But what does that mean?

A dollar's value is affected by several things:

  • Inflation -- prices rising to account for things like wages and supplies

  • Interest Rate -- the cost to borrow money

  • Circulation -- the number of dollars available to be had

Ignore circulation for now. It doesn't seem like anyone pays attention to that anymore. Let's talk about inflation and interest rate.

  • Inflation -- the government tracks year-over-year price changes for representative goods and services; the government wants this number to be around 2%; in July it was 9.1%(!), the highest since 1981.

  • Interest Rates -- the Federal Reserve Board sets an interest rate that banks charge one another for overnight loans; that rate is usually a baseline for what they charge businesses and individuals for loans (the rate changes based on credit worthiness, length of the loan, etc.). Higher interest rates discourage spending and encourage saving, so they can help "cool" inflation. The Fed raised interest rates by 0.75% on July 28, bringing it to 2.25-2.5%.

Kids today (and by kids I mean anyone younger than me) hear about those rate increases and complain. A look back in history reveals that we're still in a good place:

Inflation has increased since that chart was produced, putting it back at early 1980s levels, which the government responded to with interest rates of 10%+. So, get off my lawn.

Why am I bringing up this miserable topic?

Because we're talking about maintenance on the Temple this week, which will inevitably lead to talk about maintenance on our church buildings. If I'm going to encourage you to keep up with your maintenance list at home or work, that means I'm also encouraging churches to keep up with their maintenance lists.

And if prices are going up for you on your projects, they're also going up for churches on their projects. If money is getting tight for you, it's also getting tight for your church. All of that to say -- this is not the time for you to consider cutting back on your charitable giving. Your church, and any other non-profit you support, is counting on you to keep up with these rising costs. Lord willing, and I think it's perfectly worthwhile to pray toward this end, the decisions our government makes will get control of costs and bring things to a better place in the not-so-distant future.

(And y'all, things have been much worse. The chapter on the Great Depression in our church history book is pretty daunting.)

Bonus Big Idea: The Chest of Joash

First Baptist Church has used "The Chest of Joash" for at least 70 years. The earliest reference I could find is from 1949: "About 80 envelopes were placed in the 'Chest of Joash' last Sunday. These 80 envelopes of one Sunday accounts for $11,117.24 that is given or pledged toward the building ... From now until the 'matter is ended,' every Sunday will be a 'Chest of Joash Sunday ... the Chest of Joash will be at the front entrance of the Church. Make your contribution or your pledge at your earliest opportunity ... Choose your own amount, and also choose your manner and length of Payment. Just make sure that you have a worthy part in the glorious privilege of building the House of God'" (FBC history book, page 193).

(Aside: for history's sake, that building project resulted in what's currently the church library. Crawley's Carpentry Shop had the winning bid of $35,785.24 😊. Note that they put the expansion off until long enough after the war that materials were widely available.)

(For non-FBC members who read this post -- maybe you have something similar to this that you call by a different name.)

Here's my point: FBC members may have memories of a time we used "The Chest of Joash" to pay building expenses. What do they remember being told about the chest of Joash and why it was called "The Chest of Joash"? What memories are stirred up when they hear the phrase "The Chest of Joash"?


Where We Are in 2 Kings

Let's start with this chart I shared a few weeks back.

Challenge #1: "Joash" and "Jehoash" are forms of the same name, like Matthew and Matt. There's our king in this week's passage, and there's a king in Israel at about the same time with the same name. Just be warned.

Here's a very brief bridge from last week's passage to this week's.

Last week, we talked about how King Ben-Hadad of Aram had besieged King Jehoram (Joram) in Samaria. Elisha prophesied that God would miraculously remove the threat.

Well, here's what happens next:

  • Elisha travels to Damascus where he participates in the fulfillment of the prophecy that Hazael would become king of Aram (and be very ruthless; 8:7-15).

  • Another guy named Jehoram becomes king of Judah in 848 BC. He follows the evil ways of Ahab. God's punishment was to allow Edom to rebel against him.

  • That Jehoram's son Ahaziah becomes king of Judah in 841 BC. This Ahaziah was the grandson of Ahab and is a different person than the King Ahaziah of Israel (who was Ahaziah's uncle).

  • One year later, in 840 BC, we have this scenario: Jehoram (Joram) who had succeeded Ahaziah as King of Israel, and a different man with the name Ahaziah who had succeeded a different man with the name Jehoram (Joram) as King of Judah ally against Hazael King of Aram and lose, both kings being wounded (8:25-29).

  • An army commander named Jehu rises up and kills both King Jehoram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah (9:14-29). Jehu goes on to kill Jezebel and all of Ahab's family (9:30-10:29), and he becomes King of Israel.

  • In Judah, Ahaziah's mother Athaliah takes over the throne and tries to kill all of her rivals, but missed a grandson named Joash who was hidden in the temple.

Here's the subtle point the author was trying to make -- Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab; those attempts at uniting the lines of Judah and Israel were absolutely disastrous.

Anyway, a priest named Jehoiada hid and cared for the boy Joash, who was the rightful heir to the throne of Judah. He did this for about 6 years while Athaliah reigned as Queen of Judah. He organized a group of faithful soldiers who eventually proclaimed Joash the rightful king and killed Athaliah and anyone who supported her. Joash was seven when he became king.

History is so much more interesting than fiction.

Joash would be king for 40 years. Apparently, as long as High Priest Jehoiada was alive, Joash did the right things. This week's episode about the temple is one such example.


Part 1: Problem (2 Kings 12:4-8)

4 Then Joash said to the priests, “All the dedicated silver brought to the Lord’s temple, census silver, silver from vows, and all silver voluntarily given for the Lord’s temple— 5 each priest is to take it from his assessor and repair whatever damage is found in the temple.” 6 But by the twenty-third year of the reign of King Joash, the priests had not repaired the damage to the temple. 7 So King Joash called the priest Jehoiada and the other priests and asked, “Why haven’t you repaired the temple’s damage? Since you haven’t, don’t take any silver from your assessors; instead, hand it over for the repair of the temple.” 8 So the priests agreed that they would receive no silver from the people and would not be the ones to repair the temple’s damage.

As you can imagine, temple maintenance was not a priority for Baal worshipers like Queen Athaliah or her husband the former King Jehoram. That represents at least 15 years of temple neglect, and probably a lot longer.

The Temple Treasury and Tax

"Census silver" was basically a "temple tax" -- Ex 30:13: "Everyone who is registered must pay half a shekel according to the sanctuary shekel (twenty gerahs to the shekel). This half shekel is a contribution to the Lord." The purpose of the tax was the operation and upkeep of the temple. The various rituals required supplies. The building itself (like any building) required regular maintenance.

As verse 4 elaborated, the treasury was also supplied by people who took certain vows (Lev 25) and people who gave specifically to construction costs (Ex 35; think of that like a pledge to a building campaign).

Even if we just look at 1/2 Kings, we can see that this fund had serious troubles:

  • The Egyptians plundered the temple treasury (1 Ki 14:25)

  • King Asa used the treasury to bribe Ben-Hadad (1 Ki 15:18)

  • King Joash did the same thing later in this week's chapter

  • The Israelites plundered the treasury (2 Ki 14:12)

  • King Ahaz used the treasury to bribe the Assyrians (2 Ki 16:8)

  • King Hezekiah used it for tribute to Assyria (2 Ki 18:13)

So, that's not great. This week's passage stands out as one of the very few times the temple treasury was actually used for its designated purpose.

And I'm not kidding -- the very next verse after our passage describes how King Joash himself took stuff from the treasury to bribe King Hazael of Aram.

The Temple Workers

The Torah did not explain exactly how these repairs were to be made, so the priests assumed responsibility for the repairs. This does not necessarily mean that the priests attempted to do the repairs themselves (although it might), but it does mean that the priests served in the role of "contractor", hiring and supervising the workers.

(Aside: In personal defense against those church members who are currently giving me the fisheye -- I have gotten a lot better about understanding the difference between projects that I am capable of completing, and those that we need to hire professionals for.)

Remember that the temple was a massive structure built with some of the most skilled labor in the world at the time. The priests did the work of cleaning up after the sacrifices, keeping the candles fresh, and so on. But they did not do the work of skilled labor.

(Aside: one last soapbox. This passage does not excuse church members from taking part in the maintenance of their own buildings. Yes, some things should be hired out. But a church building is that congregation's responsibility. Church members should have as much interest in keeping their facility clean and tidy and functional as they do their own home.)

(Okay -- one more soapbox. In most small churches, the pastor is responsible for just about everything, from leading projects to leading Bible studies. That's actually not any different from the temple, where priests had all of that responsibility. And that's because the pastor (like the priests) spends more time in the church building that anyone else and so knows more about it than anyone else. Church members with skill and experience in maintenance and project management should do what they can to help the pastor keep up with supervising the maintenance of a church building so the pastor can focus on prayer and preaching.)

Back to the passage.

As far as we know, verse 4 happened at the beginning of Joash's reign when he was 7. (Remember, he was advised by a temple high priest.) And all Joash said was that the temple tax should be used for the upkeep of the temple. No big deal.

Who was the "assessor"? That word actually only occurs here in the Bible. In other regional texts, it refers to an official whose responsibility was disbursing palace funds, so our best guess is that there were non-priests who acted like a modern "treasurer" -- kept up with all of the money coming in and kept up with all of the money going out.

Well, 23 years later, Joash noticed that work wasn't being done. 23 years?! I generally can't go a month without people calling my attention to work that needs to be done around here! But perhaps we can understand what's going on. There are some ongoing projects on our campus that either (1) we know we don't have the money to fix, (2) we can't agree on one solution for it, or (3) we just don't think it's a priority. And so it sits.

Maybe you have projects like this at your house -- a "one day I'll take care of it" situation. And before you know it, 23 years have passed. My favorite such story is the "immovable ladder" on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (in the top middle of the picture). That ladder has been there since at least 1874 and probably a lot longer. The people in charge of maintaining the church cannot agree on what to do about the ladder, and so it sits.

Anyway, after 23 years, King Joash finally says "priests, you haven't been getting the work done, so it's time to turn it over to someone who will". It's hard to call Joash "impatient" -- if anything, he has been too patient with his friend and advisor Jehoiada.

Sneaky application: the general principle still applies today. If someone in a church isn't getting something done, they ought to turn it over to someone who will. This goes for pastors and church members. But be careful how you let this application come up in discussion! You always want to keep your group discussions constructive, and there might be someone in your group who is feeling convicted about "dropping the ball" on a current church project.

In this particular instance, the priests' failure to get the job done cost them any opportunity to be a part of the solution. That's tough.


Part 2: Solution (2 Kings 12:9-12)

9 Then the priest Jehoiada took a chest, bored a hole in its lid, and set it beside the altar on the right side as one enters the Lord’s temple; the priests who guarded the threshold put into the chest all the silver that was brought to the Lord’s temple. 10 Whenever they saw there was a large amount of silver in the chest, the king’s secretary and the high priest would go bag up and tally the silver found in the Lord’s temple. 11 Then they would give the weighed silver to those doing the work—those who oversaw the Lord’s temple. They in turn would pay it out to those working on the Lord’s temple—the carpenters, the builders, 12 the masons, and the stonecutters—and would use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the damage to the Lord’s temple and for all expenses for temple repairs.

And so we get "The Chest of Joash". Here's a picture of the chest we used at FBC for some major renovations we did in our sanctuary in 2009. My guess is that Jehoiada's chest was very large if they only had to empty it periodically.

They put it next to the entrance to the temple courtyard. Anyone who came into the temple complex had to pass by it.

It's not really like those churches who put giving kiosks next to the doors of the sanctuary. (Remember this picture I shared a few years ago?) Every "dollar" that went into the chest of Joash went directly to maintenance on the temple. Seeing the temple in front of them (and the needed repairs) inspired them to give. (I guess this would be like putting a giving box at the entrance of an historic cathedral where the congregation could no longer afford to keep up with maintenance.)

This new approach "cut out the middleman". Before, the money would go into the treasury, the priests would come to get money for a project they were themselves working on or had hired somebody to complete, and they would pass that money to the workers. Now, the workers were directly empowered to get the money themselves for the work they were doing.

My guess is that both church stewardship committees and church contractors are getting lightheaded from hyperventilation right about now. The committees are fainting from the lack of oversight, and the contractors are fainting from envy.

Note that we are talking about serious work -- masonry, stonecutting, carpentry. Consider some of the pictures we have used of the temple and remember the scale and scope of work we are talking about. Not work for the faint of heart!

Here's your group discussion for the section: what does it take for this kind of situation to be possible? The answers given are probably going to be some variation on "trust".

This exact situation wouldn't even be recommendable today. Accounting "best practices" are very clear about the importance of paper trails for all money in a church (there are too many stories about beloved church employees embezzling money). But we can absolutely think in terms of the trust we show the people who do the work around a church. Do we make them ask permission for every dollar spent? Or do we trust them to make wise purchases within the limits of the money available?


Part 3: Action (2 Kings 12:13-16)

13 However, no silver bowls, wick trimmers, sprinkling basins, trumpets, or any articles of gold or silver were made for the Lord’s temple from the contributions brought to the Lord’s temple. 14 Instead, it was given to those doing the work, and they repaired the Lord’s temple with it. 15 No accounting was required from the men who received the silver to pay those doing the work, since they worked with integrity. 16 The silver from the guilt offering and the sin offering was not brought to the Lord’s temple since it belonged to the priests.

Who knew that we were going to have an entire lesson on church budgets this week? This is basically explaining the difference between the church's "general fund" and "designated accounts".

So, if anyone in your group doesn't understand how this works, here's an overview:

Tithes are "undesignated offering" in accounting terms. That is money given to the church to use for anything deemed appropriate by church leadership. In most Baptist churches (like us), those expenses are proposed in an annual budget, which explains to church members roughly how their tithes will be spent.

Most churches also have "designated funds" which means that the money was given to the church for a specific purpose. A capital campaign fund is a "designated fund". The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is a "designated fund". Money given with those designations cannot be spent on anything else.

Perhaps we can think about this passage like this:

  • The "temple tax" (census silver) was like a tithe. It was intended to cover the "budget expenses" of the temple, like candles and bowls and cleaning supplies.

  • Money that came in with certain sacrifices was "designated" to the "salaries" of the priests.

  • Money that came into the Chest of Joash was "designated" for building maintenance on the temple (like our "Capital Improvements Fund").

The "accountants" for the temple made sure that those contributions were spent on what they were intended for. Much like we would not spend LMCO on something in our church building, they would not spend offering money on building maintenance. Everything was spent the way it was supposed to be spent. The givers could trust the spenders.

About Designated Funds and the Cooperative Program

I have had church members in all of my churches who have insisted on designating their "tithes" to specific things, like "the youth ministry" or "the missions fund" or "the sanctuary". Surely you can see the trouble brewing if too many church members start designating their "tithes"! A biblical tithe is money given to the church to be spent as the church sees fit to advance God's kingdom. A designated gift is still equally valuable and important, but I would want to know if it is born out of a lack of trust between that church member and the church leadership, or if the church is underfunding an important ministry. But that's a discussion between that church member and the financial decisionmakers.

Incidentally, the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program was born from a time when there were too many designated funds.

Parachurch ministries used to operate on a "society" basis, in which each society did its own things and took care of its own business. They would go from church to church asking for money, and some people were just better than others at inspiring giving, so societies starting hiring "solicitors" to raise funds from churches. In 1883, $0.53 of every dollar that went to the Home Mission Board went to their professional solicitors. And churches were getting tired of being asked for money by every society under the sun.

Southern Baptists miraculously agreed to combine their independent efforts into one giant fundraising campaign -- the 1919 Seventy-Five Million Campaign. It worked well enough that in 1925, Southern Baptists launched the Cooperative Program, a fund to receive "undesignated offerings". We still use it today. At FBC, we send a percentage of every dollar we receive to the Cooperative Program through Georgia Baptists. That money then gets divvies up according to a specific formula. We don't designate any of this money -- we trust the people working for the Georgia Baptist and Southern Baptist offices to spend this money as they best see fit because we believe in what they're doing. If we ever lost trust in those groups, we could readdress our relationship with them.

Back to the passage.

In Jerusalem, Joash had faith in the people doing the work, so he empowered them to get the work done with minimal "red tape".

As a final discussion point for members of FBC, I would point us to our Go and Tell Mission Fund. We were in a similar situation to Southern Baptists in that we support a number of mission causes, and asking for money for one took money away from another. So, we combined all of them into a single fund that gets distributed according to a formula. The more we give, the more each cause receives. We also keep a percentage of that money here for church members to use on mission projects. If you or your class has an evangelistic or mission-oriented project you want to take on, our church can help you fund it. Just ask someone on the Go and Tell Committee!

The leader guide suggests this discussion question: "How might a church bring honor or shame to the name of Christ through the way it oversees its budget?" I think that's a great question, and I hope you spend time talking about that as well as how you as individual church members can do the same thing.


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