Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bible Commentary - 2 Kings 10

In this chapter, Jehu kills all the descendants of Ahab and all the priests and prophets of Baal.

Having killed Joram, Jehu now faced the still-considerable risk of trying to consolidate power in the northern kingdom by establishing the allegiance of all the people, beginning with Samaria. Just like in the previous chapter, Jehu seems to command such a threatening presence that everyone instantly submits to him.  It's remarkable to see the kind of power or charisma that Jehu brings with him.

From what I can tell, Jehu commanded most, if not all, of the army, and even if Samaria had resisted him, he probably would have been victorious if things had turned to open warfare. But civil wars are dangerous to everyone involved because it becomes a question of allegiance rather than sheer military strength, and allegiance can quickly sway. Indeed, the men are now joining Jehu, but things could just as quickly turn against Jehu, and that’s why Jehu is trying to attack quickly and aggressively to take control of the nation before anyone can organize resistance against him. Jehu seems to be going with a shock-and-awe strategy of killing all of his opponents or potential opponents and then threatening and bullying everyone else into submission.

Jehu’s plan seems to work. The leaders of Samaria agree to kill all the sons of Ahab and bring their heads to Jezreel. In verse 9, Jehu uses this to draw the leaders of Samaria into his conspiracy. He says that previously, he killed Joram and Ahaziah and everyone else was innocent of those murders. But when the leaders of Samaria agreed to kill the sons of Ahab, they made themselves guilty of bloodshed and accomplices in Jehu’s insurrection. By making these other men guilty of bloodshed, they had in effect tied themselves to Jehu’s fate. If the household of Ahab or men loyal to Ahab retake power, they would almost definitely kill the leaders of Samaria for betraying the descendants of Ahab.

In verse 11, Jehu killed all the men who were associated in any way with Ahab to prevent exactly that kind of retaliation. Even more dramatically, in verse 14 he is willing to kill anyone associated with Ahaziah who were going to visit Jezebel. Jezebel was already dead, but the people in other cities had not heard about it, which gives us an indication of how quickly Jehu is operating in these chapters.

What should we think about Jehu? Is he demonstrating “zeal for the LORD” like he claims in v. 16, or is he acting violently and excessive out of personal ambition? The author of Kings does not criticize him, but later books in the bible (particularly the prophet Hosea) criticize Jehu for the "massacre of Jezreel", referring to one or more of the massacres in this chapter. We know that Jehu was commanded to kill the entire family of Ahab, but he also kills Ahab’s friends and counselors, as well as a large portion of the family of Ahaziah.  In my opinion, this is a logical extension of what God commanded him to do, but also perhaps beyond his proper scope. Killing the prophets and priests of Baal certainly indicates a zeal for the LORD. Because of that, I think that Jehu is indeed zealous for the LORD when we take his entire recorded life into consideration. However, verses 30-31 express both optimism and reservations about Jehu’s actions. God commends him for destroying the house of Ahab, but only giving him the kingdom for four generations.  We also learn that Jehu never removes the golden calf idols that were set up by Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, which is mentioned to show that Jehu's devotion is not complete.

The God of Israel demands purity of worship and devotion. He never has, and never will, be okay with idolatry in any form. However, because the idols have been in Israel for nearly the entire time this nation has existed as a separate polity from the southern kingdom, it’s obvious that, in this historical time period, worshiping the idols is part of the basic religious framework of life in Israel. At least to me, this makes Jehu’s behavior excusable; in my opinion, he simply doesn’t know any better than to worship the golden calves. I think Jehu’s zeal for the LORD is genuine, and I believe Jehu is worshiping the golden calves out of genuine ignorance to God’s commandments. I can’t prove it, but that’s my personal opinion.

In my own life and in modern society, there are all kinds of metaphorical “golden calves”, cultural idols that have persisted from time immemorial and ensnare people into subtle sinful patterns. These are not things that we choose, as much as they are things we are raised in and taught as if no other kind of world were possible. This isn’t really an excuse, but it is an explanation. God does not countenance us serving the idols of our time, but in a certain way I think it is possible (and perhaps, common) for people to have a sincere, passionate devotion for God that can coexist for a time with this almost subconscious idolatry. Now, in the long run idolatry and worship of God will always be conflicted, one warring against the other, just as much as Elijah adjured Israelite society of his day to cease swaying between two opinions and to choose between serving Baal and serving the LORD.  But for a time, it is possible even for people who would (in the long run) choose God and destroy the idols in their lives.

Again, I am not seeking to excuse or justify idolatry, but to draw a distinction that sometimes exists between overt idolatry, when a person chooses idolatry and lives in it actively, and this kind of passive idolatry that can diffuse through society and into the lives of all, even people who are trying to be devoted to the LORD. In my personal opinion, I think Jehu is the latter case, a man who is zealous for the LORD but was ensnared by the enduring culture of idolatry that existed in his nation at that time.  The question for many people in not whether they have idols in their lives, but how they respond when God tries to root those idols out.

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