At least once a year,165 my wife goes on a cleaning spree. If you saw my office and my garage, you would understand the terror I feel when her instinct to clean comes out. It is probably something like the “cleaning” that took place in Hebrew homes at the time of the Passover, and especially the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Exodus 12:16-20; 13:5-1). This is the time when the house would be cleaned and a search would be made for the presence of any leaven, which, when found, would be removed.
In our text, it is Jehu who “cleans house.” It is the house (dynasty) of Omri and his son Ahab that needs to be purged from Israel. It has been a leavening agent in the northern kingdom of Israel for too long, and the time has finally come to “clean up.” In this regard, Jehu will do a very thorough job, with only one exception: Jehu does not rid the nation of all false worship. Nevertheless, Jehu’s rise to power is a day of reckoning for those who have played a part in promoting evil in the land of Israel.
Jehu is named in 1 Kings 19:16-17, but he does not appear until 2 Kings 9. The story of Jehu’s “house cleaning” begins long before 2 Kings 9. In a way, it begins with Omri, who was popularly recognized as Israel’s king rather than Zimri. Zimri was a commander in the army of Israel who killed Elah—then king of Israel—and reigned in his place for a week. The army preferred Omri, who eventually emerged as the head of a new dynasty, since Zimri had killed Elah and all his heirs. This was the end of the dynasty of Baasha (Elah’s father; see 1 Kings 15:27–16:7).
When Omri died, his son Ahab took the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel. Ahab and his wife Jezebel have dominated the scene since 1 Kings 16. The last member of the dynasty of Omri was Joram (also known as Jehoram), the son of Ahab. He took the throne after the death of his brother, Ahaziah. The sins of Ahab and Jezebel, compounded with the sins of Ahaziah and his brother Joram, have provoked divine condemnation, and the prophecy that the house of Omri will perish. The first prophecy of these matters comes in 1 Kings 19:15-18, followed by other reinforcing prophesies (1 Kings 20:41-43; 21:20-29; 22:17-23). Ahab’s death takes place before that of his wife, Jezebel, and is considerably more honorable (1 Kings 22) than hers will be, due to Ahab’s repentance (1 Kings 21:27-29).
But now the time has finally come for judgment to fall on the house of Omri, and his son, Ahab. Elisha sends an unnamed prophet to Ramoth Gilead to anoint Jehu as king over Israel. He is very clearly instructed to strike the house of Ahab and to kill every male member of his family, as a judgment against him for shedding the blood of His servants and prophets. It is also made clear that Jezebel will die and that the dogs will devour her body (2 Kings 9:6-10).
When his fellow-commanders pledge their support to Jehu as their new king, he sets out for Jezreel, where Israel’s King Joram, Judah’s King Ahaziah, and Jezebel (Joram’s mother, and Ahab’s widow) are staying. As Jehu races toward Jezreel, both Joram and Ahaziah go outside the city of Jezreel to meet him, not suspecting that a revolution is in progress. Providentially, they meet at the property that belonged to Naboth. Joram seeks to flee, as does Ahaziah, but both are executed. Jehu then marches upon the city of Jezreel, where he instructs those standing near Jezebel to throw her out of the window from which she was taunting him. Jezebel probably died as the result of her fall, but being trampled under the feet of Jehu’s horses (and perhaps also being run over by his chariot) certainly ended not only her life, but a reign of wickedness. When the dogs devoured most all of her remains, the prophecies pertaining to her death were fulfilled.
But there was still much to do in order to consolidate Jehu’s rule. There remained many who had done evil that was to be punished, and there were many who would pose a constant threat to his reign as king over Israel. Second Kings 10 describes the way in which Jehu “followed through” by eliminating all the remaining heirs and political allies of Joram, and a number of those who supported Ahaziah. While his campaign is a violent one, it is exceedingly skillful and precise, as I will attempt to demonstrate. Let us proceed, then, to the events of 2 Kings 10 and to the description of Jehu’s consolidation of his kingdom.
1 Ahab had 70 sons living in Samaria. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria to the leading officials of Jezreel and the guardians of Ahab’s dynasty. This is what the letters said, 2 “You have with you the sons of your master, chariots and horses, a fortified city, and weapons. So when this letter arrives, 3 pick the best and most capable of your master’s sons, place him on his father’s throne, and defend your master’s dynasty.” 4 They were absolutely terrified and said, “Look, two kings could not stop him! How can we?” 5 So the palace supervisor, the city commissioner, the leaders, and guardians sent this message to Jehu, “We are your subjects. Whatever you say, we will do. We will not make anyone king. Do what you consider proper.”
6 He wrote them a second letter, saying, “If you are really on my side and willing to obey me, then take the heads of your master’s sons and come to me in Jezreel at this time tomorrow.” Now the king had 70 sons, and the prominent men of the city were raising them. 7 When they received the letter, they seized the king’s sons and executed all 70 of them. They put their heads in baskets and sent them to him in Jezreel. 8 The messenger came and told Jehu, “They have brought the heads of the king’s sons.” Jehu said, “Stack them in two piles at the entrance of the gate until morning.” 9 In the morning he went out and stood there. Then he said to all the people, “You are innocent. I conspired against my master and killed him. But who struck down all of these men? 10 Therefore take note that not one of the judgments the LORD announced against Ahab’s dynasty has failed to materialize. The LORD had done what he announced through his servant Elijah.” 11 Then Jehu killed all who were left of Ahab’s family in Jezreel, and all his nobles, close friends, and priests. He left no survivors.
In some forms of athletic competition, the scoring is based upon the “level of difficulty.” If an ice skater beautifully performs a single rotation, no one is impressed, and their score will be low. It was easy to do—too easy. But if one were to perform a triple rotation beautifully, the score would be high because it is very difficult to perform this feat. As we approach the conclusion of the story of Jehu’s rise to power, we need to reflect on the level of difficulty of this accomplishment. Consider these factors:
1) Jehu is caught completely off-guard by the arrival of the prophet, and by the news that he is to become the next king of Israel, in place of Joram. Perhaps unlike Hazael, Jehu had not entertained the thought of overthrowing Joram. If one is to succeed at a military coup, months of planning and preparation are required. There was obviously none of this, as the account in chapter 9 reveals. Jehu was propelled into his role; he is forced to act quickly and without any deliberate preparation.
2) Jehu had been given a clear mandate as to his mission and what he was to accomplish. He was to become the king of Israel. He was instructed to execute only those responsible for promoting evil in the land, who would resist a change of power and thus posed a threat to his kingdom. His victims were specified by the prophet(s),166 and they were relatively few. It is one thing to march on a city and wipe out everyone, as Ben Hadad or Hazael sought to do. It is quite another to selectively eliminate individuals, without harming others.
3) One of Jehu’s primary tasks is to locate and to execute every heir of Joram. Joram had made sure that this would be almost impossible to accomplish. First, he had placed his sons in Samaria, the capital city of Israel, and the most well fortified and defended city in the nation. Furthermore, he had 70 sons who were dispersed about the city. Joram had placed his sons in the homes of various dignitaries. Jehu would not be able to storm the capital and somehow isolate all of Joram’s sons in one place. How would Jehu know how many sons there were, where they could be found (exactly), and what they looked like? The elimination of Joram’s sons looks like an impossible mission.
4) Jehu is in Jezreel, some 25 miles or so from Samaria. Taking control of Jezreel was a beginning, but it was certainly not the most difficult task facing Jehu. His work is really cut out for him.
5) Jehu’s strength is not as great as we might suppose. So far as we have been informed in 2 Kings 9, Jehu has killed only three people: Joram, Ahaziah, and Jezebel. I do not think the size of his “army” is very great at this moment either. You will recall that Jehu was but one of the commanders in Ramoth Gilead. “All Israel,” we are told, was there defending the city against an attack by Hazael of Syria (9:14). Most of the Israelite soldiers had to remain in Ramoth Gilead to protect this vital outpost. When Jehu leaves the city, he instructs his fellow-commanders to blockade the city, so that no one can leave and get to Jezreel before him with news of the revolt. This indicates that most of the soldiers were staying behind. We are not told of a large army leaving with Jehu, and indeed this would not have been possible. A large army would only have hindered Jehu at the moment. He is racing (driving furiously—9:20) to Jezreel in his chariot, and thus anyone accompanying him would have to be on horseback or in a chariot. There is no slow-marching army with Jehu, and thus his soldiers must be “a few good men.”
In my opinion, if the people of the city of Samaria knew the size and strength of Jehu’s forces, they would have opposed him, rather than surrender. What we see in chapters 9 and 10, then, is nothing short of a miracle.
When Jehu was anointed as king of Israel, he was told at that time that he was to totally wipe out all of the male descendants of Ahab’s son, Joram. The evil dynasty of Omri was to be terminated. Jehu is still in Jezreel, the vacation palace of Ahab, and now of his son Joram. It seems to be the dwelling place of Joram’s mother, Jezebel, as well. The capital of the northern kingdom of Israel is Samaria. Joram had 70 sons who were potential heirs to his throne, and all of these sons lived in Samaria or the vicinity, cared for by various members of the nobility that lived there.
How was Jehu going to seize control of Samaria with all of its defenses when he had so few men with him? And how was he to identify and eliminate Joram’s sons when the nobility of Samaria were charged with keeping them, and when they most certainly would not be disposed to handing them over to Jehu for execution? What could Jehu possibly do to accomplish the mission God had given to him?
Jehu’s approach betrays a real genius. He does not march on Samaria with his handful of a “few good men.” Had the people of Samaria seen the size of Jehu’s “army,” they would most certainly have chosen to fight. They might even have laughed. Jehu made an incredibly bold move. He sent a messenger to Samaria, with letters addressed to the leaders of the city, challenging them to fight. He does not make any claims or boasts; he simply reminds them of their assets. They have the heirs to the throne in their city. They are within fortified walls, and they have the chariots and the weapons with which to fight. In effect, Jehu has given them every good reason to fight him. And so he issues the challenge: Let them choose which heir will be their next king, and then let them fight.
If the leaders of Samaria knew what we know, they would have fought. It would appear that they could hardly have lost (apart from divine intervention, of course). Instead, the leaders of the city chose to unconditionally surrender to Jehu. This is the message that they conveyed to Jehu. But why should they possibly surrender when they had all the advantages—advantages that Jehu called to their attention? I believe our text tells us why. They had never seen Jehu’s “army,” but they had heard reports—perhaps I should say they had heard rumors. They knew Jehu had somehow managed to kill both the king of Israel and the king of Judah. They apparently did not know how this had happened, and so they allowed their imaginations to run away with them. They assumed that the only way Jehu could have killed these two kings is by overpowering them, by his army outnumbering their armies. If this were true, then Jehu must have had a massive army, and that army could surely lay siege to Samaria, or even break down its walls.
Jehu bluffed, and it worked. Word of their surrender reached Jezreel. They would do whatever Jehu asked. Jehu still does not leave Jezreel and march on Samaria. If they saw the meager size of his “army,” they would immediately change their minds and fight. And so Jehu makes yet another bold move. He sends another message to the leaders of Samaria in response to their unconditional surrender. They said they would do whatever he commanded, and so Jehu ordered them to execute the sons of the king, who would be heirs to the throne. So far as our text tells us, Jehu never mentioned how many sons there were. I doubt that he knew at this moment in time, but he did not let them know. And, so that there would be proof and verification of their compliance with his demands, they must place the heads of these sons in baskets and deliver them to him at Jezreel within 24 hours.
Jehu does not give the leaders of Samaria time to ponder their decision or to take counter measures. By his deadline, he forces them to act immediately. Jezreel is approximately 25 miles away from Samaria. These messengers will have to hurry to get back to Samaria, deliver Jehu’s mandate, put the sons of the king to death, and then return to Jezreel with their heads, all within 24 hours time. They must either carry out Jehu’s command promptly, or they must fight—and they have already decided not to resist.
In haste, the king’s sons are put to death, and their heads are taken to the entrance of the gate of Jezreel. Jehu has done an amazing job of maintaining control of this situation. He has used their fear, and he has managed to prevent any outsider from entering the city gates of Jezreel, where they would be able to observe the size of Jehu’s forces. The Samaritan leaders are intimidated by what they believe Jehu’s army to be, and they are completely deceived as to his real strength. It is his cunning that wins this war, not his strength.
Seventy heads are placed in two piles, just outside the city gates of Jezreel, and they are left there overnight. Does this allow Jehu to inspect these heads in the cover of darkness to verify that his orders have been obeyed? It almost seems so. In the morning, Jehu went outside of the gate. I would imagine that he stationed himself midway between the two piles of heads, so that his words would be dramatically underscored. I believe that he is speaking primarily to the people of Jezreel167 (no more than a few men would have been required to deliver the heads, and they could have already left to return to Samaria. He tells them that so far as the execution of Joram is concerned, he alone bears the responsibility. But when it comes to the death of those whose heads were before all, Jehu asks them to consider who bears responsibility for this. In a technical sense, Jehu is responsible for this also, since he issued the order to kill the sons of Joram. But the leaders of Samaria carried out the actual killing. And, in some sense, the people of Jezreel have become participants in this revolution as well. They are all in this together.
This serves as yet another turning point in the revolution. There is no turning back. The king of Israel and every one of his heirs is dead. Jehu killed the king himself and ordered the execution of Joram’s sons, but the people participated, and there is no way of turning back the clock. The deed is done, and they have had a hand in it. There is no other way to go than to follow Jehu. The final argument that Jehu offers is his reminder that all of these things have happened at the command of God. These things are precisely what God had indicated through His prophet, Elijah. God’s will has been done. The people of Jezreel find Jehu’s arguments compelling, and thus it is at this point in time that Jehu kills all those in Jezreel who are relatives of Ahab, as well as his loyal supporters, even including the priests (verse 11). Lest we question this and suggest (as some have done) that Jehu has gone too far here, let me remind you that at least some of these folks were participants in the mockery of justice which resulted in the death of Naboth and his sons, and the theft of his property by Jezebel and Ahab:
7 His wife Jezebel said to him, “You are the king of Israel! Get up, eat some food and have a good time. I will get the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite for you.” 8 She wrote out orders, signed Ahab’s name to them, and sealed them with his seal. She then sent the orders to the leaders and to the nobles who lived in Naboth’s city. 9 This is what she wrote: “Observe a time of fasting and seat Naboth in front of the people. 10 Also seat two villains opposite him and have them testify, ‘You cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” 11 The men of the city, the leaders and the nobles who lived there, followed the written orders Jezebel had sent them. 12 They observed a time of fasting and put Naboth in front of the people. 13 The two villains arrived and sat opposite. Then the villains testified against Naboth right before the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they led him outside the city and stoned him to death. 14 Then they reported to Jezebel, “Naboth has been stoned to death” (1 Kings 21:7-14, emphasis mine).
We must certainly see that the nobility of Jezreel, in order to gain and maintain their positions, had to be participants in many of the wicked schemes of Ahab, Joram, and Jezebel. These folks were not innocent bystanders. And they were the very ones who could also orchestrate the downfall of Jehu. The priests, likewise, were a part of Joram’s wicked administration. Jehu was “cleaning house,” and this surely needed to be done. I do not in any way dispute Jehu’s claim that these things were the fulfillment of God’s judgment upon this dynasty, and upon these people.
12 Jehu then left there and set out for Samaria. While he was traveling through Beth Eked of the Shepherds, 13 Jehu ran into the relatives of Ahaziah king of Judah. He asked, “Who are you?” They replied, “We are Ahaziah’s relatives. We have come down to see how the king’s sons and the queen mother’s sons are doing.” 14 He said, “Capture them alive!” So they captured them alive and then executed all 42 of them in the cistern at Beth Eked; he left no survivors. 15 When he left there, he met Jehonadab, son of Rekab, who had been looking for him. Jehu greeted him and asked, “Are you as committed to me as I am to you?” Jehonadab answered, “I am!” Jehu replied, “If so, give me your hand.” So he offered his hand and Jehu pulled him up into the chariot. 16 Jehu said, “Come with me and see how zealous I am for the LORD’s cause.” So he took him along in his chariot. 17 He went to Samaria and exterminated all the members of Ahab’s family who were still alive in Samaria, just as the LORD had announced to Elijah. 18 Jehu assembled all the people and said to them, “Ahab worshiped Baal a little; Jehu will worship him with great devotion. 19 So now, bring to me all the prophets of Baal, as well as all his servants and priests. None of them must be absent, for I am offering a great sacrifice to Baal. Any of them who fail to appear will lose their lives.” But Jehu was tricking them so he could destroy the servants of Baal. 20 Then Jehu ordered, “Make arrangements for a celebration for Baal.” So they announced it. 21 Jehu sent invitations throughout Israel, and all the servants of Baal came; not one was absent. They arrived at the temple of Baal and filled it up from end to end. 22 Jehu ordered the one who was in charge of the wardrobe, “Bring out robes for all the servants of Baal.” So he brought out robes for them. 23 Then Jehu and Jehonadab son of Rekab went to the temple of Baal. Jehu said to the servants of Baal, “Make sure there are no servants of the LORD here with you; there must be only servants of Baal.” 24 They went inside to offer sacrifices and burnt sacrifices. Now Jehu had stationed 80 men outside. He had told them, “If any of the men inside get away, you will pay with your lives.” 25 When he finished offering the burnt sacrifice, Jehu ordered the royal guard and officers, “Come in and strike them down! Don’t let any escape!” So the royal guard and officers struck them down with the sword and left their bodies lying there. Then they entered the inner sanctuary of the temple of Baal. 26 They hauled out the sacred pillar of Baal and burned it. 27 They demolished the sacred pillar of Baal and the temple of Baal; it is used as a latrine to this very day. 28 So Jehu eradicated Baal worship from Israel.
The more I read this account, the more amazed I am at the ways in which God providentially places His enemies in the hands of Jehu and his men. The things that Jehu had been able to accomplish were amazing, but it was not until after the nobility of Samaria had executed the 70 sons of the king that Jehu approached the city. On his way to Samaria, Jehu happened upon a group of 42 people who were on their way to Jezreel. These folks were relatives of Ahaziah, the wicked king of Judah, whom Jehu had recently put to death. Obviously, these folks were unaware of the events that had just taken place in Jezreel. I can almost hear these people identifying themselves to Jehu as “relatives of Ahaziah.” Did they think this would impress Jehu? It most certainly got a response from him! Jehu had these folks seized and then put to death in the cistern at Beth Eked. He left no survivors. Judah’s king and his relatives had chosen to make an alliance with Joram and his family, and now they would also participate in God’s judgment upon the house of Ahab.
Jehu encountered someone else on the road to Samaria—Jehonadab, the son of Rekab. This fellow is not put to death; indeed, he is embraced by Jehu as a “kindred spirit.” The character of this fellow is alluded to in Jeremiah 35:
1 The LORD spoke to Jeremiah when Jehoiakim son of Josiah was ruling over Judah. He said, 2 “Go to the Rechabite community. Invite them to come into one of the side rooms of the temple of the LORD and offer them some wine to drink.” 3 So I went and got Jaazaniah, the son of Jeremiah, the grandson of Habazziniah, and his brothers and all his sons and all the rest of the Rechabite community. 4 I took them to the temple of the LORD. I took them into the room where the disciples of the prophet Hanan son of Igdaliah stayed. That room was next to the one where the temple officers stayed and above the room where Maaseiah son of Shallum one of the doorkeepers of the temple stayed. 5 Then I set cups and pitchers full of wine in front of the members of the Rechabite community and said to them, “Have some wine.” 6 But they answered, “We don’t drink wine because our ancestor Jonadab168 son of Rechab commanded us not to. He told us, ‘You and your children must never drink wine. 7 Don’t build houses. Don’t plant crops. Don’t plant a vineyard or own one. Live in tents all your lives. If you do these things you will live a long time in the land that you wander about on.’ 8 We and our wives and our sons and daughters have obeyed everything our ancestor Jonadab commanded us. We have never drunk wine. 9 We haven’t built any houses to live in. We don’t own any vineyards, fields, or crops. 10 We have lived in tents. We have obeyed our ancestor Jonadab and done exactly as he commanded us. 11 But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land we said, ‘Let’s get up and go to Jerusalem to get away from the Babylonian and Aramean armies.’ That is why we are staying here in Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 35:1-11).
Jeremiah refers to “Jonadab son of Rechab” as an example of a man of character. His descendants were instructed by him not to drink wine, and even in Jeremiah’s day, they refused to do so. Jeremiah will go on to argue that while the descendants of Jonadab insisted upon obeying the instructions of their forefather, the people of Judah and Jerusalem pay no regard at all to God’s commandments. Jonadab is therefore represented in a favorable light; he is a man of principle and character, and so are his descendants.
When Jehu comes upon Jehonadab, he may have recognized him as someone he knew. His way of dealing with him is just the opposite of the way he dealt with the friends and family of Ahaziah. Jehu asks Jehonadab if he is a kindred spirit, and Jehonadab assures him that he is. Jehu then takes him by the hand and takes him up into his chariot,169 so that he can accompany him and observe his zeal for carrying out God’s instructions. Jehonadab will witness firsthand Jehu’s dealings with the Baal worshipers of Samaria.
In Samaria, Jehu makes yet another brilliant move—one that will rid Israel of the Baal worship that Ahab and Jezebel had introduced. It was Omri, Ahab’s father, who purchased the land and built the capital city of Samaria (1 Kings 16:23-24). And it was Ahab who built the house where Baal worship took place in the city (1 Kings 16:31-32). If Jehu’s “house cleaning” was to be complete, he must rid Israel of the Baalism that Ahab’s house had introduced.
Once again, we need to ponder the difficulty of the task at hand. If you were given the assignment of identifying all the Baal worshippers in the country, and of executing them, how would you do it? How would you identify them? How would you track them down and execute them? Jehu did not pursue the Baal worshippers; he got them to come to him. When Jehu arrived in Samaria, no one there was likely to have known about his God-given mission. His words may not have surprised anyone, and they would have delighted the Baal worshippers: If they thought Ahab was a Baal worshipper, they had not seen anything yet. Jehu will outdo the “king” of Baal worship.
It did not appear to be wise to offend Jehu. The heads had already begun to roll, literally, and no one wanted to be next. The Baal worshippers were probably ecstatic. Since the appearance of Elijah and Elisha, Baal worship may have begun to dwindle, but now there was a king who said that he would make Baal worship bigger and better than it had ever been. All of the prophets of Baal, their servants, and the pagan priests were gathered for the great celebration Jehu had prepared. No Baal worshipper was allowed to be absent. No Yahweh worshipper was allowed to be present.
Jehu did not have to search for the worshippers of Baal; they all came to him, eagerly. They made no attempt to conceal their identity as those who served Baal. Indeed, with a king like Jehu, they could worship openly and be proud of it, or so they thought. They arrived from all over Israel. Jehu ordered that each worshipper be given a robe170 to wear that designated them as one of the Baal worshippers. What the people who wore them didn’t know was that this was a foolproof way of marking them for execution. It was almost like going into battle with only a T-shirt on one’s chest, with a bull’s eye painted on it, front and back. Jehu made one last check to make absolutely certain that no servant of the LORD was among the Baal worshippers. He then offered the sacrifice and ordered his soldiers to go into the house of Baal and kill every Baal worshipper. Not one servant of the LORD perished that day, and not one Baal worshipper escaped. The soldiers then removed the sacred pillar of Baal and burned it. They destroyed the temple of Baal, and then, as a final desecration of this heathen temple, they turned it into a latrine. The Baal worship that Ahab and Jezebel had introduced to Israel was eradicated that very day.
29 However Jehu did not repudiate the sins which Jeroboam son of Nebat had encouraged Israel to commit; the golden calves remained in Bethel and Dan. 30 The LORD said to Jehu, “You have done well. You have accomplished my will and carried out my wishes with regard to Ahab’s dynasty. Therefore four generations of your descendents will rule over Israel.” 31 But Jehu did not carefully and wholeheartedly obey the law of the LORD God of Israel. He did not repudiate the sins which Jeroboam had encouraged Israel to commit. 32 In those days the LORD began to reduce the size of Israel’s territory. Hazael attacked their eastern border. 33 He conquered all the land of Gilead, including the territory of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh, extending all the way from the Aroer in the Arnon Valley through Gilead to Bashan. 34 The rest of the events of Jehu’s reign, including all his accomplishments and successes, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Israel. 35 Jehu passed away and was buried in Samaria. His son Jehoahaz replaced him as king. 36 Jehu reigned over Israel for 28 years in Samaria.
Jehu has accomplished some very remarkable tasks in our text. Let’s review just what it was that he was commissioned to do:
“This is what the LORD God of Israel says, ‘I have designated you as king over the LORD’s people Israel. 7 You will destroy the family of your master Ahab. I will get revenge against Jezebel for the shed blood of my servants the prophets and for the shed blood of all the LORD’s servants. 8 Ahab’s entire family will die. I will cut off every last male belonging to Ahab in Israel, including even the weak and incapacitated. 9 I will make Ahab’s dynasty like those of Jeroboam son of Nebat and Baasha son of Ahijah. 10 Dogs will devour Jezebel in the plot of ground in Jezreel; she will not be buried’” (2 Kings 9:6b-10).
It looks to me as though Jehu has completely fulfilled his mission, as the young prophet defined it. And from the final words of chapter 10, it would seem that God agrees:
The LORD said to Jehu, “You have done well. You have accomplished my will and carried out my wishes with regard to Ahab’s dynasty. Therefore four generations of your descendents will rule over Israel” (2 Kings 10:30).
This is God’s evaluation of the first days of Jehu’s reign as king of Israel. He was given a mission, and he carried it out completely. The next words are not a direct statement from God, but are the author’s inspired evaluation of the remainder of Jehu’s life and reign as king of Israel—a reign of 28 years: “But Jehu did not carefully and wholeheartedly obey the law of the LORD God of Israel. He did not repudiate the sins which Jeroboam had encouraged Israel to commit” (verse 31).
It is most interesting to read this inspired evaluation of Jehu’s life, compared to the assessment of some. They would have us believe that Jehu went too far, that he killed too many, and all for self-serving purposes. This assessment does not square with what God has said in verse 30. I’ll settle for God’s assessment. It’s not really surprising, though, because there are many who wish to think that God would never deal severely with men, no matter how great their sin. It is our sovereign God who sets the standards, and who rewards and punishes men on the basis of these standards. It is not the severity of God’s judgment which should distress us, but the immensity of man’s sin. As we read through the history of Israel in the Old Testament, we should be amazed at God’s patience and longsuffering, delaying His judgment and urging men to repent and avoid His wrath. This is why He sent the prophets—to point out sin and its consequences—and to urge men to repent and avoid God’s judgment.
While some may protest that Jehu went too far, the author of our text tells us that Jehu did not go far enough: “But Jehu did not carefully and wholeheartedly obey the law of the LORD God of Israel. He did not repudiate the sins which Jeroboam had encouraged Israel to commit” (verse 31).
How can this be, when we have just read that God commended Jehu for carrying out His directives regarding the house of Ahab? I think the answer comes in several parts. First, God’s commendation was regarding a particular set of tasks, which were completed over a relatively short period of time. The author’s condemnation is for Jehu’s failures over the long haul, for the remainder of his 28-year reign.
The second part of the answer is bound up in a very important principle: The believer’s walk of faith and obedience is the walk of a lifetime. It is not measured merely in terms of one’s initial acts of obedience, no matter how great those may be. Look at King Saul, for example. In the earliest days of his reign, Saul did well. He led Israel in the liberation of Jabesh-gilead, defeating the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11). Shortly thereafter, things began to go downhill quickly. When evaluated by his first act of obedience, Saul did well; when evaluated by his lifetime of leading Israel, Saul was a miserable failure.
I must issue a word of caution here. I do not mean to suggest that Jehu was a terrible king. He seems to be one of the best kings the northern kingdom of Israel ever had. He did well in ridding Israel of the false worship introduced by Ahab and Jezebel, but he failed badly in not doing away with the false religion established by Jeroboam.
There is a third factor here as well: Jehu did well in carrying out every command that was specifically addressed to him, but he did not do well in carrying out the more general commands of God, namely the law. If you remember, God spoke about the need for kings to ponder and to obey the whole law:
14 When you come to the land the LORD your God is giving you and you take it over and live in it and then say, “I will appoint a king over me like all the nations surrounding me,” 15 you must without fail select over you a king whom the LORD your God will choose. From among your own kin you must appoint a king—you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your kin. 16 Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself nor allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the LORD has said, you must never again return this way. 17 He also must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not amass much silver and gold. 18 When he sits on his royal throne then he must make a copy of this instruction upon a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be constantly with him and he must read it as long as he lives so that he might learn to revere the LORD his God, and observe all the words of this instruction and these statutes in order to carry them out, 20 so that he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens and turn from the commandment right or left, and so that he might enjoy many years over his kingdom, he and his descendants, in the midst of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20, emphasis mine).
What a difference there is between David and Jehu. Jehu obeys only those commands addressed specifically to him. David sought to obey every command of God, not just the times when God spoke directly to him, but when God spoke in principle or precept through His Word. He sought to read between the lines and to discern the heart of God. He sought not only to avoid what would displease God and bring His discipline, but he endeavored to learn what pleased God, and to do that.
There also may be another factor involved in Jehu’s failure to deal with the false worship introduced by Jeroboam. Jeroboam’s false worship had been around a lot longer than the Baalism introduced by Ahab and Jezebel. Jeroboam’s false worship was not a “foreign import,” as Baalism was. He introduced a counterfeit version of the only true religion, the worship of Yahweh. I believe it was relatively easy to rid the nation of Baal worship, but the worship that Jeroboam established was now “the national religion” of the northern kingdom. When patriotism, nationalism, and religion are merged, it is not healthy. One may be reluctant to deal with religious error because it is a part of one’s culture and national identity.
The consequences for Jehu’s failure were not as dramatic as God’s judgment on the house of Ahab, but they were nonetheless painful and apparent. God began to nibble away at Israel’s borders, reducing its size, power, and stature. Hazael attacked from the east, conquering the land of Gilead, and seizing property in the territory of God, Reuben, and Manasseh. Disobedience always has consequences.
Jehu’s life is summed up in but two chapters. His days of glory, though few, dominate the text devoted to him. His failure and its consequences are described in very few words. If you can’t say anything good,…
Let me conclude with a few comments and suggested points of application.
Some might be repulsed by the events of our text as violent and bloody. I would agree that what Jehu did was violent and bloody. I would suggest that this should warn us as to how much God hates sin, and as to how severe God can be in the judgment of sinners. Is this just “the Old Testament God,” as I have sometimes heard? I think not:
17 Then another angel came out of the temple that is in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Another angel, who was in charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to the angel who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes off the vine of the earth, because its grapes are now ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the grapes from the vineyard of the earth and tossed them into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 Then the winepress was stomped outside the city, and blood poured out of the winepress up to the height of horses’ bridles for a distance of almost two hundred miles (Revelation 14:17-20, emphasis mine).
Judgment is bloody. Israel’s sacrificial system made this very apparent. Our Lord’s death on the cross was a cruel and bloody death. He suffered in our place, to bear the penalty for our sins. If we acknowledge our sin and guilt and trust in the death of Jesus Christ, we will not suffer God’s eternal wrath, because Jesus has already done so. But if we reject His work on Calvary, our judgment will be severe. Jehu’s dealings with the sins of the house of Ahab should be a warning to us concerning how serious God is about judging sin and sinners.
God did deal severely with sinners in our text, but let me also remind you that God dealt very selectively with sinners. The judgment that Jehu dealt was upon the house of Ahab, and those closely associated with him (including the king of Judah). As I think back over our text, I am amazed at how few people really did die. There were the two kings, Joram and Ahaziah, and also Jezebel. Then there were the 70 sons of Joram, along with the supporters of Joram in both Jezreel and Samaria. There were also the friends and family of Ahaziah. And, of course, there were the worshippers of Baal. But this is all. God did not send Jehu to wipe out all of Jezreel or Samaria. Jehu’s actions did not bring judgment upon any “innocent victims.”
I was thinking about this in relation to modern-day warfare. During the war in the Persian Gulf, the United States used what we call “smart” missiles or bombs. We were shown photographs of direct hits on various targets. And yet there have also been some very tragic misses. A number have suffered and died because of a misguided bomb. As good as our military technology may be, we still end up killing innocent victims. This was not so with Jehu. He managed to “hit” every target, yet without a “miss.” God’s judgment is just as precise.
The Baal worshippers of Samaria are a tragic illustration of sinners who rush to their own destruction. These folks couldn’t get to Samaria fast enough to worship Baal. They eagerly put on their robes, which marked them for destruction. This is the way sin blinds us to its consequences. We think that it offers us pleasure, but it leads us to destruction:
15 My child, do not go in the way with them, withhold your foot from their path;
16 for their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed blood; 17 for it is futile to spread a net in front of all the birds! 18 But these men lie in wait for their own blood, they lie in hiding for their own lives. 19 Thus is the end of all who unjustly gain profit;
it takes away the life of those who get it. 20 Wisdom calls out in the street, she lifts up her voice in the plazas; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she calls, in the entrances of the gates in the city she makes her speech: 22 “How long will you simpletons love simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery, and fools hate knowledge? 23 If only you will respond to my rebuke, then I will pour out my spirit to you, and I will make my thoughts known to you. 24 Since I called but you refused me, I stretched out my hand but no one paid attention, 25 and you neglected all my advice and did not comply with my rebuke, 26 then I will laugh at your disaster, I will mock when what you dread comes, 27 when what you dread comes like a whirlwind, and your disaster comes like a storm, when distress and trouble come upon you. 28 Then they will call to me, but I will not answer; they will look to me, but they will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, 30 they did not comply with my advice, they spurned all my rebuke, 31 then they will eat from the fruit of their way and from their counsel they will be satisfied. 32 For the turning away of the simple will kill them, and the careless ease of fools will destroy them. 33 But the one who listens to me will live in security and be at ease from the dread of harm (Proverbs 1:15-33).
1 My child, pay attention to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding, 2 in order to safeguard discretion, and that your lips may guard knowledge. 3 For the lips of the adulteress woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil. 4 but in the end she is bitter like wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. 6 Lest she should make level the path of life her paths are unstable, but she does not know it. 7 So now, children, listen to me; do not turn aside from the words of my mouth. 8 Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house (Proverbs 5:1-8).
Like wisdom in these proverbs, the prophets continually proclaimed the truth, exposed sin, and warned of coming judgment. And like the fools above, the Baal worshippers of Israel plunged headlong to their own destruction. Sin always leads to death and divine judgment. Sin never pays well. Obedience to God is wisdom, and it leads to His blessings.
166 The prophet sent by Elisha had given specific instructions, but we know that Jehu was also aware of the prophecies of Elijah (see 2 Kings 9:6-10, 25-26; 10:10).
168 While the spelling is slightly different, it seems virtually certain that this is the same person that we find in 2 Kings 10.
169 We read earlier of Ahab taking Ben Hadad up into his chariot (1 Kings 20:33), which seems to be a significant gesture of friendship or fellowship.
170 I do not know whether Baal worshippers customarily wore robes or not. If so, this would have been looked upon as part of the ritual. If not, then these robes made the occasion appear even more festive, and those wearing the robes more distinguished.