Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Elisha's and Jehu's Grand Massacre: 2 Kings 8:16 - 10:36

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

Like all good men in the Bible, king Jehoshaphat of Judah is a useless father, so naturally his son Jehoram becomes king but "does evil" and fails to put down a rebellion by the Edomites, amongst other failures. He's succeeded by Ahaziah, who is equally useless. Ahaziah and Joram fight a joint war against the Arameans but the latter is seriously wounded.

At this point Elisha returns to the scene, once again playing the role of covert kingmaker. (I suppose this is marginally better than simply supporting the existing pagan establishment in Israel, but still, he really lacks the punchiness of Elijah.) At thsi point he's recruited his own "company of prophets," out of which he selects one and sends him to Jehu, one of Jehoshaphat's younger sons. Jehu is from the Judean royal line, but with the Israelite king wounded, Elisha sees an opportunity, so he orders his junior prophet to secretly anoint Jehu as king of Israel.

Jehu is pleased by his new task and promptly rides to Jezreel to get rid of the wounded Joram. Joram tries to send messengers but, when Jehu won't reply, eventually rides out in his own chariot to see what's going on. Jehu insults Joram's mother, accusing her of "idolatry and witchcraft" (some of the cooler, older translations say "whoredoms and sorceries"). Joram realizes he's in trouble and turns to flee, but Jehu shoots him in the back with a bow.

After this, Jehu goes a little nuts: he sees king Ahaziah of Judah and orders his men to kill that king, too. Later, he also has the villainous Jezebel killed too. This murder is particularly gruesome: she's thrown out a window, and then trampled by horses (so that "some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot"), and finally eaten by dogs.

Jehu's not finished! Continuing his murderous rampage, he sends messengers to the guardians of all 70 of Ahab's children who were still alive, challenging them to combat. These were much younger boys, it seems: the Bible doesn't actually say they were chlidren, but it implies it by saying that the letters were written to their guardians rather than to the boys themselves, and that the guardians were those who were "rearing" the kids.

This makes what follows all the more chilling: none of the guardians accept the challenge, so Jehu sends out an ultimatum: they must kill their young charges, or else. All 70 of the "leading men" promptly slaughter the boys, "put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu."

Still not finished! Jehu stacks the heads of the children in two piles at the gates of Jezreel and delivers a speech to the people of the city in which he condemns the hous of Ahab. Then he kills all the remaining friends, priests and servants of the house of Ahab. Later, Jehu goes up to Beth Eked and does the same thing to the survivors of Ahaziah, murdering 42 of them; and then goes to Samaria and indulges in yet another massacre.

Jehu has one more murderous rampage up his sleeve. Out of nowhere he announces that he's converting to Baal worship and orders a grand religious service performed to commemorate his conversion. But it's a ruse! No sooner has the ceremony started than Jehu draws his sword, slaughters all the Baal priests, and trashes their temple. And so Baal worship in Israel came to an abrupt end.

Now, all of this is a result of Elisha's political meddling, and you might conclude from this that it's divinely blessed. Well, it's certainly divinely authorized - God always enjoys killing pagans, it seems - but it's in no way an indication that honouring God is back in vogue. You see, Jehu isn't killing the Baal worshippers because they've offended God - he's killing them because they've offended the golden calf gods who, it turns out, he's been secretly worshipping all along!

So God continues to sit in the background as his people squabble. The murderous rampage sparked by Elisha dosen't result in a new, revitalized, God-fearing Israel - it just results in a lot of corpses. Jehu might have had a chance to unite the clans - after all, he killed both the Judean and Israelite kings - but he fails to do even that, becoming king of Israel only. So much for Elisha's influence.