CHAPTER 17 - JEHU, (ELEVENTH) KING OF ISRAEL. ATHALIAH, (SEVENTH) QUEEN OF JUDAH.
Murder of the "sons" of Ahab and of Joram - Destruction of the adherents of Ahab in Jezreel - March on Samaria - Slaughter of the "brethren" of Ahaziah - Jehonadab the son of Rechab - Meaning of the Rechabite movement - The Feast of Baal at Samaria - Destruction of the Worshippers - Character of the Reign of Jehu - Decline of the Northern Kingdom - Commencing Decline of the Southern Kingdom.
(2 Kings 10:2; 2 Chronicles 21:10; 24:17-26.)
WE have learned enough of this history to understand the seeming inconsistencies in the conduct of Jehu. Absolutely speaking, he was the instrument selected for executing the Divine punishment on the house of Ahab; and also in whose reign the national judgment upon Israel was to begin. Jehu himself clearly understood his mission as regarded the house of Ahab and the worship of Baal. But he accepted it as a national and, if the term may be used, a Jehovistic movement, without implying the necessity of true fear of the LORD, or of return to Him; and he carried it out as a Jehu. Alike as regarded his feelings and his methods, he was the instrument, not the servant of the LORD.
To such an one as Jehu even common prudence would have dictated to do what work he had, quickly, sharply, and completely. A dynasty that had extended over four reigns must have numbered many adherents, while on the other hand the demoralizing influence of the worship of Baal must have widely spread in the land. There was more than merely a mocking taunt in the reminder of Jezebel about the fate of Zimri. The mission as well as the rule of Jehu depended upon a rapid succession of measures which would alike anticipate the possibility of a counter-revolution, and render a return to the former state of things impossible. This explains the measures taken by the new king. Samaria was not only the capital, but a fortified city, where the main body of the standing army* lay. Here, as we know, had been placed the "seventy sons of Ahab" - understanding the term** in its wider sense, common in Hebrew, which included, besides the sons of Ahab, his grandsons, the children of Joram (comp. 2 Kings 10:3).
* We imagine that there was always the nucleus of a standing army, consisting of the king's body-guard, war-chariots, and horses (horsemen), as well as an arsenal, and that the rest of the host consisted of levies hastily made, and only partially drilled and disciplined.
** Similarly we must take the term "brethren" in a wider sense. The elder "brethren" of Ahaziah had all been killed in the invasion of the Philistines and Arabs; and yet they were "brethren" of Ahaziah - in the wider sense - who went to salute the children of the king (ver. 13), and who were slain by Jehu.
These royal princes of the house of Ahab were entrusted, some (in the Eastern fashion) for supervision, the younger for education to the "princes,"* - that is, the governor of the palace and the governor of the city (10:1, comp. 10:5) - to the "elders," and to certain prominent persons who had charge of them.
* So literally; the words "of Jezreel" are manifestly a clerical error, whether we emendate it into "of Israel" or "of the city."
These officials in Samaria would embody the possibility of a counter-revolution, and to them Jehu addressed on the morrow of his entry into Jezreel what really amounted to a challenge, to declare themselves for the house of Ahab, or else to make submission to his rule. The motives which decided their choice (ver. 4) show that their inclination was in favor of the old regime, while their fears dictated submission to the usurper. So Jehu had judged wisely in forcing an immediate decision, without exposing himself by marching with his small troop against Samaria.
But this was not all. Neither their allegiance nor his rule was safe so long as any of the royal princes lived; and, indeed, their destruction was part of his work and mission. To have killed them himself would have been a doubtful expedient, which, even if successful, might have given rise to popular reaction, and at all events brought him ill-will, while it would have left free the hands of the adherents of Ahab. It was therefore, from his point of view, the wisest policy on receiving the submission of the leaders of Samaria to order them to kill all the royal princes and bring their heads to Jezreel.* This would not only accomplish the primary object of Jehu, but, by making them participate in the crimes of his revolution, render any future movement against his rule impossible. At the same time the ghastly sight of those heads, sent to Jezreel by the chief representatives of the old regime, would offer an excellent opportunity for an appeal to the people.
* That, instead of coming with them to Jezreel, as they had been ordered (ver. 7), they sent the gory heads, is another indication of their feelings.
When, therefore, next day the heads of the seventy princes were brought in baskets to Jezreel, he ordered them to be laid "at the entering in of the gate,"* where the blood of Jezebel had so lately bespattered the wall, and the chariot of the conqueror passed over her body. And in the morning Jehu, pointing to the gory heaps, could tell the people** that not only himself, but all the chief personages under the late government, had part in the destruction of the house of Ahab; that those to whom they had been entrusted had chosen rather to slay these princes in cold blood than to take up their cause - that all had perished, and so the word spoken by the LORD through the great prophet Elijah had been fulfilled. Thus his rule and the slaughter of the house of Ahab had - as he put it - the support of all men and the sanction of God Himself.
* The practice of bringing in the heads of enemies in evidence of their being killed was frequent in antiquity, and on the Assyrian monuments also we see them laid in heaps.
** The expression "ye are righteous" (ver. 9) probably meant: Ye have taken no part in this revolution, and are unbiased; I appeal to you as judges! Josephus adds the somewhat realistic touch, that the messengers from Samaria, bearing the seventy heads, arrived as Jehu and his friends were feasting at supper, and that this was the reason why he ordered them to be heaped up against the morning.
It was now possible for Jehu to take possession of his capital without danger of opposition, and there to carry out his final measures against the old order of things. But before doing so he took care, so to speak, to secure his rear by killing all that had been connected with the house of Ahab in Jezreel, "all his great men," his friends,* and his chief officials.**
* So, and not "kinsfolks," as in the A.V.
On his way to Samaria another tragedy was to be enacted. It was at a solitary place, in a locality which has not been ascertained, but which bore the name of "house of binding of the shepherds" - or, as the Chaldee Paraphrast calls it: "The house of assembly of the shepherds." Here, where evidently the roads from Jezreel and Jerusalem joined, Jehu and his followers met the forty-two princes, "the brethren of Ahaziah, king of Judah,"* who were going on a friendly visit to "the children of the king [Joram] and the children of the mistress," [lady-ruler, Gebhirah - evidently Jezebel].**
* The expression "brethren" must here be taken in the wider sense. In 2 Chronicles 22:8 they are called "the princes of Judah, and the sons of the brethren of Ahaziah."
** Most commentators suppose that they were going to Jezreel, but from 10:1 we infer that the royal princes of Israel were at Samaria. As Jehu met them coming from the south, we must assume that he did not follow the direct road from Jezreel. If he had gone first to Megiddo, and thence to Samaria, this would explain how he might have met the "brethren of Ahaziah" coming from the south.
So rapid had been the movements of Jehu, and so great was the fear of him, that tidings of what had passed in Israel had not traveled so far as to arrest the journey of the princes of Judah. Jehu's order was to "take them alive." Whether they offered resistance, or this was part of the original order of Jehu, certain it is that they were all killed "at the cistern of Beth-Eqed,"* into which their bodies were probably thrown.
* This, and not "at the pit of the shearing house" (10:14).
As Jehu passed from the scene of slaughter he met a figure that seems strange and mysterious. "Jehonadab, the son of Rechab," who had come from Samaria to meet the new king, belonged to the Kenites (1 Chronicles 2:55). This tribe, which was probably of Arab nationality, appears so early as the days of Abraham (Genesis 15:19). Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, belonged to it (Judges 1:16). Part at least of the tribe accompanied Israel into the Land of Promise (Numbers 10:29-32), and settled in the south of Judah (Judges 1:16), where we find them by-and-by mixed up with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:6). Another part of the tribe, however, seems to have wandered far north, where Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, slew Sisera on his flight from Barak (Judges 4:17, etc.; 5:24, etc.). Thus they appear to have occupied the extreme south and north of the country, and would even on that ground possess political importance. But what interests us more is their religious relationship to Israel. From the deed of Jael we infer that they were intensely attached to the national cause. Again, from the circumstance that Jehonadab, the son of Rechab - evidently the chief of the tribe - came from Samaria to meet Jehu, and from the anxiety which the latter displayed as to Jehonadab's views and intentions, as well as from the manner in which he treated him, we gather that the chieftain was a person of considerable political importance, while the invitation of Jehu: "Come with me, and see my zeal for Jehovah," shows that he and his tribe were identified with the service of Jehovah in the land. All this throws fresh light on the special injunction which from that time onward Jehonadab laid upon his tribe (Jeremiah 35:1-16). They were neither to build houses, nor to sow seed, nor to plant or have vineyards; but to dwell in tents, and so both to be and to declare themselves strangers in the land.
This rule, which the descendants of Rechab observed for centuries, must, from its peculiarity, have had a religious, not a political,* bearing. It has with great probability been connected with Elijah,** but the important question has not yet been mooted whether it originated before or after the occupation of Samaria by Jehu.
* This is the view of Hitzig (on Jeremiah 35), who cites the instance of the Nabataeans, who, to ensure their freedom, abstained from agriculture. But this does not explain the abstinence from wine. Besides, why should this rule have only been laid down by Jehonadab, and if its reason had been to secure their freedom, would not the flight of the Rechabites to Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah have been in direct contravention of their object?
** So Ewald (Gesch. d. Volk. Isr. Vol. 3. pp. 542-544), although parts of his analysis are fanciful.
We believe the latter to have been the case, and it seems evidenced even by the circumstance that Jehonadab came from Samaria to meet Jehu. We suppose that the ministry of Elijah had made the deepest impression on Jehonadab and his tribe. The very appearance and bearing of the prophet would appeal to them, and his words seem as those of a second Moses. Earnestly they waited for the results of his mission and of that of Elisha. And when the word of Jehovah to and by Elijah was being fulfilled - Hazael made king of Syria, Jehu king of Israel, and the house of Ahab destroyed, root and branches - they would naturally turn to Jehu, in the hope that a national return to Jehovah would follow. It was a kind of Old Testament John the Baptist's hope of a kingdom of God. Feelings such as these prompted Jehonadab to go and meet Jehu, while the latter, knowing the deep impression which the Rechabite movement in favor of the reformation of Elijah had produced in the land, would be anxious to secure his public support, perhaps even - so strange and mixed are our motives - to gain his approbation. But what Jehonadab saw of Jehu must soon have convinced him that he was not one to carry out an Elijah-movement in its positive and spiritual aspect, however fitted an instrument he might be to execute Divine punishment. And so Jehonadab left Jehu to perpetuate in his own tribe the testimony of Elijah, by making them Nazarites for ever, thus symbolizing their dedication to God, and by ordering them to be conspicuously strangers in the land, thus setting forth their expectation of the judgments which Elijah had predicted upon apostate Israel.
We are now prepared to accompany Jehonadab, as after responding to Jehu's anxious challenge about his feelings toward him, he mounted Jehu's chariot to go with him and see his zeal for Jehovah. The first measure of the conqueror was to repeat in Samaria what he had done in Jezreel, and to kill all related to or connected with the family of Ahab. His next was, by a truly Eastern device, to seize and destroy the adherents of the religious rites introduced under the late regime. Although this was in fulfillment of his mission, it will be observed that it also afforded the best means of establishing his own rule, since the national worship of Baal was identified with the house of Ahab. Accordingly we imagine that when Jehu publicly announced that he meant to serve Baal even much more than Ahab, and proclaimed a solemn assembly for Baal, the gathering would be thoroughly representative. First, as we understand it, Jehu summoned all the prophets and priests of Baal, and "all his servants" - either the leading laity generally, or else those in Samaria itself - ostensibly to make preparation for his great sacrifice. Next, similar proclamation was made throughout the country. In both cases the object was to secure the attendance of all professed worshippers of Baal. On the day appointed, the courts of the Temple of Baal were thronged "from one opening to the other [the opposite]." To make the leaders of the new religion the more prominent, Jehu now directed that each of them should be arrayed in festive vestments,* and then, to prevent any possible mistake, since some of the servants of Jehovah might have followed Jehu and Jehonadab to the house of Baal, he ordered, on his arrival, to search for and remove any worshippers of the LORD.
* The vestments of the priests of Baal are also referred to by classical writers. They seem to have been of byssus. Generally it is supposed that all the worshippers in that temple received these vestments, in which case they must have been supplied from the royal chamber of vestments, since the temple-vestry, however well filled, could scarcely have furnished sufficient for such a multitude. But a more attentive consideration will lead to the conclusion that the "servants of Baal" who were so robed were only the prophets, priests, and other leaders of the movement. For a universal robing would imply an almost impossible scene of bustle and confusion in that crowded edifice, while the possession of a distinctive dress would have rendered needless the next direction (ver. 23), to see that those with them were not of the servants of Jehovah. Lastly, Josephus distinctly states that the vestments, which we imagine not to have been ordinary priestly, but festive robes were given to "all the priests," and he lays stress on the subsequent slaughter as that of "the prophets" of Baal. On other grounds also this view seems to commend itself, and it is certainly not incompatible with the text.
Neither of these measures would excite surprise, but would only be regarded as indications of Jehu's zeal, and his desire that the rites of Baal should not be profaned by the presence of strangers. The attendance of Jehonadab might seem strange; but he was in the train of the king whom he was known to have served, in whose company he had returned to Samaria, and with whom he had continued while he issued his mandates, and prepared for the feast of Baal. He might therefore be simply an adherent of Jehu, and now prepared to follow his lead.
The rest may be briefly told. As the sacrifices were offered Jehu surrounded the building with eighty of his trusted guards, who, on the given word of command, entered the building, threw down all they encountered, and penetrated into "the sanctuary* of the house of Baal," where all who had been marked out to them were slaughtered. Then they brought out the wooden images and burnt them, while the large stone statue of Baal, as well as the Temple itself, were destroyed. And completely to desecrate the site, and mark the contempt attaching to it, Jehu converted it into a place for public convenience.
* This, as surrounded by walls - is distinctive from the open court where the general worshippers were gathered - is designated by the words rendered in the A.V. "the city of the house of Baal."
"Thus," as Scripture marks, "Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel." Yet, as the cessation of idolatry after the return from the exile did not issue in true repentance towards God, nor in faith in the Messiah, so did not this destruction of Baal-worship lead up to the service of Jehovah. Rather did king and people stray farther from the LORD their God. Of the succeeding events in Jehu's reign, which lasted no less than twenty-eight years, no account is given in Scripture, except this notice, that "in those days Jehovah began to cut Israel short: and Hazael smote them in all the coasts of Israel; from Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, of the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the river Arnon, even Gilead and Bashan." And the Assyrian monuments throw farther light upon this brief record. They inform us about the wars of Hazael against Assyria, and they represent Jehu as bringing tribute to the king of Assyria. The inference which we derive is that Jehu had entered into a tributary alliance with the more powerful empire of Assyria against Hazael, and that when the latter had made his peace with Assyria, he turned against Jehu, and inflicted on Israel the losses thus briefly noticed in Scripture. Be this as it may, this at least is certain, that with the loss of the whole trans-Jordanic territory, the decline of the northern kingdom had commenced.
Nor was the state of matters more hopeful in the southern kingdom of Judah. The brief and bloody reign of Athaliah was, indeed, followed by the counter-revolution of Jehoiada, and the elevation of Joash to the throne. But the reformation then inaugurated was of short duration. After the death of Jehoiada, the worship of Jehovah was once more forsaken for that of "groves and idols, and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass" (2 Chronicles 24:18).
And although the LORD sent them prophets to bring them again unto the LORD, they not only would not give ear, but actually at the commandment of the king, and in the very house of Jehovah, shed the blood of Zechariah, which, according to Jewish legend, could not be wiped out, but continued to bubble on the stones, till the Assyrians entered and laid low the sanctuary thus profaned. And even before that, the army of Hazael, though greatly inferior in numbers, defeated that of Judah, desolated and despoiled the land, and laid siege to Jerusalem. The Syrian army was, indeed, bought off, but the hand of God lay heavy on the king. Stricken down by disease he was murdered in his bed by his own servants, and they the sons of strangers. Thus had inward and outward decline come to Judah also. And darker and yet darker gathered the clouds of judgment over a land and people which had "forsaken Jehovah, the God of their fathers."