5.81 2 Kings -- Morality and Massacre
To the Western reader, committed to the concept that "God is Love" and nothing more, the violence of Jehu's early reign is repulsive. It is, well, "ungodly." It is reminiscent of Islamic jihad, and the indiscriminate killing of thousands of innocent people. But instead of reading into the text modern sentiments, let us set this episode in its historical context:
1. The sins of Ahab and his house, and of the Baal worshippers, were past the point of forgiveness. Ahab's sins included allowing Baal-worship to flourish, marrying an idolater who persecuted God's messengers, killing Naboth and stealing his land. He had been given a last warning at Mt Carmel, so there could be no doubt of the seriousness with which God viewed his conduct. Furthermore, when Ahab made a show of repentance following the murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21:27-29), God deferred judgment on Ahab's household till after his death. At the time of Jehu's coup, 14 years had passed since Ahab's death, two of his sons had sat on the throne after him (Ahaziah and Joram), and neither son followed the Lord. All this time, Jezebel and her false prophets were alive, active and powerful.
2. God's judgment was not limited to Ahab and Jezebel. During the reign of Ahab, God withheld rain for 3 years (1 Kings 17:1). This affected the entire country. After Ahab's death, He caused a 7-year famine. The land itself came under a curse because of the the sins of the leaders, and also because many Israelites participated in the rites of the Baalists. Yet this was a measured judgment on the part of God: there was no bloodshed, no massacre, no plague.
3. A part of this general decline was the stirring up of enemies on Israel's border: Aram, Edom, Moab. Yet as often as the Arameans invaded, God sent a word of deliverance through one of His prophets -- even though His people never repented.
4. The judgment of God through Jehu was different: it was short and bloody. It was targeted, focused, and limited in extent and duration. It was not random and open-ended. The two objects were the house of Ahab and the prophets of Baal. Both of these groups were self-declared enemies of God. The kingship of Israel held by Ahab was a position of trust. He was accountable to God for his stewardship of God's people.
5. Ahab had never been left in the dark. He had always had available to him the will and wisdom of God, if not in the written Law of Moses, certainly in the living word of the prophets. And he himself had witnessed the fire of heaven falling on Mt Carmel. His persistent disobedience is indefensible.
6. Jehu was a man in the mold of the old Judges of Israel, particularly Samson, a Spirit-called and -empowered deliverer. Samson committed mayhem on the Philistines wherever he went. Jehu was likewise a purgative, but not to the external enemies of Israel (Aram), rather to those of Israel who had betrayed God's trust.
7. The judgment upon the Baal worshippers was nothing new: it is a reiteration of the prohibition of Canaanite worship in Israel, going back to the days of Moses. Baal and God could not co-exist in the same territory, particularly when that territory was God's declared Promised Land.
8. Given the passage of time since Ahab's death and the lack of change in Israel, the proper question is not how could God be so severe, but why was His judgment so light? He was determined to rid the land of its corrupt political and religious leaders. He spared the common people, but not the royal house. Sparing any of Ahab's offspring would have provided a point of rebellion and rallying for the friends of Jezebel.
We can ignore the Old Testament, or reinterpret it, and so eliminate all "unpleasant" incidents such as Jehu's revenge. Certain segments of modern Christianity do one or the other of these. Usually these viewpoints also exhibit a naivete about the origin and seriousness of evil in the world. Liberalism tends toward the opinion that the only real evil is a God who judges mankind. Such pious fantasies are out of touch with historical reality and tragedy. The measure of evil is shown by the depths and extent of human suffering, which has increased in our day beyond anything known in the ancient world. Most of this is intentional suffering, rather than so-called "acts of God" -- the result of mass actions of international oppression, war, misallocation of resources, subjection of millions to godless regimes. All of this cries out for a Savior AND a Judge. The destruction of Ahab's house is a comfort to the oppressed in any age, and a reminder that their rulers will be held accountable by God Himself for their actions.