Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
je'-hu (yehu; meaning uncertain, perhaps "Yahweh is he"; 1 Ki 19:16,17; 2 Ki 9; 10; Eiou): Son of Jehoshaphat, and descendant of Nimshi, hence, commonly called "the son of Nimshi"; 10th king of Israel, and founder of its IVth Dynasty. Jehu reign for 28 years. His accession may be reckoned at circa 752 BC (some date a few years later).
1. Officer of Ahab:
A soldier of fortune, Jehu appears first as an officer in the body-guard of Ahab. To himself we owe the information that he was present at the judicial murder of Naboth, and that Naboth's sons were put to death with their father (2 Ki 9:26). He was in attendance when Ahab drove from Samaria to inspect his new possession in Jezreel, and was witness of the dramatic encounter at the vineyard between the king and the prophet Elijah (compare 1 Ki 21:16 ff). Years after, Jehu reminded Bidkar, his captain (literally, "thirdsman," in chariot), of the doom they had there heard pronounced upon Ahab and his house (2 Ki 9:25 ff). It was in fulfillment of this doom that Jehu at that time ordered the body of the slain Jehoram to be thrown into the enclosure which had once been Naboth's (2 Ki 9:26). Ahab's temporary repentance averted the punishment from himself for a few years (1 Ki 21:27-29), but the blow fell at the battle of Ramoth-gilead, and Jehu would not be unmindful of the prophet's words as he beheld the dogs licking Ahab's blood as they washed his chariot "by the pool of Samaria" (1 Ki 22:38).
2. Jehoram at Ramoth-gilead and Jezreel:
A different fate awaited Ahab's two sons. The elder, Ahaziah, died, after a short reign, from the effects of an accident (2 Ki 1). He was succeeded by his brother Jehoram, who toward the close of his reign of 12 years (2 Ki 3:1) determined on an attempt to recover Ramoth-gilead, where his father had been fatally stricken, from Hazael, of Syria. Ramoth-gilead was taken (2 Ki 9:14), but in the attack the Israelite king was severely wounded, and was taken to Jezreel to be healed of his wounds (2 Ki 9:15). The city meanwhile was left in charge of Jehu and his fellow-captains. At Jezreel he was visited by Ahaziah, of Judah, who had taken part with him in the war (2 Ki 8:28,29; 9:16).
3. The Anointing of Jehu:
The time was now ripe for the execution of the predicted vengeance on the house of Ahab, and to Elisha the prophet, the successor of Elijah, it fell to take the decisive step which precipitated the crisis. Hazael and Jehu had already been named to Elijah as the persons who were to execute the Divine judgment, the one as king of Syria, the other as king of Israel (1 Ki 19:15-17). Elijah was doubtless aware of this commission, which it was now his part, as respected Jehu, to fulfill. A messenger was hastily dispatched to Ramoth-gilead, with instructions to seek out Jehu, take him apart, anoint him king of Israel in Yahweh's name, and charge him with the task of utterly destroying the house of Ahab in punishment for the righteous blood shed by Ahab and Jezebel. The messenger was then to flee. This was done, and Jehu, the sacred oil poured on his head, found himself alone with this appalling trust committed to him (2 Ki 9:1-10).
4. The Revolution--Death of Jehoram:
Events now moved rapidly. Jehu's companions were naturally eager to know what had happened, and on learning that Jehu had been anointed king, they at once improvised a throne by throwing their garments on the top of some steps, blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, "Jehu is king." Not a moment was lost. No one was permitted to leave the city to carry forth tidings, and Jehu himself, with characteristic impetuosity, set out, with a small body of horsemen, in his chariot to Jezreel. Bidkar was there as charioteer (2 Ki 9:25). As they came within sight of the city, a watchman reported their advance, and messengers were sent to inquire as to their errand. These were ordered to fall into the rear. This conduct awakened suspicion, and Jehoram and Ahaziah--who was still with his invalided kinsman--ordered their chariots, and proceeded in person to meet Jehu. The companies met at the ill-omened field of Naboth, and there the first stroke of vengeance fell. The anxious query, "Is it peace?" was answered by a storm of denunciation from Jehu, and on Jehoram turning to flee, an arrow from Jehu's powerful bow shot him through the heart, and he sank dead in his chariot. Ahaziah likewise was pursued, and smitten "at the ascent of Gur, which is by Ibleam." He died at Megiddo, and was taken to Jerusalem for burial in the sepulcher of the kings (2 Ki 9:11-28). A somewhat variant account of Ahaziah's death is given in 2 Ch 22:9. It is possible that Jehu came to Megiddo or its neighborhood, and had to do with his end there.
5. Death of Jezebel:
The slaughter of Jehoram was at once followed by that of the chief instigator of all the crimes for which the house of Ahab suffered--the queen-mother Jezebel. Hot from the pursuit of Ahaziah, Jehu pressed on Jezreel. Jezebel, now an aged woman, but still defiant, had painted and attired herself, and, looking from her window, met him as he drove into the palace court, with the insulting question, "Is it peace, thou Zimri, thy master's murderer?" (compare 1 Ki 16:9-12). Jehu's answer was an appeal for aid from those within. Two or three eunuchs of the palace gave signs of their concurrence. These, at Jehu's bidding, threw Jezebel down into the courtyard, where, lying in her blood, she was trodden under foot by the chariot horses. When, a little later, her remains were sought for burial, she was found to have been almost wholly devoured by the dogs--a lurid commentary on Elijah's earlier threatening, which was now recalled (2 Ki 9:30-37). Jehu was an intrepid minister of judgment, but the pitiless zeal, needless cruelty, and, afterward, deceit, with which he executed his mission, withdraw our sympathy from him, as it did that of a later prophet (Hos 1:4).
6. Slaughter of Ahab's Descendants:
The next acts of Jehu reveal yet more clearly his thoroughness of purpose and promptitude of action, while they afford fresh exhibitions of his ruthlessness and unscrupulousness of spirit. Samaria was the capital of the kingdom, and headquarters of the Baal-worship introduced by Jezebel, though it is recorded of Jehoram that he had removed, at least temporarily, an obelisk of Baal which his father had set up (2 Ki 3:2; compare 10:26). The city was still held for the house of Ahab, and 70 of Ahab's "son"--to be taken here in the large sense of male descendants--resided in it (2 Ki 10:1,6). Jehu here adopted a bold and astute policy. He sent letters to Samaria challenging those in authority to set up one of their master's sons as king, and fight for the city and the kingdom. The governors knew well that they could make no effective resistance to Jehu, and at once humbly tendered their submission. Jehu, in a second message, bade them prove their sincerity by delivering to him the heads of the 70 princes of Ahab's house in baskets. This they did, by their act irrevocably committing themselves to Jehu's cause (2 Ki 10:9). The ghastly relics were piled up in two heaps at the gate of Jezreel--a horrible object lesson to any still inclined to hesitate in their allegiance. Friends and partisans of the royal house shared the fate of its members (2 Ki 10:11).
7. Slaughter of Ahaziah's Brethren:
Apart from the faultiness in the agent's motive, the deeds now recounted fell within the letter of Jehu's commission. As much cannot be said of the deeds of blood that follow. Jehu had killed Ahaziah, king of Judah. Now, on his way to Samaria, he met a company of 42 persons, described as "brethren of Ahaziah"--evidently blood-relations of various degrees, as Ahaziah's own brethren had been earlier slain by the Arabians (2 Ch 21:17; 22:1)--and, on learning who they were, and of their purpose to visit their kinsfolk at Jezreel, gave orders that they be slain on the spot, and their bodies ignominiously thrown into the pit (or "cistern") of the shearing-house where he had encountered them. It was a cruel excess for which no sufficient justification can be pleaded (2 Ki 10:12-14).
8. Massacre of the Worshippers of Baal:
Still less can the craft and violence be condoned by which, when he reached Samaria, Jehu evinced his "zeal for Yahweh" (2 Ki 10:16) in the extirpation of the worshippers of Baal. Jehu had secured on his side the support of a notable man--Jehonadab the son of Rechab (2 Ki 10:15,16; compare Jer 35:6-19)--and his entrance into Samaria was signalized by further slaying of all adherents of Ahab. Then, doubtless to the amazement of many, Jehu proclaimed himself an enthusiastic follower of Baal. A great festival was organized, to which all prophets, worshippers, and priests of Baal were invited from every part of Israel. Jehu himself took the leading part in the sacrifice (2 Ki 10:25). Vestments were distributed to distinguish the true worshippers of Baal from others. Then when all were safely gathered into "the house of Baal," the gates were closed, and 80 soldiers were sent in to massacre the whole deluded company in cold blood. None escaped. The temple of Baal was broken up. Thus, indeed, "Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel" (2 Ki 10:28), but at what a frightful cost of falsehood and treacherous dealing! (2 Ki 10:18-28).
9. Wars with Hazael:
The history of Jehu in the Bible is chiefly the history of his revolution as now narrated. His reign itself is summed up in a few verses, chiefly occupied with the attacks made by Hazael, king of Syria, on the trans-Jordanic territories of Israel (2 Ki 10:32,33). These districts were overrun, and remained lost to Israel till the reign of Jehu's great-grandson, Jeroboam II (2 Ki 14:28).
10. Assyrian Notices:
It is in another direction, namely, to the annals of Assyria, we have to look for any further information we possess on the reign of Jehu In these annals, fortunately, some interesting notices are preserved. In 854 BC was fought the great battle of Qarqar (a place between Aleppo and Hamath), when Shalmaneser II, king of Assyria, defeated a powerful combination formed against him (Damascus, Hamath, Philistia Ammon, etc.). Among the allies on this occasion is mentioned "Ahabbu of Sir'-ilaa," who took the third place with 2,000 chariots and 10,000 footmen. There is a difficulty in supposing Ahab to have been still reigning as late as 854, and Wellhausen, Kamphausen and others have suggested that Ahab's name has been confused with that of his successor Jehoram in the Assyrian annals. Kittel, in his History of the Hebrews (II, 233, English translation) is disposed to accept this view. G. Smith, in his Assyrian Eponym Canon (179), is of the opinion that the tribute lists were often carelessly compiled and in error as to names. The point of interest is that from this time Israel was evidently a tributary of Assyria.
11. Tribute of Jehu:
With this accord the further notices of Israel in the inscriptions of Shalmaneser II, two in number. Both belong to the year 842 BC and relate to Jehu. On Shalmaneser's Black Obelisk is a pictorial representation of "the tribute of Jehu, son of Omri." An ambassador kneels before the conqueror, and presents his gifts. They include silver, gold, a gold cup, gold vessels, a golden ladle, lead, a staff for the king's hand, scepters. An allusion to the same event occurs in the annals of Shalmaneser's campaign against Hazael of Syria in this year. "At that time I received the tribute of the Tyrians, Sidonians, of Jehu, son of Omri."
There are some indications that in his latter years, which were clouded with misfortune, Jehu associated with himself his son Jehoahaz in the government (compare 2 Ki 13:1,10, where Jehoahaz comes to the throne in the 23rd, and dies in the 37th year of Jehoash of Judah--14 years--yet has a total reign of 17 years). Jehu is not mentioned in Chronicles, except incidentally in connection with the death of Ahaziah (2 Ch 22:9), and as the grandfather of Jehoash (2 Ch 25:17).
The character of Jehu is apparent from the acts recorded of him. His energy, determination, promptitude, and zeal fitted him for the work he had to do. It was rough work, and was executed with relentless thoroughness. Probably gentler measures would have failed to eradicate Baal-worship from Israel. His impetuosity was evinced in his furious driving (2 Ki 9:20). He was bold, daring, unscrupulous, and masterful and astute in his policy. But one seeks in vain in his character for any touch of magnanimity, or of the finer qualities of the ruler. His "zeal for Yahweh" was too largely a cloak for merely worldly ambition. The bloodshed in which his rule was rounded early provoked a reaction, and his closing years were dark with trouble. He is specially condemned for tolerating the worship of the golden calves (2 Ki 10:29-31). Nevertheless the throne was secured to his dynasty for four generations (2 Ki 10:30; compare 15:12).
W. Shaw Caldecott
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'jehu'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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