Do you know the biblical king of the northern Kingdom of Israel, Jehu? You don’t. You mean you know who David and Solomon are, or even Hezekiah and Josiah, but not Jehu? There is a good reason for that, but he could have been a prominent king.
You see, he was given a predigree that would make him like the King of David. Like David, he had received a prophetic confirmation and anointing, from Elisha, the disciple Elijah and the inheritor of Elijah’s prophetic ministry. Elisha prophetically spoke the following over Jehu: “
I anoint you king over the people of the LORD, over Israel. 7 You shall strike down the house of your master Ahab, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD. 8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 9 I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah. 10 The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and no one shall bury her.1
Jehu had been given commission, authorization, and legitimation from God. Jehu has been given a grand task, to take part of a heroic plan for the side of God and righteousness. He is on path to be a king that will make history! But, that is not how the story actually ends up. Here is a word about Jehu from the word of the prophet Hosea:
And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”2
What happened? What changed between Elisha’s anointing and Hosea’s prophetic denunciation of the violence done by the royal family of Jehu?
One explanation one could provide is that this is simply a denunciation from Hosea because of his disdain for the northern kingdom if Israel. Whereas Elisha was a support of Jehu, Hosea is seen as simply standing against all the northern kingdom stands for, therefore pronouncing a judgment against Jehu as its ruler. But, if you reader further in the narrative in 2 Kings, you find another possible explanation. Jehu didn’t only dethrone the royal family of Ahab from power. He went beyond that. 1 Kings 10 records the story of the massacre of seventy descendants of Ahab through the subtergfuge, treachery, and trickery of Jehu. Jehu didn’t simply rise to power; he was involved in a massacre.
But if you pay close attention to the words of God through Elisha, it said “For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel.” IT didn’t say that Jehu would cut off every male; God said that he would. Jehu, had gone beyond his divine mandate, and in his haste with the power that had been bestowed upon him, treated the prophecy as a legitimation of his own power that he then used in violent and treacherous ways, rather than as an instruction from God as to what is to happen. Jehu didn’t play close attention to Elisha’s words; he listened only so much that he provided him the status that it conferred upon him.
This stands against the spirit of God’s relationship to Israel, however. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the love of God is defined by listening and a particular attentiveness to the words of God’s instructions. Moses didn’t say to Israel: “Here are some ideas you need to wrap your head around; here is some knowledge I am trying to give to you.” No. Rather, the emphasis was on the words. But, the purpose of this attention to the words was not a legalistic emphasis of clearly outline specific obligations and rights. Rather, this emphasis on words was tightly connected with loving God in the whole person, such that the whole of Israel was to love God through learning and attentiveness of God’s word through the repetition of the words throughout their life. It wasn’t about mastery of laws or even knowledge, but about attunement of the heart to the love of God.
But Jehu didn’t do that when a word came from Elisha. Or at least, he didn’t pay attention enough so that he thought himself legitimate to engage in trickery and massacre. He didn’t pay close attention to what God spoke through his prophet. King Saul had a similar failing, where he decided to take matters in his own hands and offer a burnt offering, rather than wait on Samuel to arrive to do it who appeared to be late, Samuel’s response was to say that Saul’s kingdom would not survive.3 The pragmatism of the circumstances had caused two kings, Saul and Jehu, to engage in actions that spanned beyond the instruction from God. While there was a great sin in the massacre by Jehu, there was no great sin with Saul, except that in his actions he showed his heart was not attuned to God’s own heart. By contrast, David, when he fell into great sin, repented, because he was a man after God’s own heart.
This spirit of great attentiveness to God undergirds Paul’s concern that the Corinthians understanding “Nothing beyond what is written.”4 The Corinthians, craving knowledge, had engaged in a lot speculation that had the end result of creating a competitive atmosphere where status and rivalry seized the community. Paul nowhere else shows such a specific emphasis on telling people to pay attention to what specifically has been said, but it seems to be an instruction specifically tailored to the attitudes and habits of the Corinthians. They were wanting knowledge, and so they would amass lofty speculations about even the ontology of God being the only God, which justified their eating of meat sacrificed to idols, And yet, they were not paying attention to the other people whose faith lacked such knowledge, and would take part in actions that would hurt the faith of these other people. Because the Corinthians were not able to pay proper attention, but drifted into speculation, they were failing to live out the will and purposes God had for them.
Undergirding this is the nature of our relationship to God: how attentive are we? I don’t mean, can we spend hours reading the Bible and praying to God. I mean, is your attention on what God speaks or is your attention of what meaning you take from what God speaks? Are you focused on what is provided to you from God, or are you focused on driving to divine the mind and will of God from individual sayings? For Paul, the will of God expressed through the inspiration of the Spirit comes as one listens to the whole of God’s disclosure, not just the isolation and analysis of specific words, phrase, sayings. But as people who have our own interests, and these do not always align with God’s, we can be more eager to “translate” the words from God into ideas and justifications for our interests. God’s Word and power becomes a mean to an end, rather that the very thing we place our trust in and listen to.
This doesn’t mean we can do nothing without explicit instructions from God. This is not some radical, early Protestant, Scripture and nothing by Scripture argument. But it means that without explicit instructions, we need to respond out from the whole of what God is forming us to be, and not simply our of some personal interest that some part of God’s Word may, or may not, speak to. Otherwise, our lack of listening and attentiveness can make us like Jehu. Don’t be like Jehu. Be faithful to God through listening to God and then you will be lead into the love, righteousness, and holiness that you seek that God will form into you. Hence, the words of Hebrews 2:1: “we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.”