2 Kings 9-10
1 Then Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins, and take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth-gilead. 2 And when you arrive, look there for Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi; and go in and bid him rise from among his fellows, and lead him to an inner chamber. 3 Then take the flask of oil, and pour it on his head, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and flee; do not tarry.”
4 So the young man, the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead. 5 And when he came, behold, the commanders of the army were in council; and he said, “I have an errand to you, 0 commander.” And Jehu said, “To which of us all?” And he said, “To you, 0 commander.” 6 So he arose, and went into the house; and the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. 7 And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. 8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 9 And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. 10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.” Then he opened the door, and fled.
14 Thus Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi conspired against Joram. (Now Joram with all Israel had been on guard at Ram oth-gilead against Hazael king of Syria; 15 but King Joram had reiurned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds which the Syrians had given him, when he fought with Hazael king of Syria.) So Jehu said, “If this is your mind, then let no one slip out of the city to go and tell the news in Jezreel.” 16 Then Jehu mounted his chariot, and went to Jezreel, for Joram lay there. And Ahaziah king of Judah had come down to visit Joram.
17 Now the watchman was standing on the tower in Jezreel, and he spied the company of Jehu as he came, and said, “I see a company.” And Joram said, “Take a horseman, and send to meet them, and let him say, ‘Is it peace?’ ” 18 So a man on horseback went to meet him, and said, “Thus says the king, ‘Is it peace?’ “And Jehu said, “What have you to do with peace? Turn round and ride behind me.” And the watchman reported, saying, “The messenger reached them, but he is not coming back.” 19 Then he sent out a second horseman, who came to them and said, “Thus the king has said, ‘Is it peace?’ And Jehu answered, “What have you to do with peace? Turn round and ride behind me.” 20 Again the watchman reported, “He reached them, but he is not coming back. And the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he drives furiously.”
21 Joram said, “Make ready.” And they made ready his chariot. Then Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah set out, each in his chariot, and met him at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite. 22 And when Joram saw Jehu, he said, “Is it peace, jehu?” He answered, “What peace can there be, so long as the harlotries and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?” 23 Then Joram reined about and fled, saying to Ahaziah, “Treachery, 0 Ahaziah.” 24 And~Jehu drew his bow with his full strength, and shot Joram between the shoulders, so that the arrow pierced his heart, and he sank in his chariot. 25 Jehu said to Bidkar his aide, “Take him up, and cast him on the plot of ground belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite; for remember when you and I rode side by side behind Ahab his father, how the Lord uttered this oracle against him: 26 ‘As surely as I saw yesterday the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons—says the Lord—I will requite you on this plot of ground.’ Now therefore take him up and cast him on the plot of ground, in accordance with the word of the Lord.”
27 When Ahaziah the king of Judah saw this, he fled in the direction of Beth-haggan. And Jehu pursued him, and said, “Shoot him also”; and they shot him in the chariot at the ascent of Gur, which is by Ibleam. And he fled to Megiddo, and died there. 28 His servants carried him in a chariot to Jerusalem, and buried him in his tomb with his fathers in the city of David.
29 In the eleventh year of Joram the son of Ahab, Ahaziah began to reign over Judah.
30 When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window. 31 And as Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master?” 32 And he lifted up his face to the window, and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. 33 He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down; and some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, and they trampled on her. 34 Then he went in and ate and drank; and he said, “See now to this cursed woman, and bury her; for she is a king’s daughter.” 35 But when they went to bury her, they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. 36 When they came back and told him, he said, “This is the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, ‘In the territory of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel; 37 and the corpse of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the territory of Jezreel, so that no one can say, This is Jezebel.’
1 Now Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria. So Jehu wrote letters, and sent them to Samaria, to the rulers of the city, to the elders, and to the guardians of the sons of Ahab, saying, 2 “Now then, as soon as this letter comes to you, seeing your master’s sons are with you, and there are with you chariots and horses, fortified cities also, and 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.” 4 But they were exceedingly afraid, and said, “Behold, the two kings could not stand before him; how then can we stand?” 5 So he who was over the palace, and he who was over the city, together with the elders and the guardians, sent to Jehu, saying, “We are your servants, and we will do all that you bid us. We will not make any one king; do whatever is good in your eyes.” 6 Then he wrote to them a second letter, saying, “If you are on my side, and if you are ready to obey me, take the heads of your master’s sons, and come to me at Jezreel tomorrow at this time.” Now the king’s sons, seventy persons, were with the great men of the city, who were bringing them up. 7 And when the letter came to them, they took the king’s sons, and slew them, seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets, and sent them to him at Jezreel. 8 When the messenger came and told him, “They have brought the heads of the king’s sons,” he said, “Lay them in two heaps at the entrance of the gate until the morning.” 9 Then in the morning, when he went out, he stood, and said to all the people, “You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master, and slew him; but who struck down all these? 10 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 said by his servant Elijah.” 11 So Jehu slew all that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his great men, and his familiar friends, and his priests, until he left him none remaining.
12 Then he set out and went to Samaria. On the way, when he was at Beth-eked of the Shepherds, 13 Jehu met the kinsmen of Ahaziah king of Judah, and he said, “Who are you?” And they answered, “We are the kinsmen of Ahaziah, and we came down to visit the royal princes and the sons of the queen mother.” 14 And he said, “Take them alive.” And they took them alive, and slew them at the pit of Beth-eked, forty-two persons, and he spared none of them.
15 And when he 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 true to my heart as mine is to yours?” And Jehonadab answered, “It is.” Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.” So he gave him his hand. And Jehu took him up with him into the chariot. 16 And he said, “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.” So he had him ride in his chariot. 17 And when he came to Samaria, he slew all that remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke to Elijah.
18 Then Jehu assembled all the people, and said to them, “Ahab served Baal a little; but Jehu will serve him much. 19 Now therefore call to me all the prophets of Baa!, all his worshipers and all his priests; let none be missing, for I have a great sacrifice to offer to Baa!; whoever is missing shall not live.” But Jehu did it with cunning in order to destroy the worshipers of BaaI. 20 And Jehu ordered, “Sanctify a solemn assembly for Baal.” So they proclaimed it. 21 And Jehu sent throughout all Israel; and all the worshipers of Baa! came, so that there was not a man left who did not come. And they entered the house of BaaI, and the house of Baa! was filled from one end to the other. 22 He said to him who was in charge of the wardrobe, “Bring out the vestments for all the worshipers of Baal.” So he brought out the vestments for them. 23 Then 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 is no servant of the Lord here among you, but only the worshipers of Baa!.” 24 Then he went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings.
Now Jehu had stationed eighty men outside, and said, “The man who allows any of those whom I give into your hands to escape shall forfeit his life.” 25 So as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, Jehu said to the guard and to the officers, “Go in and slay them; let not a man escape.” So when they put them to the sword, the guard and the officers cast them out and went into the inner room of the house of Baa! 26 and they brought out the pillar that was in the house of Baa!, and burned it. 27 And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baa!, and made it a latrine to this day.
28 Thus Jehu wiped out Baa! from Israel. 29 But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and in Dan. 30 And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” 31 But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord the God of Israel with all his heart; he did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.
32 In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. 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, that is, Gilead and Bashan. 34 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? 35 So Jehu slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria. And Jehoahaz his son reigned in his stead. 36 The time that Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria was twenty-eight years.
Elisha now carries out the second part of the order given to Elijah. Having nominated Hazael, he anoints Jehu. He again engages in a very definite political action, and this one is also very dramatic and bloody. It is true enough that according to the prophecy those who escape Hazael fall under the sword of Jehu, but the work of these two scourges of God is not the same. Whereas Hazael ravages and slaughters the whole people of Israel and Judah, Jehu exterminates the political elite, all that is represented by Ahab.
In this second movement we shall find that Elisha’s action has the same features. These may be briefly recalled. Elisha simply triggers the political action. He is at the starting-point. He makes a gesture and speaks a word which sets things going with the ineluctability of a machine. He is literally the finger that presses a button and the whole mechanism starts functioning. But then Elisha does not intervene again. He has no part at all in the political action. He does not counsel Jehu. He does not approve or disapprove. He has given a push and opened a door with his word, and then he steps aside and lets things happen. Even the word is remarkable ambiguous. Another point worth noting is that Elisha does not go to find Jehu as he did Hazael. He acts through an intermediary as in the case of Naaman. He sends a son of the prophets, a young man, a prophet’s servant, perhaps a student in the prophetic schools that existed at the time. Elisha acts from a distance. He uses a mouthpiece. This may well mean, as I myself believe, that he is differentiating his action from that of magic. Elisha has often been accused of acting like a magician. It seems to me, however, that the Naaman incident, like this one, should serve to refute this interpretation.
The power which will be expressed does not reside in Elisha. It is not his person which heals or which makes kings. No intrinsic force guarantees what he says and does. Any servant can do as much, for the only task is to transmit a Word of God. Elisha simply knows that God’s will is at issue, and he passes on this will. He does not use any sign or personal power. This is the point of the intermediary. Elisha is the mediator who causes what he knows to be an actual decision of God to be carried out by someone else. One is naturally reminded of the way Jesus acts through his disciples when they are sent to the towns of Judah, or the way Christ acts through his church—a confirmation of the fact that Elisha is a type of Jesus Christ. Now this very employment of an intermediary has a result one might expect. The message is changed. In the same way the Word spoken by God in Christ is undoubtedly modified by the church, and not for the better. What Elisha says to the young man is this: “Lead Jehu to an inner chamber, anoint him with the oil of kingship, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel,’ then flee, do not tarry.” There is nothing more, no address. The message to Jehu is both radical and also very terse. But this is not the way the young man delivers it. Instead of fleeing at once, he gives an address (as the church often does), and he adds on his own invention: “You shall strike down the house of Ahab. . . . I will avenge on Jezebel the blood of the prophets. . . . the whole house of Ahab shall perish, every male, bond or free. . . . The dogs shall eat Jezebel. . . .” In sum, the young man outlines a program of action for Jehu, which is something Elisha does not do. Now the young man is undoubtedly using prophecies of Elijah (1 Kings 21:19-24), but Elisha does not tell him to do this. It is on this false transmission that the whole career of Jehu is based. We are usually struck by the fierce and bloodthirsty character of Jehu, and this is clear enough. But another and no less decisive element should not be missed, namely, that all Jehu’s work is done in a situation of ambiguity and misunderstanding.
He is anointed by God, but in the long run he does nothing but evil wherever he goes. He fulfils prophecies, but he is condemned for so doing. He is a man of God, but he uses all the methods of the devil. We are faced again by a question we have investigated already, that of the coincidence between God’s design and man’s, that of God’s employment of what is bad in man to bring about what he himself wills. Here, for example, there is undoubtedly coincidence between the anointing of Jehu and the existence of a conspiracy among the generals of Joram’s army. In fact, the conspiracy probably existed already. This would explain the immediate support of the generals and their siding with Jehu.
The situation was indeed favorable for a coup d’etat. The army was in the field, the king was wounded and had withdrawn, and the generals had a free hand. Probably Jehu already wanted to seize power and the decision of God passed on by the young man seemed to him to be a sign for action. There is also an obvious coincidence between the work that Jehu is commissioned to do and the glimpses we catch of his temperament. He is clearly a bloodthirsty man, and this not merely by reason of his trade. He is at home in massacres, and we thus see God choosing as the agent of his judgment a man whose temperament corresponds to what is asked of him. If God’s choice often falls on the most incapable, the one who humanly speaking is most remote from what he ordains, here the reverse holds true. And this demonstrates yet again the sovereign liberty of God in all his decisions and choices. Furthermore, when Jehu embarks on his series of massacres, he can undoubtedly say that he is fulfilling prophecies. But all the same his action is like that of any dictator after a coup d’etat. It is the most elementary prudence to destroy and extirpate whatever is connected with the previous regime. The story is told in such a way that no divine will or prophecy plays any part. Nothing has to be changed. Jehu, a usurping general, kills the king and his family, his ministers and governors; he might equally well be Sulla or Hitler. There is thus full coincidence between the normal conduct of the usurper and the decision of God. It is through this normal conduct that the prophecy is fulfilled. On the other hand, a rationalist or unbeliever might well argue that the prophecy is a propagandist justification or ideological cover for the understandable acts of a usurper.
However that may be, Jehu fulfils all that is declared by Elijah’s prophecy. He slays the family of Ahab, King Joram of Israel his son, King Ahaziah of Judah the son of Athaliah, who was a niece of Ahab, Jezebel of course, seventy other sons of Ahab, and the forty-two kinsmen of Ahaziah. He also slays those who have served Ahab, the governors and ministers, leading men and familiar friends resident in Jezreel, whom he accuses of having killed the seventy sons of Ahab. He thus slays all those who have claimed to be his supporters and servants (10:11). Then he slays the remaining politicians in Samaria (10:17). Finally he slays all the priests and worshipers of Baal. In perpetrating these massacres he claims to be fulfilling the prophecy he has heard against Ahab (9:25-26). And he is at pains to fulfil it deliberately and systematically in detail by ordering his officer to take the corpse of Joram and throw it in the field of Naboth, since Elijah had declared that this field would be the place where vengeance was executed. It may be seen that we are now in the presence of something quite different from what usually characterizes the fulfilment of prophecy. There seems to be here a kind of legalistic literalism. In fact Jehu commandeers the prophecy in order to fulfil it. But when the prophecy was first given it was not addressed to Jehu.
It was a general and in some sort objective prophecy. The young man, as we have seen, is the one who tells Jehu it is his task to fulfil this prophecy. This offers a further occasion to reflect on the prophecy. In relation to Ahab and his house it is certainly a judgment of God. But it does not seem to be an explicit order given to a specific man, to Jehu. In this history prophecy will often (though not always) be the announcing of what will happen. God condemns Ahab, and it comes about that his whole house is destroyed. The prophecy is a kind of description of a chain of historical events, but without implying either the express will of God in the event or God’s approval of the one who undertakes to accomplish these events. The prophecy issued against Ahab describes the causal mechanism of evil and violence. When at a moment in history and in a given historical situation evil is initiated by a man or a group, it carries within it its own logic, impetus, and rigor. When evil is done it always introduces an element of ineluctability into human relations and conduct.
The idolatry of Ahab, his worship of bloodthirsty gods (demanding human sacrifices), the unleashing of magical forces by Jezebel, the violence of the king in the massacre of believers in Yahweh—all this sets in motion a logical sequence of events whose flame will finally blow back and consume Ahab himself. In sum, the prophecy seems to be a simple illustration of the teaching of Christ: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). We have here both a divine judgment and also a mechanism of events. Undoubtedly Jehu is the man who executes what God has previously announced. In some sense he is the one who manages the important acts which accomplish the condemnation. But in the last resort he does it all in his own interests. He takes part in the fulfilment of the prophecy, but he does so, one might say, within the order of political logic. The prophecy intimates this unfolding of political logic. Ahab triggers the movement. Jehu, the champion of Yahweh, uses the same weapons as Ahab, the weapons of politics and violence. The chain of events will finally turn against Jehu too, as we shall see.
In this explanation there is no thought of diminishing people at Jezreel, and he begins by declaring: “Men of Israel, people, simple people, you are innocent.” What has happened is not your doing. You have no hand in it. He then says that he himself is guilty: “It was I who conspired against my master and slew him.” This is the greatness of Jehu, his authenticity, his strictness. He is just as strict with himself as with others. But he gives no evidence of repentance like David. With head held high, in pride, he accuses himself and recognizes that he is a traitor and assassin. But then . . . : “who struck down all these?” He is referring to the seventy heads laid out in heaps before the people. “I gave no order that this should be done. The guilty men are there—the ministers of Ahab, the governors of Ahab, the familiar friends of Ahab; these are the murderers of the sons of Ahab.” At Jezreel, then, Jehu makes the innocent people into a kind of people’s tribunal, and he has all these criminals of the household of Ahab executed. We thus see Jehu in the role of an accuser. Once more, he is this in the name of God. But all the same, this man who sets traps, this liar, accuser, and destroyer, has many of the attributes of Satan. We shall not pursue the matter further, but we are confronted here by the question whether all means are good if used to do the will of God I (or propagate the gospel). We shall meet this question again in the final judgment of this dreadful series of events.
All this notwithstanding, Jehu is temporarily, before men, the earthly representative of God, of the true God. He is chosen by God and anointed king on God’s behalf. He declares publicly his allegiance to Yahweh (even if without love). He has a scrupulous regard for the Word of God and the prophecies of God. He wants to obey these and fulfil them. He offers himself to the people as the man who will re-establish God’s rights on earth. He abolishes false gods, idols, and idolatries. He sets up again with due honor the worship of the one God and restores its purity. There can be no questioning his wish to be faithful to God at any cost. When he presents himself, it is simply as the Lord’s anointed. It is from this perspective that the choices he offers are so serious. He demands decision between Baal and Yahweh. When the two messengers sent by Joram meet him and put the question: “Is it peace?” (a translation we prefer to the alternative: “Is all well?”), he replies in both instances: “What have you to do with peace? Turn round and ride behind me.” He then comes to the royal palace. The queen is waiting for him. She has attired herself regally, knowing her last hour has come. She has painted herself to affirm her femininity. She has decided to die as a queen, with nobility and dignity, and as an accuser too: “You Zimri, murderer of your master.” Jezebel does not tremble. She is what she has always been. She rallies herself to put a last derisory question: “Is it peace?” And again Jehu demands a choice. Turning to the servants of the queen, he poses the question: “Who is on my side?”
Three times a choice is demanded, but the “for me” really means “for Yahweh.” What is important is not peace; it is to know which master to choose. And what makes the question so poignant is that the choice for God must be made contrary to all that man may hold to be good. The servants have to betray their master. A wounded man has to be handed over. A woman has to be put to death. Decision must be made for an assassin. The legitimate king of Israel has to be abandoned. Peace has to be despised. This is the choice offered by Jehu. And in fact Jehu, an incarnation of God’s will at this point, claims that the choice for God must transcend all normal ethical considerations. The choice involves that “teleological suspension of the ethical” of which Kierkegaard speaks with reference to the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Jehu is in fact demanding the same choice as that of Abraham. The only thing is that Jehu is not Abraham.
Jehu does not merely want to be a loyal servant of God. He is also endorsed by the most authentic representative of the religion of Yahweh, namely, Jehonadab the son of Rechab. Rechab, as we know, tried to re-establish in full purity the loyalty of Israel to the God of Israel. He believed this loyalty was to be found in the past, in the wilderness period, and in addition to theological orthodoxy he thus instituted an ascetic mode of life (no drinking of wine, no holding of property, a nomadic existence) in order to restore the conditions under which Israel lived in the desert, which were favorable to loyalty to the one God and which were also a witness to confidence in God. The purely spiritual sect that he founded was equally opposed both to rural conservatism with its attachment to Baal and also to urban luxury with its unchecked immorality. For we have to realize that the Baalism of Ahab and his family was not just simple idolatry. It was the “complete organization of a frenzied and orgiastic way of life.” “The worship of Baal was a permanent and perpetual delirium.” This is the setting of Jehonadab’s reaction. Abstinence from wine signifies rejection of frenzy and debauchery. The aim is the triumph of purity in relation to the God of Israel.1
It is easy to criticize the ascetic attitude. But one may do this only if he is prepared to go beyond it and do better. Jehonadab, then, represents the purest belief in Yahweh, and behind the cruelty of Jehu he discerns the inflexible justiciary of divine law, a man like himself, unyielding and ascetic. He also perceives the same concern for purity and singleness of heart in God’s service. He sees that in what is happening there is more than the revolt of an ambitious general. Prophecy is being fulfilled and there is a desire to worship the Lord. He is thus prepared to become Jehu’s ally. And between them they bring about what might be called the religious revolution. All means are to be used to bring the people of Israel back into the right ways of the Lord, of the God who has chosen this people. This presence of Jehonadab at Jehu’s side is also a guarantee of what Jehu represents at this point, God before men.
Finally and along the same lines one should not forget that God endorses Jehu’s action (10:30). When the massacres are over, the Lord says to Jehu: “Because you have done well in carrying out 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.” It is thus essential that the house of Ahab be destroyed. Jehu is commissioned to do this; it is in conformity with God’s will. Elijah had announced that this would happen, and someone had to fulfil the prophecy. God does not disavow this condemnation. He does not deny that the prophecy was prophecy.
Hence Jehu alone is not responsible. He did what had to be done. Yet one must emphasize that there is a certain restraint in this expression of divine approval. We do not see the same excellent relation as that which obtains in the case of God and Elijah, or God and Abraham, or God and Moses. We do not find the same confident, paternal relation. We do not find the patience and the joy God manifests when his work is done by man. The Word of God to Jehu remains cold and distant. The level is that of a kind of necessity that God recognizes, an objective declaration, restricted approval. Your sons will reign to the fourth generation. How different are the promises to David: Your progeny will reign forever. One can hardly avoid thinking of the Mosaic commandment: “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing grace to a thousand generations” (Exodus 20: 5f.). And it is indeed said of the successors of Jehu—Jehoahaz, Jehoash, and Jeroboam—that they did evil in the sight of the Lord, that the house of Jehu continued in the way of the sin of Jeroboam, that it was not a holy house, and that the zeal of Jehu for the Lord was quickly extinguished. It is true that among Jehu’s sons there were great rulers and effective statesmen, but that is another story. Thus God grants his approval to Jehu, but with reticence. He makes promises to him, but with restrictions. This is a reminder at any rate that God does endorse the assassinations and massacres in fulfilment of the prophecy.
It would be easy enough in these circumstances to say that God is evil or that all this is in accordance with a primitive idea of God. In fact the merciless severity which God assumes ought to remind us that God says of himself that he is indeed a terrible God, a God who is slow to anger, but whose anger may be unleashed at any moment. He is the God who recognizes no limit either to his power or his demands. Even today it is still “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). God is still a jealous God. That is to say, he loves to such a degree that he cannot bear it that his creature should not finally be saved. He cannot bear it that man should turn to someone other than himself. For in him alone man finds his life, his truth, his joy. Hence this jealous God cannot allow idolatry to go on indefinitely. He cannot allow crime to go unpunished indefinitely. He cannot allow man to go different ways at random. He requires that man should finally return completely to him, whatever this may cost. This will, which is the expression of the deepest love, may thus have a terrible aspect to the man who does not love God. It may seem to be dreadful and immoderate, although Abraham does not find it so. The story of Jehu constantly reminds us that when God has set his hand on a man or people, he holds them fast, and he holds them for sanctification. This man and this people must be purified.
Throughout Scripture we see that this purification is by way of testing and suffering. But the demand of God is only a sign of his supreme knowledge and wisdom. God alone knows what is truly good for man, even though man with his limited experience and truncated view is unable to see the depth of the truth and may find God’s decision terrifying or tragic. This story of Jehu shows us again to what degree God sees all in one.
All the children and nephews of Ahab are viewed in Ahab himself. Individual life does not finally count. Even if one of them is good and righteous, his individual characteristics do not counterbalance his integration in Ahab. There is solidarity between them all, so that before God they are ultimately one. The Christian, however, must hear and see this in relation to Jesus Christ. Even the work of Jehu is part of God’s action in Christ. To return to what we have just said, we are thus taught that God relates us all to Jesus as he related all the house of Ahab to Ahab alone, all in one. This is true both for worse (all have sinned in Adam) and also for better (all are reconciled in Christ). The affair of Ahab’s house is one of many instances of this strict unity in which God holds men collectively, an exacting, terrible and unjust unity, and yet also a unity thanks to which we are saved. I might say that God manifests a unity which is tragic in detail but which is to salvation globally.
If we accept the one, however, we cannot reject the other. We must finally remember that it is the jealous God, the terrible God, the God who compliments Jehu, that Jesus has also taught us to address as Father. And we can understand this mystery only if, beginning with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, we realize that God as Father suffers from all that his creature, his Son, suffers. He is certainly not willing, we may say, that man should be deceived, that he should go to death by separating himself from God. For he knows what is good for man. Furthermore, when he inflicts chastisement on man, God himself suffers it, for he does not withdraw from even the worst of men. God is not a judge seated apart from man and assigning blame and penalty, like a court judge, who when he has sent a convicted offender to prison goes peacefully home and takes his ease there. God is not like this. He accompanies the one he condemns both to prison and to hell. He leaves his peaceful heaven and takes upon himself all that man undergoes. Ahab has not just let loose the wrath of God; he has made God suffer. Ahab has made God suffer not only because he persecuted the servants of the Lord but because Ahab himself was condemned and rejected by God. God took upon himself what he inflicted on Ahab, just as he took upon himself and suffered the massacre of Ahab’s house according to his own judgment. When Jehu fulfilled the prophecy, it was on God himself that his violence fell. It was God whom he massacred in the priests of Baal, none of whom was a stranger or unimportant to God, since the Father had numbered all the hairs of their heads too. All the violence of Jehu is assumed by Jesus Christ. Nor was it just the executioners, enemies of God, and idolaters who crucified God in Jesus Christ; it was also the champions of Yahweh, the knights, the crusaders, Elijah slaying the priests of Baal and Jehu extirpating the house of Ahab. It is in this way and in these conditions that Jehu does the will of God. In his zeal for God, it is God himself he strikes. But it had to be thus; this was inevitable. It is only in this way and in these conditions that God’s will was the destruction of the house of Ahab. It is God’s will only to the degree that he takes upon himself the chastisement that he wills and ordains, the chastisement of man, his suffering and his death.2
But the story of Jehu does not stop here. Once he has seized power and accomplished his mission of extirpation, Jehu does not have a glorious reign. Threatened by Hazael and by Assyria, he turns to the latter in self-protection. He becomes the vassal of Shalmaneser III, pays him tribute, and a relief shows him on his knees before the Assyrian king. But Hazael succeeds in repelling the Assyrians and pays Jehu back for the alliance. The king of Israel is regularly defeated “throughout the territory of Israel” (2 Kings 10: 32). This certainly does not accord very well with the glory and the power of being the faithful champion of God. The latter is no assurance of victory. Another point worth noting is that during the twenty-eight years of his reign Elisha does not seem to have stepped forth a single time to help and deliver Israel. The fact is that Jehu is no ally of the prophets. He scorns them. He doubts their political competence. He has no time for the prophecy of Elijah which set Elisha over him. He also aims at the throne of Judah after slaying the king of Judah. But he knows that in Judah he will come up against the opposition of the priests and Levites who cannot accept any king except a descendant of David. He is also aware that the prophets will not help him in this venture. This is why he sets them aside and makes his own decisions without consulting anyone. Elisha remains silent.3 Not until the reign of his grandson Joash, as we have seen, does the dying Elisha announce Israel’s victories. But this is not the problem. A century later, in the time of the third descendant of Jehu, the prophet Hosea proclaims the condemnation of Jehu and his family. When Hosea has a son by the harlot, the Lord says: “Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:4-5).
Here, then, we have the implacable nexus of violence and ensuing violence. Jehu has taken the sword. He has shed blood at Jezreel as Ahab did at Jezreel. Hence in their turn the descendants of Jehu will be punished and destroyed at Jezreel. But why? Does Jehu have to be punished like Ahab, but this time for having fulfilled the prophecy, for having been faithful to God, for having been a zealot, for having re-established the worship of the true God? Having been praised by God, is he now to be punished for the very thing on account of which he was praised? Surely a massacre is not enough to explain the punishment, for David, too, was a destroyer. And what about Elisha? What is the reason, then, for this unlikely decision of God? The text indicates that Jehu fell into the error of Jeroboam, that he did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam, that he did not keep the law of the Lord with all his heart. The sin of Jeroboam, which plays such an important part throughout this political history, will be studied in the next chapter, and we shall see that it will confirm the interpretation we shall now attempt.
The real question in the case of Jehu is that of the heart. Like Abraham, one may say, Jehu is set outside the morality which God established. But Jehu is not Abraham. In fact Jehu is a man who, faithful to God and knowing his will, commandeers this will and makes it his own. He identifies his own cause with God’s design. He thus sets out to shape history in the name of God but also in the place of God. No doubt he does everything exactly as prophesied. No doubt he achieves what the Lord intends. But it is now his own affair. He has substituted his own will for God’s. It is he who does it; he does not let the Lord act through him. He puts a screen between history and the Lord of history. For man can always erect this barrier and achieve his own purpose. What was God’s purpose has become purely and simply the autonomous will of Jehu. He seizes control of the prophecy. He makes it his own cause, confident that he is in the line of God’s will. He himself has decided to fulfil the prophecy. We are in the presence here of religious voluntarism. When he has killed Joram, he orders the officer to throw his body in the field of Jezreel because it is necessary that the prophecy be intentionally and literally fulfilled. Similarly, when he decides to put the ministers and governors to death, he declares: “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.” This is an admirable declaration of scrupulous fidelity. But what it is really saying is that I, Jehu, will apply in all strictness what has been a Word of the Lord.
Wanting to put into effect God’s decision, he pays no attention to the great statement that it is not of him that wills nor of him that runs. Jehu is one of those in the Bible who want to fulfil and accomplish of themselves what God has said. Thus Abraham wants to fulfil the promise of posterity by his own decision and at his own time, i.e., by means of Hagar. This is the whole problem. Will the Word of God seize us? Will we subject our own will to God’s? Even Jesus is tempted in this respect: “If you are the Son of God.. . .” Will Jesus yield and prove in his own way that he is the Son of God? Will he, independently of the Father, decide that he is the Son of God? Will he perform the miracle that Satan asks for at the beginning of his ministry? Will he perform the miracle that the crowd wants from him on the cross? Will he regard the title Son of God as a prey to be snatched after? In fact, if he had performed the miracle of jumping from the temple or coming down from the cross he would have been the master of the Word of God. He would have chosen his own way. The same applies in the further temptation: I will give you all the kingdoms of the world. He knows that his Father has made him Lord of all the kingdoms of the world. Thus if he accedes to the devil’s request he will be fulfilling precisely the intention of God, but he will be doing it by his own means, at his own time, and according to his own decision. This is the temptation. One must wait for the hour that God has chosen. One must accept God’s means. Abraham must wait until Sarah becomes a mother.
This will show that Abraham’s own initiative, although successful (for Ishmael is born), is definitely abortive and sterile. We are thus put in a cruel dilemma. God makes his will known to us. We must will it and do it ourselves. We must decide on our own to do it. This is unquestionable. Nevertheless, we must not take over God’s Word. We must not substitute our own intention, time, or means for those of God, which alone are good and right. This is where Jehu goes astray. He does not let himself be seized by God’s Word; he seizes it. Perhaps there is a hint of this already in the name of his birthplace. Jehu comes from Ramoth, which means “precious and exalted things that are difficult to grasp.” But the root means “to exalt oneself,” “to be proud.” This also sheds light on another aspect of the alliance with Jehonadab. For Rechab, too, is an example of spiritual voluntarism. He wants to recover through asceticism the moral purity and fidelity of ancient Israel. The inspiration of this fidelity does not proceed, then, from the heart. It proceeds from a set of practices and conditions which are accepted in order to attest, to bear witness to this fidelity. In the sphere of law and religion Jehonadab acts as Jehu does in the sphere of prophecy and politics. But if Jehu is sure of doing the will of God, if, having heard the Word of God, he wants to do it in its entirety, if he believes he has been commissioned by God to turn what has been written into a historical event, then all means employed are good. Once he sets out to achieve God’s objective, the instruments do not matter much.
In other words, Jehu becomes a politician like all the rest, using all the weapons of politics. His extreme opposition to Baalism is probably due to political calculation: “If the reign of Jehu is not to be ephemeral, if a new dynasty is to be installed on the throne of Samaria, it is necessary that this reign be inaugurated in a completely new way.”4 Jehu was acquainted with the coup d’etat of Zimri. Zimri assassinated the king and reigned for twelve years. To found a dynasty it was necessary that the kingdom be founded on principles and an ideal. An extreme antiBaalism had to be substituted for the extreme Baalism of the sons of Ahab. This becomes a principle of government. Officially everything reminiscent of Baalism is suppressed. But soon Baalism reappears. One may thus conclude that Jehu’s action was purely external. His authoritarian antiBaalism was not based on spiritual power, on obedience of the heart to the Lord. It thus becomes hypocrisy. It is a “fiction for reasons of state.”5 Jehu uses prophecy in the interests of politics while pretending to use politics in the service of prophecy. He wants to do what God has revealed but he confuses what God has shown will come to pass with what God really loves. The same confusion is shown by those who want to pluck out the tares from the field, or by the disciples when they want to call down fire from heaven on unrepentant villages, or by Judas when he too does what God has said will come to pass. But Jehu has also taken over the good. He does not leave control in God’s hands. He pretends to be practicing a politics taken from Holy Scripture. Now that God has spoken, Jehu thinks he has abdicated in favor of man. God is no longer the living God who decides and conducts. He is the God of yesterday who has announced the condemnation of Ahab. Today the condemnation of Ahab is up to Jehu. He does not have to consult God. He has simply to follow the Word which was spoken yesterday and which is no longer a living Word. For Jehu, God has no today. He has only a kind of fixed permanence. In other words, he is not the living God. We must be very careful in this regard. For the temptation to treat God thus is not merely the temptation of those who practice a politics taken from Holy Scripture, or an ethics of the same type, against whom it is easy to be on guard. It is also the temptation of those who speak of the incompleteness of creation and of the task of man to complete and develop it by his own means. It is the temptation of those who speak of the “demiurgic” function of man. Jehu is the prototype of demiurgic politics. The whole question may in fact be reduced to two points—the inner attitude, and the choice of means.
We are always tempted to think that all means are good once they are subjected to the will of God (inwardly) or oriented to the end that God seeks. We fail to see that this always amounts to the fallacy that “the end justifies the means,” and we justify ourselves hypocritically by invoking the dictum that “to the pure all things are pure.” In fact, as these stories have progressively shown, the choice of means is our great responsibility. All means are not good in doing God’s work. Now at this point we all insist strongly today on the difference between proselytism and evangelism. No one will tolerate the inquisition or dragooning any longer. Yet we are only too ready to permit the use of mass media, of television, in the propagation of the gospel. We think that the technical methods of the world are ultimately legitimate. And when we choose political means, it is by moral, cultural, and humanist criteria that we make the choice (e.g., democracy, elections, etc.). Now in this context we cannot explore the problem of means with any completeness.6 But we must remember its crucial importance. If from another standpoint we adopt a popular term in modern theology, that of transparency, we might say that Jehu is the opaque man. In Jesus there is full transparency between God and man; we see the fulness of God in him. Nothing interposes between the two. The same is true to some degree of John the Baptist, although he does not attain the fulness of self-divestation which Jesus alone could attain because he was the Son of God. As John says of himself: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Jehu, however, is a man who interposes himself while pretending to be accomplishing the purpose of God. He does not allow us to see the work of God and the love of the Lord through these terrible and tragic actions. This is why Elisha is silent during his reign. The Word of God is no longer spoken. Jehu’s revolution is not really religious. It makes the presence of the Lord more incomprehensible to men. For in it man is finally the master of his own life. He alone conducts it. He does not divest himself. He does not renounce himself. He is just and has no remorse. He does not see what he has to repent of. For he has done all to the greater glory of God and in the affirmation of his power.
Now if there is this opacity in Jehu, it is not just because of his inner attitude, his affirmation that “I alone have done it.” It is also because of his choice of the means of action; these are the means of the average politician, the kind of means that Machiavelli would not hesitate to recommend. Jehu has decided to make the people faithful to God. He uses political means to force the people into this faithfulness, this worship, this religion. We must always be aware of the important truth that our means are the thing which creates opacity between God and men, far more so than our person. What constitutes the veil, the misunderstanding, is what we choose as the instrument of action, of mediation, of intervention, of influence.
For it is by this that men finally judge. This is what men see, resent, understand, and experience; nothing else, and certainly not our intentions. By his actual choice of means, Jehu is not a witness to the God who shows mercy to a thousand generations, but rather to the God who exterminates and chastises without pity. By his actual choice of means he has separated in men’s eyes and for men the two faces of God, the two hands of God. For this reason, he himself will have to have dealings with a God who shows mercy only to three generations. For he is a type of the man who is unfaithful even in his faithfulness. He is both approved by God and also rejected by him. To be sure, he is always loved by God in spite of his lies, assassinations, and treacheries. But he is also rejected by God because of his commandeering of the Word and the harshness of his loyalty. The real tragedy, however, is that he is finally the reason for the rejection of the whole people, and the reference is very plainly to him in the extraordinary saying which Hosea speaks to Israel: “I have given you kings (a king) in my anger, and I have taken them away (will take him away) in my wrath” (Hosea 13:11). The best possible king could only provoke the anger of the Lord after having been the agent of his wrath.
After this experience it seems as though there is in fact nothing more to hope for in the Northern Kingdom.
Even when the king is faithful and leads the people to God, everything is still false and ambiguous. Thus God makes the big decision. The four descendants of Jehu will reign, and then there will only be troubled reigns, periods of injustice and evil, full of revolutions and defeats, until the great collapse of Israel, the capture and destruction of Samaria, and the deportation of the people to Assyrian captivity.
This is the story and drama of Jehu, whose very name may perhaps mean: “Is it possible that he exists?”
- Andre Neher, Amos: contribution a l’étude du prophetisme; Paris: Vrin, 1950.
- All this has been said already, and far better than here, by W. Vischer, The Witness to Christ in the Old Testament, Vol. I.
- Neher, op. cit., pp.182f.
- Ibid., pp. 184f.
- Loc. cit.
- We have studied it already in The Presence of the Kingdom, and we shall consider it from another angle in Ethics, Vol. II.