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The Life and Times of Elisha the Prophet— Three “Birds” with One Stone (1 Kings 19:15-18; 2 Kings 8:16-9:37)

Introduction

“That’s a long story.” How many times have you heard this statement? Often it is the first response from a Christian who is asked how they came to faith in Jesus Christ. After studying this text, I’ve concluded that the statement, “That’s a long story,” also applies to divine judgment.

The events of 2 Kings 8:16—9:37 are the conclusion to a story that began in 1 Kings 17. You may recall that it is in this chapter that the prophet Elijah makes his first appearance. God instructed Elijah to inform Ahab that a drought was coming and that it would not end until he declared that it was over. Elijah had to hide because Ahab and Jezebel wanted not only to kill him—and not just him—but all the prophets and anyone else who trusted in Yahweh.

Some time later Elijah appeared before Ahab and challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest on Mount Carmel. The 450 prophets of Baal were not able to call down fire from heaven, but Elijah did. He directed the Israelites who witnessed this, and acknowledged Yahweh to be God, to seize the prophets and take them to the brook Kishon, where Elijah put them to death. Jezebel was strangely (but providentially) absent, so that when Ahab arrived in Jezreel, led by Elijah, Jezebel had plenty to say. She swore an oath by her gods that she would take Elijah’s life within 24 hours.154

It is somewhat surprising, and certainly disappointing, to find that Jezebel’s threat intimidated Elijah. He fled from Jezreel, left his servant behind, and went into the desert to die. He wanted to give up his life and his ministry. But rather than letting him starve in the wilderness, God sustained him with two marvelous meals. These kept him 40 days until he reached Mount Horeb, the place where Moses had received the law. In spite of the lessons God had for him there, Elijah still wanted to quit, but God rejected his resignation with these words:

“Go back the way you came and then head for the Desert of Damascus. Go and designate Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 You must designate Jehu son of Nimshi to be king over Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to take your place as prophet. 17 Jehu will kill anyone who escapes Hazael’s sword, and Elisha will kill anyone who escapes Jehu’s sword. 18 I still have left in Israel 7,000 followers who have not bowed their knees to Baal and or kissed the images of him” (1 Kings 19:15b-18).

Elijah did return, and he did appoint Elisha as his successor, but he did not fulfill the first two commands. These are fulfilled in chapters 8 through 10 of 2 Kings. In 1 Kings 20, we read of an unnamed prophet, who assures Ahab twice that God will deliver Israel from Ben Hadad and his Syrian army. And so God does, but Ahab disobeyed God by not taking the life of Ben Hadad when He had given this king into his hands. Because of this sin, God told Ahab that He would exchange his life for the life of Ben Hadad, whom Ahab had spared (1 Kings 20:31-43).

In 1 Kings 21, Ahab and Jezebel committed a terrible sin. This king and queen appear to have had a second palace in Jezreel, and adjoining the royal property was a vineyard owned by a man named Naboth. The king decided that he would like this property as well, so that he could plant a garden there. He offered to trade with Naboth for a better piece of property or to pay him a premium price in cash (silver). It wasn’t a bad idea, and it was a generous offer, except for the fact that the Law of Moses forbade an Israelite from selling his family inheritance. When Naboth declined the offer, Ahab went home sullen and depressed. His wife, Jezebel, was not about to take “No” for an answer. She took matters into her own hands, instructing the leaders of the city to obtain false accusations against Naboth, and then to carry out his execution (for “blaspheming God and the king”), as well as his sons.155

Ahab might have found a measure of solace in the fact that he didn’t really know how Jezebel was going to acquire this property for him, but he knew her well enough to know it would be neither legal nor moral. He was the king, and he allowed her to act in his behalf, and with his authority. When Jezebel told him he could go and possess his property, he promptly went to Naboth’s vineyard. There, he was met and confronted by Elijah, who had the strongest words of rebuke for him:

21 The LORD says, ‘Look, I am ready to bring disaster on you. I will destroy you and cut off every last male belonging to Ahab in Israel, including even the weak and incapacitated 22 I will make your dynasty like those of Jeroboam son of Nebat and Baasha son of Ahijah because you angered me and made Israel sin.’ 23 The LORD says this about Jezebel, ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the outer wall of Jezreel.’ 24 As for Ahab’s family, dogs will eat the ones who die in the city, and the birds of the sky will eat the ones who die in the country”156 (1 Kings 21:21-24).

The author then adds this comment about Ahab’s character:

25 (There had never been anyone like Ahab, who was committed to doing evil before the LORD, egged on by his wife Jezebel. 26 He was so wicked he worshiped the disgusting idols, just like the Amorites whom the LORD had driven out from before the Israelites.) (1 Kings 21:25-26)

Here is where the reader finds a very unexpected surprise—Ahab repents:

27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He slept in sackcloth and walked around dejected. 28 The LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab shows remorse before me? Because he shows remorse before me, I will not bring disaster on his dynasty during his lifetime, but during the reign of his son” (1 Kings 21:27-28).

I find myself cynical about Ahab’s repentance. “Did he truly repent?” “Did he fully repent?” “Did he become a believer in God?” These are not bad questions, but my predisposition to doubt the sincerity of his repentance is more a reflection on my own failure to comprehend the “wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sins” (as the hymn writer puts it, and as we often sing in church). I need go no further than what God Himself said to Elijah. He did repent, and because of this, God put off His judgment on the house of Ahab until after this king’s death.

God’s grace toward Ahab is evident, even in his death, and yet all the prophecies that God had spoken concerning Ahab came to pass. Let’s review them:

42 The prophet then said, “This is what the LORD says, ‘Because you released a man I had determined should die, you will pay with your life and your people will suffer instead of his people.’” 43 The king of Israel went home to Samaria bitter and angry (1 Kings 20:42-43, emphasis mine).

“Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says, “In the spot where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will also lick up your blood, yes yours!”’” (1 Kings 21:19, emphasis mine).

20 When Elijah arrived, Ahab said to him, “So, you have found me, my enemy!” Elijah replied, “I have found you, because you are committed to doing evil before the LORD.” 21 The LORD says, ‘Look, I am ready to bring disaster on you. I will destroy you and cut off every last male belonging to Ahab in Israel, including even the weak and incapacitated 22 I will make your dynasty like those of Jeroboam son of Nebat and Baasha son of Ahijah because you angered me and made Israel sin.’ 23 The LORD says this about Jezebel, ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the outer wall of Jezreel.’ 24 As for Ahab’s family, dogs will eat the ones who die in the city, and the birds of the sky will eat the ones who die in the country” (1 Kings 21:20-24, emphasis mine).

Ahab’s death comes earlier than Jezebel’s. He dies in 1 Kings 22. Ben Hadad had promised to return Ramoth Gilead to Israel, but he did not keep his promise. And so Ahab was determined to go to war with Ben Hadad and to regain Ramoth Gilead. Ahab persuaded Jehoshaphat to commit the army of Judah and to become his ally in the battle with Syria. Even after the prophet Micaiah foretold the consequences of this folly, Ahab and Jehoshaphat went to battle with Ben Hadad. Seeking to save himself from the death Micaiah prophesied, Ahab concealed his identity by removing his royal attire and dressing like one of the ranks. At Ahab’s insistence, Jehoshaphat remained in his royal attire, and nearly died for doing so. But in the end, it was Ahab who was mortally wounded by a “chance shot” by one of the Syrian archers. Ahab’s blood was all over the floor of the chariot, and so it was washed out by the pool of Samaria, thus fulfilling the prophecies concerning Ahab’s death:

37 So the king died and was taken to Samaria, where they buried him. 38 They washed off the chariot at the pool of Samaria; dogs licked his blood (this was where the prostitutes bathed), just as the LORD had said would happen. 39 The rest of the events of Ahab’s reign, including a record of his accomplishments and how he built a luxurious palace and various cities, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Israel. 40 Ahab passed away. His son Ahaziah replaced him as king (1 Kings 22:37-40).

The name of Jezebel is not mentioned after 1 Kings 21:25 until we come to 2 Kings 9:7. I cannot help but wonder what the widow of Naboth thought during this period of time. It would almost appear that Jezebel had gotten away with murder. Not once have we read of a confrontation with Elisha nor have we heard a word concerning her judgment from his lips. Has God overlooked her sin? Will she never pay for her evil deeds? She most certainly will, and soon.

Before we deal with the judgment of Jezebel, Jehoram, and Ahaziah, let us call to mind one more incident that precedes our text. In 2 Kings 3, Joram, king of Israel, somehow convinces Jehoshaphat once again to enter into a foolish alliance with Israel. The king of Moab had rebelled against Israel and so Joram and Jehoshaphat, along with the king of Edom, set out to attack Moab from the south, rather than from the north. Somehow they found themselves stranded in the desert, without water. When Jehoshaphat heard that Elisha the prophet was nearby, he insisted that they consult with him for a word from God. When Elisha saw Joram, the king of Israel, he informed him that he would not have given him an audience at all because of his wickedness, but for the sake of Jehoshaphat, Elisha provided the water they needed, and in addition, a victory over Moab.157

Putting All the Pieces In Place
(2 Kings 8:16-29)

16 In the fifth year of the reign of Israel’s King Joram, son of Ahab, Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram became king over Judah. 17 He was 32 years old when he became king and he reigned for eight years in Jerusalem. 18 He followed in the footsteps of the kings of Israel, just as the Ahab’s dynasty had done, for he married Ahab’s daughter. He did evil before the LORD. 19 But the LORD was unwilling to destroy Judah. He preserved Judah for the sake of his servant David to whom he had promised a perpetual dynasty. 20 During his reign Edom freed themselves from Judah’s control and set up their own king. 21 Joram crossed over to Zair with all his chariots. The Edomites, who had surrounded him, attacked at night and defeated him and his chariot officers. The Israelite army retreated to their homeland. 22 So Edom has remained free from Judah’s control to this very day. At that same time Libnah also rebelled. 23 The rest of the events of Joram’s reign, including a record of his accomplishments, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Judah. 24 Joram passed away and was buried with his ancestors in the city of David. His son Ahaziah replaced him as king. 25 In the twelfth year of the reign of Israel’s King Joram, son of Ahab, Jehoram’s son Ahaziah became king over Judah. 26 Ahaziah was 22 years old when he became king and he reigned for one year in Jerusalem. His mother was Athaliah, the granddaughter of Omri king of Israel. 27 He followed in the footsteps of Ahab’s dynasty and did evil before the LORD, like Ahab’s dynasty, for he was related to Ahab’s family. 28 He joined Ahab’s son Joram in a battle against Hazael king of Syria at Ramoth Gilead in which the Syrians defeated Joram. 29 King Joram returned to Jezreel to recover from the wounds he received from the Syrians in Ramah when he fought against Hazael king of Syria. Ahaziah son of Jehoram, king of Judah, went down to visit Joram son of Ahab in Jezreel, for he was ill.

These remaining verses of chapter 8 set the scene for what is to take place in chapters 9 and 10. These verses can be a bit confusing. For one thing, we are dealing with the kings of two kingdoms—the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. The focus of Elijah and Elisha’s ministry has been the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel, particularly the house of Omri, and especially King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel. But now, in these verses, we turn to the kings of Judah, Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoram’s son, Ahaziah. Another problem is that two different kings have the same name. Both are called either “Joram,” or “Jehoram.” Some translations try to use one of these names consistently for one king to minimize the confusion, but it is truly hard to follow, especially since they ruled at the same time, one over Israel and the other over Judah. There are also two Ahaziah’s. Fortunately, these two kings ruled at different times. If this is not enough cause for confusion, we must also deal with co-regencies. We cannot always assume that one king reigns until his death, and then is replaced by his son. In the case of Jehoshaphat, he appointed his son, Jehoram, to share his throne when he went off to battle against Ben Hadad. There was an overlap in the reign of Jehoshaphat and of his son Jehoram, and this period of overlap is called a co-regency.

Having said this, our author’s purpose in these verses is not that difficult to discern. The focus is primarily on Jehoram and his son Ahaziah. We are informed that Jehoram, king of Judah, was a very wicked man. He was as wicked as the kings of Israel, and this is not difficult to explain since he married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Thus, Athaliah was the mother of Ahaziah, who reigned in his father’s place. This author is really quite generous with Jehoram. For example, he does not tell us that Jehoram had all of his brothers killed, lest they should compete with him for the throne (2 Chronicles 21:4). Neither does he tell us about the letter Jehoram received from Elisha, or about the horrible disease of the intestines from which he died (2 Chronicles 21:12-20).

The author turns our attention to Jehoram and his son Ahaziah for a reason. He wants us to see how wicked these kings of Judah had become. He wants us to see how intertwined Israel and Judah have become. We see that Judah and her kings (Jehoram and Ahaziah) are really no better than the kings of Israel. This explains why God will bring about the deaths not only of Jezebel and Joram of Israel, but also of Ahaziah of Judah. He is just as wicked as the kings of Israel, and thus he will die like them, and with them. These closing verses of 2 Kings 8 also explain to the reader just how these three people happen to be at the same place at the same time.

King Joram of Israel had enlisted the help of king Ahaziah of Judah in his war with Hazael of Syria (2 Kings 8:28). While in battle, Joram was injured, and so he went to Jezreel to recover from his wounds. His ally, Ahaziah of Judah, came to visit him there. This is also where Jezebel seems to have stayed much of the time, and this is why she is present in Jezreel when Joram and Ahaziah are there. The three villains are now in the same place, at the same time. It is time for God to get “three with one blow.”

There is one last thing I should point out before moving on to chapter 9. We are told that Jehoram and Ahaziah, kings of Judah, were wicked kings, no better than the kings of Israel. We know that Jehoram died a terrible death, a result of his sin, and soon Ahaziah will die along with Joram and Jezebel. But there is one very significant distinction made between these kings of Judah and the kings of Israel. The next chapter will describe the annihilation of the house of Omri, by means of the extermination of every heir of king Ahab and his son, Joram. But although Ahaziah and many others will be put to death, God will preserve a seed (Joash—2 Kings 11:2) for Ahaziah, so that the dynasty of David will continue. This is because of God’s covenant promise that He made with David. It was not due to any righteousness on the part of Ahaziah, but rather it was due to the grace of God and His faithfulness to His covenant with David.

The Anointing of Jehu
(2 Kings 9:1-13)

1 Now Elisha the prophet summoned a member of the prophetic guild and told him, “Tuck your robes into your belt, take this container of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth Gilead. 2 When you arrive there, look for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat son of Nimshi and take him aside into an inner room. 3 Take the container of oil, pour it over his head, and say, ‘This is what the LORD says, “I have designated you as king over Israel.”’ Then leave and run away quickly.” 4 So the young prophet went to Ramoth Gilead. 5 When he arrived, the officers of the army [were] sitting there. So he said, “I have a message for you, O officer.” Jehu asked, “For which one of us?” He replied, “For you, O officer.” 6 So Jehu got up and went inside. Then the prophet poured the oil on his head and said to him, “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.’” Then he left and ran away. 11 When Jehu rejoined his master’s servants, they asked him, “Is everything okay?158 Why did this madman visit you?” He replied, “Ah, it’s not important. You know what kind of man he is and the kinds of things he says.” 12 But they said, “You’re lying. Tell us what he said.” So he told them what he had said. He also related how he had said, “This is what the LORD says, ‘I have designated you as king over Israel.’” 13 Each of them quickly took off his robe and they spread them out at his feet on the steps. The trumpet was blown and they shouted, “Jehu is king!”

It is not Elisha who anoints Jehu as king. It is an unnamed member of the prophetic guild whom Elisha sends to anoint him. Elisha’s words to the young prophet convey a strong sense of urgency. It may have seemed that the instructions given to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:15-18 had been forgotten, or at least that there was no hurry to carry them out. There is great urgency expressed here, however. The young prophet is to “gird up his loins”—to tuck his garments into his belt—so that he will be able to run quickly, both to and from Jehu’s presence at Ramoth Gilead. He is to ask to speak privately to Jehu,159 and then to anoint him, explaining what he has been called to do, after which he is to flee quickly.

The young man did exactly as Elisha had instructed him. He went to Ramoth Gilead, where the army of Israel was stationed to protect this city from an attack by Hazael, king of Syria. The commanders of the Israelite army were sitting together when the young prophet entered the room, announcing that he wished to speak with the commander. Apparently he was looking straight at Jehu when he spoke, because it was Jehu who responded, asking him which of the commanders he wished to speak with. It would seem that all these men were commanders, equal in rank. The prophet indicated that he wished to speak confidentially with Jehu, and so they went into an adjoining room, where they could speak privately. It was there that the prophet anointed Jehu. So far as I know, this is the only anointing of a king of the northern kingdom of Israel. He knows by this that he is to be the next king of Israel, and the prophet gives him a very clear set of instructions to carry out as their king:

Then the prophet poured the oil on his head and said to him, “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).160

After anointing Jehu, the young prophet fled, which must have added to the curiosity of the commanders who looked on in wonder. What in the world was going on? Why had this prophet come, asked only to speak with Jehu, and then fled so mysteriously? His colleagues could not wait to ask Jehu what had happened behind those closed doors. Jehu’s response was the opposite of Hazael’s. Hazael was not told to do anything, except to go and report to Ben Hadad that he would not die of his ailment. He was also informed that Ben Hadad would die, and that he would become king. But it was Hazael who decided to take matters into his own hands, kill the king, and usurp the throne. Jehu does not seem to have the same ambition, at least at first. He minimizes the significance of the prophet’s visit and his words. He seems reluctant to attempt to overthrow Joram or to execute Jezebel. No wonder!

When pressed to tell the commanders why the prophet had come, Jehu sought to avoid the subject. He said, in effect, “You know that this fellow is a few bricks short of a load” (a little crazy); you can’t take anything he says seriously.” The commanders were not convinced. They responded (and I paraphrase), “You’re holding back on us. Come on, tell us the whole truth.” I suppose it was with a shrug of his shoulders that Jehu confessed, “He said that God wanted me to know that I was chosen to be king over Israel.”

I think Jehu expected his fellow officers to lean back and laugh with all their might, filing out one by one with great amusement. Jehu did not expect these men to take him or the prophet’s words seriously. Why should they do so? To Jehu’s great surprise, these men quickly removed their robes and spread them on the steps before Jehu, proclaiming him to be king. A trumpet was blown and they shouted, “Jehu is king!”

The Race From Ramoth Gilead to Jezreel
(2 Kings 9:14-20)

14 Then Jehu son of Jehoshaphat son of Nimshi conspired against Joram. Now Joram had been in Ramoth Gilead with the whole Israelite army, guarding against an invasion by Hazael king of Syria. 15 But King Joram had returned to Jezreel to recover from the wounds he received from the Syrians when he fought against Hazael king of Syria. Jehu told his supporters, “If you really want me to be king, then don’t let anyone escape from the city to go and warn Jezreel.” 16 Jehu drove his chariot to Jezreel, for Joram was recuperating there. (Now Ahaziah king of Judah had come down to visit Joram.) 17 Now the watchman was standing on the tower in Jezreel and saw Jehu’s troops approaching. He said, “I see troops.” Jehoram ordered, “Send a rider out to meet them and have him ask, ‘Is everything okay?’” 18 So the horseman went to meet him and said, “This is what the king says, ‘Is everything okay?’” Jehu replied, “None of your business. Follow me.” The watchman reported, “The messenger reached them, but hasn’t started back.” 19 So he sent a second horseman out to them and he said, “This is what the king says, ‘Is everything okay?’” Jehu replied, “None of your business. Follow me.” 20 The watchman reported, “He reached them, but hasn’t started back. The one who drives the lead chariot drives like Jehu son of Nimshi; he drives recklessly.”

Surely the cry, “Jehu is king!” had to have been heard by others in the city of Ramoth Gilead. It would not be long before someone loyal to king Joram would flee to Jezreel, some 35 miles away (as the crow flies), to warn him. Jehu almost appears to give in to the pressure to become king. He seems to say, “Very well, then, if this is really how you feel, you’d better keep this a secret so that I can get to Jezreel before this news reaches the king, and he prepares to defend himself against me.”

It is now that the words of 2 Kings 8:25-29 take on their full significance. Ahaziah is now the king of Judah, and he is a very wicked man, the son of Jezebel and Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. Joram of Israel and Ahaziah were allies against Hazael, king of Syria. They had been with their armies in Ramoth Gilead until Joram was injured. Joram returned to Jezreel to recover, and Ahaziah came to Jezreel to visit him. Jezebel is there in Jezreel as well. Meanwhile, the armies of Israel and Judah remain stationed in Ramoth Gilead, waiting for Hazael to attack. This is where the young prophet found Jehu, along with the other commanders who were leading the battle against Syria. Both Joram and Ahaziah are now detached from the conflict and will be very interested in any news concerning the status of the situation in Ramoth Gilead.

Jehu races toward Jezreel, accompanied by soldiers loyal to him, ready to storm the city of Jezreel and overthrow Joram. A watchman on the wall spots Jehu and his men far off in the distance, approaching Jezreel. At first he has no idea who this might be, but word is sent to king Joram, who dispatches a horseman to go out and meet the approaching troops to determine if their intent is peaceful. The rider was to return to the city, ahead of the approaching troops, to inform the king as to who was coming and what their intentions were. But when the rider met Jehu, he commanded him to fall in behind him, and the rider obeyed.

You can imagine how this would have puzzled those in Jezreel looking on from the distance. Now they would have no way of knowing about these troops ahead of time. Another rider was dispatched, and the same thing happened. No doubt the king was beginning to be alarmed. It might be someone hostile to him. If this were the case, the gates must be closed and the city secured and prepared for an attack. And just at this critical moment, the watchman cried out to the king that he thought he recognized the driver of the chariot. From the furious way that he drove his chariot, it had to be Jehu.

Jehu Executes Divine Justice
(2 Kings 9:21-37)

21 Jehoram ordered, “Hitch up my chariot.” When his chariot had been hitched up, Jehoram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah went out in their respective chariots to meet Jehu. They met up with him in the plot of land that had once belonged to Naboth of Jezreel. 22 When Jehoram saw Jehu, he asked, “Is everything okay, Jehu?” He replied, “How can everything be okay as long as your mother Jezebel promotes idolatry and pagan practices.” 23 Jehoram turned his chariot around and took off. He said to Ahaziah, “It’s a trap, Ahaziah!” 24 Jehu aimed his bow and shot an arrow right between Jehoram shoulders. The arrow went right through his heart and he fell to his knees in his chariot. 25 Jehu ordered his officer Bidkar, “Pick him up, throw him into the part of the field that once belonged to Naboth of Jezreel. Remember, you and I were riding together behind his father Ahab, when the LORD pronounced this judgment on him, 26 ‘“Know for sure that I saw the shed blood of Naboth and his sons yesterday,” says the LORD, “and that I will give you what you deserve right here in this plot of land,” says the LORD.’ So now pick him up, throw him into this plot of land, just as the LORD said.” 27 When Ahaziah king of Judah saw what happened, he took off up the road to Beth Haggan. Jehu chased him and ordered, “Shoot him too.” They shot him while he was driving his chariot up the ascent of Gur near Ibleam. He fled to Megiddo and died there. 28 His servants took his corpse back to Jerusalem and buried him in his tomb with his ancestors in the city of David. 29 Ahaziah had become king over Judah in the eleventh year of Joram son of Ahab. 30 Jehu approached Jezreel. When Jezebel heard the news, she put on some eye liner, fixed up her hair, and leaned out the window. 31 When Jehu came through the gate, she said, “Is everything okay, Zimri, murderer of his master?” 32 He looked up at the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. 33 He said, “Throw her down!” So they threw her down and, when she hit the ground, her blood sprayed against the wall and the horses, and Jehu drove his chariot over her. 34 He went inside and had a meal. Then he said, “Dispose of this accursed woman’s corpse. Bury her, for, after all, she was a king’s daughter.” 35 But when they went to bury her, they found nothing left but the skull, feet, and palms of the hands. 36 When they went back and told him, he said, “The LORD’s word through his servant, Elijah the Tishbite, has come to pass. He warned, ‘In the plot of land at Jezreel, dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh. 37 Jezebel’s corpse will be like manure on the surface of the ground in the plot of land at Jezreel. People will not be able to even recognize her.’”

At this instant in time, Joram made some decisions that were based upon a false assumption. Instead of being alarmed at the news that the one approaching was Jehu, the king was relieved. After all, Jehu was one of his commanders who had been stationed in Ramoth Gilead. He was coming with a number of troops. Joram must have assumed that Jehu had come to bring him news of the war, good news most likely from the appearance of things. And so the king makes a fatal mistake. Instead of waiting for Jehu to arrive at the palace, he decides to go out in his chariot to meet him, and to have Ahaziah come out with him in his chariot. That way they will get the news early. (I wonder if he felt that if the news was bad, the whole city would not be there to overhear the report.)

And so Joram and Ahaziah race out of the city in their chariots and “just happen” to meet Jehu on the property of Naboth. If I may paraphrase Joram’s question, I believe he is asking, “Is it good news, Jehu?” Surely he hopes for “good news” regarding the war with Hazael and the situation in Ramoth Gilead. It is not good news, however, for Jehu’s response is that there can be no “Shalom,” no peace, no well being, while Jezebel is still alive and practicing all her witchcraft and harlotries.

Suddenly, Jehu grasps the situation. It is a rebellion. He turns his chariot around, hoping to make it back to the safety of Jezreel. He shouts to Ahaziah to flee for his life. Jehu is too skillful a warrior for that. He draws his bow all the way back, taking careful aim at Joram. It must have been at some distance, but Jehu’s arrow finds its mark, right between the shoulder blades of Joram, piercing his heart. The king slumped to the floor of the chariot.

Everything now seems to come together in the mind of Jehu. He sees the hand of God in all that has occurred. We are now told that both he and his driver were there, serving Ahab, at the time Elijah confronted him for taking Naboth’s life, his sons’ lives, and his vineyard. He remembered these words, spoken on that occasion by Elijah:

‘“Know for sure that I saw the shed blood of Naboth and his sons yesterday,” says the LORD, “and that I will give you what you deserve right here in this plot of land,” says the LORD’” (verse 26a).

Having reminded Bidkar, his driver, of these words, Jehu instructed him to take the body of Joram and throw it on the property of Naboth, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord.

Justice had been served so far as Joram was concerned, but it was not over yet. Ahaziah must have looked on in terror as he fled for his life. He must have seen the arrow find its mark in the body of his friend, Joram. He sought to escape, but Jehu issued the order to shoot him as well, while in his chariot. He reached the ascent of Gur before he was shot, and then managed to stay alive until he reached Megiddo.161 His body was taken to Jerusalem where he was buried.

By the time Jehu arrived at the city gates, word of the revolt and of the death of Joram had already reached Jezebel in Jezreel. She did not attempt to flee. She carefully prepared herself for her confrontation with Jehu. I must be very cautious about my comments here about a woman and her makeup, but the fact is that she intended to look good. The question is “Why?” Is she unwilling to be seen without her makeup? This is certainly possible. Does she think that her appearance will be seductive? At her age, I doubt it. Her words to Jehu are far from seductive. Is she dressing up in preparation for her death, not wishing to die in disarray? Perhaps, but if this was her intention, it was an utter failure. He body will need much more than a “makeover” after God’s judgment is poured out upon her. Her body is broken by her fall from the window, the hoofs of the horses (and perhaps the wheels of Jehu’s chariot). Her badly broken body is then almost entirely consumed by the dogs. There was not even enough of her left to identify, had one not already known who she was.

As Jehu makes his way into the city of Jezreel, Jezebel leans out of a window and greets Jehu with these words, which are dripping with sarcasm: “Is everything okay, Zimri, murderer of his master?” (verse 31). You may remember that the story of Zimri is recorded for us in 1 Kings 16:1-20. We would do well to refresh our minds concerning the details of this account:

1 Jehu162 son of Hanani received from the LORD this message predicting Baasha’s downfall: 2 “I raised you up from the dust and made you ruler over my people Israel. Yet you followed in Jeroboam’s footsteps and encouraged my people Israel to sin; their sins have made me angry. 3 So I am ready burn up Baasha and his family, and make your family like the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat. 4 Dogs will eat the ones who die in the city, and the birds of the sky will eat the ones who die in the country.”’ 5 The rest of the events of Baasha’s reign, including his accomplishments and successes, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Israel. 6 Baasha passed away and was buried in Tirzah. His son Elah replaced him as king. 7 The prophet Jehu son of Hanani received from the LORD the message predicting the downfall of Baasha and his family because of all the evil Baasha had done before the LORD. His actions angered the LORD (including the way he had destroyed Jeroboam’s dynasty), so that his family ended up like Jeroboam’s. 8 In the twenty-sixth year of King Asa’s reign over Judah, Baasha’s son Elah became king over Israel; he ruled in Tirzah for two years. 9 His servant Zimri, a commander of half of his chariot force, conspired against him. While Elah was drinking heavily at the house of Arza, who supervised the palace in Tirzah, 10 Zimri came in and struck him dead. (This happened in the twenty-seventh year of King Asa’s reign over Judah.) Zimri replaced Elah as king. 11 When he became king and occupied the throne, he killed Baasha’s entire family. He did not spare any male belonging to him; he killed his relatives and his friends. 12 Zimri destroyed Baasha’s entire family, just as the LORD had predicted to Baasha through Jehu the prophet. 13 This happened because of all the sins which Baasha and his son Elah committed and which they made Israel commit. They angered the LORD God of Israel with their worthless idols. 14 The rest of the events of Elah’s reign, including all his accomplishments, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Israel. 15 In the twenty-seventh year of King Asa’s reign over Judah, Zimri became king over Israel; he ruled for seven days in Tirzah. Zimri’s revolt took place while the army was deployed in Gibbethon, which was in Philistine territory. 16 While deployed there, the army received this report: “Zimri has conspired against and assassinated the king.” So all Israel made Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that very day in the camp. 17 Omri and all Israel went up from Gibbethon and besieged Tirzah. 18 When Zimri saw the city was captured, he went into the fortified area of the royal palace. He set the palace on fire and died in the flames. 19 This happened because of the sins he committed. He did evil before the LORD and followed in Jeroboam’s footsteps and encouraged Israel to continue sinning. 20 The rest of the events of Zimri’s reign, including the details of his revolt, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:1-20).

Notice the similarities that Jezebel is seeking to establish and emphasize. Both Zimri and Jehu were commanders of the Israelite army, under a king of Israel. In both cases, Israel was at war, and the army was deployed somewhere other than where the king was staying. In both cases, the commander killed the king and took over the throne. In both cases, this commander-become-king killed all the heirs and possible contenders to the throne. You will also see (though Jezebel may choose to overlook this fact) that both men were used as the instrument of God for bringing judgment upon a wicked king, and ending his dynasty.

Jezebel is drawing upon history and focusing on these similarities for what I believe is a very shrewd and daring attempt to save herself. Much earlier, after the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel. As they entered the city, I believe that Elijah expected to see Jezebel’s life ended, or at the very least, her control over Ahab and Israel terminated. We are not given many details, and so what I am about to say is speculation, and I must warn you about this. Nevertheless, I think that there may be some basis for what I am about to suggest as a possibility.

We know that Elijah and Ahab both reached Jezreel, and we have every reason to believe that Elijah expected some type of coup. Instead, we know that Jezebel issued a threat, one that Elijah took very seriously. And if his words reflect reality, he believed that not only Jezebel, but the “sons of Israel” were out to kill him (1 Kings 19:10, 14). How was this one woman able to convince Elijah that she would prevail, so that he was the one who fled, rather than she? I would simply say that this was one tough woman, who knew how to bluff. She was able to convince Elijah that she not only spoke for herself (and, of course, her husband), but for all Israel. If she said he was going to die, then the people of Israel would see to it.

I believe this is precisely what she is doing once again in 2 Kings 9. Ahab is dead, and now Jehu has just killed her son, Joram. Ahaziah has fled, and she alone is left to defend the throne and to seek to save herself. I am inclined to believe that when she leaned out the window as Jehu arrived, she may have been at the very same window from which she “greeted” Ahab and Elijah a number of years earlier. And just as she had managed to frighten Elijah off, I believe she is now attempting to do the same thing with Jehu. For all we know, the gates of the city were closed. It was already known that Jehu had killed Joram and was attempting to seize the throne. As Jehu arrives at the gate, Jezebel leans out the window, not only to speak to Jehu as he seeks to enter the city, but also to be heard by many others who could overhear her conversation with Jehu.

She is insolent, arrogant, and very hostile. She is not trying to seduce Jehu, but to intimidate him. She is also seeking to sway public opinion against Jehu. After all, to become king he must have the support of the people. And so by calling Jehu “Zimri,” Jezebel is seeking to remind those listening (as well as Jehu) of what happened to Zimri, a commander in the Israelite army, when he rebelled against Elah, his king, and killed him. Zimri reigned all of one week, until word reached the army of Israel, and they chose Omri (who just happened to be the father of Ahab, Jezebel’s husband), the head of the current dynasty, to be king instead of Zimri. Omri then surrounded the city of Tirzah, who had fortified himself in the royal palace. The palace was burned, and Zimri with it.

I am persuaded that Jezebel believed her words might find support among those who heard her and might frighten Jehu off, as she had so completely intimidated Elijah years before.163 But she was wrong—dead wrong. It was just as though Jehu had accepted her challenge. Did she imply that he had no support? Then let it be known whether this was the case or not. Jehu looked up to the window and called to ask who was on his side. A couple of the servants who apparently attended Jezebel looked out, as if to indicate that they were siding with Jehu. If this woman was as mean an employer as she was wicked as a queen, no one would have shed any tears at her death. Jehu commanded his supporters, standing by the queen, to throw her out the window, and they did. She fell to the ground, her blood splattering on the wall. He body was then trampled by the horses and was perhaps run over by Jehu’s chariot.

It was an ugly way to die, but her judgment was not yet complete. Jehu entered the city and was served a meal. (It is my guess that he ate in the royal dining room, thereby announcing the fact that he was assuming the throne.) The meal probably took some time to prepare and to eat. Jehu seems to have been in no hurry. Besides, he may have been eating with some of the city officials, who would have been eager to gain his favor.164 But when Jehu had finished his meal, he gave orders for Jezebel’s body to be buried. After all, she was royalty. But when the burial party came back, they told Jehu that there was hardly anything left to bury after the dogs had finished with her. Jehu then confessed that this was nothing less than the fulfillment of the prophecy that Elijah had uttered against her years earlier.

Conclusion

Some may have wondered if Jezebel’s “judgment day” would ever come. Suddenly, God brings judgment upon her, along with two wicked kings, at the same time and in the same place. In recent days, the United States has made a substantial effort to arrest one man—Saddam Hussein. And yet for all these efforts, he has never been captured. They cannot seem to find one man, in one place, but God brought together three people in one place, and at one time, so that all could be judged at the same time. Let us take note of the fact that God’s promises are certain. This is true of His promised blessings, as well as His promised judgment. His promises are sure, and His timing is perfect. As usual, God accomplishes His Word by means that are no less than amazing. Thus, His judgments bring Him glory, just as His blessings do.

Our text should surely serve as a warning to us about our associations. Earlier, king Jehoshaphat of Judah had associated himself with Ahab, king of Israel. This was a bad mistake on Jehoshaphat’s part. He further compounded this sin by making an alliance with Ahab and Jezebel through the marriage of his son to Athaliah, their daughter. Ahaziah lost his life because of his association with Joram. Ungodly relationships not only corrupt you; they can also kill you.

It has taken me some time to notice the difference in the way God dealt with Ahab and the way in which He dealt with Jezebel, Joram, and Ahaziah. Ahab was a very wicked man; there is no doubt about that. But Ahab repented, and God responded to his repentance accordingly. Though Ahab died, and the dogs licked up his blood, he was allowed to die in battle. He took an arrow in the chest, while Joram took his arrow in the back. Nowadays we would say, “Ahab died with his boots on.” In other words, God allowed Ahab to die in battle, with dignity and honor. And even though the dogs licked up his blood, his death was nothing like that of Jezebel.

Jezebel dies in the most dreadful, disgusting, and dishonorable way. Though she would spend great time and effort making up her face before dealing with Jehu, it did her no good in the end. She died by being pushed out of a window, by some of her own attendants. Her blood was splattered for all to see on the city wall. Her body was broken and then consumed by dogs. It doesn’t get much worse than this.

As I was concluding my preparations for this lesson, I noticed that Jezebel is prominent, but the name of Ahab is hardly mentioned. Although Joram and Ahaziah die as well, it is Jezebel who is most prominent in our text. Justice may have come slowly, but it has come suddenly and severely to Jezebel. She died because of her wickedness. We can rightly say, with those saints in Revelation, “She deserved it” (see Revelation 16:6).

Reading about the death of Jezebel caused me to turn back to read again the account of Ahab’s judgment and death. Quite honestly, I was amazed by what I read. Because he let Ben Hadad live, and even made a covenant with him, Ahab was told that he would forfeit his life in exchange for the life of Ben Hadad (1 Kings 20:42-43). The most severe words of condemnation came as a result of Ahab’s involvement in taking the life and the property of Naboth (1 Kings 21:21-24). We are then given this assessment of Ahab’s wickedness:

25 (There had never been anyone like Ahab, who was committed to doing evil before the LORD, egged on by his wife Jezebel. 26 He was so wicked he worshiped the disgusting idols, just like the Amorites whom the LORD had driven out from before the Israelites.) (1 Kings 21:25-26)

Ahab’s repentance is in response to the severe words of judgment that were spoken to him by Elijah. He repents, and God takes his repentance very seriously:

27 When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He slept in sackcloth and walked around dejected. 28 The LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab shows remorse before me? Because he shows remorse before me, I will not bring disaster on his dynasty during his lifetime, but during the reign of his son” (1 Kings 21:27-28).

I cannot help but interpret the manner of Ahab’s death, and the comments after his death, in the light of his repentance and God’s response:

34 Now an archer shot an arrow at random and it struck the king of Israel between the plates of his armor. The king ordered his charioteer, “Turn around and take me from the battle line, for I am wounded.” 35 While the battle raged throughout the day, the king stood propped up in his chariot opposite the Syrians. He died in the evening; the blood from the wound ran down into the bottom of the chariot. 36 As the sun was setting, a cry went through the camp, “Each one should return to his city and to his homeland.” 37 So the king died and was taken to Samaria, where they buried him. 38 They washed off the chariot at the pool of Samaria; dogs licked his blood (this was where the prostitutes bathed), just as the lord had said would happen. 39 The rest of the events of Ahab’s reign, including a record of his accomplishments and how he built a luxurious palace and various cities, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Israel. 40 Ahab passed away. His son Ahaziah replaced him as king (1 Kings 22:34-40).

There is something here that strikes me about this account. After Ahab’s repentance, Ahab’s life is taken, and in such a way that Elijah’s prophecies are precisely fulfilled. Nevertheless, Ahab was allowed to “die with dignity,” in battle with his men. After the author of our text tells us about Ahab’s death and burial, he adds verse 39, which does not reiterate all the sins which Ahab had committed, but rather enumerates some of his accomplishments.

I may be wrong here, but I believe Ahab did truly repent. I’m not so sure that we want to hear this, because he was such a wicked man. We would almost take pleasure in an account of his demise, in a way that was similar to that of his wife, Jezebel. But instead, God delights in his repentance, gives him a noble death, and then calls attention to his achievements.

If we are troubled by the way that God has dealt with Ahab after his repentance, then we are troubled by the fact that He is a gracious God. God’s judgment was severe upon Jezebel, who did not repent. God was gracious to Ahab, because He repented. Is this not the way it will be for every Christian? We are saved, and we go to heaven, not because we are deserving, but because God is gracious. If we have trusted in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for our sins, then the guilt and punishment for our sins has been borne, no matter how many or how great our sins might have been. There is nothing more beautiful to the ears of the believer than the words of grace. There is nothing more loathsome to the ears of an unbeliever than the words of grace.

God was gracious to Ahab, and He was severe with Jezebel. She got what she deserved; Ahab did not, because he repented of his sins and trusted in God. When I compare the death of Ahab with that of Jezebel, Joram, and Ahaziah, I am reminded of this verse in 2 Peter:

8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) 9 —if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment, 10 especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority (2 Peter 2:8-10).

God does know how to deliver the righteous from judgment, and how to reserve the unrighteous for judgment, and our text is ample proof of that. My question to you, my friend, is this: “Are you going to be among the righteous, who are spared from divine judgment, or are you among the wicked, whom God is reserving for punishment?” Sinners often gloat over the fact that God seems to be doing nothing about their sins, and so they feel that they are free to continue to live in sin, without fear of divine judgment. This is folly, as the apostle Peter informs us:

3 Above all, understand this: in the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges 4 and saying, “Where is his promised coming? For ever since our ancestors fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed from water and by water. 6 Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. 9 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare. 11 Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, 12 while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the heavenly bodies will melt away in a blaze! 13 But, according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides (2 Peter 3:3-13).

I pray that you are among the righteous, who eagerly await His coming and His eternal rewards for you.


154 It occurs to me that the threat that so terrifies Elijah is the threat of one woman, Jezebel. And yet when God asks Elijah to explain his actions, he speaks of the threat in the plural (“the sons of Israel,” “they” – see 1 Kings 19:10, 14). It seems as though Jezebel has been able to intimidate Elijah by convincing him that she spoke for the whole nation.

155 The execution of Naboth’s sons is not mentioned in 1 Kings 21, but it is indicated in 2 Kings 9:6. It only stands to reason that Jezebel had his sons killed. After all, they were Naboth’s heirs, who should have received his property after his death.

156 Notice how similar this is to the judgment pronounced on the house of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:11) and Baasha (1 Kings 16:4).

157 Although I now move on to the events of 2 Kings 8:16—9:37, I do wish to comment about the siege of Samaria, as recorded in 2 Kings 6 and 7. Notice that Jezebel is not mentioned. It is my opinion that she is still in the palace in Jezreel. It is interesting, however, that the king’s words in 2 Kings 6:31 sound very much like Jezebel, Joram’s mother.

158 Six times in chapter 9 the question, “Is it well?” (or something very similar, depending on the translation) is asked (9:11, 17, 18, 19, 22, 31). It is asked by the commanders, Joram, and Jezebel. Each time, the Hebrew word “Shalom” is employed.

159 Notice that Elisha’s words very precisely describe the scene that the young prophet will find when he arrives at Ramoth Gilead. The prophet or “seer” once again “sees” what is going to take place.

160 As we will be informed in 9:25-26, this is not the first time Jehu has heard these words, or those which were very similar. He and his chariot driver were actually there when Elijah spoke these words to Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard.

161 There are discrepancies between this account and that of 2 Chronicles 22:9, but these apparent inconsistencies are not without explanation. See Paul R. House, 1, 2, Kings (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1995), p. 290.

162 This “Jehu” is not the Jehu of 2 Kings 9 and 10. He is a prophet who was earlier sent to predict the destruction of the house of Baasha. The fact that this prophet and the later king of Israel have the same name is an interesting coincidence.

163 I am inclined to think that Jezebel’s finest efforts to intimidate Jehu had just the opposite effect. Her bitter words prompted Jehu to have her thrown from the window, and they may very well have suggested to him the measures he would need to take to gain public support, which Zimri lacked. The events that follow might suggest that what Jehu did next came, to some degree, at Jezebel’s unwitting prompting.

164 We know from 2 Kings 10:11 that Jehu will soon execute all the leaders of Jezreel who supported Ahab. Would he have learned their identity at the meal?

Related Topics: Character Study