2 Kings 10 (NIV)✞: Ahab’s Family Killed, Servants of Baal Killed
In the last passage Jehu began the work of ridding Israel of the house of Ahab but he hadn’t yet killed them all, nor was he yet crowned as king of Israel. In this passage he completes those tasks. He does it with… panache? Bravado? Hubris? I’m not sure what word to use, but his style is memorable, to say the least.
Though Jehu has killed the king of Israel, and even killed Jezebel (who seems to have been some kind of matriarch even if she wasn’t queen anymore), there are still 70 “sons of the house of Ahab” (v 1✞). I think they’re still very young, though, because verse 6✞ says they’re still being “reared.” Regardless, I guess the oldest of them would technically be next in line to be king so Jehu issues an ultimatum to the rulers of the city where the children are being reared and forces them to choose sides:
1 Now there were in Samaria seventy sons of the house of Ahab. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria: to the officials of Jezreel, to the elders and to the guardians of Ahab’s children. He said, 2 “You have your master’s sons with you and you have chariots and horses, a fortified city and weapons. Now as soon as this letter reaches you, 3 choose the best and most worthy of your master’s sons and set him on his father’s throne. Then fight for your master’s house.”
The rulers who receive this letter are not willing to take Jehu on, however. Having already defeated not one but two kings, they don’t rate their chances very high! So they respond that no, they’re not going to appoint a king – they’ll do whatever Jehu tells them to do.
6 Then Jehu wrote them a second letter, saying, “If you are on my side and will obey me, take the heads of your master’s sons and come to me in Jezreel by this time tomorrow.”
Now the royal princes, seventy of them, were with the leading men of the city, who were rearing them. 7 When the letter arrived, these men took the princes and slaughtered all seventy of them. They put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu in Jezreel. 8 When the messenger arrived, he told Jehu, “They have brought the heads of the princes.”
Then Jehu ordered, “Put them in two piles at the entrance of the city gate until morning.”
9 The next morning Jehu went out. He stood before all the people and said, “You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master and killed him, but who killed all these? 10 Know, then, that not a word the LORD has spoken against the house of Ahab will fail. The LORD has done what he announced through his servant Elijah.” 11 So Jehu killed everyone in Jezreel who remained of the house of Ahab, as well as all his chief men, his close friends and his priests, leaving him no survivor.
Before reading the ESV Study Bible notes I’d never understood verse 9, when he rhetorically asks the people, “but who killed all these?” I’d assumed he was trying to turn the blame around on the people he’d commanded to kill those children. (I’m still assuming they were all children, because of the word “reared” above.) However, the ESV Study Bible notes suggest something different:
2 Kings 10:8–10 two heaps at the entrance of the gate. The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II records in an inscription that during his siege of the city of Damdammusa he cut off the heads of 600 of his enemy’s troops and, in an act of intimidation, “built a pile of heads before his gate.” Jehu’s aim is similar: to convince the people that resistance is futile. He knows who struck down all these, but the people do not; and he invites them to believe that the heads mean that the revolution is bigger than he is, involving mysterious powers more lethal than his (he killed only his master); it is truly the LORD who is at work in overthrowing the house of Ahab. As fair-minded (implied by innocent) people, they should be able to arrive at the correct interpretation of the evidence.
He now sets out for Samaria—I believe this is the capital of Israel, and I’ve written that before as well; one of these days I should look it up and confirm it—but on his way he meets up with some relatives of Ahaziah, the king of Judah he has murdered in the previous chapter. They tell him that they’ve come to “greet the families of the king and of the queen mother” (v 13✞)—in other words, it’s a diplomatic journey—but he has them killed.
Jehu then completes his work of getting rid of the house of Ahab, overseen by a man named Jehonadab:
15 After he left there, he came upon Jehonadab son of Rekab, who was on his way to meet him. Jehu greeted him and said, “Are you in accord with me, as I am with you?”
“I am,” Jehonadab answered.
“If so,” said Jehu, “give me your hand.” So he did, and Jehu helped him up into the chariot. 16 Jehu said, “Come with me and see my zeal for the LORD.” Then he had him ride along in his chariot.
17 When Jehu came to Samaria, he killed all who were left there of Ahab’s family; he destroyed them, according to the word of the LORD spoken to Elijah.
Again, I’ll let the ESV Study Bible provide some commentary on this:
2 Kings 10:15 Is your heart true to my heart as mine is to yours? The Hebrew vocabulary of yashar (“right,” “true”) and lebab (“heart”) appears in other places in 1–2 Kings (e.g., 1 Kings 14:8), including 2 Kings 10:30 in relation to Jehu himself: “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.” The wording here underlines that the theme throughout the chapter is “who is on the Lord’s side; who is in the right?” Jehonadab, who is on the right side, reappears in Jeremiah 35 (“Jonadab”) as the founder of a purist religious group committed to Israel’s older ways.
Having rid Israel of the house of Ahab, Jehu has further work to do: to rid Israel of the worship of Baal. In this case he decides to trick Baal’s prophets. Claiming that, “Ahab served Baal a little; Jehu will serve him much” (v 18✞), he summons the prophets of Baal—and only the prophets of Baal, no priests of the LORD—so they can make a great sacrifice, but once all of the prophets are in the temple of Baal he prevents any of them from escaping and slaughters them. Then they not only destroy Baal’s temple, but they begin using it as a latrine!
Jehu’s reign as king is summarized near the end of the chapter thusly:
28 So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. 29 However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.
30 The LORD said to Jehu, “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.” 31 Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit.
As usual, in the book of Kings, the author(s) end with a couple of additional facts about what the king accomplished, which, for Jehu, is that the LORD began to reduce the size of Israel – and He did so by having Hazael overpower them! We will remember Hazael from 8:7–15 when he was anointed by Elisha as king of Aram, and that Elisha didn’t like it because Hazael was going to be bad news for the people of Israel.
At first glance this might seem like a theme that comes up often in the Bible: a terrible man doing terrible things, and even though those terrible things do align with the will of God the man himself, and his actions, are not condoned. Jehu’s actions are, after all, extreme! Even Jehu’s comments throughout this passage that he’s doing this on behalf of the LORD, or to fulfill the prophecy of the LORD, could easily be written off. It wouldn’t be the only case in the Bible of someone committing a sin, where that sin also “happens” to end up carrying out the will of the LORD.
So we could read the text that way, until we get to verse 30✞ in which God Himself commends Jehu for his actions! There isn’t even a hint of “you’ve gone too far,” God simply tells Jehu that he has done well!
This should speak volumes as to how entrenched Baal worship was in the land of Israel, and how heavily influenced the people of Israel were by their rulers – the house of Ahab. This isn’t a case of an overzealous, power-hungry man, it’s a case of a nation so heavily soaked in sin that it needed powerful cleansing!
That doesn’t, by any means, mean Jehu was a good ruler. Even in the midst of praising him for rooting out Baal worship and the house of Ahab from the land the author(s) point out that Jehu still fell into worshipping the golden calves that had been created when Israel first split away from Judah. So he wasn’t a good king (and I’m guessing that Israel’s territory being shrunk was a punishment for that), but in this particular instance he did do God’s work. Zeal was called for, and Jehu was zealous.