An ethical dilemma in Hosea (part 6)


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

We started this series examining an ethical dilemma that was posed in Hosea.

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)

When one first reads the passage, the dilemma is not obvious. It is only when we explore who Jehu is and what the blood of Jezreel might mean that we find a challenge. What we find is the possibility that God asked Jehu to perform an action, then praised and rewarded him for doing what was asked, only to then punish him for it?

That should be an unsettling image of God, who is often described as good (Ps 100:5; 107:1).

We have examined numerous options that are used to address the challenge.

Numerous scholars and commentators disagree on which of these solutions is the correct one. Each of these answers has significant weaknesses when one reads through the numerous passages that relate to the events. It is reasonable to conclude that all of these actions were part of what God expected out of Jehu and were commended. It is also rationale to accept Jehu as having the right motives while performing these actions.

So where does that leave us?

We can’t just ignore the dilemma. Jeremiah calls us to boast in the Lord who is known for delighting in justice (Jer 9:23-24). Yet this challenge suggests otherwise.

A different take on the Hosea passage

If we read though nearly any translation of Hosea we find most if not all of them calling for punishment that will come upon the house of Jehu because of the events at Jezreel.

  • in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel (ESV)
  • for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel (NASB)
  • I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel (NIV)
  • in a little while I will punish the dynasty of Jehu on account of the bloodshed in the valley of Jezreel (NET)
  • For in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, (NKJV)

But what if we were to read the passage differently.

I will visit the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu (*)

Here the punishment that will be brought against the house of Jehu is still coming. But instead of the actions at Jezreel as being something that Jehu did and will be punished for, it is instead seen as something that will be visited upon him.

What would that look like?

A pattern on the ruling dynasties of the northern kingdom

The bloodshed of Jezreel was an event that led to the destruction of the ruling family in the northern kingdom. If this were to happen to the house of Jehu, it would mean that someone would rise up and kill all of their family and allies. And this is exactly what happened to the house of Jehu.

Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria six months. … Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place. … This was the promise of the LORD that he gave to Jehu, “Your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” And so it came to pass. (2 Kings 15:8-12)

We aren’t given many details about how Shallum managed to overthrow the ruling family or how much violence and bloodshed was involved. However, we can assume that all of the heirs and allies of the house of Jehu were eliminated. This alternate translation allows us to see the passage in Hosea come to fruition and also removes our dilemma.

Bolstering this view is the fact that God has often threatened the ruling family in the northern kingdom with being wiped out for their sins and failures.

The pattern originated with Ahijah the prophet warning Jeroboam about the doom that would fall upon his house. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, is the first ruler of the northern kingdom after it was divided. He was the one that instituted the worship of the golden calves in Bethel and Dan.

… but you have done evil above all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back, therefore behold, I will bring harm upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every male both bond and free in Israel … (1 Kings 14:9-10)

The prophecy comes to pass and the complete destruction of Jeroboam’s line is found in 1 Kings 15:25-30.

The new ruler was Baasha. Unfortunately, Baasha continued to allow the worship of the golden calves that Jeroboam had setup (1 Kings 15:33).The result was another warning of annihilation foretold by the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani. This is not the Jehu that wiped out the house of Ahab.

… you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, behold I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 16:2-3)

This prophecy is also fulfilled when Zimri, a leader in the armed forces, strikes down the son of Baasha, who was king at that time. The death of the king, along with all of his relatives and friends, was done “according to the word of the LORD” (1 Kings 16:8-14). Zimri’s reign did not last long. Israel rejected him and made Omri, the commander of the army, their new king (1 Kings 16:15-17).

Omri was the father of Ahab. And we have already seen what Elijah told Ahab about his fate.

I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin. (1 Kings 21:22)

What we find in Hosea is the same type of warning being issued. The prophet Hosea is given the message, the same punishment that was inflicted on the first three ruling dynasties was going to be brought upon the house of Jehu. What had happened to the house of Ahab in the Valley of Jezreel was coming soon and would befall the house of Jehu.

The lure of the golden calves

After Jehu had secured the throne and the blessings of the Lord, he had a choice to make. He could remove the worship of the golden calves, just as he had removed the worship of Baal. Or, he could let it persist.

This choice was made, after he had accomplished all that the Lord had asked him to do. This choice was open to him after he had received the blessings and commendation from the Lord for what he had already done. It would be difficult to see the allowance of golden calf worship as part of the “bloodshed of Jezreel”.

Unfortunately, Jehu failed to make the right choice. Instead of continuing on the right path he allowed the golden calves to remain. A fact that the chronicler wraps around the commendation so that readers saw both the victory and the fall in one short passage (see 2 Kings 10:28-31).

Each of the rulers in the line of Jehu also failed to destroy the golden calves. Each are described as having caused Israel to sin by them. These choices by each king in the line of Jehu leads us back to the book of Hosea, where we find the prophet speaking out during the reign of Jeroboam II. The prophet, like many before him, is foretelling the doom of another ruling dynasty. The fate that will come upon the current ruling family would be the same one that was visited upon all of the other ruling families that also chose poorly.

In translating and interpreting the passage in Hosea (1:4) in a different way, we are able to see an new way of piecing together the information. This view and the description of the events fits the historic pattern of what God had done with the ruling families in the northern kingdom. It provides a solution to the dilemma that separates the praiseworthy actions from the later choices that Jehu made. The translation also fits the context and the message of the rest of the book of Hosea. The original readers would know about all of these things and would more readily make the connections that the house of Jehu and the nation would both be punished for their continued reliance on idols. The people, that should have been following after God, had been given numerous opportunities to repent. Failing to do so, in just a short time, Hosea tells them, there will be “an end to the kingdom of Israel” as well as the ruling family.

What we now have to ask ourselves is, do we have a reason to accept a translation that differs from every major translation.

[to be continued]


  • (*) The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary. United Kingdom, Baker Publishing Group, 2009. 20-22

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