An ethical dilemma in Hosea (part 2)


This is part of a series. I recommend starting with the first installment.

In the first part we laid out the dilemma that Hosea presents. When one reads the account in 2 Kings 9:6-10 and 2 Kings 10:30 and compares that to the proclamation made by Hosea (1:4) we find God commanding an act be done, praising the act and then threatening punishment and vengeance because the act was committed.

In dealing with the moral dilemma, some commentators suggest that God condemns the house of Jehu because he exceeded what God had commanded.

In Gill’s commentary we find this general principle being described.

It may be observed, that God sometimes punishes the instruments he makes use of in doing his work; they either over doing it, exercising too much cruelty; and not doing it upon right principles, and with right views, as the kings of Assyria and Babylon, (Gill’s Exposition)

Gill is correct, God would often punish those whom He had used to execute His judgement on Israel if they went too far (cmp Isaiah 10:5-7; Jeremiah 50:11-13). The challenge here, is that while God did often punish those he used to execute his judgments, we would be hard pressed to see where he first praised their acts and rewarded them.

The theory, as it specifically applies to Jehu, goes something like this; Jehu was asked to wipe out the house of Omri. And only the house of Omri. However, in carrying out this task (2 Kings 9:22-26, 30-37), Jehu killed more people than what the Lord intended when He asked him to wipe out the royal line. Jehu also went too far when he killed the King of Judah (Ahaziah) and the followers of Baal (2 Kings 9:27-29; 10:28). The command and commendation to Jehu, from the Lord, never included these acts.

In an article on the AiG web site we can find an example of this.

Jehu exceeded his mandate by killing “all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men and his close acquaintances and his priests, until he left him none remaining” (2 Kings 10:11). Although God did commend Jehu for wiping out Ahab and his line (2 Kings 10:30), Jehu was never praised for his excess. In fact, Hosea 1:4 seems to indicate God was upset with Jehu’s bloodthirstiness. (AiG article)

The Asbury Bible Commentary suggests the same thing (link):

The Jezreel Valley (1:4-5) in northern Israel is where Jeroboam’s ancestor Jehu destroyed the previous ruling family, the house of Omri. Although he was acting in response to God’s command, the slaughter went far beyond any such command (2Ki 10:11-14).

Let’s explore the option that Jehu exceeded what was asked of him when he destroyed everyone both related and associated with Ahab. There are problems with that premise. First, Elisha told Jehu that he would “strike down the house of Ahab” (2 Kings 9:7). This clearly would include the need to kill everyone that could lay claim to the throne.

The second is that 2 Kings 10:30 affirms that what Jehu had “done to the house of Ahab” was “right in (the Lord’s) eyes”. These actions are also affirmed a few verses prior (10:10-11). After Jehu has “struck down all who remained in the house of Ahab” we read that this was in accordance with what Elijah predicted in foretelling the demise of the house of Ahab. This makes it clear that the acts of Jehu, as it relates to the house of Ahab, were what the Lord had intended.

(Jehu told the people) “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“. So Jehu struck down all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his great men and his close friends and his priests until he left him none remaining. (2 Kings 10:10-11 emphasis added)

Reading further we find Jehu pursued and killed the allies of the king of Israel.

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.(2 Kings 10:17 emphasis added)

If you are wondering why the text reads Elijah, instead of Elisha, you would not be alone. We know that Elisha told Jehu to “strike down the house of Ahab”, because the Lord “will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. And (the Lord) will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat“.

Did Jehu and the chronicler of the text get confused?

A little digging and we find that the words of Elisha are echoes of what Elijah had told Ahab. In 1 Kings 21:20-22 we find Elijah telling Ahab that the LORD “will bring evil upon you, and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel; [the LORD] will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat“.

Jehu, and the chronicler of 1 & 2 Kings, doesn’t see the actions as fulfilling the command given through Elisha but rather Elijah. We can conclude, therefore, that Jehu received from Elisha more details than what we read in 2 Kings 9:6-10. We must therefore evaluate the command using the information from both prophets. We should also take into consideration the commendation, not just from 2 Kings 10:30 but also 10:10-11 and 10:17.

If we dig a little more we find out the fate of the house of Jeroboam.

(As soon as Baasha began his reign), he killed Jeroboam’s whole family. He did not leave Jeroboam anyone that breathed, but destroyed them all, according to the word of the LORD given through his servant Ahijah the Shilonite. (1 Kings 15:29 cmp 1 Kings 14:10)

If Baasha’s wiping out the line of Jeroboam was “according to the word of the LORD”, then when Elijah told Ahab that his line would suffer a similar fate, we can conclude that Jehu also did what the Lord intended in wiping out the house of Ahab.

This fact along with passages (noted above) that explicitly tell us that what Jehu did was to fulfill the prophecy that Elijah received, and we have a reasonable case that Jehu did not exceed his mandate. Despite the violence and slaughter, the evidence strongly suggests that he was fulfilling the command of the Lord (given through both Elijah and Elisha) when he killed everyone that was associated with Ahab.

[to be continued]

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