Today, I begin a study of Jehu, king of Israel. This study will be divided into two parts. Part one will study the political and religious crises that prompted the prophetic community of the Northern Kingdom to take action and plan the overthrow of the Omrides. The second part of this study will deal with Jehu’s anointing and the actions he took in order to eliminate Jezebel and the members of Ahab’s family.
Jehu, the son of Nimshi, was the tenth king of Israel and he reigned twenty-eight years (843-815 B.C.). He came to the throne of the Northern Kingdom with prophetic approval in order to overthrow the dynasty of Omri. Jehu appears as the son of Nimshi in 1 Kings 19:16 and 2 Kings 9:20 and as the son of Jehoshaphat in 2 Kings 9:2, 14. It has been suggested that Nimshi was Jehu’s grandfather. In his youth Jehu served as a chariot officer in Ahab’s army. He was one of the two witnesses that heard the prophetic sentence against Ahab and his house (2 Kings 9:25-26; see 1 Kings 21:17-19, 28-29).
The selection of Jehu to be king of Israel was made by God himself. God’s will was revealed to Elijah and fulfilled by Elisha. Jehu became king of Israel at a crucial time in the life of the nation. The events that preceded his accession to the throne provide the proper background for understanding his anointing and the bloodshed that followed his coronation.
Political Confusion in Israel
When the United Kingdom divided after the death of Solomon, both Judah and Israel went their different ways. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) was plagued by internal instability. The Southern Kingdom (Judah) remained somewhat stable because the Davidic dynasty survived throughout its history. However, Israel’s throne changed occupants many times, often by violence, in the first fifty years of its history. The accession of Omri to the throne brought stability and prosperity to Israel.
Omri’s rise to power was preceded by much political unrest in Israel (see 1 Kings 16:8-22). Elah, the son of Baasha reigned two years in Israel (877-876 B.C.). Elah was an incompetent king who did not have the support of his people. While the army of Israel was fighting against the Philistines (16:16), Elah, “while drinking himself drunk” (16:9), was killed by Zimri in the house of one of his officers. The death of Elah was seen as a judgment upon the house of Baasha, in accordance with the words of the prophet Jehu, the son of Hanani (16:12-13).
Israel’s next king, Zimri (876 B.C.), was king of Israel for seven days. Zimri was the commander of half of the chariots of the army of Elah. Zimri killed the royal family and assumed the throne of Israel (16:11-12). When the news of the death of the royal family reached the Israelite army, the troops on the field proclaimed their commander, Omri, as king of Israel. After the death of Zimri, Israel was divided between two pretenders to the throne, Omri and Tibni, the son of Ginath (16:21-22). Nothing is known about Omri’s family. The fact that Omri’s family is not mentioned may indicate that he probably was a non-Israelite, who was serving the king as commander of the army.
The Reign of Omri
After he became king of Israel, Omri’s first priority was the consolidation of his kingdom. One of Omri’s major political decisions was to establish an alliance with Ittobaal, king of Tyre. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Ahab, Omri’s son, to Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre (1 Kings 16:31). The treaty with Tyre brought economic prosperity to Israel. The royal treasury enjoyed considerable prosperity because of its trade with Tyre. Many people in Israel benefitted from the active commerce between Israel and Phoenicia. Omri also made an alliance with Judah. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, to Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 8:18).
Internally, Omri established a new capital for Israel (1 Kings 16:24). Omri bought a site from Shemer to build his capital and named it Samaria (16:24). Omri paid two talents of silver for Samaria. Thus Samaria became royal property and Omri had total control over the city.
Omri introduced a system of taxation to maintain the government. The economic condition in Israel created a class of rich people who controlled the means of production and the wealth of the nation. The situation of the poor became worse. In the days of the prophet Elisha, many poor people had to mortgage their land and sell their children and themselves to pay their debt and the taxes owed to the state and to creditors (see 2 Kings 4:1). This economic hardship upon the poor people of Israel was caused by the system of taxation which became necessary in order to maintain a large military complex and to fund royal projects in Samaria and throughout the nation. The oppressive economic policies of the Omrides brought much dissatisfaction with the policies of Omri and Ahab and created a desire for change.
The Religious Crisis in Israel
The issue that forced the community to conspire against the house of Omri and Ahab was the religious crisis in Israel brought about by the missionary program established by Jezebel. Jezebel was a worshiper of Baal Melqart and Asherah, the god and goddess of fertility. When Jezebel came to live in Samaria, she brought her religious beliefs with her. Working together as husband and wife, Ahab and Jezebel built a temple for Baal in Samaria (1 Kings 18:32). They also built an asherah (18:33). The asherah was a wooden pole which was a symbol of the fertility goddess Asherah, the consort of Baal. In addition, Jezebel brought in 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, all paid by the court (1 Kings 18:19). As part of her effort to establish Baal as the official religion of the land, Jezebel persecuted and killed many of the prophets and followers of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:4).
Elijah the prophet was commissioned by God to oppose the religious aspirations of Jezebel. Elijah began his ministry proclaiming a drought. Baal was held by his worshipers to be the god who controlled the rain (1 Kings 17:1). The announcement of the drought intended to show that Yahweh was the true God and the one who controlled the rain.
In order to promote the religion of Israel, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). The purpose of this contest was twofold. First, Elijah wanted to demonstrate who the true God was. Second, Elijah called on the people to follow either Yahweh or Baal When Yahweh powerfully demonstrated that he was able to answer the prayer of his prophet, the people recognized that Yahweh was the true God, (18:39), and as a result Elijah killed the prophets of Baal (18: 40).
When Jezebel heard what Elijah had done to the prophets of Baal, Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah, who for safety, fled to hide himself on Mt. Horeb (or Sinai). On Horeb God revealed himself to Elijah and gave him a plan to overthrow the dynasty of Omri (19:15-18): Elijah was to anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king over Israel, and Elisha to be his successor. Elijah returned to Israel to carry out God’s wishes; he was only able to carry out the third of God’s commands; it was left to Elisha to carry out the other two.
Next Post: Jehu, King of Israel – Part 2
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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