When Asa came to the throne as David's fourth successor, the realm was not doing very well. During the reign of Asa's grandfather, Rehoboam, Judah's financial state had been greatly weakened by incessant war with the Northern Kingdom (15:6) and by an invasion from Egypt (14:25-26). Hardly better was the nation's spiritual state, for idolatry and gross immorality were rife (14:22-23). Rehoboam was followed on the throne by Asa's father, Abijah, but the latter, too, "walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him" (15:3).
These problems seem not to have daunted the young Asa, who cleaned up Judah's idolatry and immorality with such dispatch and efficiency that 1 Kings can account for the work in a single verse (15:12).
Although the longer description of Asa's reign in 1 Chronicles 14-16 describes in greater detail some of the more serious problems he encountered, there is reason to believe that Asa's greatest single headache came from his...grandmother!
Had Asa's accession to the throne followed traditional policy on the point, this grandmother, known to history as Maachah the Younger, would have retired to spend her remaining days rocking and knitting in some quiet corner of the palace, occasionally stopping to dandle a grandchild or take some cookies from the oven. Her role as queen mother, or gebirah, would have been assumed by Asa's own mother.
As it happened, however, the old lady did not step down, and evidently, on the day that Asa took the throne, no one in the realm was sufficiently powerful to make her step down, not even the new king.
Maachah doubtless enjoyed occupying what was a very powerful position in ancient courts. Since royal sons were hardly disposed to decline reasonable requests from their mothers (cf. 1 Kings 2:17), it was no small advantage for other members of the court to cultivate the favor of the gebirah. Her special place in the realm is further indicated by the fact that the Books of Kings normally list the names of the mothers of the kings of Judah.
The case of Maachah demonstrates that an especially shrewd gebirah, were she also unscrupulous, might manage to maintain her position at court even after the death of her son. A woman so powerful, after all, was able to put quite a number of people in her debt over the years—influential and well-placed individuals on whom she might rely later on to keep her in power. The Bible's truly singular example of this was Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, who actually usurped the realm itself during the years 842-837 BC (2 Kings 11).
Maachah herself never went so far, but she did manage to hold on to her privileged position at court after the accession of Asa (1 Kings 15:10). She had been around for quite a while and was well acquainted with the ways of power. Named for her grandmother, Maacah the Elder, a Geshurite princess married to David (2 Samuel 3:3), this younger Maachah was a daughter of Absalom. She was still a child during the three years that she spent with her father in his exile in Geshur (2 Samuel 13:38). Doubtless it was there that she first learned the ways of idolatry.
For Maachah was most certainly an idolatress. Raised in the easygoing atmosphere of her Uncle Solomon's court after the death of her own father, she further learned the lessons of idolatry along with the habits of political power. Given in marriage to her cousin Rehoboam, who would eventually succeed Solomon on the throne, Maachah knew that someday, when her son Abijah became king, she would become the gebirah. She longed for the day.
That day, when it came, did not last very long, for Abijah reigned only three years. No matter, for the determined Maachah somehow found the means to stay in power for a while longer. Except for her idolatry, Asa might have left her in place for good. But the king, as his position grew stronger, was in a reforming mood, and Maachah stood in the way of his reforms.