An ethical dilemma in Hosea (part 5)


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

Welcome back to the series where we are exploring the dilemma that Hosea presents in the opening passages. If you are just joining the series I recommend starting with part one.

In the prior posts we examined three ways in which some commentators and scholars attempt to solve the dilemma. They are all rooted in the broad idea that Jehu went beyond what God commanded and that the excessive actions were not part of what was praised.

In this post we will look at a different approach to solving the dilemma. We saw what this approach was in the Gill entry regarding the slaughter of the Baal worshipers.

… 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 (Gill)

Gill argues, as did the prior post, that wiping out the worship of Baal was right but the motives behind the act were not. Therefore the punishment that will be brought against the house of Jehu will be rooted in the motives not the acts themselves.

In Hard Sayings of the Bible there is an entry that deals with the moral dilemma posed by Hosea. In attempting to solve the problem it includes everything we have looked at so far and adds to it the idea that Jehu had the wrong motives.

Why then was God displeased with Jehu, as Hosea seems to imply? … although Jehu was obedient to God’s directive (2 Kings 9:7), he erred grievously in that he killed more people than God had directed and did so with a savagery that did not earn God’s approval. It seems clear from Jehu’s conduct that he was motivated not by a desire to be obedient to God but by sheer personal ambition …

This is the view taken in an Apologetics Press article as well (link emphasis added).

The passage in 2 Kings 10:29-31 indicates that even though Jehu had done what God commanded, “he did so out of a carnal zeal that was tainted with protective self-interest” (Archer, 1982, p. 208). It seems obvious that since Jehu followed in the footsteps of Israel’s first wicked king by worshipping false gods and not walking according to God’s law, he did not destroy Ahab’s descendents out of any devotion to the Lord. …

Considering Jehu’s actions by examining the motives behind those actions solves the alleged contradiction. Jehu’s failure to obey God’s commands and depart from the sins of Jeroboam reveals that he would have equally disobeyed the other commands as well, had it been contrary to his own desires. 

It is easy to look at the actions of Jehu and question his motives. His approach to wiping out the Baal worshipers was certainly unprincipled.

When we weigh the different actions taken during Jehu’s violent takeover of the throne, we must remember that whether they were done with the right or wrong motives, they were appraised by God. They are described as follows: “you have done well in carrying out what was right in my eyes”.

What must be considered, is whether God, in commending the actions of Jehu, would have done so while ignoring the motives.

Several passages would suggest that God takes into account the motives as well as the actions:

  • All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord (Proverbs 16:2)
  • The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5)
  • A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2)
  • Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God (1 Cor 4:5)

When Jehu’s actions were appraised and considered “well done”, it was not by man but by God. If Jehu’s motives were selfish and evil, then it seems out of character for God to assess them in such a positive way.

The argument that Jehu’s motives, not actions, are the basis for the coming disaster on the house of Jehu is also an argument from silence. The Hosea passage cites the “blood of Jezreel” as the basis for punishing the house of Jehu. It doesn’t highlight the motives but rather the actions.

Finally, we must consider that we are told very little about Jehu. We know his role was commander in the army of Jehoram. We do have one passage where we find Jehu proclaiming zeal for the Lord when he shouts:

Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the LORD, which the LORD spoke … by his servant Elijah (2 Kings 10:10)

We can’t know what his heart was when these words were spoken, as to whether they were sincere or not. God knows, but we can only speculate what they might have been.

The primary motive most commentators have for questioning Jehu’s motives during the actions taken to destroy the house of Ahab is the “but” that is included in the commendation.

But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin – that is the golden calves
 
… (commendation) …
 
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… (2 Kings 10:29,31)

It may be best to interpret these “buts” as the chronicler making sure that we knew of Jehu’s actions that best summarized his reign. However, these would be choices made after the blood of Jezreel was spilt. They may or may not reflect his heart during the campaign.

What ever view point one takes regarding the motives of Jehu, we must remember that we are not explicitly told what they were during the actions to wipe out Ahab’s line. What little information we do have suggests that Jehu was motivated by accomplishing the Lord’s words to Elijah and Elisha. We must also not lose sight that the Lord who assesses our hearts, deemed the actions “well done” and “right in (His) eyes”.

[to be continued]


[1] Kaiser, Davids, Bruce and Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Intervarsity Press 1996), 235-236.

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