An ethical dilemma in Hosea (part 4)


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

In the first part of this series we laid out the dilemma that Hosea presents that suggests God sought revenge for an act that he both commanded and praised.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while 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. (Hosea 1:4)

In the second and third part of the series, we examined ways some commentators attempt to get out of this dilemma and how they do not work.

In this installment we will examine another, related premise, as to how the dilemma may be solved.

The third related premise is that Jehu exceeded his mandate when he killed the worshippers of Baal.

After Jehu has managed to secure his claim to the throne of Israel through the killing of Jehoram and others in the line of Ahab, he begins to wipe out the Baal cult (2 Kings 10:18-28).

The way Jehu went about this itself was rooted in deceit. He called together the people and claimed that he would follow Baal even more than Ahab had. In gathering the Baal worshippers together, under the pretense of a major sacrifice, as well as the threat of death for missing it, Jehu has them all slaughtered.

The wiping out of the Baal worshipers is cited in an AiG article (emphasis added) as part of the solution to the dilemma presented in Hosea (link).

Jehu also slaughtered a large gathering of Baal worshipers and essentially “destroyed Baal from Israel” (2 Kings 10:28). Yet, as far as we know, God never commanded Jehu to do this, even though the Lord despised the worship of Baal. Jehu was never commended for this action either.

In Gill’s exposition of the 2 Kings passage, he argues that the ends were valid but that the means were not (link).

… because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes: in rooting out the idolatry of Baal, which was right in the sight of God, and was materially a good work, though it might not be done from a good principle, nor every step taken in doing it justifiable

In this article, from Ligonier, we find the author agreeing that Jehu was right in wiping out the worshipers of Baal (link).

Jehu eradicated Baal worship in Israel, at least for a time. He killed the priests of Baal and destroyed the temple and pillar of Baal, displacing the foreign god from Israel (vv. 18–27). In these things, Jehu did well, for he brought about the Lord’s judgment on Ahab’s house, as Elijah had predicted, and he made the worship of Israel purer (1 Kings 21:17–29).

There seems to be a variety of views on Jehu’s slaughter of the Baal worshipers. How are we to assess Jehu’s actions? Does he go to far? Is this the “blood of Jezreel” that is given as the reason God would “punish the house of Jehu”?

If we were to assess the main message of Hosea, we would find that it carries warnings of impending doom for the northern kingdom. This doom is to come about because of their idolatry.

Yet until now she has refused to acknowledge that I was the one
who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil;
and that it was I who lavished on her the silver and gold—
that they used in worshiping Baal!

I will punish her for the festival days
when she burned incense to the Baal idols;
she adorned herself with earrings and jewelry,
and went after her lovers,
but she forgot me!” says the Lord. (Hosea 2:8,13)

The hearer and reader of Hosea would probably have a hard time associating the punishment that would be brought upon the house of Jehu for the “blood of Jezreel” with the slaughter of Baal worshipers. The book is filled with God’s displeasure for the actions of idolaters and promises punishment on the nation for these actions. It would be a disconnect to open the book with a proclamation that the line of Jehu would be punished for Jehu’s actions that tried to eradicate the very thing that God is condemning and going to punish.

Let’s turn our attention back to the commendation given to Jehu. In the passage we do find a reference to the wiping out of Baal.

Thus Jehu wiped out Ball from Israel. But, Jehu did not turn aside form the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin – that is, the golden calves there were in Bethel and Dan. 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 according to all that was in my heart … (2 Kings 10:28-30)

There is a rather important “but” in the middle of the commendation. However, that is a forward looking statement. It describes Jehu’s later actions as king. This is something we will address later. If we skip that for the moment, the commendation can be read to include this action against the Baals. Admittedly, it is probably still worded in such a way that one can argue in either direction whether the wiping out of Baal was justifiable and part of the commendation.

The argument, that the commendation is inclusive of these actions against Baal worshipers, is bolstered when one considers an important question. Why is God so angry with Ahab and Jezebel?

There are many things we could include on the list in an attempt to answer that question. However, in 1 Kings 16:30-33 we learn that God was set against these rulers because of the institution of Baal worship.

Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all who were before him. … He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal he had built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole; he did more to anger the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.(1 Kings 16:30-33)

We see this again in 1 Kings 18:18, when Elijah rebukes Ahab:

I have not brought disaster on Israel. But you and your father’s dynasty have, by abandoning the Lord’s commandments and following the Baals.

Finally, after Elisha is told that “all that escaped from the sword of Hazael would die by the sword of Jehu”, he is given some encouraging words. The Lord tells His prophet that he is not alone. The Lord “will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kings 19:15-18).

If we acknowledge that the call to wipe out the house of Ahab is rooted in his establishment of Baal worship as well as the murder of the Lord’s prophets (1 Kings 18:4; 2 Kings 9:7), then we can start to understand why Jehu would include the removal of the false religion as part of the command given to him. This would strengthen the view that is was also part of the commendation, or at least is not the “blood of Jezreel” that will bring about the end of the house of Jehu.

There is another line of reasoning that we should consider as well. When we examine what happens after the famous showdown between Elijah and the followers of Baal we find that the prophet has ordered the slaughter of Baal worshipers. There is no evidence that this was something that God asked the prophet to do.

And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal, let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah bought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. (1 Kings 18:40)

Given that Elisha was taken up to heaven directly (2 Kings 2:11), we can assume that these actions were “right in the eyes of the Lord”. This action would have been known to Jehu, who, as we have shown, rooted his own actions in the prophecies and ministry of Elijah. Pulling this all together, it is not unreasonable to conclude that eradicating the “whoring and the sorceries” of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:22) was included in the call to wipe out the house of Ahab.

[to be continued]

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