Solution to the Jehu Problem (2006)
It is alleged that that there is a contradiction between 2 Kings 10:30 and Hosea 1:4 because the former commends Jehu for massacring the house of Ahab, whereas the latter pronounces judgment upon the house of Jehu for the “blood of Jezreel.” Taking the latter as a reference to the members of the house of Ahab killed by Jehu in Jezreel (as recorded in 2 Kings 9-10) results in the alleged contradiction.
In his short article entitled “A Perfect Work of Harmony?” Farrell Till, editor of The Skeptical Review magazine, asks the question, “Why would Yahweh want to punish the house of Jehu for what was done at Jezreel if all Jehu had done there was ‘that which is right in mine [Yahweh’s] eyes’?” and concludes his article thus: “Perhaps some enterprising inerrantist can explain this to us.” Here I offer to the readers a solution to this problem which, I believe, should remove it from the lists of Bible contradictions for good.
This article, however, should not be taken as a defense of inerrancy, for I am not an inerrantist. The true biblical doctrine of divine inspiration of the Scriptures (as taught by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17) does not require, and the authority of the Bible does not depend on, inerrancy. Inerrancy is an invention of theologians. No intellectually honest reader of the Bible can deny the existence of numerous biblical discrepancies; but such discrepancies or errors demonstrably involve only inconsequential matters and do not undermine the basis of Christian salvation. A detailed explanation of these matters must await further articles.
Summary of the Solution
The solution is simply that there is no contradiction between 2 Kings 10:30 and Hosea 1:4 because “the blood of Jezreel” is not a reference to those killed by Jehu in Jezreel; such an interpretation does not fit the context of this phrase. Rather, Hosea 1:4-5 pronounces judgment against both the house of Jehu and the house of Israel for idolatry. Gomer’s first son is symbolically named Jezreel (meaning “God sows”) to signify that God will end the kingdom of Israel by Assyria and scatter (or “sow”) the Israelites among the heathen nations, as a token of which he will break Israel’s military power in the valley of Jezreel.
In this solution, “Jezreel” in “the blood of Jezreel” refers to the children of Israel as it clearly does in Hosea 1:4a, 1:11, and 2:22, and “blood” refers to the blood of the children of Israel shed by their enemies (in particular the Syrians) during the Jehu dynasty as a result of their idolatry. This “blood” is avenged upon the house of Jehu because they continued and promoted the cult of calf worship introduced by Jeroboam (and so “made Israel to sin”), which was the chief cause of divine judgment on the northern kingdom by enemy nations such as Syria. Starting from Jeroboam, all the kings of Israel were, in addition to being culpable for their own idolatry, responsible for the blood of the people of Israel in leading them in idolatry—and paid for it by the assassinations and massacres accompanying the numerous coups in Israel’s history (see 1 Kings 14:14-16). Because he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, i.e., calf worship, Jehu had been warned of divine judgment against his house, the execution of which was postponed to the fourth generation in consideration of the fact that he served God in the matter of the destruction of the house of Ahab (2 Kings 10:29-31).
The Solution in Detail
The solution to the problem lies in a correct interpretation of Hosea 1:4-5 and, in particular, the phrase “the blood of Jezreel.” As mentioned above, the contradiction results from taking this phrase as a reference to those killed by Jehu in Jezreel. Unfortunately, most apologists have also tried to reconcile the two verses on that basis.
But before I start discussing the meaning of the phrase “the blood of Jezreel,” I would like to state what appears to be a very simple and basic objection to this phrase being a reference to the blood spilt by Jehu in Jezreel. A list of all those of the house of Ahab killed by Jehu according to 2 Kings 9-10 is given below:
King Joram, son of Ahab, was killed near the property of Naboth in Jezreel (2 Kings 9:21-26).
Jezebel, wife of Ahab and mother of king Joram, was killed in Jezreel (2 Kings 9:30-37).
The seventy sons of Ahab were killed in Samaria; their heads were brought to Jehu in Jezreel (2 Kings 10:1-8).
“All that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel” were slain by Jehu following 4 above (2 Kings 10:11).
Forty-two relatives of king Ahaziah of Judah, who came down to visit the royal family of Israel, were slaughtered in Beth-eked (2 Kings 10:12-14).
“All that remained to Ahab in Samaria” were wiped out by Jehu “according to the word of the Lord which he spoke to Elijah” (2 Kings 10:17).
If Hosea is pronouncing judgment upon the house of Jehu for any killings carried out by him during his reign, then it is for destroying the house of Ahab, to which 1-7 above relate. The reader will note, however, that out of the seven, only 1, 3, and 5 involve blood-spilling in Jezreel. The number of Jehu’s victims of the house of Ahab outside of Jezreel at least equals—in fact probably exceeds—that in Jezreel. Therefore, it would be very inaccurate to refer to the massacre of the house of Ahab by Jehu as “the blood of Jezreel.” If Hosea was condemning the house of Jehu for the destruction of the house of Ahab by Jehu, he could have simply had God say “I will punish the house of Jehu for his destruction of the house of Ahab,” which would have been far more accurate. Indeed, “the house of X” is the usual expression used in the Bible when referring to the destruction of the family and relatives of the Hebrew kings (see, for example, 1 Kings 13:34; 15:29; 16:12; 2 Chronicles 21:7; 22:10). Alternatively, Hosea could have had God say “I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, the ascent of Gur, Samaria, and Beth-eked”! By analogy, imagine that Al Qaeda had attacked four locations in the U.S., one after another, including the World Trade Center, and all with similar numbers of casualties. How inaccurate and incomprehensible it would have been if the President had appeared on television afterward and said, “The U.S. will punish Al Qaeda for the blood of the World Trade Center!” Why single out one location when American citizens died in all four?
The meaning of “the blood of Jezreel” in context
It cannot be overemphasized that scriptures should be interpreted in their proper context. In biblical hermeneutics, the context of a verse is, in order of priority: first, its immediate context, i.e., the verses immediately preceding and following; second, the rest of the book in which the verse is found; and third, the whole Bible. In order for us to look at the context of the phrase in question, we need to first look at the background, theme, and message of the book of Hosea.
Some 200 years before the prophet Hosea’s time, the ten tribes had seceded from the united kingdom and set up an independent kingdom under Jeroboam I, with the Golden Calf as its official national god (1 Kings 12). Though there are some references in his book to Judah, Hosea’s message was principally for Israel, the northern kingdom. He lived in the tragic final days of the northern kingdom, during which no less than six kings (following Jeroboam II) reigned within 25 years. Of these, four were murdered by their successors while in office (Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah), and one was captured in battle (Hoshea). Only one (Menahem) was succeeded on the throne by his son. It was a time of Assyrian expansion westward, and Menahem accepted this world power as overlord and paid tribute (2 Kings 15:19-20). But shortly afterward, in 733 B.C., Israel was dismembered by Assyria because of the intrigue of Pekah, who had usurped Israel’s throne by killing Pekahiah, son and successor of Menahem. Following the disloyalty of Hoshea (the last king of Israel) to Assyria, Samaria was captured and its people exiled in 722-721 B.C., thus bringing the northern kingdom to an end.
During the period of Hosea’s prophecy, the nation was in a mess. Rejection of the true God and wholesale adoption of idolatrous practices brought about a moral and political landslide. Internal strife racked the nation with bloody coups being commonplace. Into this mess stepped Hosea and called the nation to repent and return to the true God. His message was one of divine judgment for Israel’s religious apostasy and moral bankruptcy, mixed with divine love for the nation and promises of its restoration. Eventually, Hosea predicted the fall of Israel to Assyria and said that “the thing itself [the golden calf] shall be carried to Assyria” (10:5-6).
With the above in mind, let us now look at Hosea 1:4-5, quoted below:
And the Lord said unto him [Hosea], Call his name Jezre-el; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood [or bloodshed] of Jezre-el upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Isra-el. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Isra-el in the valley of Jezre-el. (KJV)
Hosea’s ministry began with God commanding him to take a “wife of whoredoms” and have “children of whoredoms” by her. This was to symbolically represent the fact that the northern kingdom, represented by Gomer, had departed from the true God and committed “whoredom” spiritually (Hosea 1:2). Israel was God’s wife (Ezekiel 16:8), and so to forsake God and go after idols was spiritual harlotry (Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 31:16). Hosea married Gomer, who bore a son who was given the symbolic name “Jezreel”—which means “God sows”—for God was going to judge Israel, put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel, and scatter (“sow”) the Israelites among the heathens (cf. Hosea 1:11 and Zechariah 10:9). As a token of this God would destroy “the bow of Israel” (military prowess—see Jeremiah 49:35; Genesis 49:24) in the Valley of Jezreel. The beginning of the end of the northern kingdom started with an invasion of Israel by Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria (called “Pul” in 2 Kings 15:19), to whom king Menahem paid tribute (2 Kings 15:19-20). From that time onward Israel became a vassal state until the kingdom was brought to an end by king Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 17:3-6). Though not recorded in the historical books of the Old Testament, the “bow of Israel” must have been broken by Assyria in some decisive battle in the Valley of Jezreel about 724 B.C., though Samaria held out under siege for some three years longer.
The “Valley of Jezreel” is a plain in northern Israel which has been a major battlefield of nations throughout history. It took its name from the town of Jezreel, which stood between Megiddo and Beth Shean, and between Mount Carmel and Mount Gilboa. It was a natural battlefield. The Midianites, Amalekites, and people of the east once crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel to fight with the Israelites (Judges 6:33; cf. 1 Samuel 29:1).
The name “Jezreel” alludes to “Israel” by a play of letters and sounds—even more so in sound in Hebrew than in English. In the Bible we read about other small changes in names: Sarai became Sarah; Abram became Abraham. These changes were for the better, but this time it is for the worse. Jacob became “Israel,” meaning “he will rule as God,” which now becomes “Jezreel,” meaning “God scatters”—a demotion! This definite allusion reinforces what is already obvious from other verses: whatever Hosea writes in the first chapter or elsewhere concerning “Jezreel” must refer to God’s dealings with the nation Israel, and Israel alone. The house of Jehu is mentioned in Hosea 1:4-5 only insofar as they are included in the judgment of the nation for idolatry: God was going to cut off the house of Jehu first and then cut off the house of Israel after that. This point is important because the construction of the expression “the blood of Jezreel” as a reference to Jehu’s massacre of some members of royal family in Jezreel, which was a matter between the house of Jehu and the house of Ahab alone, is incongruous with the signification of the emblem. Since the first son of Gomer named “Jezreel” in Hosea 1:4 represents the children of Israel, in the immediately following clause in the same sentence “Jezreel” is used in the sense of “the children of Israel” in pronouncing judgment against the house of Jehu. Consequently, the phrase “the blood of Jezreel” means “the blood of the children of Israel.” Since the house of Jehu led the people of Israel in idolatry, they are responsible for it and its consequences, which was divine judgment of the nation in the form of enemy attacks against it with much blood-spilling. This blood, Hosea declares, is now going to be avenged on the house of Jehu. It was in the power of the kings of Israel to eradicate the cult of calf worship in Israel or perpetuate it, and, sadly, they chose the latter.
Hosea’s prophecy of doom against the royal house and the nation on account of idolatry is paralleled by Amos 7:8-11:
Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel…. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'”
Amos couples the judgment of the house of Jeroboam (=Jehu) for idolatry with that of the nation as a whole, and that is what Hosea did too. It is noteworthy that Hosea was a contemporary of Amos, and it is unlikely that two contemporaneous prophets of God held radically different views on such an important issue. Even if they did, would both of their writings, coming from the same period in Israel’s history, have been accepted into the canon of Hebrew scriptures?
We find the same juxtaposition in the prophet Ahijah’s original prophecy against Israel for idolatry: “The Lord will raise up for himself a king over Israel, who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam today. And henceforth the Lord will smite Israel…. And he will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and which he made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14:14-16). This Jeroboam is, of course, Jeroboam I, the first king of Israel, who introduced the cult of calf worship to Israel. It stands to reason that if the prophets accused Jeroboam of causing the people of Israel to sin through idolatry and held him responsible for their doom, then the king was also held accountable for their blood.
The idea that a person can be held responsible for the “blood” (i.e., death) of another, even though that person did not directly kill the other, is not strange to the Scriptures. Note Ezekiel 33:1-9:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman; and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people; then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head…. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes, and takes any one of them; that man is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel…” (RSV, emphasis added)
It is with this passage in mind that the apostle Paul told the unbelieving Jews in Corinth, “Your blood be upon your heads!” (Acts 18:6), i.e., “I have discharged my duty in preaching to you and so I am not responsible for the consequence of your unbelief, which is death.” Also see Acts 20:26.
Deuteronomy 22:8: “When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement [parapet] for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.”
“The blood of Jezreel” historically
During the period of the Jehu dynasty, the Syrians in particular harassed Israel. First, during the reign of Jehu, the Syrians under Hazael attacked Israel and annexed some territory in Transjordan (2 Kings 10:32-33). Elisha had earlier predicted the slaughter and destruction that Hazael would carry out in Israel when he became king (2 Kings 8:12-13). Note that it is not a coincidence that the writer of 2 Kings inserts the account of the conquests of Hazael in Israel immediately after 2 Kings 10:29-31, which records Jehu’s idolatry. The scripture writers always saw idolatry as the downfall of both Judah and Israel, and reports of attacks by enemy nations often follow reports of the idolatry of the two nations. A clear link is made between the two.
After the death of Jehu, his son Jehoahaz reigned in his stead. According to 2 Kings 13:2-7, the Syrians had almost annihilated Israel’s army during the reign of Jehoahaz:
[Jehoahaz] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael. Then Jehoahaz besought the Lord, and the Lord hearkened to him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed Israel. (Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians; and the people of Israel dwelt in their homes as formerly. Nevertheless they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin, but walked in them…) For there was not left to Jehoahaz an army of more than fifty horsemen and ten chariots and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Syria had destroyed them and made them like the dust at threshing. (RSV, emphasis added)
That, indeed, is the blood of Jezreel.
We can now understand Hosea 1:4-5 as follows:
And the Lord said unto him [Hosea], Call his [the firstborn of Gomer] name Jezre-el; for yet a little a while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezre-el [the children of Israel] upon the house of Jehu [because they, as the chief patrons in Israel of the cult of calf-worship, are principally responsible for the people of Israel sinning against me by following this cult, which caused me to punish Israel by their enemies resulting in their blood being shed], and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel [by Assyria as a judgment because they are hopelessly wedded to their idols]. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel [crush the military power] in the Valley of Jezreel.
Hosea 12:14 supports the interpretation that the “blood” is indeed that of the children of Israel shed as a result of idolatry: “Ephra-im provoked Him [God] to anger most bitterly [with their idols]: therefore shall He [God] leave his [Ephraim’s] blood upon him [Ephraim], and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him.” God had repeatedly sent Ephraim (synonym for Israel) prophets to call the nation from their idols and the moral degeneracy that accompanies it to the true God (12:10), but they did not respond and provoked God to anger “most bitterly” by their idols; therefore the bloodguilt for their demise would rest upon themselves alone (cf. Ezekiel 33:1-9). Hosea is here talking about the future divine punishment of Israel for their religious apostasy by Assyria (see 9:7-8,15-17; 10:4-8).
We have “the blood of Jezreel” in Hosea 1:4 and “his blood” in 12:14. Since the latter expression clearly refers to the blood of Ephraim (=Israel) shed by its enemies, this makes it more likely that former expression bears the same meaning. Let us allow Hosea himself to interpret his own language.
2 Kings 10:30, a postponed judgment
Most readers of 2 Kings 10:30 see nothing more than God’s commendation of Jehu for destroying the house of Ahab. But reading between the lines, one sees a hidden judgment mixed with the commendation. 2 Kings 10:29-31 reads:
Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan [vs.29]. And the Lord said unto Jehu [presumably through a prophet], Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in Mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in Mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit upon the throne of Israel [vs.30]. But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Nebat, which made Israel to sin [vs.31]. (KJV)
Look at the context of 2 Kings 10:30 carefully. In the immediately preceding verse (vs.29), the writer says that Jehu “departed not” from the sins of Jeroboam. Then, in vs.31, he again says: “But he took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam…” Now if vs.30 was purely meant to be a commendation of Jehu, and nothing else, then the setting of the promise that his dynasty would continue until the fourth generation would be most incongruous. The incongruity would be that a wholly positive statement expressing approval was sandwiched between two statements having a negative content expressing disapprobation. But this incongruity disappears when vs.30 is expanded to read as follows: “And the Lord said to Jehu, ‘Thou shouldest be punished for committing the sins of Jeroboam, but because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in Mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in Mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit upon the throne of Israel, in which I will judge thine house.”
With the expanded form of vs.30, the entire passage would read as follows:
Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan [vs.29]. And the Lord said unto Jehu, Thou shouldest be punished for committing the sins of Jeroboam, but because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in Mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in Mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit upon the throne of Israel, in which I will judge thine house [vs.30]. But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Nebat, which made Israel to sin [vs.31].
Doesn’t the passage make more sense now? In vs.29 the writer is setting out the basis for the judgment implied in vs.30, then in vs.31 saying, in effect: ‘In spite of the prophecy of judgment pronounced against his house, Jehu took no preventive action to avert the future tragedy to befall the fourth generation of his descendants by departing from the sins of Jeroboam.’ It is implied that if Jehu had given up calf worship and been wholly true to God, his house would have escaped judgment.
The Hebrew word translated as “took no heed” in 2 Kings 10:31 is shâmar (No. 8104 of Strong’s Concordance), which is so translated in the KJV more than thirty times and has meanings which include “beware, be circumspect, take heed [to self].” When so translated, it means taking care to do or not do something to avoid some negative consequence. For example, see Genesis 31:24, where God says to Laban, “Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad [lest I punish thee if thou do so]”; and Deuteronomy 11:16: “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and then the Lord’s wrath be kindled against you…”
So there is both good news and bad news for Jehu in 2 Kings 10:30: the bad news, which is not specifically mentioned but implied, is that his house is to be judged for continuing in the sins of Jeroboam; the good news is that the judgment is postponed to the fourth generation as a “reward” for serving God in destroying the house of Ahab. Contrast the promise given to Jehu that his house would continue until “the fourth generation” with the promise given to king David that his house would continue “forever” (2 Samuel 7:11-16). Why only until the fourth generation and not forever like the house of David? This difference makes sense only if we see the promise to Jehu that his dynasty would continue until the fourth generation as lenience shown in what is otherwise a judgment.
Other biblical examples of deferred punishment
Other biblical examples of deferred punishment are found in 1 Kings 21:29 and 1 Kings 11:12: “And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the evil upon his house'” (1 Kings 21:29, RSV, emphasis added). This statement followed the repentance of Ahab upon hearing the divine judgment pronounced by Elijah on his house because of all the evil he had perpetrated. (Compare the above with 2 Kings 10:30: “Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in Mine eyes…, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit upon the throne of Israel.”)
1 Kings 11:11-13 says:
The Lord said to Solomon, ‘Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant [Jeroboam]. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However I will not tear away all the kingdom…’
We can now see why Hosea condemned the house of Jehu for “the blood of Jezreel”: The house was held responsible for the lives of the people of Israel killed by the nation’s enemies, mainly Syria, during the Jehu dynasty. Jehu and his dynasty continued and promoted “the sins of Jeroboam,” i.e., worship of the golden calves, in Israel, and this was the chief cause of the divine judgment visited upon the northern kingdom, as repeatedly pointed out in the books of Kings and Chronicles. The book of Hosea itself has a number of references to this form of idolatry (Hosea 8:5,6; 10:5; 13:2).
When pronouncing judgment on Ahab for his sins, Elijah told him, “And I will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked Me to anger [with thy idols], and made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 21:22). Clearly the Old Testament writers held the royal family responsible for Israel sinning against God through idolatry (and, of course, for its consequences for the nation in the form of death and destruction by enemies). In the Old Testament, anyone found enticing the people of Israel to serve other gods was to be put to death, for that was an attempt to draw the people away from the true God and entailed evil consequences (Deuteronomy 13). Israel was punished for its idolatry by enemy nations, and its kings were punished for the same reason by the assassinations and massacres accompanying the various coups.
2 Kings 10:29-31 viewed in the light of Exodus 20:3-5
I think Exodus 20:3-5, quoted below, can shed more light on 2 Kings 10:29-31:
Thou shalt have no other gods beside Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting [Hebrew pâqad] the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.
What this passage says is that those who “hate” God, i.e., those who go after other gods, such as Jehu, are liable to have their sins visited even up to the third and fourth generations of their descendants. Comparison of 2 Kings 10:29-31 with Exodus 20:3-5 will provide confirmation that 2 Kings 10:30 is indeed a case of postponed punishment. Interestingly, Hosea uses the same Hebrew word pâqad in 1:4: “I will avenge [pâqad] the blood of Jezre-el…”
Note that Exodus 20:5 is not teaching vicarious guilt on the part of children for the sins of their fathers. When God “visits” the sins of the fathers upon the children, he withholds his grace from the descendants of idolaters like Jehu and allows them to emulate their fathers’ example, suffering the consequences for doing so.
“Jezreel” elsewhere in Hosea
The fourth occurrence of the name “Jezreel” in the book of Hosea is in 1:11: “for great shall be the day of Jezreel,” where “Jezreel” can only refer to the children of Israel, which clearly establishes the use of the name “Jezreel” in the sense of “children of Israel” in a genitive construction in this book (in the same chapter) and thus makes the above interpretation for the phrase “the blood of Jezreel” more plausible. Compare with the language of Joel 2:11 (“for the day of the Lord is great”); 2:31; Zephaniah 1:14.
The fifth and last occurrence of the name “Jezreel” in the book of Hosea is in 2:22, which concerns the restoration of Israel, and the name here, too, relates to the children of Israel. Here the name “Jezreel” is used in its positive meaning, i.e., “God sows” his people in their own land, so that they might bring forth fruit.
“The blood of Jezreel” as a reference to the massacre of the house of Ahab out of context in Hosea 1:4-5
As shown above, interpreting “the blood of Jezreel” as a reference to the massacre of the house of Ahab does not fit the context of either the verse in question or the entire book of Hosea. The three children of unfaithful Gomer all represent the children of Israel, and their names—viz., Jezreel, Lo-ruha-mah, and Lo-ammi—were meant to signify some aspect of God’s dealings with the nation on account of their idolatry. We have seen that the name “Jezreel” in its first, third, fourth, and fifth occurrences in the book clearly relates to the nation and God’s future dealings with it. Therefore, we have every reason to expect that the phrase “the blood of Jezreel”—the second occurrence of the name—would relate in some way to the nation as a whole.
If by this phrase Hosea meant to refer to the massacre of the house of Ahab, then in addition to the symbolism explained above, the first son of Gomer—Jezreel—must stand as a living reminder of the future punishment of the house of Jehu for the massacre of the house of Ahab by Jehu in Jezreel. If Hosea was condemning Jehu for that massacre in Hosea 1:4, he would be treating it only as a barbaric act of Jehu to usurp the throne of Israel, which is entirely a private matter between the house of Jehu and the house of Ahab. What, then, has the punishment of the house of Jehu for that massacre have to do with naming the first son of Gomer “Jezreel” (“God scatters”), who represented the children of Israel, or with the book of Hosea as a whole, whose principal theme is Israel’s religious apostasy and its subsequent restoration? Where does the nation Israel come into the picture? Furthermore, when God gave children to the nation as signs and named them, they always concerned the nation as a whole, not some clan or house. Consider the following:
The name of Isaiah’s son Shearjashubsheh means “A remnant shall return,” a sign assuring the preservation of a remnant of the nation in the midst of enemy oppression (Isaiah 7:3).
“Mahershalalhashbaz” means “The spoil speeds, the prey hastes,” a prophecy of Assyria despoiling Syria, thus saving Judah (Isaiah 8:1-4).
The child born to the virgin in Isaiah’s time was to be called “Immanuel,” meaning “God is with us,” i.e., God is with the nation Israel against its enemies (Isaiah 7:10-16). In Isaiah 8:8,10, “Immanuel” clearly refers to the nation. (Incidentally, the principal antitypical fulfillment of this prophecy was in the New Testament Church, the Israel of God, whose members were “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” [John 1:13].)
In the book of Hosea itself, Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter named “Lo-ruha-mah” (“Not Pitied”), so named because God would show no more mercy upon the house of Israel (vs.6). Gomer’s third child, a son, was symbolically named “Lo-ammi” (“Not my people”) (vs.8-9), signifying God’s disowning of his people. The children, with the possible exception of Jezreel, were evidently not Hosea’s (cf. Hosea 2:4 and 1:9 itself), and all represent the people of Israel. When Israel is restored, she is referred to as Ammi (“My People”) and Ruhamah (“Pitied”), with the negatives dropped. Similarly, “Jezreel” is used in its positive sense at Israel’s restoration (Hosea 2:22).
Furthermore, when a child who is to serve as a sign is given a name, that name, as can be seen from the above, always signifies some one aspect of God’s dealings with the nation. To signify a judgment of the house of Jehu for massacring the house of Ahab within the scope of the name “Jezreel” would make its symbolism complicated and incomprehensibly and irreconcilably unconnected. How do those who allege a contradiction between 2 Kings 10:30 and Hosea 1:4 (by presuming that the latter refers to Jehu’s massacre of some members of the house of Ahab in Jezreel) explain this? Finally, if “the blood of Jezreel” refers to the massacre of the house of Ahab by Jehu, then the fact that Hosea never refers to it again—in a book where repetition of the same themes abounds—is very strange.
Judgment of the house of Jehu for “the sins of Jeroboam” not unique in the OT
In addition to the house of Jehu, there were three other dynasties which were similarly judged for practicing the idolatry of Jeroboam and leading the people of Israel to sin. In fact, all the kings of Israel followed the apostasy of Jeroboam.
The origin of the sins of Jeroboam is reported in 1 Kings 12:26-33. Jeroboam introduced the cult of calf worship to Israel to keep the people of Israel from defecting to Judah. And he was judged for this. When the wife of Jeroboam went in disguise to meet the prophet Ahijah in Shiloh to inquire concerning her son, the prophet told her, among other things, that Jeroboam’s house would be destroyed because of his idolatry and that Israel, too, would be punished for their idolatry (1 Kings 14:1-16). The prophet said, “And he [God] will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and which he made Israel to sin” (vs.16, RSV). Jeroboam is held responsible for Israel sinning against God by adopting the calf worship he introduced and for the final consequence of that apostasy. The prophecy of doom against the house of Jeroboam was fulfilled when Baasha killed Nadab (the son of Jeroboam and his successor) and all the rest of the house of Jeroboam, then reigned in Nadab’s stead. Nadab, too, had “walked in the way of his father” (1 Kings 15:26).
Baasha in turn “walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 15:34). The prophet Jehu, the son of Hanani, delivered a prophecy of judgment to Baaha in terms similar to that given to Jeroboam’s wife, and said that God would make the house of Baasha like the house of Jeroboam (1 Kings 16:1-4). His son Elah succeeded him on his throne, but his reign was short-lived; Zimri, a commander of Israel’s army, assassinated Elah when he was at Tirzah and thereafter destroyed the rest of the house of Baasha. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jehu, “for all the sins of Baasha, and the sins of Elah his son, by which they sinned, and by which they made Israel sin, in provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their vanities” (1 Kings 16:8-13). They made Israel sin with the sin of Jeroboam.
Zimri’s reign, too, was short-lived, for his life ended in yet another conspiracy to usurp the throne of Israel (1 Kings 16:15-20). He died “because of his sins which he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin” (vs.19, RSV).
Then there was a tussle for power between Tibni, the son of Ginath, and Omri. Omri eventually prevailed and ascended to the throne of Israel. He, too, “walked in all the way of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, and in the sins which he made Israel to sin,” thus provoking the Lord to anger (1 Kings 16:26).
After the death of Omri (a natural death!), his son Ahab reigned and, as usual, walked “in the sins of Jeroboam” and introduced Baal worship to Israel to boot through the influence of his wicked wife Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31-32). A prophecy of judgment was pronounced against Ahab by Elijah, in which he was told that his house would suffer the same fate as those of Jeroboam and Baasha (1 Kings 21:20-24). However, this was postponed on account of his contrition (vss.27-29). Jehu fulfilled the prophecy (2 Kings 9-10).
Jehu, too, followed the sins of Jeroboam and, in the light of the foregoing, the reader will now be able to better appreciate the implied judgment in 2 Kings 10:30. Just think about it. When all the kings of Israel were judged for the sins of Jeroboam, could the house of Jehu have escaped judgment? Indeed it was judged, for we read that Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against king Zechariah, a descendant of Jehu of the fourth generation, and killed him to usurp the throne of Israel (2 Kings 15:10). When the writer of the books of Kings saw all of the assassinations of the kings of Israel, or the massacres of their houses, as a judgment upon them mainly for following the sins of Jeroboam, why should the assassination of Zechariah have been seen differently? Indeed, in the immediately preceding verse, the writer says that king Zechariah, too, “did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam” (vs.9).
All of the rest of the kings of Israel followed the sins of Jeroboam and perpetuated this form of idolatry in Israel, until the apostate nation was finally militarily crushed, subjugated, and exiled to Assyria in 721 B.C., thus fulfilling Hosea’s prophecy: “I [God] will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I [God] will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
Jehu was warned by God that his house would be judged for following the idolatry of Jeroboam, but, in consideration of his services to God in destroying the house of Ahab, the judgment was postponed to the fourth generation, which, as it turned out, was the generation of king Zechariah, Jehu’s great-great-grandson, who was assassinated by Shallum the son of Jabesh to usurp the throne. Hosea’s prophecy simply announced that the time had now arrived for the house of Jehu to be judged for the consequences of the divine judgment executed on the northern kingdom for its religious apostasy during their dynasty.
The massacre of the house of Ahab by Jehu was carried out at the instigation of the prophet Elisha, a respected prophet of Israel and Elijah’s protégé, to execute judgment on that house for their idolatry and other sins, for which Jehu received commendation in 2 Kings 10:30, and this historical record was available to Hosea. So why would Hosea blatantly contradict 2 Kings 10:30 by condemning the house of Jehu for the destruction of the house of Ahab? The sheer improbability of Hosea doing that—as he was in all other ways a typical Old Testament prophet of God—heavily militates against the interpretation that “the blood of Jezreel” refers to Jehu’s killings in Jezreel.
I hope that the rather lengthy explanation above serves to resolve the Jehu problem, the solution to which seems to have eluded many a biblical apologist. It should now be appreciated that the real cause for the apparent contradiction between 2 Kings 10:30 and Hosea 1:4 is the unfortunate coincidence that Jehu happened to massacre some members of the house of Ahab in Jezreel. The apparent contradiction disappears when the phrase “the blood of Jezreel” in Hosea 1:4 is correctly interpreted in its proper context.
Copyright ©2006 by Leonard Jayawardena. This electronic version is copyright ©2006 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Leonard Jayawardena. All rights reserved.