Jehu (Hebrew יְהוּא, YHWH is he) (ca. 926-r. 884-856 BC according to Ussher, or ca. 882-r. 841-814 BC according to Thiele) was the tenth king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He destroyed the House of Omri and inaugurated his own house, which ruled in the Northern Kingdom for four generations beyond his own.
The alleged synchrony of his reign with that of Shalmaneser III of Assyria is the source of a renewed controversy concerning the length of the histories of the Divided Kingdoms Northern and Southern. This in turn is one of the three major points of dispute in biblical chronology. Jehu's reign is especially important because in addition to killing his own predecessor Jehoram, last of the Omride kings, he also killed Jehoram's nephew Ahaziah of the Southern Kingdom. This marks the only year, other than the Year of the Division, in which new rulers of both kingdoms began their reigns in the same year.
The Bible nowhere gives Jehu's tribal affiliation. It merely lists him as the son of Jehoshaphat son of Nimshi. He was definitely alive halfway through the reign of Ahab, for Elijah was active at the time and received direct orders from God to anoint Jehu as the eventual king in the Northern Kingdom. The birth dates above are estimates and assume that he was of military age (20) when Elijah received his orders. He therefore would have been forty-one or forty-two years of age when he carried out his revolution against the Omrides, a reasonable assumption considering that he had by then gained a reputation for driving hard and marching his men harder.
The Bible mentions only one named son of Jehu: Jehoahaz, the only king of that name to rule in the Northern Kingdom.
In 884 BC (or 841 BC), Jehu was a senior army commander at the second siege of Ramoth-gilead, facing off against the Syrian army, recently come under the command of King Hazael. One day, a young man identifying himself as a student of the prophet Elisha introduced himself to the assembled commanders and requested that Jehu meet him in private. Jehu did—and the student surprised Jehu by pouring oil over his head and informing him that God had just anointed him to be the next king. The student further told Jehu that God had tasked him with avenging the blood of His prophets upon the "house of Ahab" (meaning the House of Omri). Jehu was to destroy that house utterly, and also to execute Jezebel, Ahab's still-living queen, in such a way that dogs would eat her flesh and she was never to have a monument to her name. After delivering that message, the student fled, and Jehu never saw him again.Jehu rejoined the command conference, and at once his fellow officers demanded to know the mysterious young man's errand. At first he said,
The commanders were not satisfied with that, and pressed him further—whereupon Jehu told them that he had received an anointing to be the next king. The commanders received that last with great enthusiasm and proclaimed it loudly to their own commands and to the entire army.
Ye know the man, and his communication. II_Kings 9:11 (KJV)
The Executions of Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Jezebel
Jehu first declared what today would be called a "security blackout" on Ramoth-gilead. He then climbed into his chariot and led a company of soldiers to Jezreel, where King Jehoram had retired to heal from wounds he had earlier suffered at Ramoth-gilead. King Ahaziah of Judah was also by Jehoram's side. Jehu had the reputation for being an almost reckless chariot driver, and this would eventually allow Jehoram's watchman to recognize him—but not until Jehu had drawn much closer.Two horsemen rode out, one at a time, to meet Jehu and ask him, "Is it peace?" Jehu ordered each one of them to fall in behind him in his company. Eventually, however, Jehoram and Ahaziah rode out themselves to meet him. Jehoram asked, "Is it peace?" And Jehu answered,
Jehoram turned and fled, saying to Ahaziah, "There is treachery!"
Immediately Jehu notched an arrow into his longbow, drew it all the way back, and let fly. The arrow struck Jehoram in the back between the shoulder blades and exited at the heart, killing him instantly. This happened on none other place than the old vineyard of Naboth, and thus was avenged a specific travesty of justice perpetrated by Jezebel for her, and Ahab's, personal gain.
Jehu then set out after Ahaziah. Here the accounts given by the author of the Kings books and the Chronicler differ. According to the former, Jehu or his men chased Ahaziah as far as Gur and shot him with an arrow; Ahaziah fled as far as Megiddo and there died. But the Chronicler says that Jehu had Ahaziah hunted, arrested, brought before him, and then executed. In either event, Ahaziah received the customary burial in the sepulchres of the House of David; the Chronicler says that Jehu saw to that personally, or at least to the extent that it lay within his power.
Jehu then rode swiftly to Jezebel's summer palace. There Jehu saw a woman with an overly-made-up face looking down at him through a window. This was Jezebel, and she taunted him with the history of King Zimri, an earlier king who had come to power by killing his predecessor. Jehu did not dignify her with a direct reply; instead he asked, "Who is on my side?" Three eunuchs thrust out their heads. Jehu ordered them, "Throw her down." And they did exactly that. Jezebel's blood splattered against the wall and on Jehu's horses, and he ran her over with his chariot.
Later he thought better of that and gave orders for her retrieval and burial, because she was still the daughter of a king (specifically of Ithobaal I of Tyre). But his messengers found only a skull and some metacarpal and metatarsal bones; the local dogs had eaten the rest. (In those days, all dogs were strays and scavengers.)
The Final Destuction of the Omrides
Jehu next sent letters to the leading men of Samaria and Jezreel and to the elders, challenging them to send out the fittest of Ahab's remaining seventy sons to fight him. This the recipients would not do, because Jehu had already killed two kings and none of them thought that they could stand against him. So they wrote him back pledging all obedience. Jehu then ordered them to seize Ahab's sons, cut off their heads, and send the heads to him. This they did. Jehu then issued a public proclamation that all this was according to the word of God.
Jehu similarly killed forty-two minor princes of the House of David, cousins of the late King Ahaziah. He finally entered Samaria and hunted down and killed every remaining figure, major and minor, associated in any way with the House of Omri.
The Destruction of the Cult of Baal
Jehu now proceeded to deal with the primary issue between himself and the Omrides: the cult of Baal that Jezebel had long ago imported into the Northern Kingdom. He pretended to be an even more enthusiastic follower of Baal, and asked the priests of Baal to proclaim a great feast in his honor. Not realizing Jehu's true intentions, the priests did as he asked. They all gathered in the temple of Baal, and Jehu even provided robes for them to wear, and had them "search out" any follower of God within their midst (they found none).
Then Jehu stationed an eighty-man force outside the doors and ordered them to kill every person inside the temple. They did so. Jehu then had all the images of Baal broken, and he then demolished the temple itself and made it into a "draught house"—that is to say, a public latrine.
Jehu gave every public showing of fervor for God. For this God said that four generations of his descendants would rule after him—a greater blessing than any other king of the Northern Kingdom would have.
But privately Jehu continued to worship, not Baal, nor God either, but Jeroboam I's original golden calves. Perhaps for that cause, God allowed Hazael of Syria to achieve repeated military victories over the Northern Kingdom during Jehu's time and that of his son and successor Jehoahaz.
The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III contains an image of a bearded king paying homage to Shalmaneser. The legend associated with this image identifies one "Jehu, son of Omri" as paying tribute to Shalmaneser in return for his protection.
The Black Obelisk is dated at 841 BC. On that basis, most secular archaeologists have assumed that King Jehu was a contemporary of Shalmaneser, and that he began his reign forty-three years more recently than a strict reckoning of the dates-of-accession of the Northern and Southern kings would indicate. Edwin R. Thiele, in his Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, worked out a scheme to reconcile this synchrony with the Biblical text.
But Larry Pierce has lately challenged the validity of Thiele's assumptions (and of the evidence that forms the basis for them) and both the propriety and the necessity of giving primacy over the Bible to secular findings. Pierce complains further that the dating of the Black Obelisk is by no means settled, that Shalmaneser might even have been making an empty boast, and that other archaeologists have found the Black Obelisk to be unreliable and inconsistent with other sources contemporary to it.
The Bible nowhere indicates the King Jehu, or any other king of the Northern Kingdom, paid a tribute to the Assyrians in 841 BC or in 884 BC. But of course, later Northern kings did pay such tribute in the years immediately preceding the Fall of Samaria.
Additional Extrabiblical Evidence
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pghh. 534-535
- Driscoll, James F. "Entry for Jehu." The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. VIII. New York. Robert Appleton Co., 1910. Retrieved June 14, 2007 from New Advent.
- Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, rev. ed. David O'Brien, Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986 (ISBN 031034770X), pp. 272-275
- II_Kings 9-10
- Konig, George. Jehu, King of Israel. AboutBibleProphecy.com, 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
- Authors unknown. "King Jehu - Biography." The Kings of Israel, hosted at http://www.geocities.com/ Retrieved June 14, 2007.
- Authors unknown. "Entry for Jehu." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia University Press, 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2007 from <http://www.infoplease.com/>
- Pierce, Larry, Evidentialism–the Bible and Assyrian chronology, TJ 15(1):62–68 April 2001
- Authors unknown. "Entry for Jehu." WebBible Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
- Authors unknown. "King Jehu: Chariot Driver." Pagewise, 2002. Retrieved June 14, 2007, from <http://www.essortment.com/>
- II_Kings 9:27-28
- II_Chronicles 22:7-9
- II_Kings 9
- II_Kings 10:1-17
- II_Kings 10:18-28
- II_Kings 10:29-36
- Jehoram of Israel
- Northern Kingdom
- House of Omri
- House of Jehu
- Biblical chronology dispute