This is the second part on my study of Jehu, king of Israel. This study is divided into two parts. Part one, “Jehu: His Leadership and Legacy,” was an overview of the political and religious crises that prompted the prophetic community of the Northern Kingdom to take action and plan the overthrow of the Omrides. The second part of this study, the present post, deals with Jehu’s anointing and the actions he took in order to eliminate Jezebel and the members of Ahab’s family.
The anointing of Jehu took place while he was with the army at Ramoth Gilead in preparation for war with Hazael, king of Syria (2 Kings 9:1-13). At that time Elisha gave orders to one of his servants to anoint Jehu as king. Elisha’s messenger came to where Jehu was meeting with his officers; he took Jehu apart, poured oil on his head and anointed him king over the Lord’s people Israel (2 Kings 9:6). This statement serves to identify Israel as God’s people, in contradistinction to those who worshiped Baal. Then, in the name of Elisha, the messenger gave Jehu the order to utterly destroy the house of Ahab to avenge the innocent blood shed by Ahab and Jezebel. After the prophet left, Jehu declared to his fellow officers what had just happened. The officers hastily spread their garments for Jehu to stand on, blew the trumpets and proclaimed: Jehu is king (9:7).
Jehu began to carry out his mission immediately. He set off, together with a group of his horsemen, to Jezreel, where Joram (also known as Jehoram), a grandson of Ahab, king of Israel, was recovering from a wound that he had received in battle (2 Kings 9:17-24). When Joram was told that Jehu was driving his chariot “furiously,” Joram sent messengers to Jehu, asking, “Is it peace?” When the messengers did not return, Joram, together with his cousin Ahaziah, king of Judah, went to meet Jehu. When Joram asked, “Is it peace?” Jehu responded by denouncing the sins of Jezebel. At this Joram cried: “It is treason, Ahaziah.” When Joram turned to escape, Jehu drew his bow and shot Joram in the back and the arrow pierced his heart and Joram died on his chariot. Jehu commanded his aide Bidkar to take Joram’s body and throw it in the field that belonged to Naboth. This action fulfilled the oracle of Elijah concerning the death of Ahab’s house.
Jehu then proceeded to kill Ahaziah, king of Judah, the son of Athaliah (9:27-29). When Ahaziah saw that Jehu had killed Joram, Ahaziah fled but Jehu’s men caught up with him and wounded him (2 Kings 9:27). Ahaziah once again escaped, but he died in Megiddo of his wounds. Ahaziah’s body was taken to Jerusalem by his aides, where he was buried in the tomb of the kings.
The Death of Ahab’s Family
After having killed Joram and Ahaziah, Jehu went to Jezreel to deal with Jezebel, the queen-mother. Jezebel, when told what had happened, prepared to meet her death with dignity: she painted her eyes, arranged her hair, and put on her royal garments. Her defiance in the face of death is seen in her insulting words to Jehu from the window of the royal residence: “Have you come in peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master?” Jezebel’s words refer to the murderous actions of Zimri who usurped the throne by killing the family of Baasha. Without an answer, Jehu asked some palace officials to throw Jezebel down from the window. When Jezebel’s body hit the ground, her blood splattered on the wall and on the horses. Jehu drove his horses and his chariots over her body, and then, he entered the palace to eat. Later, when his men went to bury Jezebel, they only found her skull, her feet, and her hands. The rest of her body was eaten by dogs. When Jehu was told what had happened, he recollected the words of the Lord to Elijah that dogs would eat the body of Jezebel in Jezreel (2 Kings 9:36-37; see 1 Kings 21:23).
Jehu continued the purge of Ahab’s family by sending letters to guardians of the seventy sons and grandsons of Ahab who lived in Samaria. His asked them to select one of the descendants of Ahab, make him king and be prepared to fight and defend the kingdom. Terrified of the possible outcome of a resistence, the rulers of the cities and the guardians of the royal heirs submitted themselves to Jehu. Jehu then sent a second letter asking for the heads of Ahab’s descendants. The city officials decapitated the descendants of Ahab, put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu at Jezreel. The heads were then pilled up in two heaps and placed at the city gate until morning. The next day Jehu began to kill those associated with Ahab: “So Jehu killed everyone in Jezreel who remained of the house of Ahab, as well as all his chief men, his close friends, his priests, leaving him no survivors” (2 Kings 10:11).
After eliminating the family of Ahab, Jehu set out to go to Samaria. On his way to Samaria he met forty-two relatives of Ahaziah, all members of the royal house of Judah who were going to Jezreel to visit Jezebel and the members of her family. Jehu ordered his men to kill them and place their bodies in a cistern near Beth Eked (2 Kings 10:12-14).
Before Jehu reached Samaria, he met Jehonadab, the son of Rechab. Jehonadab was the leader of the Rechabites, a group of people who remained faithful to the old traditions of the religion of Yahweh. Because of the Rechabites’s commitment of loyalty to Yahweh, Jehu invited Jehonadab to join him in his quest to purify the religion of Yahweh. Jehonadab accepted the invitation and together they went to Samaria to confront the worshipers of Baal. When Jehu arrived in Samaria, he killed all the relatives of Ahab who were living in Samaria.
Once in Samaria, Jehu proceeded to eliminate the worshipers of Baal. Pretending to be a follower of Baal, Jehu organized a great celebration for Baal. Jehu invited the priests, prophets, and worshipers of Baal from throughout the land of Israel. When all the worshipers were inside the temple of Baal, Jehu gave orders to his soldiers, eighty of them, to kill all those related to the worship of Baal. The worshipers of Baal were slaughtered, the temple of Baal was torn down, the sacred objects were destroyed, and Jehu desecrated the holy place by making the temple a latrine for common use.
God’s Judgment on Jehu
God honored the work of Jehu by promising him that his dynasty would last four generations: “Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation” (2 Kings 10:30). Yet, because of Jehu’s excessive shedding of blood, and the excessive violence in accomplishing his mission, Yahweh began to bring his judgment upon the house of Jehu and upon the kingdom of Israel (10:32). The rest of Jehu’s reign is occupied with his wars against Syria. He also had to deal with the loss of territory on the east side of the Jordan. In addition, Jehu became a vassal of Assyria, and had to present himself before Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria, with his tribute. The indignity of this submission is that Shalmaneser calls Jehu “the son of Omri.” However, the most profound word of judgment upon Jehu’s selfish ambition and violent nature comes from God himself: “I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel” (Hosea 1:4). The indignity of Jehu paying a tribute to the king of Assyria to secure the throne that God had given to him demonstrates that in doing the work of God, one is responsible and accountable for the work done.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Elisha, Jehu, Jezebel,