When the prophet Elijah had asked to be relieved of his ministry, God had told him to do three things: anoint Elisha as his successor, appoint Haza-el as king of Aram and anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel (I Kings 19:16). In the previous chapter we saw how Elisha carried out Elijah's instructions to appoint Haza-el as king of Aram . Now the time had come for him to fulfill the third part of Elijah's prophecy and anoint Jehu as king of Israel in order to take vengeance on the House of Ahab for their idolatry and criminality.

Jehu ben Nimshi was in fact the son of a man called Jehoshaphat (not to be confused with Jehoshaphat king of Judah ) and Nimshi was Jehu's grandfather, but he is usually known as Jehu ben Nimshi. He was one of the leading military officers of Jehoram king of Israel , who had been campaigning against the Arameans in Ramoth Gil'ad (in the Golan Heights ) and who had gone to Jezre'el to recuperate from wounds he had sustained in the war. Jehu and his fellow officers were still in Ramoth Gil'ad when the young prophet sent by Elisha - according to tradition, the prophet Jonah (Rashi on v 1) - arrived to carry out his secret mission, which was highly dangerous as he was appointing Jehu to instigate a mutiny against the king. Taking Jehu into an inner chamber, Jonah delivered his prophecy and fled.


Jehu was evidently a man of great strength with his own brand of zeal for God, and with the new power that came from his anointment by the prophet, he soon won over his fellow officers and quickly master-minded a surprise assault on King Jehoram as he lay recuperating in Jezre'el. As Jehu rode with his band of men towards Jezre'el, the city watchman saw them in the distance. Before the watchman could identify them, the king sent out successive horsemen to find out who they were and what they wanted. But instead of coming back, they joined the advancing party. Reporting this, the watchman said, "The driving (MINHAG) looks like the driving of Jehu ben Nimshi, for he drives (YINHAG) with madness" (v 20).

Not only does this phrase graphically depict the kind of man Jehu was. It might also fairly be applied to certain crazy customs (MINHAG=custom) that various people practice with religious fervor as if they were Torah from Sinai when in fact they have nothing to do with true MINHAG YISRAEL as recorded in the Shulchan Arukh and other authoritative compilations. Since the Bible is telling us that there is a kind of driving (MINHAG) that is crazy, this should prompt us to examine our own religious MINHAGs ("customs") with great care to check that we are not diverging from the authentic MINHAG AVOSEINU ("practice of our ancestors").

When King Jehoram himself came out towards Jehu together with his brother-in-law, Ahaziah king of Judah , who had been "visiting the sick", Jehu's arrow struck Jehoram between the arms and through his heart. The sages said that this was MIDDAH KENEGED MIDDAH, "measure for measure", because he had hardened his heart and stretched out his hands to receive RIBIS ("interest") on loans which Ahab's righteous chamberlain Obadiah had taken in order to support the true prophets (II Kings 4:1; Shemos Rabbah 31). Jehoram's body was thrown out from his chariot into the Jezre'el field that had been the ancestral portion of Naboth, whom Jehoram's father Ahab had had killed in order to seize his vineyard (I Kings ch 21).

After killing Jehoram, Jehu now went on to "cleanse" Israel of the sinful House of Ahab. First he killed Jehoram's brother-in-law and ally, Ahaziah king of Judah (vv27-8), who had also followed the path of Ahab and is said to have scratched out divine names from the Torah and replaced them with the names of idols (Rashi on v 27; Sanhedrin 102b).

Next Jehu turned his attention to the queen mother, Jehoram's mother and Ahab's widow, the accursed Jezebel, who was in Jezre'el. When she heard that Jehu was on his way, she slapped on her make-up, did up her hair and called to him from her window, hoping to allure the man who had just killed her husband into marrying her. However, Jehu had sufficient zeal not to pay attention to her enticements and had her pushed out of the window - following the method of the Sanhedrin in casting those condemned to SEKILAH ("stoning") from an upper storey. In accordance with Elijah's prophecy, which Jehu had heard from Jonah (v 10), the dogs ate up Jezebel's body, leaving only her skull, feet and hands. It is said that these were saved because when a wedding party would pass by her house, she used to take ten steps out into the street to greet them, waving her hands and legs and shaking her head (Rashi on v 35; Pirkey d'Rabbi Eliezer 17). Knowing that a woman as wicked as Jezebel nevertheless received a reward for some slight gestures she made to carry out the mitzvah of making a bride and groom happy should encourage us to throw ourselves body and soul into the performance of God's commandments.


In order to complete his "cleansing" of Israel, Jehu ben Nimshi now went on to destroy all vestiges of the House of Ahab. He persuaded the leading denizens of Shomron to slaughter the seventy sons of Ahab (which is somewhat reminiscent of Avimelech in the time of the Judges having the seventy sons of Gideon killed, Judges 9:5). By cleverly thereby implicating the denizens of Shomron in his own coup (v 9) Jehu widened his support base and began seeking out remaining members of the House of Ahab's power-base.

On his way from Jezre'el to Shomron, Jehu encountered a large band consisting of forty-two brothers of Ahaziah king of Judah , all of whom were caught up in the Ahab network into which their brother Ahaziah was intermarried. These too Jehu slaughtered, and then advanced into Shomron itself.


Gathering all the people together, Jehu declared: "Ahab served Baal a little; Jehu will serve him a lot" (v 18). The introduction of Baal worship had been Ahab's own innovation (I Kings 16:30-33) - previously the kings of Israel had only encouraged the worship of Jeraboam's golden calves. Jehu himself did not intend his words literally. He was putting on a front in the hope of pulling off a brilliant coup. By making all the Baal worshipers of Shomron think the new king was on their side and that they had nothing to fear, he intended to lure them all out of the woodwork and bring them together for what was billed as the Baal celebration of all time in order to be able to destroy them all in one great massacre.

Jehu did indeed succeed in his immediate objective, but nevertheless his words proved to be a snare that led to his downfall. He had been anointed to be king over Israel . Had he gone all the way in eliminating idolatry from Israel , he could have brought them back to the Torah and under the hegemony of the House of David, which could have brought Mashiah. But having said, "Jehu will serve [the idol] a lot", he was ensnared by the words of his own lips.

In the words of Rabbi Nachman: "Never let a word of wickedness leave your mouth. Don't ever say you will be wicked or commit a sin, even if you mean it as a joke and have no intention of carrying out your words. The words themselves can be very damaging. They can compel you to fulfill them even though you did not mean them seriously. This was what caused King Jehu's downfall, because he said, "Ahab served Baal a little, but Jehu will serve him very much" ( II Kings 10:18) . When King Jehu said these words, he had no intention of committing idolatry. He said them only to trick the Baal worshipers, as explained in the following verse. Yet these words were his downfall, because he later came to commit idolatry. From this the Talmud learns that "a covenant is made with the lips" ( Sanhedrin 102a) . You should therefore be very careful about what you say" (Sichot Haran #237).

In spite of his great display of strength in eradicating the Baal worship that had plagued Israel for two generations, Jehu could not bring himself to uproot the worship of Jeraboam's golden calves. This was "out of anxiety that the kingship would revert to the House of David, which is what Jeraboam had been afraid of" (Rashi on v 29, I Kings 12:26). For without the golden calves, Israel would have turned their hearts back towards God's chosen House in Jerusalem .

In the merit of Jehu's mighty deeds he earned the kingship for himself and his offspring to the fourth generation (verse 30), but because he did not repent, God chastised Israel by sending Haza-el king of Aram to create an "intifada" which was initially focused particularly on all the Israelite territories east of the River Jordan (v 33). This was the beginning of the end of the hold of the Ten Tribes on their ancestral portions, leading eventually to their exile.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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