Jehu

JEHU (jē'hū, Heb. yēhû’, probably Jehovah is he)



JEHU je’ hu (יֵה֔וּא, LXX ̓Ιου, Assyrian Jaua, it is Jah [who is God], in witness against polytheism [Noth, Israelitische Personennamen 15ff., 143; for the form, see Elihu; Abihu]). The name of a Judahite prophet, of an Israelite king, a member of a clan of Jerahmeel (1 Chron 2:38), one of a band of migrating Simeonites (4:35) and a Benjamite who joined David (12:3).

Jehu ben Hanani

He was a prophet (1 Kings 16:12, 2 Chron 19:2) and possibly son of a prophet (see Hanani). He warned Baasha that he would be judged for failing to measure up to his calling as successor to Jeroboam and Nadab, for he followed their heretical cult (1 Kings 16:1-4). Later, Jehu had to rebuke Jehoshaphat for allying himself with Ahab in an attempt to recover Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians (2 Chron 19:2). This took place in 853 b.c., whereas Baasha reigned from 909 to 886 b.c. (Thiele) or shortly afterward (Albright). Jehu left a commentary on the reign of Jehoshaphat that was incorporated in the “Book of the Kings of Israel” (1 Chron 20:34; see Myers ad loc., and Rudolph, Chronicles p. 81). The phrase dibre (Yehoshapat) is standard for “the affairs of,” which can be extended to mean “records of,” cf. 16:11; Myers interprets dibre Yāhōō in a similar sense, though Rudolph restricts it to “messages” (as in dabăr Yahweh).

Jehu ben Jehoshaphat ben Nimshi

He was a commander in the Israelite army who accepted the divine commission through Elisha to take over the royal office, avenge the persecution of Yahwists, and extirpate Phoen. Baal worship from Israel (2 Kings 9:1-10; cf. 1 Kings 19:16).

Chronology.


Revolution

Prophetic instigation

(2 Kings 9:1-13). In Jehoram’s twelfth year, the Israelites held a defensive position at Ramothgilead, a key point on the N-S trade route E of the Jordan, against the Syrians. Jehoram, wounded in a Syrian attack, had gone to Jezreel to recover, leaving his commanders (of whom Jehu may have been chief) to carry on the war in Gilead. Ahaziah, king of Judah, who was assisting Jehoram in the campaign, later went down to Jezreel to see how he was progressing; and the court was there, including Jezebel the queen mother.

At this juncture, a young emissary arrived from the community of prophets in the Jordan valley, of which Elisha was head. As directed by Elisha, he requested a private interview with Jehu, and commissioned him in the name of the Lord to avenge the murder of Yahwist prophets on the Omride dynasty and to take over the kingdom. To confirm his message, he anointed Jehu on the spot. Jehu’s fellow officers, on hearing this, rallied immediately and proclaimed him king.


This passage begins by restating that Jehu rebelled against Jehoram while the latter was in Jezreel recovering from a war wound. Jehu requested his colleagues to prevent anyone else from leaving Ramoth while he went to Jezreel in his chariot (prob. with a small guard, as inferred in Jos. Antiq. IX. vi. 3).

As Jehu approached Jezreel, he detained two scouts who were sent to question him, which prob. gave Jehoram the impression that he wanted to confer privately. Puzzled by his commander’s presence and behavior, and perhaps fearing that something extraordinary had happened at Ramoth, Jehoram went with Ahaziah to meet him. Jehu was waiting by the royal garden that Ahab had obtained by the death of Naboth; he may already have been thinking of the scandal and of Elijah’s condemnation of it, which he had witnessed when he was a young officer (v. 25). He returned Jehoram’s greeting with a challenge and shot him as he turned to escape; then he pursued Ahaziah and wounded him mortally as he took the hill road by Ibleam (v. 27). Ahaziah was evidently making for Samaria by the Dothan valley; if the text of Kings is sound, his charioteer then turned along the plain to Megiddo (cf. 1 Chron 22:9). Jehu, in returning to Jezreel, came face to face with Jezebel, who tried to reassert her authority from the vantage point of an upper window; but her courtiers were not prepared to stand against the new master, and on his orders two or three of them seized Jezebel and hurled her down in front of his chariot.


In view of the family loyalty characteristic of Sem. people, Jehu could only secure his hold by extirpating Ahab’s family; his problem was to do so and yet avoid the odium of sole responsibility for the blood bath. He wrote to the governors of the royal household at Samaria, offering them the choice of putting up a successor to the throne (and taking the consequences) or pledging their submission with the heads of Jehoram’s children and young relatives. They took the latter course, enabling Jehu to point to the evidence and deny responsibility. The number of victims is given as seventy, which may be conventional (Cooke NSI, LXII, pp. 171ff., cites a parallel example from Zenjirli in N Syria), but there were enough to make “two heaps” (10:8). Jehu now moved to Samaria; on the way he met and liquidated a group of forty-two relatives of Ahaziah who, all unsuspecting, were on their way to visit the royal house in Jezreel. Clearly, Ahaziah’s body had not yet reached Jerusalem when they left. The rest of the Judean royal family (except Joash) were killed by Athaliah; so when she died, the Phoen. contamination had been eradicated, whereas the Davidic succession hung by a slender thread.

Consummation.

In Samaria, Jehu completed his purge of the Omride family and partisans. The next objective, to break the grip of Phoen. culture and religion, was gained by stratagem. He announced that he would adopt Baalism with even more fervor than Ahab, proclaiming an assembly in the temple of Baal to celebrate his accession; when the ceremony was fairly under way, he sent in his guards to massacre the Baalists. Although some scholars (GVI) can scarcely believe that Jehu was accepted as a Baalist, there is reason enough for his coup to be seen first as an army revolt or possibly social in character (see [4] below). Yahwism was thus reestablished as the official religion; but further reform stopped, not touching the cult of Bethel and Dan, nor were the older forms of Baalism abandoned (see Hosea).

Jehu’s reign.

Jehu reigned for twenty-eight years (2 Kings 10:36) and died a natural death; but it was a period of decline. Having broken with the Phoenicians, he found himself paying tribute as they did to Shalmaneser III; this is recorded in the “black obelisk” from Nimrud. Kraeling (ch. 9, p. 80) defines Jehu’s policy as “continued political alignment” with Phoenicia, but this appears to go beyond the evidence, and his citation of 2 Kings 10:31 is hardly relevant. As other authorities rightly point out, Jehu had administered the most insulting rebuffs to Tyre. Neither is it evident that the Phoenicians paid tribute for any reason but to secure their own safety. Jehu may have been seeking the protection of Assyria against the Arameans; but a recently discovered copy of Shalmaneser’s annals supports Olmstead’s suggestion that the Assyrians reached the sea, not first at Nahr-el-Kelb toward Byblos, but at Mt. Carmel, after marching through Hauran and northern Israel. The tribute apparently was not large; prob. Shalmaneser was not seeking more than a satisfactory climax to his somewhat inconclusive campaign against Hazael.

Assyrian activity faded out as their attention was engaged first by Urartu, then by civil war. Hazael, regaining his strength, went on to occupy the country E of Jordan (see 2 Kings 10:33; there is no need to infer from this text that Jehu first retook the Medeba district, and then lost it to Hazael). Isaiah (15:16) and Jeremiah (48) refer to many of the towns as Moabite, so Mesha prob. settled and held them, though at various times Aramean suzerainty was asserted.

Evaluation.

Jehu failed to keep his early promise, both in religious zeal and in leadership. One can only guess whether he found the problems too big, or succumbed to the deeper temptations of the society that he had set out to purge. Certainly, he was gifted with courage, even audacity, and a power of command. His name, and his father’s, indicate a conservative background, which helps to explain his readiness to do Elisha’s bidding. His association with Jehonadab the Rechabite is unquestionably significant. J. Morgenstern (HUCA XV [1940], pp. 230-248), who finds the significance sinister, claims that Jehonadab brought Elisha’s directions for the religious purge, which he sees as a follow through from Asa’s reforms (fifty-eight years earlier). It is more probable, as W. F. Albright suggests, that the support of the pastoral Rechabite leader stemmed from hatred of civilized society, which had brought poverty to the country and also discontent to the militia, as well as frustration to a part at any rate of the officers (The Biblical Period, p. 36). Jezebel miscalculated when she compared Jehu to Zimri; this time, the army did not react.

Socially, the episode may be seen as a revolt against the abuses of wealth. It could not touch the roots of the problem; as prosperity returned, so did the abuse, as observed in the prophecy of Amos in the next cent. In divine providence, Israel was saved on the brink of desperate peril and utter rejection of the Lord, and given yet another opportunity of repentance.

The purge, as Morgenstern points out, seriously weakened the upper class and therefore the army. This, however, only partly explains the failure to withstand Hazael; the stories of Elisha record dramatic reversals of position in wars between Ben-hadad and Jehoram. The apparent lethargy of Jehu’s reign is still an enigma.

Bibliography

E. Kraeling, Aram and Israel (1918), 73-84; A. T. Olmstead, History of Assyria (1923), 139; History of Palestine and Syria (1931), 398.; Sumer, VII (1951), 11; J. Montgomery, Kings ICC (1951); J. Pritchard, ANET2 (1955), 278, 281; D. W. Thomas (ed.), Documents of OT Times (1958), 46-49; H. Tadmor, IEJ, XII (1962), 114ff.; G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1962), 158ff.; B. Mazar, BA, XXV (1962), 113f.; J. Gray, Kings (1964); E. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers2 (1965), 64-72; Y. Aharoni, Land of the Bible (1966), 309-311; J. Miller, JBL, LXXVI (1967), 285ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

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 (2Ki 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 1Ki 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 (2Ki 9:25 ). 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 (2Ki 9:26). Ahab’s temporary repentance averted the punishment from himself for a few years (1Ki 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" (1Ki 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 (2Ki 1). He was succeeded by his brother Jehoram, who toward the close of his reign of 12 years (2Ki 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 (2Ki 9:14), but in the attack the Israelite king was severely wounded, and was taken to Jezreel to be healed of his wounds (2Ki 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 (2Ki 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 (1Ki 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 (2Ki 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 (2Ki 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 (2Ki 9:11-28). A somewhat variant account of Ahaziah’s death is given in 2Ch 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 1Ki 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 (2Ki 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 (Ho 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 (2Ki 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 (2Ki 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 (2Ki 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 (2Ki 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 (2Ch 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 (2Ki 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" (2Ki 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 (2Ki 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 (2Ki 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" (2Ki 10:28), but at what a frightful cost of falsehood and treacherous dealing! (2Ki 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 (2Ki 10:32,33). These districts were overrun, and remained lost to Israel till the reign of Jehu’s great-grandson, Jeroboam II (2Ki 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 2Ki 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 (2Ch 22:9), and as the grandfather of Jehoash (2Ch 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 (2Ki 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 (2Ki 10:29-31). Nevertheless the throne was secured to his dynasty for four generations (2Ki 10:30; compare 15:12).

W. Shaw Caldecott