Vengeance Or Bloodshed?
For years and years, those critical of the Scriptures have enjoyed trying to poke holes in the Bible’s reliability. Of course, this beloved pastime of the non-believer never meets success, but sometimes such efforts actually work exactly contrary to their aim— rather than destroying faith and enfeebling Christians, these attacks lead us to deeper investigation into particular passages, providing valuable lessons and growth in knowledge.
One ‘alleged discrepancy’ that comes up now and then concerns the Lord’s naming of one of Hosea’s sons, in Hosea 1:4-5. “Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” According to some critics, the Lord’s opinion of Jehu’s work and the judgment He pronounced upon his house for “bloodshed” create some inconsistencies. For when Jehu was anointed king of Israel, Jehovah gave him these instructions though a prophet: “You shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge the blood of My servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Jezebel. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; and I will cut off from Ahab all the males in Israel, both bond and free” (2 Kings 9:7-8).
So, the skeptic asks, how is it that Jehu was instructed to cut off the house of Ahab, but is later condemned for his violence? Is this because the prophecies in the two passages were simply delivered by two ordinary men, without a uniting Spirit inspiring their words? Or do we serve a capricious God whose demands change on a whim?
We can first say that studying these two passages (Hosea 1 and Jehu’s story in 2 Kings 9-10) actually makes clear a very important point: motives matter. Why was Jehu supposed to ‘clean house’, eradicating Ahab’s line and starting his own dynasty as king of Israel? The Lord’s intention was for Jehu to cleanse Israel, ridding it of the wicked, idolatrous leadership under which it had suffered for many years. In fact, this governmental reorganization was promised to Elijah all the way back in 1 Kings 19. When that prophet despaired, claiming that all the land had forsaken the Lord except for him, God told Elijah that this was not the case, and that changes were coming—Jehu was to be a part of these changes. As Jehu was told, his mission was to avenge the blood of the prophets, to punish Ahab’s house by removing them from power (and existence), so that they could no longer trouble the servants of the Lord.
Yet it seems that Jehu cared very little for this reasoning—he was simply a man of bloodshed. The alacrity with which Jehu begins carrying out his task is fairly startling, and he certainly didn’t leave any stones unturned. Both kings at the time (Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah) were killed almost immediately upon Jehu’s anointing; Jezebel was executed soon thereafter; seventy sons of Ahab were beheaded by their caretakers in Samaria; the rest of Ahab’s family was cut down as well. Yet among this narrative we also see that Jehu murdered 42 brothers of Ahaziah, men who had no relation to Ahab. But most of all, we must simply pay attention to the words used by God in the two passages to see the difference in how the Lord and Jehu viewed the task: what God desired was ‘cutting off’ (2 Kings 9:8) the malignant members of the nation, a cleansing of evil. What Jehu performed was simply “bloodshed” (Hosea 1:4), wanton destruction that served little purpose other than to slake his appetite for violence and promote his political position.
Jehu’s own actions condemn him, as the Spirit summarizes the king’s reign in 2 Kings 10. “But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin” (2 Kings 10:31). He might have carried out some of the Lord’s instructions, but it seems that such obedience was merely coincidental—when God’s will happened to align with what he wanted to do, Jehu was happy to obey. Yet when that time was over, he “took no heed”, or “was not careful”, to follow a righteous path.
Furthermore, it must be noted that the second part of Jehovah’s pronouncement in Hosea 1:4 is that He was going to “bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.” Would this judgment have been necessary if Jehu had truly walked with God? If he had removed the idolatry of Jeroboam from the land, and raised sons who had similar goals to carry on after him, would the Lord have used such extreme measures to chasten Israel and avenge Jehu’s bloodshed? Israel fell long before Judah did because kings of Judah actually heeded the word of God, for the right purposes—keeping the nation holy, dedicated and obedient to the Lord. We have no reason to think that Israel could not have similarly forestalled their destruction—or avoided it entirely—by this same type of faithfulness. Instead, Jehu was content to allow the nation to run headlong down the path to captivity. Nothing had essentially changed from the days of Ahab or Jeroboam—it was the same show, but with a different name on the marquee.
It is not enough to simply live in accordance with some of God’s instructions because those commands happen to be in line with what we had planned on doing anyway. Our motivations, in any task or endeavor we may undertake in this world, are crucial as far as the Lord is concerned. We must also take care that we are obeying completely, and finishing what we’ve started. We cannot follow one small subset of our God’s commandments, and then settle down to a life of careless ease and self-will, thinking that we have been obedient.
Let us all align our will with the Lord’s will, and perform it in fullness.
— Drew Jones