CHAPTER 16 - JORAM AND JEHU, (TENTH AND ELEVENTH) KINGS OF ISRAEL. AHAZIAH, (SIXTH) KING OF JUDAH.
Accession of Ahaziah - Character of his Reign - Expedition of Joram and Ahaziah against Hazael and taking of Ramoth-Gilead - Joram returns Wounded to Jezreel - Visit of Ahaziah - Jehu anointed King - Rapid March on Jezreel - Joram killed - Pursuit and Death of Ahaziah - Jezebel killed - Fulfillment of the Divine sentence by Elijah.
(2 Kings 8:25-9:37; 2 Chronicles 22:1-9.)
THE brief reign of Ahaziah, or Jehoahaz (2 Chronicles 21:17) - for the names are precisely the same, the two words of which they are compounded being only reversed* ) - may be regarded as marking the crisis in the history alike of the northern and the southern kingdom. The young prince was twenty-two years old** when he ascended the throne (2 Kings 8:26).***
* Jeho-achaz, "Jehovah seizes" or "holds," Achaz-jah, "seizes" or "holds Jehovah." We are unwilling to hazard any speculation why the name should have been thus transposed at the accession of the young king.
** The number "forty and two" in 2 Chronicles 22:2 is evidently the mistake of a copyist ( m 40 for k 20). It must be remembered that Jehoram, his father, died at the age of forty (2 Chronicles 21:5). This implies that he was a father at the age of eighteen. Even so, we know that Jehoram had sons older than Ahaziah (2 Chronicles 22:1), although, no doubt, from different wives. But we know that marriages of princes in the East were very early - probably at the age of thirteen.
*** In 2 Kings 8:26 she is called "the daughter of Omri," either granddaughter, or perhaps with intentional reference to Omri as the wicked founder of the wicked dynasty of Ahab.
To say that he followed the evil example set by his father, would not express the whole truth. Holy Scripture designates his course as a walking "in the ways of the house of Ahab," explaining that his mother Athaliah a was his counselor, and that he was also influenced by the other members of that family. It was by their advice that he united with his uncle Joram in that expedition which ended in the death of the two kings, although there is no evidence that a Judaean army was actually joined to the forces of Israel.*
* There is at least no express reference to a Judaean army, and the circumstances of Jehu's advance and of Ahaziah's attempted flight seem most consistent with the idea that there was no Judaean contingent.
We remember that fourteen years before, Jehoshaphat, the grandfather of Ahaziah, had joined Ahab in a similar undertaking, which had proved unsuccessful, and in which Ahab lost his life. We might wonder at the renewal of an attempt upon Ramoth-Gilead, when a man like Hazael occupied the throne of Syria; but the Assyrian monuments explain alike the expedition and its opening success. From these we learn that there was repeated war between Assyria and Hazael, in which, to judge from the number of Syrian war chariots captured (1121), the whole force of the country must have been engaged and exhausted. On another occasion we read of a war in which after a great victory* an Assyrian monarch pursued his enemy from city to city, and even into the mountains, burning and destroying everything before him.**
* For the sake of any who may have wondered at the large numbers recorded in the Bible as slain in battle, it may be stated that they are quit as large on the Assyrian monuments.
** Comp. Schrader, d. Keilinschr. u. d. A. Test. pp. 206-210.
We may therefore conjecture that if Joram was not actually in league with Assyria - as Jehu afterwards was - the Israelitish king availed himself of the opportunity for an attack upon Ramoth-Gilead. In this he seems to have been successful (2 Kings 9:14), although he was wounded by the Syrians - as Josephus has it, by an arrow during the siege (Ant. 9:6, 1). Leaving Ramoth-Gilead, which he had taken, in the keeping of Jehu, his chief captain, Joram went back to the summer palace of Jezreel, to be healed of his wounds, both as nearer to the field of action, and because the court was there at the time.
It was to Jezreel that Ahaziah went to see his uncle, and during this fatal visit the "destruction" overtook him, which, as the writer of the Book of Chronicles notes, "was of God." It came together with that of Joram and the whole house of Ahab. The judgment which more than fourteen years before had been pronounced upon Ahab (1 Kings 21:21-24) had only been deferred till the measure of the guilt of his house was filled. And now the hour had come. In that awful vision on Mount Horeb, Elijah had received the commission to "anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi... to be king over Israel" (1 Kings 19:16), with special view to the work of punishment which he was to execute. The commission, which Elijah himself could not discharge, had devolved on Elisha; and, the proper time for its execution having arrived, the prophet now sent one of the "sons of the prophets" - a young man (9:4), possibly his personal attendant. As no doubt he literally obeyed the injunctions of his master, we shall best learn what these were by following the detailed account of what he actually said and did.
As directed by Elisha, he went to Ramoth-Gilead, carrying with him a vial, probably of holy oil, which the prophet had given him. Even this is significant. On his arrival he found, as so often in this history, all apparently arranged so as to carry out the special purpose of God. He had been told to "look out" Jehu, and here were all the captains of the host sitting together, probably in deliberation. Remembering that the chief command devolved on Jehu, it would not be difficult to single out the object of the young man's mission. He had only to say, "I have a word to thee, O captain," and Jehu as president would naturally answer. It was so; and on Jehu's inquiry to which of them the message was, the young prophet replied: "To thee, O captain."
The captains had been sitting in the great court, and Jehu now took his strange visitor "into the house," no doubt, as Elisha had directed, into "an inner chamber," one that opened out of another, where what passed between them could not be observed from the court. Here, without further explanation - for abruptness of delivery was part of the object in view, and indeed characteristic of the direct Divine message - the young man poured the oil on the head of Jehu, and stated the terms of his commission. It was in the name of "Jehovah, God of Israel," and on behalf of Israel, viewed as "the people of Jehovah" (2 Kings 9:6). This emphatic introduction of Jehovah marked the character of the work to which Jehu was called. He was now Divinely anointed king, to execute judgment on the house of Ahab, and to avenge at the hand of Jezebel the blood of the prophets, and of all the servants of Jehovah. And the whole house of Ahab was to perish like that of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:10), and that of Baasha (1 Kings 16:3). But upon Jezebel would special personal judgment descend, commensurate to the terrible crime against Naboth, which she had planned and executed (1 Kings 21.). Thus would all men see that Jehovah was the living and true God; thus also would the loudest but also the last call to national repentance come to Israel, ere the storm of judgment burst over the land.
It is in this light that what seem from our point of view the horrible events of the beginning of Jehu's reign must be regarded. But then our point of view was not that of Israel at that time, and if the commencing judgment on national apostasy, and the final call to repentance which it implied, were to be effective, they must be suited to their, not to our, standpoint. Let it be remembered that the long ministry of Elijah and Elisha, with all the exceptionally direct and striking Divine interpositions connected with them, had passed without producing any appreciable effect on the people. The years of sudden famine, and its equally sudden cessation; the scene at the sacrifice on Carmel, as well as the prolonged public and private activity of Elisha, had apparently only wrought this result: that the great prophets came to be regarded as possessing some absolute power to influence the God of Israel (comp. 2 Kings 6:31; 8:4). A very different kind of ambassador was now to do God's behest and to execute His judgments, although perhaps just because he would do that for which he was called in his own wild Eastern manner, and in accordance with the spirit of the time.
It is in this sense that we can understand the Divine approbation conveyed to Jehu (2 Kings 10:30), even while feeling that the man himself and his modes of acting were contrary to God. And, indeed, this fact is distinctly brought out in the verse which follows the expression of the Divine approbation (ver. 31).
We have said that Jehu did his work as a Jehu, not as an Elisha, and in accordance with the spirit of his times. We may add that, as the experience of the past showed, no other mode would have been understood by Israel. It was a very dark night, and only the flashes of lightning and the flames of burning palaces which they had kindled could show what tempest of judgment had gathered in the sky. Yet even so might men have learned the possibility of brightness and calm with the sunrise of the morrow.*
* It may possibly be with reference to this, that the young "son of the prophets" was really a messenger of near judgment upon Israel, together with the dim outlook on possible repentance, that some of the Rabbis have regarded the messenger of Elisha as the prophet Jonah.
Returning to our history, we follow Elisha's messenger as, obedient to his directions, after having executed his commission, he opens the door and literally flees through the court where the assembled captains are in waiting for Jehu. He must not give explanations to any man; he must not be arrested nor questioned by any. His business was with Jehu - that done, alike in character with the Divine message, and even for the sake of its success, he must withdraw. And, although so widely differing in character, there is in this also a practical lesson for those who have some work to do for God. Let us avoid all mere talking, and, if we can, all explanation.
God's work will best explain itself, we cannot explain it. We must withdraw our personality as soon and as completely as may be; do the commission which we feel to be of God, and eschew in it saluting any man by the way (Luke 10:4). And so the young prophet would be outside the walls of Ramoth-Gilead, and on his way back to Samaria, when Jehu rejoined the "servants of his lord."*
* The peculiar expression here, and the similar allusion in ver. 7, seems to me designedly chosen to bring out the work of Jehu as the sentence of the higher Master.
They must all have recognized the garb and appearance of one of "the sons of the prophets," and inferred that something of supreme importance was about to take place. For the proper understanding of this history it is necessary to bear in mind that it was possible to be opposed to the worship of Baal, and in favor of that of the God of Israel, without any personal or true religion. In point of fact, Jehu exterminated for the time alike the service and the servants of Baal, although he "took no heed to walk in the way of Jehovah, God of Israel, with all his heart; he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin" (2 Kings 10:31).
It was the service of Baal which Ahab had initiated, while Jeroboam's worship of God under the symbol of the golden calf might be represented as the ancient Israelitish (in opposition to the Judaean and Levitic) service of the God of Israel. We can readily believe that there might be a large and influential national party in the northern kingdom, intensely opposed to the anti-Israelitish and foreign policy and ways in State and Church of the house of Ahab. And both from his antecedents (comp. 2 Kings 9:25, 26), and his subsequent conduct, we infer that Jehu was a leader - perhaps the leader - of this national party, which naturally would have many adherents throughout the country.
Quite consistent with this view is the deep interest taken by the captains in the mission of the young prophet to Jehu, and their readiness to take up his cause, even while at the same time the messenger was slightingly spoken of - just as men of the world might characterize such an one as a "mad" enthusiast. It is difficult to decide the reason of what seems the evasive answer first made by Jehu. But when perceiving by their interest the likelihood of their joining the national cause, he told them at least that part of the message which appointed him king over Israel.*
* Mark the omission of the words, " over the people of Jehovah," in ver. 6.
If Jehu possessed the ferocity, he evidently had also the cunning of an Eastern. Perhaps he could scarcely have been prepared for the rapidity with which the military revolution was accomplished. The assembled captains took off their upper garments, and spread them, in token of homage, as a carpet "on the platform of the steps,"* that is, the steps which led up to a platform or balcony, and then, amidst the blast of trumpets, the usual signal at a coronation (1 Kings 1:39; 2 Kings 11:14), Jehu was proclaimed king.
* But the expression is difficult, and is generally translated, " the very stairs," or "the stairs themselves."
The formal conspiracy against Joram, now hastily made, was immediately carried out. At the proposal of Jehu, the city gates were watched, lest any fugitive might bring tidings to Jezreel. Jehu himself, with Bidkar as his chief captain, in his chariot (ver. 25), and attended by a "multitude" (ver. 17) - no doubt, of horsemen - rapidly made his way to Jezreel. From incidental notices in the account (vers. 17, 30, 31) we gather that the royal palace formed part of the fortifications of the town, - perhaps, as in other places, that the palace was the only fortified part of Jezreel,* the town straggling beyond, and lying, as it were, in the shelter of the palace fort, which would occupy the height. Thus the "watchman on the tower of Jezreel" would really hold that place of observation in the palace, and when "Jehu came to Jezreel," Jezebel could address him from a window above, as he "entered in at the gate."
* Canon Tristram remarks that "not a vestige of it remains," although he found sarcophagi "with the figure of the crescent moon, the symbol of Ashtaroth" (Land of Israel, pp. 131; comp. Conder, Tent-Work in Palestine, 1. p. 125).
From the knoll - about 500 feet high, forming a low spur of Mount Gilboa - on which Jezreel stands, two roads diverge, keeping close to Mount Gilboa. The one turns east and south, and then sharply round the corner at Beth-Shean; the other crosses the plain of Esdraelon, almost straight south to En-gannim ("the fount of the gardens," the modern Jenin), where the direct road leads to Samaria, but whence also we might turn off eastwards to Beth-Shean and the Jordan. It is almost needless to say that it was along the former of these roads that the watchman on the tower of Jezreel saw Jehu and his company advancing at "mad" haste. For miles they must have been visible on the road that led up to Beth-Shean. When the watchman announced their approach to the king, Joram, in his false security, directed that a single horseman should be sent to inquire what tidings they brought. As he reached Jehu, the rebel general imperiously bade him join his troop. This movement also the watchman observed and reported to Joram. If the dispatch of the first horseman may be understood, that of a second one seems in the circumstances little short of fatuity.
By the time the second messenger from Jezreel had obeyed the orders of Jehu and joined his companion, the troop was sufficiently near for the experienced eye of the watchman to recognize, not indeed the face of Jehu, but that the driving of the foremost chariot was like none other's than that of the bold, reckless chief captain of Israel's host. When the watchman reported it to the king, this would probably coincide with what had been his own idea from the first. A troop advancing from that direction could only have come from the army in Ramoth-Gilead - probably to bring tidings of some victory, or of the final retreat of the Syrians, or of proposals of peace. The announcement that it was Jehu himself would tend to confirm such anticipations. Accordingly Joram had his war chariot and that of Ahaziah hastily made ready, and the two kings went to meet Jehu.
As we descend from Jezreel on the road to Beth-Shean there are on the east and south-east of the city "rock-cut wine-presses on the rugged hills," marking no doubt where "the portion of Naboth" and his vineyard had been. It was here that the royal party encountered Jehu and his troop. To the light-hearted question of Joram, "Is it peace, Jehu?"* such answer came as must at once and rudely have dispelled any illusions. "What! 'is it peace?' (until) so long as the whoredoms of Jezebel thy mother, and her witchcrafts, the many?" the former expression referring, as frequently, to idolatry (comp. Jeremiah 3:2, 3; Ezekiel 23:27); the latter to the enchantments and heathen rites practiced in connection with it.** From which words we also learn that in popular opinion Jezebel exercised paramount influence over her son, and that the un-Israelitish rites prevalent were attributed to her.
* Here probably equivalent to, What news? or rather, What good news?
** As to this comp. Exodus 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:10.
With the short cry, "Deceit, Ahaziah!" Joram turned his horses' heads to flee into Jezreel, when Jehu, drawing his bow, sent the arrow with such strength between the shoulders of Joram that it passed out at his heart, and the king fell dead in his chariot. Then reminding his "adjutant" Bidkar of the burden or punitive sentence which Jehovah had in their presence laid upon Ahab, on the day they two had ridden behind the king as his attendants, when he had gone to take possession of the property of murdered Naboth, he commanded the body of Joram to be cast into that very plat of ground, "according to the word of Jehovah."
Meanwhile Ahaziah, perceiving the turn of matters, sought safety in flight. Leaving Jezreel aside, he turned sharp round the shoulder of Gilboa, and struck the direct road southwards: "fled the way of the Beth-Gan," which we regard as another name for En-gannim, the modern Jenin, at the southern end of the plain of Jezreel.* Unwilling to allow his escape, Jehu, while himself preparing to enter Jezreel, gave rapid directions to pursue Ahaziah. "Him also smite - in the going up to Gur! which is by Ibleam."** We can at least thus far identify "the going up to Gur," that the neighboring town of Ibleam has been localized in the modern Bir el Belemeh, south of En-gannim. It is here then that we must place the "ascent to Gur," where Jehu had expected, although mistakenly, that the pursuers might overtake the chariot of Ahaziah.
* It need scarcely be said that the whole passage is very difficult as compared with the account in 2 Chronicles 22:9. Although we are nowise concerned to conciliate trifling differences of detail which may depend on different records of the same event, or perhaps only seem such from our ignorance of some of the circumstances, we have endeavored to give in the text an account of the event which will harmonize the narrative in 2 Kings with the notice in 2 Chronicles.
** The punctuation is of course ours: but intended to indicate the meaning which we attach to the words.
As we infer, the object of Ahaziah was to reach Megiddo in safety. That place has generally been located, but, as recently shown, erroneously, at the western edge of the plain of Jezreel, under Mount Carmel. In truth Megiddo lay in the opposite direction - south and east from Jezreel - being "the large ruin between Jezreel and Beth-shean, which still bears the name Mujedd'a."* This location of Megiddo greatly helps the understanding of our narrative. As already stated, Ahaziah's hope was that in reaching Megiddo he would have not only out-distanced, but out-wearied his pursuers. And his purpose may have been to make his way to the Jordan,** and along its eastern banks till he could cross into Judaea.
* Conder u.s. pp. 128-130.
** He might deem himself the more safe that Jehu - and presumably those who might follow him from Ramoth-Gilead - had taken the road on the other (the eastern) side of Gilboa.
But in this hope, as we imagine, he was disappointed. Pursued to Megiddo, he fled to Samaria (2 Chronicles 22:9). The knowledge that the sons of Ahab were brought up in the houses of the principal men of the city (2 Kings 10:1) led him to expect that he might be able to hide for a time among the adherents of his grandfather. We know how little the loyalty of the nobles of Samaria was to be depended upon (2 Kings 10:1-7), and we do not wonder to read that Ahaziah was "caught" in Samaria, brought back to Megiddo, and there slain by order of Jehu. Nor does it seem strange that his body was given up to his servants to be taken to Jerusalem and buried there, as being a descendant of that Jehoshaphat "who sought Jehovah with all his heart." For the whole movement of Jehu was ostensibly for the purpose of abolishing the worship of Baal, and restoring that of Jehovah, the God of Israel.
We return to sketch, as briefly as we may, the closing hours of that day in Jezreel. Tidings of all that was passing had rapidly reached Jezebel. Her course was soon chosen. She knew she must die; and she would die as a princess of her race, and a queen. After the Oriental fashion, she put paint on her eyes,* "and tired her head." Thus arrayed as a queen,** she took her place at the window, awaiting the arrival of Jehu.
* A mixture of antimony and zinc, prepared with oil, with which the eyebrows and lashes were painted black, and which, according to Pliny, had the effect of making the eyes appear larger (comp. also Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 23:40, besides references to the custom in profane writers).
** Her adornment could not have been intended to attract Jehu, since, having a grandson twenty-three years old (2 Kings 8:26), she was of an age when no adornment could have given charms to an Eastern woman.
As he appeared, she called to him from above - taking up and adapting the word with which the messengers of Joram, and then the unfortunate king himself, had unsuspectingly greeted Jehu: "Is it peace? Zimri, murderer of his master!" The words were intended to remind Jehu of the fate of Zimri, whose reign lasted only seven days (1 Kings 16:9-19), perhaps to stir up feelings which would lead to a similar counter-revolution. Even if no other motive had been actuating him, self-preservation dictated quick and decisive action on the part of Jehu. Looking up, he exclaimed in his impatient way: "Who is on my side? Who?" and when some of the eunuchs immediately responded, Jezebel was, at his command, thrown from the window. Her blood bespattered the wall and the horses, and the chariot of Jehu, as he passed through the gate, crushed her mangled body.
And now King Jehu is at his royal banquet within the palace of the murdered princes. Was it statecraft, dictating regard for the Tyrian princess; or some pity for the fallen greatness of one who had died a proud queen; or a rising feeling that, for his own sake, a descendant of royalty should not be exposed to the extreme of popular contempt, which prompted him to give orders for the burial of Jezebel? But whatever his motives, the command came too late. Only the skull, the hands, and the feet of Jezebel were found; the rest had been food for those wild dogs which prowled about Jezreel. And if Jehu did not in his heart recognize the meaning and lessons of the terrible judgment which had fallen with such literality on the wretched queen, he at least declared and owned: "This is the word of Jehovah, which He spake by His servant Elijah the Tishbite." And so there was testimony in Israel for Jehovah and His Word in the judgments upon Ahab and his house - even as many centuries afterwards there was testimony of judgment for the Christ in the flames which consumed Jerusalem and its Temple.*
* According to the Rabbis both Jeroboam and Jehu were of the tribe of Manasseh, and became kings in fulfillment of Genesis 48:19 (Ber. R. 82).