ZEAL FOR THE LORD WITHOUT WHOLEHEARTED OBEDIENCE UNDERMINES JEHU’S RECORD OF REFORMS
It’s possible to be zealous for the Lord but with impure motives. Jehu is an example of a powerful leader who is blessed by God with improbable victories, yet fails to act from pure motives and fails to put a priority on wholehearted obedience across the spectrum of covenant obligations. He focuses on the task at hand in terms of carrying out the divine prophecy regarding the judgment against the house of Ahab. But he falls short of earning full commendation from the Lord for his overall motives and actions (cf. Hosea 1:4 where Jehu is called out for excessive bloodshed in his purge of Ahab’s household at Jezreel).
Donald Wiseman: The history is here concerned to show the zeal of Jehu, acting as the divine agent, to obliterate completely all descendants and relatives of Ahab and Amaziah who might perpetuate evil of any type in opposition to God in both Israel and Judah (vv. 1-14). Jehu also acted to forestall any continuing blood feud and to protect his newly founded dynasty. He also massacred Baal worshippers in Samaria (vv. 15-27). These actions were considered to go beyond Jehu’s remit and were severely disapproved by Hosea (Hosea 1:4).
Knapp: The great lesson to be drawn from this remarkable man’s life is that of being constantly on guard, as servants of God, lest we be found doing His work – whether it be in the exercise of discipline, or the accomplishment of reformation – in a spirit of unbrokenness and without due exercise of heart and conscience between Him who is ‘a God of judgment,’ and by whom ‘actions are weighed.’
Dale Ralph Davis: If we cannot dispute Jehu we may be tempted to question Yahweh. Why does he work like this? Why does he allow the gore of man to carry out the will of God? Couldn’t he operate in a cleaner way? Perhaps. But we must remember two points. First, the Bible shows that God frequently works, we might say, indirectly—through human instruments, and, unlike surgeons, God has no sterilized instruments; all of them are flawed and many of them opportunistic, self-serving Jehus. So God uses wicked people to carry out his divine design. Second, this is a situation involving the judgment of God, and it is very difficult to make judgment pleasant.
William Barnes: Alas, the killing continues in what Cogan and Tadmor (1988:117) have described as the “longest sustained narrative in 2 Kings” (the entirety of the Jehu tradition in chs 9–10). The penetrating intensity of the present narration equals that of the main protagonist, Jehu himself. This passage presents the relentless, wholesale extermination of anyone, relative or friend, who could possibly bring back Ahab’s dynasty (or properly, Omri’s dynasty; or even stand up in its defense (thus the eventual killing of all the relatives and friends of King Ahaziah of Judah in 10:12–14). As is often said, the best defense is a good offense, and Jehu is clearly very much on the offensive here. But even by Old Testament standards, the violence seems extreme. . . But for the present, the perverse brilliance of Jehu’s fanatic excesses is mainly meant to be noticed and, in a strange sense, appreciated.
August Konkel: The destruction of Ahab’s house is described in two episodes. The first episode deals with the purging of the entire royal family while Jehu is still in Jezreel (10:1–11). The second describes two events on the road to Samaria (vv. 12–17); these serve as a literary transition to the elimination of the house of Baal in Samaria. The first event is an encounter with royal members of Judah (vv. 12–14) and provides an opportunity for Jehu to eliminate all opposition from the house of Ahaziah. Jehu then meets an enigmatic Jehonadab, described as a Recabite, who allies with him against Baalism (vv. 15–16). Upon his arrival in Samaria, Jehu executes all who remain of the house of Ahab in order to eliminate all sources of resistance to his rule (v. 17). Both massacres are justified with an appeal to the word of Elijah being fulfilled (vv. 10, 17).
I. (:1-11) PURGING OF ROYAL FAMILY OF AHAB IN JEZREEL
A. (:1-5) Securing the Submission of Rivals to Power
1. (:1a) Family of Ahab = Potential for Opposition
“Now Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria.”
2. (:1b-3) First Letter – Challenging Jezreel’s Appetite for Defiance
“And Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria, to the rulers of Jezreel, the elders, and to the guardians of the children of Ahab, saying, 2 ‘And now, when this letter comes to you, since your master’s sons are with you, as well as the chariots and horses and a fortified city and the weapons, 3 select the best and fittest of your master’s sons, and set him on his father’s throne, and fight for your master’s house.’”
MacArthur: Realizing potential conflict existed between himself and Ahab’s family, Jehu was demanding that Ahab’s appointed officials either fight to continue the royal line of Ahab or select a new king from Ahab’s descendants who would fight Jehu in battle to decide which family would rule Israel (cf. 1Sa 17:8,9; 2Sa 2:9).
Peter Pett: The ‘sons’ (descendants) of Ahab were all to be found in Samaria which still remained to be captured, and Jehu had to decide how to go about the taking of the city. His letter was in fact almost certainly intended to be an ultimatum. Either they could surrender to him, or they could appoint a king from the seed royal. As Jehoram of Israel had probably succeeded to the throne at a young age (his father Ahaziah had only reigned for about a year – 1 Kings 22:51), and had only reigned for twelve years, the seed royal would all be minors. Thus their choice lay between a seasoned warrior, supported by the army, or a king who was young and inexperienced with only the support of Samaria behind him. Recognising the strength of the rebellion, which included all the active army commanders, and was almost certainly supported by the common people who had nothing but hatred for the foreign innovations of Jezebel, the leading men in Samaria decided on the most sensible way out. They would surrender on Jehu’s terms, terms which would not in fact have come as any surprise to them for the reasons mentioned above.
William Barnes: The name Ahab is not found in the original, which simply reads “put him on the throne of his father” (who was Ahab). Strictly speaking, Ahab’s father Omri was the founder of the dynasty, but time and again it is the name Ahab that the narrator uses to designate that line of kings (cf. 1 Kgs 21:29).
3. (:4) Fear Exaggerated by the Demise of the Two Kings
“But they feared greatly and said, ‘Behold, the two kings did not stand before him; how then can we stand?’”
Jehu actually did not have a very strong army. He would have faced a difficult battle if the inhabitants of Jezreel had decided to fight. He was able to bluff his way through the situation as his providential executions of the two kings was perceived as a show of stronger forces than he actually commanded.
4. (:5) Final Unconditional Surrender
“And the one who was over the household, and he who was over the city, the elders, and the guardians of the children, sent word to Jehu, saying, ‘We are your servants, all that you say to us we will do, we will not make any man king; do what is good in your sight.’”
MacArthur: These two officials were the palace administrator and the city governor, probably the commander of the city’s fighting force. These officials and leaders transferred their allegiance from the house of Omri to Jehu.
Wiersbe: Three different groups of leaders had to unite on this decision, and these men knew that Jehu had killed two kings and disposed of Jezebel. Furthermore, he seemed invincible, for nobody had stood in his way. The message they sent to Jehu at Jezreel was one of complete unconditional surrender. They promised to do whatever he commanded and they agreed not to name a new king. In short, they accepted Jehu as their king.
B. (:6-11) Slaughtering the Potential Rivals in Gruesome Fashion
1. (:6a) Second Letter – Challenging their Loyalty
“Then he wrote a letter to them a second time saying, ‘If you are on my side, and you will listen to my voice, take the heads of the men, your master’s sons, and come to me at Jezreel tomorrow about this time.’”
Peter Pett: Jehu could, of course, have demanded that they be handed over alive, but he wanted the responsibility for the executions to fall squarely on the people themselves. This was a wise move politically, for it ensured that in future the direct blame could not be laid at his door. It would mean that they would be seen to have cooperated with him in it.
2. (:6b-7) Slaughter of King’s Sons Executed
“Now the king’s sons, seventy persons, were with the great men of the city, who were rearing them. 7 And it came about when the letter came to them, that they took the king’s sons, and slaughtered them, seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets, and sent them to him at Jezreel.”
Trapp: This was suitable to Ahab’s sin. He had sent for baskets of grapes out of Naboth’s vineyard at Jezreel; and now the heads of his sons are brought thither in baskets.
3. (:8-10) Spectacle and Speech
a. (:8) Spectacle to Intimidate Opponents
“When the messenger came and told him, saying, ‘They have brought the heads of the king’s sons,’ he said, ‘Put them in two heaps at the entrance of the gate until morning.’”
MacArthur: The practice of piling the heads of conquered subjects at the city gate was common in the ancient Near East, especially by the Assyrians. The practice was designed to dissuade rebellion.
b. (:9) Speech to Vindicate His Actions
“Now it came about in the morning, that he went out and stood, and said to all the people, ‘You are innocent; behold, I conspired against my master and killed him, but who killed all these?’”
John Gates: He sought to give the impression that he had nothing to do with this massacre, alleging that, although the seventy died by their act, yet they died because of the sentence of Elijah’s prediction.
Peter Pett: it is clear that his main purpose was to vindicate his own actions, while seeking to maintain their (possibly reluctant) approval, in the light of what he was going to do next. For having dealt with all possible claimants to the throne in Samaria, he was now about to remove all supporters of Ahab’s house in Jezreel.
Donald Wiseman: Jehu, in a formal assembly (stood before all the people), either absolved the people from blame for the holocaust (you are innocent, Heb. ‘righteous’) on the grounds that it was a fore-ordained action or put the onus on them to decide whether his action had their approval (‘you are fair judges. If I conspired against my master and killed him, who put all these to death?’ neb), thus they had already implicated themselves.
c. (:10) Support Cited from Elijah’s Prophecy of Judgment
“Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the LORD, which the LORD spoke concerning the house of Ahab, for the LORD has done what He spoke through His servant Elijah.”
4. (:11) Savage Bloodshed Beyond the Scope of God’s Mandate
“So Jehu killed all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men and his acquaintances and his priests, until he left him without a survivor.”
MacArthur: Jehu went beyond God’s mandate and executed all of Ahab’s officials, a deed for which God later judged Jehu’s house (cf. Hos 1:4).
House: Jehu’s killings exceed reform and become atrocities, … a fact Hos 1:4-5 makes clear. Eventually, Jehu becomes very much like those he replaces, which makes him more of a political opportunist than a catalyst for change.
II. (:12-17) PURGING OF RELATIVES OF AHAZIAH AND SUPPORTERS OF AHAB IN SAMARIA
A. (:12-14) Purging of Relatives of Ahaziah on Road to Samaria
1. (:12a) New Target
“Then he arose and departed, and went to Samaria.”
2. (:12b-13) Unsuspecting Relatives of Ahaziah
“On the way while he was at Beth-eked of the shepherds, 13 Jehu met the relatives of Ahaziah king of Judah and said, ‘Who are you?’ And they answered, ‘We are the relatives of Ahaziah; and we have come down to greet the sons of the king and the sons of the queen mother.’”
3. (:14) Collateral Damage
“And he said, ‘Take them alive.’ So they took them alive, and killed them at the pit of Beth-eked, forty-two men; and he left none of them.”
Wiersbe: He then left Jezreel and went to Samaria to claim his throne. On the way, he met a group of travelers who were going to Jerusalem to visit King Ahaziah, who was related to them. They didn’t know that King Ahaziah, King Joram, and Queen Jezebel were all dead and that Jehu had killed them and was now in charge. Since Ahaziah had married into Ahab’s family (8:18), it seemed logical to Jehu that anybody related to Ahaziah belonged to the enemy, so he had all forty-two men slain. But these men weren’t related by blood to Ahab; they were descendants of David! Jehu was now attacking the Davidic dynasty! (See 2 Chron. 22:8.)
B. (:15-17) Purging of Supporters of Ahab in Samaria with Jehonadab’s Complicity
1. (:15) Soliciting the Support of Jehonadab
“Now when he had departed from there, he met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him; and he greeted him and said to him, ‘Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?’ And Jehonadab answered, ‘It is.’ Jehu said, ‘If it is, give me your hand.’ And he gave him his hand, and he took him up to him into the chariot.”
Wiersbe: Jehu now encountered an ally, Jehonadab the Rechabite, and used him to give respectability to his own ambitions. The Rechabites were a people that belonged to Kenites, the descendants of Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab (Judg. 4:11). They identified with the tribe of Judah (Judg. 1:16) but stayed to themselves and followed the traditions laid down by their ancestors (Jer. 35). They were respected highly by the Jewish people, but, being nomads and tent-dwellers, the Rechabites were separated from the everyday city life and politics of the Jews.
Jehonadab was just the kind of man Jehu needed to make his crusade look credible. . . Every ambitious leader needs a respectable second man to help “sell” his policies and practices to the public. It was bad enough that Jehu had begun to murder innocent people, but now he was “using” an innocent man to make his crimes look like the work of the Lord. However, this is the way many unscrupulous leaders operate.
Iain Provan: The theme throughout the chapter is essentially “who is on the Lord’s side, who is in the right?” The leading men of Samaria (who do not side with one of Ahab’s “sons,” claiming him to be “right,” v. 3) and Jehonadab (on his way to meet Jehu, rather than to visit the apostate royal families) are on the right side, and they live; Ahaziah’s relatives and the servants of Baal are not, and they die.
R. D. Patterson: Jehonadab was the leader of an aesthetic group that lived an austere, nomadic life in the desert, drinking no wine and depending solely on the Lord for their sustenance. Separatist to the core and strong patriots, they lived in protest to the materialism and religious compromise in Israel.
2. (:16) Sanctioning His Brutality under the Guise of Zeal for the Lord
“And he said, ‘Come with me and see my zeal for the LORD.’
So he made him ride in his chariot.”
Matthew Henry: This [“see my zeal for the LORD,” v. 16] is commonly taken as giving cause to suspect that the zeal he [Jehu] pretended for the Lord was really zeal for himself and his own advancement. For,
(1) He boasted of it, and spoke as if God and man were mightily indebted to him for it.
(2) He desired it might be seen and taken notice of, like the Pharisees, who did all to be seen of men.
Knapp: His ostentatious display of his reforming zeal revealed how little he had God’s glory in mind in the midst of all his feverish activity and abolition.
3. (:17) Slaughtering the Remaining Ahab Loyalists in Samaria
“And when he came to Samaria, he killed all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, until he had destroyed him, according to the word of the LORD, which He spoke to Elijah.”
III. (:18-28) PURGING OF BAAL WORSHIPERS IN SAMARIA
A. (:18-21) Deceptive Gathering of the Prophets and Priests of Baal
1. (:18) Claim of Loyalty to Baal Worship
“Then Jehu gathered all the people and said to them, ‘Ahab served Baal a little; Jehu will serve him much.’”
2. (:19) Collecting All the Baal Worshipers for Slaughter
“’And now, summon all the prophets of Baal, all his worshipers and all his priests; let no one be missing, for I have a great sacrifice for Baal; whoever is missing shall not live.’ But Jehu did it in cunning, in order that he might destroy the worshipers of Baal.”
Peter Pett: That Jehu went far beyond what YHWH had required comes out here. Not satisfied with a thorough purge in Samaria, Jehu now turned his attention to the rest of the country. His purpose now was to root out all the foreign influence of Jezebel and her cult of the Phoenician Baal, and he performed his task meticulously and mercilessly, without giving any opportunity for repentance. This was not YHWH’s way. And by it he was unwittingly destroying Israel’s superstructure, for these Baal worshippers were a major part of the aristocracy which ruled the land. It cannot be denied that he had a ‘zeal for YHWH’, but as will be subsequently made clear it was not in accordance with righteousness (with living rightly by the covenant). For he was returning Israel, not to the true and pure worship of YHWH deserted by Jeroboam the son of Nebat and all the kings who had succeeded him, but to Jeroboam’s own syncretistic form of Yahwism, one that was abominated by YHWH Himself. YHWH’s final verdict on Jehu would not be one of approval. Instead of being seen as submitting to YHWH and His prophets, he was seen as having chosen the way of Jeroboam, a way that would lead to Israel’s final destruction.
William Barnes: Cunning, clever, effective, all-encompassing—these are proper characterizations of Jehu’s actions as he successfully exterminates every single prophet, priest, and minister of Baal he can find.
3. (:20) Calling for a Special Worship Service
“And Jehu said, ‘Sanctify a solemn assembly for Baal.’ And they proclaimed it.”
4. (:21) Confining All in the House of Baal
“Then Jehu sent throughout Israel and all the worshipers of Baal came, so that there was not a man left who did not come. And when they went into the house of Baal, the house of Baal was filled from one end to the other.”
B. (:22-23) Distinguishing Between Worshipers of Baal and Servants of the Lord
1. (:22) Dressing the Baal Worshipers in Special Garments
“And he said to the one who was in charge of the wardrobe, ‘Bring out garments for all the worshipers of Baal.’ So he brought out garments for them.”
John Gates: Jehu allayed the people’s suspicions by pretending to worship Baal. This act, which was one of his falsehoods, showed his bloodthirstiness. … But Jehu did it in subtlety. Jehu planned a trap. The garments (v. 22) were to make it easier to identify the priests of Baal. Gathering them in the outer-court confines of the Temple (v. 21) made it easier to effect their death. … Only the priests of Baal were to be put to death. Jehu intended to break the power of Ahab’s dynasty completely by removing these adherents, and he hoped at the same time to gain the support of those loyal to Israel’s God, thus securing his own position.
2. (:23) Dismissing All of the Servants of the Lord
“And Jehu went into the house of Baal with Jehonadab the son of Rechab; and he said to the worshipers of Baal, ‘Search and see that there may be here with you none of the servants of the LORD, but only the worshipers of Baal.’”
C. (:24-28) Destroying Baal Worshipers and Temple
1. (:24a) Cloaking Destruction in Deception
“Then they went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings.”
2. (:24b) Confining the Targeted Enemy for Eradication
“Now Jehu had stationed for himself eighty men outside, and he had said, ‘The one who permits any of the men whom I bring into your hands to escape, shall give up his life in exchange.’”
3. (:25-27) Killing and Executing Destruction and Desecration
“Then it came about, as soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the royal officers, ‘Go in, kill them; let none come out.’ And they killed them with the edge of the sword; and the guard and the royal officers threw them out, and went to the inner room of the house of Baal. 26 And they brought out the sacred pillars of the house of Baal, and burned them. 27 They also broke down the sacred pillar of Baal and broke down the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.”
Donald Wiseman: The person who made the sacrifice is not stated, it may be indefinite (‘one made’), niv supplies Jehu. The text does not say that Jehu acted as sacrificing priest (cf. 1 Kgs 8:5).
Constable: Jehu also converted the temple of Baal into a public latrine, the greatest possible insult to Baal, the god of fertility. His act made Baal’s temple an unclean place as well. Jehu thus effectively eradicated the Baal worship that Ahab and Jezebel had officially established as Israel’s religion.
4. (:28) Eradicating Baal out of Israel
“Thus Jehu eradicated Baal out of Israel.”
Iain Provan: Baal-worship in Israel is officially at an end. It has neither royal patronage nor royal tolerance.
MacArthur: Jehu rid the northern kingdom of royally sanctioned Baal worship. It was done, however, not from spiritual and godly motives, but because Jehu believed that Baalism was inextricably bound to the dynasty and influence of Ahab. By its extermination, he thought he would kill all the last vestiges of Ahab loyalists and incur the support of those in the land who worshiped the true God. Jonadab didn’t know of that motive, so he concurred with what Jehu did.
Wiersbe: Jehu’s plan worked and enabled him in one day to wipe out Baal worship in the land. By lying to the people, he accumulated a larger crowd of Baal worshipers than if he had gone after them one by one, but it’s unfortunate that his first public act as king in Samaria was an act of deception. Would anybody trust him after that?
Peter Pett: What he had done, however, had gone considerably beyond YHWH’s remit to him, and it will be noted that no opportunity had been given for any to return to YHWH. That was not YHWH’s way. Furthermore by his action Jehu had undoubtedly destroyed the very foundations of Israel’s bureaucracy, and decimated its leadership, undermining the strength and stability of the country. It was no wonder that as a result he had to yield fealty to, and pay tribute to, Shalmaneser III of Assyria, something which we learn from Assyrian inscriptions. Another alternative open to him would have been total commitment to YHWH. Then Elisha would have been with him and things would have been very different. But such a commitment he was not willing to make, as we will now learn. And had he genuinely been walking closely with YHWH he would undoubtedly not have slaughtered so many.
IV. (:29-36) SUMMARY EVALUATION OF JEHU’S REIGN
A. (:29-31) Wavering between Success and Failure
1. (:29) Failure
“However, as for the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat,
which he made Israel sin, from these Jehu did not depart,
even the golden calves that were at Bethel and that were at Dan.”
2. (:30) Success
“And the LORD said to Jehu, ‘Because you have done well in executing
what is right in My eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according
to all that was in My heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit
on the throne of Israel.’”
3. (:31) Failure
“But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the LORD,
the God of Israel, with all his heart;
he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel sin.”
R. D. Patterson: Jehu was to prove a disappointment to God; for his reform was soon seen to be political and selfish rather than born of any deep concern for God (v. 31). Not only did he not keep the law in his heart, but he perpetuated the state cultus of the golden calf established by Jeroboam I (v. 29). Therefore God allowed the Arameans to plunder and reduce systematically the size of Israel, beginning with the loss of Israel’s Transjordanian holdings (vv. 32-33).
Donald Wiseman: He seems to have been driven more by a political desire to secure his own position on the throne of the Northern Kingdom than by a desire to serve the LORD. In this he was guilty of using God’s judgment on the house of Ahab to satisfy his self-interest.
• Jehu carried out God’s will, but he went too far and executed more people than God intended.
• Jehu carried out God’s will, but he did it for personal glory and out of pride.
• Jehu carried out God’s will, but he only did it partially. He stopped the idolatry of Baal, but he continued the sinful idolatry of Jeroboam.
B. (:32-33) Weakening of the Kingdom
“In those days the LORD began to cut off portions from Israel; and Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: 33 from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites and the Reubenites and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the valley of the Arnon, even Gilead and Bashan.”
MacArthur: Because Jehu failed to keep the Lord’s law wholeheartedly (v. 31), the Lord punished him by giving Israel’s land E of the Jordan River to Syria. This lost region was the homeland of the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh (Nu 32:1-42).
Donald Wiseman: Meanwhile the Arameans took advantage of the new political situation in Israel and the cessation of pressure from the Assyrians, engaged elsewhere, to reduce or ‘make gashes in’ (mt) Israelite territory making attacks on their northern border and regaining land east of Jordan which had been so often the area of contention between them.
August Konkel: The Deuternomistic History is not an account of victory over evil but one of being caught in a cycle of evil. The old covenant fails; Jehu is further testimony to its failure. The prophet Jeremiah declares that the failure of the old covenant will inaugurate the new covenant (Jer. 31:31). Under this new covenant, victory over evil and the powers of darkness will be achieved by God’s power in ways most unlike the motives and tactics of Jehu.
C. (:34-35) Summary Touchpoints
1. (:34) Recorded Deeds
“Now the rest of the acts of Jehu and all that he did and all his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”
2. (:35a) Death and Burial
“And Jehu slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria.”
3. (:35b) Succession
“And Jehoahaz his son became king in his place.”
4. (:36) Length of His Reign
“Now the time which Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria was
William Barnes: Still, we are also reminded that Jehu did enjoy a relatively long reign and that he was afforded a proper burial in his capital city, with his son Jehoahaz securely on the throne (eventualities quite different from those experienced by his predecessor). Earlier we were also reminded that his dynasty would endure (and, as we will later see, even at times flourish) for four generations—a generous span of history by the brutal standards of the ancient Near East. Such is our final impression of this strangely bold, clearly gifted, but bizarrely zealous king, who did not bring shalom [TH7965, ZH8934] (peace) but rather mirmah [TH4820, ZH5327] (treachery) to the land of Israel. . .