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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 9

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-37


2 Kings 9:1-37

B.C. 842

"Te semper anteit saeva Necessitas, Clavos trabales et cuneos manu, Gestans ahena."

- HORAT., "Od.," I 35:17

A LONG period had elapsed since Elijah had received the triple commission which was to mark the close of his career. Two of those Divine behests had now been accomplished. He had anointed Elisha, son of Shaphat, of Abel-Meholah, to be prophet in his room; and Elisha had anointed Hazael to be king over Syria, {1 Kings 19:15-16} the third and more dangerous commission, involving nothing less than the overthrow of the mighty dynasty of Omri, remained still unaccomplished.

If the name of Jehu ("Jehovah is He"): {2 Kings 8:12-13} had been actually mentioned to Elijah, the dreadful secret must have remained buried in the breast of the prophet and in that of his successor for many years. Further, Jehu was yet a very young man, and to have marked him out as the founder of a dynasty would have been to doom him to certain destruction. An Eastern king, whose family has once securely seated itself on the throne, is hedged round with an awful divinity, and demands an unquestioning obedience. Elijah had been removed from earth before this task had been fulfilled, and Elisha had to wait for his opportunity. But the doom was passed, though the judgment was belated. The sons of Ahab were left a space to repent, or to fill to the brim the cup of their father’s iniquities.

"The sword of Heaven is not in haste to smite, Nor yet doth linger."

Ahaziah, Ahab’s eldest son, after a reign of one year, marked only by crimes and misfortunes, had ended in overwhelming disaster his deplorable career. His brother Jehoram had succeeded him, and had now been on the throne for at least twelve years, which had been chiefly signalized by that unsuccessful attempt to recover the territory of revolted Moab, to which we owe the celebrated Stone of Mesha. We have already narrated the result of the campaign which had so many vicissitudes. The combined armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom had been delivered by the interposition of Elisha from perishing of thirst beside the scorched-up bed of the Wady-el-Ahsy; and availing themselves of the rash assault of the Moabites, had swept everything before them. But Moab stood at bay at Kirharaseth (Kerak), his strongest fortress, six miles from Ar or Rabbah, and ten miles east of the southern end of the Dead Sea. It stood three thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is defended by a network of steep valleys. Nevertheless, Israel would have subdued it, but for the act of horrible despair to which the King of Moab resorted in his extremity, by offering up his eldest son as a burnt-offering to Chemosh upon the wall of the city. Horror-stricken by the catastrophe, and terrified with the dread that the vengeance of Chemosh could not but be aroused by so tremendous a sacrifice, the besieging host had retired. From that moment Moab had not only been free, but assumed the role of an aggressor, and sent her marauding bands to harry and carry the farms and homesteads of her former conqueror. {2 Kings 13:20; 2 Kings 24:2; Jeremiah 48:1-47}

Then followed the aggressions of Benhadad which had been frustrated by the insight of Elisha, and which owed their temporary cessation to his generosity. {2 Kings 6:8-23} The reappearance of the Syrians in the field had reduced Samaria to the lowest depths of ghastly famine. But the day of the guilty city had not yet come, and a sudden panic, caused among the invaders by a rumored assault of Hittites and Egyptians, had saved her from destruction. {; 2 Kings 7:6} Taking advantage of the respite caused by the change of the Syrian dynasty, and pressing on his advantage, Jehoram, with the aid of his Judaean nephew, had once more got possession of Ramoth-Gilead before Hazael was secure on the throne which he had usurped.

This then was the situation:-The allied and kindred kings of Israel and Judah were idling in the pomp of hospitality at Jezreel; their armies were encamped about Ramoth-Gilead; and at the head of the host of Israel was the crafty and vehement grandson of Nimshi.

Elisha saw and seized his opportunity. The day of vengeance from the Lord had dawned. Things had not materially altered since the days of Ahab. If Jehovah was nominally worshipped, if the very names of the kings of Israel bore witness to His supremacy, Baal was worshipped too. The curse which Elijah had pronounced against Ahab and his house remained unfulfilled. The credit of prophecy was at stake. The blood of Naboth and his slaughtered sons cried to the Lord from the ground; and hitherto it seemed to have cried in vain. If the Nebiim (the prophetic class) were to have their due weight in Israel, the hour had come, and the man was ready.

The light which falls on Elisha is dim and intermittent. His name is surrounded by a halo of nebulous wonders, of which many are of a private and personal character. But he was a known enemy of Ahab and his house. He had, indeed, more than once interposed to snatch them from ruin, as in the expedition against Moab, and in the awful straits of the siege of Samaria by the Syrians. But his person had none the less been hateful to the sons of Jezebel, and his life had been endangered by their bursts of sudden fury. He could hardly again have a chance so favorable as that which now offered itself, when the armed host was at one place and the king at another. Perhaps, too, he may have been made aware that the soldiers were not well pleased to find at their head a king who was so far a faineant as to leave them exposed to a powerful enemy, and show no eagerness to return. His "urgent private affairs" were not so urgent as to entitle him to take his ease at luxurious Jezreel.

Where Elisha was at the time we do not know-perhaps at Dothan, perhaps at Samaria. Suddenly he called to him a youth-one of the Sons of the Prophets, on whose speed and courage he could rely-placed in his hands a vial of the consecrated anointing oil, told him to gird up his loins, and to speed across the Jordan to Ramoth-Gilead. When he arrived, he was to bid Jehu rise up from the company of his fellow-captains, to hurry him into "a chamber within a chamber," to shut the door for secrecy, to pour the consecrating oil upon his head, to anoint him King of Israel in the name of Jehovah, and then to fly without a moment’s delay.

The messenger-the Rabbis guess that he was Jonah, the son of Amittai-knew well that his was a service of immense peril in which his life might easily pay the forfeit of his temerity. How was he to guess that at once, without striking a blow, the host of Israel would fling to the winds its sworn allegiance to the son of the warrior Ahab, the fourth monarch of the powerful dynasty of Omri? Might not any one of a thousand possible accidents thwart a conspiracy of which the success depended on the unflinching courage and promptitude of his single hand?

He was but a youth, but he was the trained pupil of a master who had, again and again, stood before kings, and not been afraid. He sprang from a community which inherited the splendid traditions of the Prophet of Flame.

He did not hesitate a moment. He tightened the camel’s hide round his naked limbs, flung back the long dark locks of the Nazarite, and sped upon his way. A true son of the schools of Jehovah’s prophets has, and can have, no fear of man. The armies of Israel and Judah saw the wild, flying figure of a young man, with his hairy garment and streaming locks, rush through the camp. Whatever might be their surmisings, he brooked no questions. Availing himself of the awe with which the shadow of Elijah had covered the sacrosanct person of a prophetic messenger, he made his way straight to the war-council of the captains; and brushing aside every attempt to impede his progress with the plea that he was the bearer of Jehovah’s message, he burst into the council of the astonished warriors, who were assembled in the private courtyard of a house in the fortress-town.

He knew the fame of Jehu, but did not know his person, and dared not waste time. "I have an errand to thee, O captain," he said to the assembly generally. The message had been addressed to no one in particular, and Jehu naturally asked, "Unto which of all of us?" With the same swift intuition which has often enabled men in similar circumstances to recognize a leader-as Josephus recognized Vespasian, and St. Severinus recognized Odoacer, and Joan of Arc recognized Charles VI of France-he at once replied, "To thee, O captain." Jehu did not hesitate a moment. Prophets had shown, many a time, that their messages might not be neglected or despised. He rose, and followed the youth, who led him into the most secret recess of the house, and there, emptying on his head the fragrant oil of consecration, said, "Thus saith Jehovah, God of Israel, I have anointed thee king over the people of Jehovah, even over Israel." He was to smite the house of his master Ahab in vengeance for the blood of Jehovah’s prophets and servants whom Jezebel had murdered. Ahab’s house, every male of it, young and old, bond and free, is doomed to perish, as the houses of Jeroboam and of Baasha had perished before them, by a bloody end. Further, the dogs should eat Jezebel by the rampart of Jezreel, and there should be none to bury her.

One moment sufficed for his daring deed, for his burning message; the next he had flung open the door and fled. The soldiers of the camp must have whispered still more anxiously together as they saw the same agitated youth rushing through their lines with the same impetuosity which had marked his entrance. In those dark days the sudden appearance of a prophet was usually the herald of some terrific storm.

Jehu was utterly taken by surprise; but according to the reading preserved by Ephraim Syrus in 2 Kings 9:26, he had on the previous night seen in a dream the blood of Naboth and his sons. If the thought of revolt had ever passed for a moment through his mind, it had never assumed a definite shape. True, he had been a warrior from his youth. True, he had been one of Ahab’s bodyguard, and had ridden before him in a chariot at least twenty years earlier, and had now risen by valor and capacity to the high station of captain of the host. True, also, that he had heard the great curse which Elijah had pronounced on Ahab at the door of Naboth’s vineyard; but he heard it while he was yet an obscure youth, and he had little dreamed that his was the hand which should carry it into execution. Who was he? And had not the house of Omri been, in some sense, sanctioned by Heaven? And were not the words of the prophet "wild and wandering cries," of which the issues might be averted by such a repentance as that of Ahab?

And he felt another misgiving. Might not this scene be the plot of some secret enemy? Might it not at any rate be a reckless jest palmed upon him by his comrades? If any jealous member of the confederacy of captains betrayed the fact that Jehu had tampered with their allegiance, would his head be safe for a single hour? He would act warily. He came back to his fellow-captains and said nothing.

But they were burning with curiosity. Something must be impending. Prophets did not rush in thus tumultuously for no purpose. Must not the youth’s mantle of hair be some standard of war?

"Is all right?" they shouted. "Why did this frantic fellow come to thee?"

"You know all about it," answered Jehu, with wary coolness. "You know more about it than I do. You know the man, and what his talk was."

"Lies!" bluntly answered the rough soldiers. "Tell us now."

Then Jehu’s eye took measure of them and their feelings. A judge of men and of men’s countenances, he saw conspiracy flashing in their faces. He saw that they suspected the true state of things, and were on fire to carry it out. Perhaps they had caught sight of the vial of oil under the youth’s scant dress. Could any quickened observation at least fail to notice that the soldier’s dark locks were shining and fragrant, as they had not been a moment ago, with consecrated oil?

Then Jehu frankly told them the perilous secret. Thus and thus had the young prophet spoken, and had said, "Thus saith Jehovah, I have anointed thee king over Israel."

The message was met with a shout of answering approbation. That shout was the death-knell of the house of Omri. It showed that the reigning dynasty had utterly forfeited its popularity. No luck had followed the sons of Naboth’s murderer. Israel was weary of their mother Jezebel. Why was this king Jehoram, this king of evil auspices, who had been repudiated by Moab and harried by Syria-why, in the first gleam of possible prosperity, was he being detained at Jezreel by wounds which rumor said were already sufficiently healed to allow him to return to his post? Down with the seed of the murderer and the sorceress! Let brave Jehu be king, as Jehovah has said!

So the captains sprang to their feet, and then and there seized Jehu, and carried him in triumph to the top of the stairs which ran round the inside of the courtyard, and stripped off their mantles to extemporize for him the semblance of a cushioned throne. Then in the presence of such soldiers as they could trust they blew a sudden blast of the ram’s horn, and shouted, "Jehu is king!"

Jehu was not the man to let the grass grow under his feet. Nothing tries a man’s vigor and nerve so surely as a sudden crisis. It is this swift resolution which has raised many a man to the throne, as it raised Otho, and Napoleon I, and Napoleon III. The history of Israel is specially full of coups d’etat, but no one of them is half so decisive or overwhelming as this. Jehu instantly accepted the office of Jehovah’s avenger on the house of Ahab. Everything, as Jehu saw, depended on the suddenness and fury with which the blow was delivered. "If you want me to be your king," he said, "keep the lines secure, and guard the fortress walls. I will be my own messenger to Jehoram. Let no deserter go forth to give him warning."

It was agreed; and Jehu, only taking with him Bidkar, his fellow-officer, and a small hand of followers, set forth at full speed from Ramoth-Gilead.

The fortress of Ramoth, now the important town of Es-Salt, a place which must always have been the key of Gilead, was built on the summit of a rocky headland, fortified by nature as well as by art. It is south of the river Jabbok, and lies at the head of the only easy road which runs down westward to the Jordan and eastward to the rich plateau of the interior.

Crossing the fords of the Jordan, Jehu would soon be able to join the main road, which, passing Tirzah, Zaretan, and Bethshean, and sweeping eastward of Mount Gilboa, gives ready access to Jezreel.

The watchman on the lofty watchtower of the summer palace caught sight of a storm of dust careering along from the eastward up the valley towards the city. The times were wild and troublous. What could it be? He shouted his alarm, "I see a troop!" The tidings were startling, and the king was instantly informed that chariots and horsemen were approaching the royal city. "Send a horseman to meet them," he said, "with the message, ‘Is all well?"’

Forth flew the rider, and cried to the rushing escort, "The king asks, ‘Is all well? Is it peace?"’ For probably the anxious city hoped that there might have been some victory of the army against Hazael, which would fill them with joy.

"What hast thou to do with peace? Turn thee behind me," answered Jehu; and perforce the horseman, whatever may have been his conjectures, had to follow in the rear.

"He reached them," cried the sentry on the watch-tower, "but he does not return."

The news was enigmatical and alarming; and the troubled king sent another horseman. Again the same colloquy occurred, and again the watchman gave the ominous message, adding to it the yet more perplexing news that, in the mad and headlong driving of the charioteer, he recognizes the driving of Jehu, the son of Nimshi.

What had happened to his army? Why should the captain of the host be driving thus furiously to Jezreel?

Matters were evidently very critical, whatever the swift approach of chariots and horsemen might portend. "Yoke my chariot," said Jehoram; and his nephew Ahaziah, who had shared his campaign, and was no less consumed with anxiety to learn tidings which could not but be pressing, rode by him in another chariot to meet Jehu. They took with them no escort worth mentioning. The rebellion was not only sudden but wholly unexpected.

The two kings met Jehu in a spot of the darkest omen. It was the plot of ground which had once been the vineyard of Naboth, at the door of which Ahab had heard from Elijah the awful message of his doom. As the New Forest was ominous to our early Norman kings as the witness of their cruelties and encroachments, so was this spot to the house of Omri, though it was adjacent to their ivory palace, and had been transformed from a vineyard into a garden or pleasance.

"Is it peace, Jehu?" shouted the agitated king; by which probably he only meant to ask, "Is all going well in the army at Ramoth?"

The fierce answer which burst from the lips of his general fatally undeceived him. "What peace," brutally answered the rebel, "so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?" She, after all, was the fons et origo mali to the house of Jehoram. Hers was the dark spirit of murder and idolatry which had walked in that house. She was the instigator and the executer of the crime against Naboth. She had been the foundress of Baal-and Asherah-worship; she was the murderess of the prophets; she had been specially marked out for vengeance in the doom pronounced both by Elijah and Elisha.

The answer was unmistakable. This was a revolt, a revolution. "Treachery, Ahaziah!" shouted the terrified king, and instantly wheeled round his chariot to flee. But not so swiftly as to escape the nemesis which had been stealing upon him with leaden feet, but now smote him irretrievably with iron hand. Without an instant’s hesitation, Jehu snatched his bow from his attendant charioteer, "filled his hands with it," and from its full stretch and resonant string sped the arrow, which smote Jehoram in the back with fatal force, and passed through his heart. Without a word the unhappy king sank down upon his knees in his chariot, and fell face forward, dead.

"Take him up," cried Jehu to Bidkar, "and fling him down where he is, -here in this portion of the field of Naboth the Jezreelite. Here, years ago, you and I, as we rode behind Ahab, heard Elijah utter his oracle on this man’s father, that vengeance should meet him here. Where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth and his sons, let dogs lick the blood of the son of Ahab."

But Jehu was not the man to let the king’s murder stay his chariot-wheels when more work had yet to be done. Ahaziah of Judah, too, belonged to Ahab’s house, for he was Ahab’s grandson, and Jehoram’s nephew and ally. Without stopping to mourn or avenge the tragedy of his uncle’s murder, Ahaziah fled towards Bethgan or Engannim, the fountain of gardens, south of Jezreel, on the road to Samaria and Jerusalem. Jehu gave the laconic order, "Smite him also"; but fright added wings to the speed of the hapless King of Judah. His chariot-steeds were royal steeds, and were fresh; those of Jehu were spent with the long, fierce drive from Ramoth. He got as far as the ascent of Gur before he was overtaken. There, not far from Ibleam, the rocky hill impeded his flight, and he was wounded by the pursuers. But he managed to struggle onwards to Megiddo, on the south of the plain of Jezreel, and there he hid himself. He was discovered, dragged out, and slain. Even Jehu’s fierce emissaries did not make war on dead bodies, any more than Hannibal did, or Charles V They left such meanness to Jehu himself, and to our Charles II. They did not interfere with the dead king’s remains. His servants carried them to Jerusalem, and there he was buried with his fathers in the sepulcher of the kings, in the city of David. As there was nothing more to tell about him, the historian omits the usual formula about the rest of the acts of Ahaziah, and all that he did. His death illustrates the proverb mitgegangen mitgefannen: he was the comrade of evil men, and he perished with them.

Jehu speedily reached Jezreel, but the interposition of Jehoram and the orders for the pursuit of Ahaziah had caused a brief delay, and Jezebel had already been made aware that her doom was imminent.

Not even the sudden and dreadful death of her son, and the nearness of her own fate, daunted the steely heart of the Tyrian sorceress. If she was to die, she would meet death like a queen. As though for some court banquet, she painted her eyelashes and eyebrows with antimony, to make her eyes look large and lustrous, and put on her jeweled head-dress. Then she mounted the palace tower, and, looking down through the lattice above the city gate, watched the thundering advance of Jehu’s chariot, and hailed the triumphant usurper with the bitterest insult she could devise. She knew that Omri, her husband’s father, had taken swift vengeance on the guilt of the usurper Zimri, who had been forced to burn himself in the harem at Tirzah after one month’s troubled reign. Her shrill voice was heard above the roar of the chariot-wheels in the ominous taunt, -

"Is it peace, thou Zimri, thou murderer of thy master?"

No!-She meant, "There is no peace for thee nor thine, any more than for me or mine! Thou mayest murder us; but thee too, thy doom awaiteth!"

Stung by the ill-omened words, Jehu looked up at her and shouted, -

"Who is on my side? Who?"

The palace was apparently rife with traitors. Ahab had been the first polygamist among the kings of Israel, and therefore the first also to introduce the odious atrocity of eunuchs. Those hapless wretches, the portents of Eastern seraglios, the disgrace of humanity, are almost always the retributive enemies of the societies of which they are the helpless victims. Fidelity or gratitude is rarely to be looked for from natures warped into malignity by the ruthless misdoing of men. Nor was the nature of Jezebel one to inspire affection. One or two eunuchs immediately thrust out of the windows their bloated and beardless faces. "Fling her down!" Jehu shouted. Down they flung the wretched queen (has any queen ever died a death so shamefully ignominious?), and her blood spurted upon the wall, and on the horses. Jehu, who had only stopped for an instant in his headlong rush, drove his horses over her corpse, and entered the gate of her capital with his wheels crimson with her blood. History records scarcely another instance of such a scene, except when Tullia, a century later, drove her chariot over the dead body of her father Servius Tullius in the Vicus Sceleratus of ancient Rome.

But what cared Jehu? Many a conqueror ere now has sat down to the dinner prepared for his enemy; and the obsequious household of the dead tyrants, ready to do the bidding of their new lord, ushered the hungry man to the banquet provided for the kings whom he had slain. No man dreamt of uttering a wail, no man thought of raising a finger for dead Jehoram or for dead Jezebel, though they had all been under her sway for at least five-and-thirty years. "The wicked perish, and no man regardeth." "When the wicked perish, there is shouting."

We may be startled at a revolution so sudden and so complete; yet it is true to history. A tyrant or a cabal may oppress a nation for long years. Their word may be thought absolute, their power irresistible. Tyranny seems to paralyze the courage of resistance, like the fabled head of Medusa. Remove its fascination of corruption, and men become men, and not machines, once more. Jehu’s daring woke Israel from the lethargy which had made her tolerate the murders and enchantments of this Baal-worshipping alien. In the same way in one week Robespierre seemed to be an invincible autocrat; the next week his power had crumbled into dust and ashes at a touch.

It was not until Jehu had sated his thirst and hunger after that wild drive, which had ended in the murder of two kings and a queen and in his sudden elevation to a throne, that it even occurred to this new tiger-king to ask what had become of Jezebel. But when he had eaten and drunk, he said, "Go, see now to this cursed woman, and bury her: for she is a king’s daughter." That she had been first Princess, then Queen, then Gebirah in Israel for nearly a full lifetime was nothing: it was nothing to Jehu that she was a wife, and mother, and grandmother of kings and queens both of Israel and Judah; but she was also the daughter of Ethbaal, the priest-king of Tyre and Sidon, and therefore any shameful treatment of her remains might kindle trouble from the region of Phoenicia.

But no one had taken the trouble so much as to look after the corpse of Jezebel. The populace of Jezreel were occupied with their new king. Where Jezebel fell, there she had been suffered to lie and no one, apparently, cared even to despoil her of the royal robes, now saturated with blood. Flung from the palace-tower, her body had fallen in the open space just outside the walls-what is called "the mounds" of an Eastern city. In the strange carelessness of sanitation which describes as "fate" even the visitation of an avoidable pestilence, all sorts of offal are shot into this vacant space to fester in the tropic heat. I myself have seen the pariah dogs and the vultures feeding on a ghastly dead horse in a ruined space within the street of Beit-Dejun; and the dogs and the vultures-"those national undertakers"-had done their work unbidden on the corpse of the Tyrian queen. When men went to bury her, they only found a few dog-mumbled bones-the skull, and the feet, and the palms of the hands. {1 Kings 21:23} They brought the news to Jehu as he rested after his feast. It did not by any means discompose him. He at once recognized that another levin-bolt had fallen from the thunder-crash of Elijah’s prophecy, and he troubled himself about the matter no further. Her carcass, as the man of God had prophesied, had become as dung upon the face of the field, so that none could say, "This is Jezebel."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 9". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/2-kings-9.html.
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