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The ‘Worst King of Israel’ Competition

We should be grateful that transitions of power in our times aren’t as violent as ancient Israel's 'buckets of blood' heyday

Jimmy Akin

For the most part, David served the Lord faithfully, and God made a covenant with him, promising him an everlasting dynasty (2 Sam. 7:16). This was ultimately fulfilled through David’s descendant Jesus, who reigns forever.

David’s son Solomon was not as faithful. When he was old, Solomon’s foreign wives induced him to worship other gods and to support their worship in Israel (1 Kings 11:1-8).

God thus decreed that Solomon’s sons would no longer rule all twelve tribes of Israel. He sent the prophet Ahijah to one of Solomon’s servants—a man named Jeroboam—and Ahijah prophesied that Jeroboam would become king of ten of the tribes (vv. 29-38).

This prophecy came true during the time of Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam. The new king acted arrogantly and prompted the ten northern tribes to secede. (Yes, in Israel, the North seceded from the South. Middle Eastern politics have always been different.)

When Rehoboam mounted an army to invade the North and compel it back into the union, the Lord sent another prophet and ordered them to stop, for this event was God’s doing (12:24).

Jeroboam thus became the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel, while Rehoboam remained in charge of the southern kingdom of Judah.

God promised Jeroboam an everlasting dynasty if he would be faithful like David (11:38). But Jeroboam wasn’t. He was afraid that if the Israelites continued to go to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, they would eventually rejoin the union, and he would be killed (12:26-27). He thus decided to break the religious unity between the North and the South—not unlike the way many Protestant denominations in America broke apart at the time of the Civil War, giving rise to Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists, for example.

Jeroboam committed a series of religious crimes, including making temples on Canaanite high places, appointing priests who weren’t from the tribe of Levi, and creating a new festival to rival the feast of Tabernacles.

Most heinously, he re-enacted the golden calf incident, placing one calf in the north of his territory and one in the south, telling the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (12:28).

By representing Yahweh as a golden calf, he broke the second commandment and earned his place as the first of Israel’s wicked kings.

Consequently, God did not give him an enduring house like David. While Jeroboam’s son Nadab did succeed him, he was the only other king of this dynasty.

Short dynasties were characteristic of Israel. While Judah had a single, Davidic dynasty that lasted from XYZ until the Babylonian captivity that began in 586 B.C., Israel was ruled by a series of ten dynasties (several of which had only one member) until it was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

One of the longest-running dynasties consisted of Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, and Joram. The biblical authors deemed all of them wicked.

The worst king of Israel was Ahab. “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab” (21:25).

Ahab took Jezebel—a Sidonian princess and Ba’al-worshipper—as his wife, and together they committed many crimes. Among them were supporting Ba’al and Ashera worship in Israel and slaying the prophets of Yahweh. This brought him into conflict with the prophet Elijah, who held a famous contest with the prophets of Ba’al (18:20-40).

At one point, Ahab wanted to buy the vineyard of a man named Naboth, who refused to sell it to him. In response, Jezebel had Naboth executed on trumped up charges of blasphemy and treason, allowing Ahab to seize the vineyard.

God sent Elijah to announce the end of the dynasty and the death of Jezebel, but when Ahab repented, God delayed the fulfillment of this prophecy until the days of Ahab’s sons (21:29). After Ahab’s death, his son Ahaziah succeeded him, and after Ahaziah died, Ahab’s other son Joram took the throne. It was in his day that the dynasty came to an end.

By this point, Elijah had been taken to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-18), and his protégé Elisha took up his mantle as prophet.

At this point, a man named Jehu enters the story. Jehu was one of the commanders in Israel’s army, and Elisha sent one of his associates to anoint him king over Israel.

Although Ahab was safely in his grave, his wife Jezebel was still around, and she had taken a leading role in promoting the worship of pagan deities, killing the prophets of Yahweh, and executing Naboth. Payment for these crimes was now coming due.

When God had Jehu anointed as the new king, he gave him a special mission, telling him, “You shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish” (9:8-9).

At the moment, Ahab’s son—King Joram—was recovering from wounds received in battle. But he got in his chariot and rode out to meet Jehu. He asked if his rival’s intentions were peaceful, and Jehu replied, “What peace can there be, so long as the harlotries and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?” (v. 22).

Jehu then drew his bow and shot Joram in the heart. Afterward, he ordered that the body be thrown onto Naboth’s property, in keeping with an oracle of God: “As surely as I saw yesterday the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons—says the Lord—I will repay you on this plot of ground” (v. 26).

When Jezebel heard her son had been killed, “she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window.” She then taunted Jehu as he rode up in his chariot, but Jehu called to the eunuchs attending her and demanded they throw her out the window. “So they threw her down; and some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, and they trampled on her” (vv. 30, 33).

After her defenestration, Jezebel’s corpse was left for the dogs. “When they went to bury her, they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands.” This was in keeping with a prophecy given by Elijah: “The dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel” (vv. 35, 36).

Jehu continued his mission to exterminate the house of Ahab, so . . . buckets of blood. Really. Buckets of blood. “And when he came to Samaria, he slew all that remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke to Elijah” (10:17).

He also tricked the worshippers of Ba’al into coming to a massive worship service and had them slaughtered, after which he tore down the temple of Ba’al and turned it into a public latrine (v. 27).

Of all Israel’s kings, Jehu was regarded as the most faithful to Yahweh, but even he was not perfect and did not remove the golden calves from the kingdom. Nevertheless, God told him, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel” (v. 30).

And this came true. Jehu’s dynasty spanned five generations, making it the longest lasting Israelite dynasty.

We can be thankful that transitions of power in our own day aren’t so violent—granted, excepting our own North-and-South problem in the United States that one time, among a few other examples. But the Israelites lived in even more colorful times than ours—and often that color was red.

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