Revised: June 15th, 2001
Note: I wrote this piece several years back, and haven’t looked at it since. A critical piece about it was posted on the Secular Web, which prompted me to dig it out and look at it again. While my original piece is still historically accurate (which I show in the expanded/updated version of it), I think there is a much better ‘solution’ to the allegation of a contradiction here—and one I was not aware of when I wrote the original piece.
I am a long-time skeptic and fledgling believer (thanks in part to this site), and I have come across some "tough" questions in the "Internet Infidels" Web pages which I have not seen addressed here (there are several others, but these "spoke to me" for some reason).
In 2 Kings chapters 9-10 detail an account of Jehu carrying out Yahweh's orders to slaughter Joram and his company at Jezreel and being praised for this work. While Hosea later pronounces judgment on Jehu's house for "the blood of Jezreel." Is this a contradiction or am I (and the author of the piece) missing something?
Thanks in advance.
P.S. I have found your Christian Think Tank to be EXTREMELY helpful and an answer to prayer.
Let's set up the problem clearly:
1. Elijah announced a dynastic judgment on Ahab’s line and household. God told Jehu to execute this judgment, which he did. Jehu is commended by YHWH for executing the house of Ahab in 2 Kings 10.30:
The LORD said to Jehu, "Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation."
2. But then, a century later, in Hosea 1.4, Jehu is punished for the massacre!
Then the LORD said to Hosea, "Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. (NIV)
The allegation is that God’s express commendation (earlier) is incompatible with/contradicts God’s (later) ‘negative judgment’ on Jehu for the same events, as expressed in Hosea 1.4.
Now, as I have reexamined this situation recently, I notice that most commentators (at least the ones who try to address the seeming disparity) generally take one of three different approaches (or some combo):
1. They try to document the over-kill nature of Jehu’s actions, showing that he went way beyond the expressed command of God. This is the approach of my original piece. This position assumes that there IS a surface contradiction between the two passages [i.e., that there are two contradictory moral judgments made by God about the same exact set of events], and conjectures that the (unstated, but perhaps hinted at) cause of God’s displeasure/judgment in Hosea is Jehu’s ‘blood-loving’ actions. The usage of the inflammatory phrase “massacre” in Hosea 1.4 might constitute some textual suggestion in this direction.
2. Or they try to document that God’s judgment on Jehu was due to his attitude problem--that his actions were ‘commendable’ (as executor of judgment), but that his internal attitude was culpable before God. This position also assumes a surface linguistic contradiction between the two passages [i.e., that there are two contradictory moral judgments made by God about the same exact set of events], and makes this specific conjecture (without a textual “clue” as to the presence of this motif) to relieve the tension between the two passages.
“Jehu was given a twofold divine commission: (1) he was to annihilate all the wicked and apostate house of Ahab, and (2) he was to avenge the blood that Jezebel had shed of the prophets of Yahweh. God’s instrument of choice was the army captain, Jehu. These tasks Jehu carried out to the full…Why then was God displeased with Jehu, as Hosea seems to imply? Because it is one thing to be the instrument God has chosen to punish another person (or group of persons or even a nation) and another to find automatic approval at the completion of the act for the manner in which this task was carried out. For example, Assyria was ordered to move against Israel, but God disapproved of the brutal way Assyria carried out the warfare (Is 10:5–19). Babylon was likewise authorized to move against Judah but was excoriated for cruelty in that war (Hab 1:6; 3:13–16)…Therefore, although Jehu was obedient to God’s directive (2 Kings 9:7), he erred grievously in that he killed more people than God had directed and did so with a savagery that did not earn God’s approval. It seems clear from Jehu’s conduct that he was motivated not by a desire to be obedient to God but by sheer personal ambition—thereby making his act of obedience wicked. It was this same spirit that was transmitted to his descendants, in a heightened degree if anything…Jehu showed unnecessary cruelty when he slew not only the house of Ahab at Jezreel, but also the visiting monarch from Judah, Ahaziah, and almost all the members of the Davidic family (2 Kings 9:27; 10:13–14). Jehu, furthermore, extended this massacre to all the friends of the ruling family (2 Kings 10:11)…The point is most evident that divine approval for an act does not thereby carry with it indifference as to how that act is accomplished and how many others it may involve. [HSOBX: Hosea 1.4]
3. Or they try to isolate different aspects of the event(s), so that God is judging one aspect as “good” (e.g., the cultic results) and another aspect as “bad” (e.g., the political results). This is common among modern commentators, e.g. Wolff, Emmerson, Ward. Again, this can be quite conjectural, and assumes a surface contradiction between the two passages [i.e., that there are two contradictory moral judgments made by God about the same exact set of events]. However, one could perhaps find a legitimate distinction between God’s commendation for the results against Ahab (i.e., the Elijah approval) and the specific means involved specifically in the Jezreel massacre (e.g., deception, denial, etc.). This could certainly be derived from the texts before us.
All three approaches to the problem “would work” but it would have to be understood that none of them are very explicit in the Hosea text. The ‘blood-lover’ aspect might be hinted at, in the choice of “blood” words, but this would be only slightly better than ‘conjectural’. The “results” versus “means” tactic is derivable from comparing the two texts, but one would have to give some support that this distinction (in the text) was intentional on the part of Hosea
What I have recently seen is that even the surface contradiction probably doesn’t exist…so Stuart in [WBC: Hosea 1.4]:
“It should be noted that the present oracle does not per se condemn Jehu’s coup at Jezreel, called for by Elisha (2 Kgs 9:1–10). la[rzy ymd could mean “bloodguilt of Jezreel” in the sense of a wrong needing requital, but it more likely means only “massacre at Jezreel” in the sense of a great, decisive slaughter. The former connotation, “bloodguilt,” is found for µymd in Lev 20:9, Deut 19:10, 2 Sam 21:1, etc. But the connotation “killing” or “bloodshed” is also well attested, as in hmjlm ymd “bloodshed of battle” (1 Kgs 2:5) or µnj ymd, “unnecessary bloodshed” (1 Kgs 2:31), etc. Recognition of the use of dqp in the context, so often associated with requital of justice in the OT, should not lead to the conclusion that Hosea is condemning Jehu for fulfilling God’s command. Instead, Yahweh now announces that he will turn the tables on the house of Jehu because of the real issue, i.e., what has happened in the meantime. In the same way that Jehu in 842 had annihilated a dynasty famed for its long history of oppression and apostasy, so Yahweh himself will now put an end to the Jehu dynasty because it, in turn, has grown hopelessly corrupt.”
“Rather, just as Jehu’s actions at Jezreel eliminated the Omri dynasty, so now Yahweh will eliminate the Jehu dynasty, and, depending on how the word twklmm is to be taken, perhaps eventually the entire kingship of the North. There will be “another Jezreel”—another massacre.”
Indeed, Stuart gives the translation of Hosea 1.4 as:
Yahweh said to him: “Name him ‘Jezreel,’ because it will not be long before I apply the bloodshed of Jezreel to the family of Jehu, and then destroy the kingdom of the family of Israel.
Now, if you compare this translation against several modern English Bibles, you note a rather interesting difference:
· And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. [NAS]
· 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. [NRSV]
· Then the LORD said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. [NIV]
· Then the LORD said to him: Give him the name Jezreel, for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed at Jezreel And bring to an end the kingdom of the house of Israel; [NAB]
The main difference is in how the verb is translated “apply the bloodshed to X” versus “punish X for the bloodshed”. The first translation may not have any notion of judgment on Jehu in it at all (Stuart’s point), whereas the second translation obviously has a notion of guilt (for Jezreel). So, what do we know about this verbal structure?
The literal Hebrew reads something like this (individual Hebrew words indicated by connecting dashes):
“Then-He-said, Yahweh, to-him, Call his-name Jezreel, because yet soon, and I-will-(verb) [accusative marker]-bloods-of Jezreel upon-house-of Jehu and-I-will-put-to-end (the)-kingdom-of (the)-house-of Israel.”
The verb structure we are looking at is “(verb) plus Accusative Marker (eth) plus the object of that marker (bloodshed, bloodguilt, massacre, but literally ‘blood of Jezreel’) plus preposition (‘to/upon’) plus object of that preposition (Jehu)”.
The verb itself is pqd, which has a wide range of meanings: attend to, visit, muster, appoint [BDB: 823]. BDB gives “visit upon” as the meaning in our passage here, but a meaning of “punish” in passages without the accusative. But most of the “punish” passages given still are based on the “visit upon” notion, and these have judgment elements introduced solely by the explicit presence of the words for ‘sin’. In other words, the “punishment” image is carried by “sin words”, not the “visit” word:
· You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, [Deut 5.9]
· Therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.” [Amos 3.2]
· For on the day that I punish Israel’s transgressions, [Amos 3.14]
In these passages, God places upon the recipient the accusative object (in these cases, ‘sin’). This can also be seen as Him placing the results or consequences of the sin on them, and hence the translation of ‘punish’ is acceptable. Remember, sin could be ‘removed’ in biblical thought, just as it could be “put upon one’s own head”. [This verb and derivatives are translated with “punish*.*” words in only 20% of its occurrences in the NIV.]
This basically give us the rationale for the ‘visiting’ translation of Stuart et. al. (e.g., Mays, Hosea, Westminster: “I will visit the bloodshed of Jezreel upon Jehu’s house”). HALOT gives the meaning “afflict” for this passage, with “blood” being the thing afflicted upon the house of Jehu [HALOT: s.v. pqd].
This verb does have uses in which judicial vengeance or legal consequence is in view (as in our passage); but without indication in the context, the ‘visitation’ may be beneficial:
“There are many instances where “visit” means to inflict injury or harm and Rsv translates many of these as “punish.” However, in a considerable number of cases it is clear that the “visitation” produces a beneficial result, e.g. Gen 50:24–25, Ruth 1:6, I Sam 2:21; Ps 8:4 [H 5] Jer 15:15; 29:10. [TDOT: s.v. PQD]
Now, in the case of Hosea, a judgment is clearly in view, since the immediately preceding passage gives the real reason for whatever our verse means:
“When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. Then the LORD said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because…” [NIV]
Whatever the judgment in our verse is, it is because of current-day problems in Israel: “vilest adultery in departing from the Lord”. The children’s names are to be prophetic symbols.
And the immediately following verse indicates again that it is all-Israel that has the ‘problem’:
“Then the LORD said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. 5 In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.” [NASB]
The verb, then, is NOT a “punish for” but something closer to “punish with” (i.e., visit something upon someone, as an act of judgment = “punish with”). The “for” is Israel’s sin as a nation of unfaithful people, and as indicated later, led by an unfaithful Jehu-dynasty, and NOT for some past crime of Jehu per se.
So, the layout of the argument of verses 2-5 is as follows:
1. Israel is guilty.
2. Something “really bad” is going to happen to the ruling dynasty.
3. The kingdom of Israel will end at the same time, in a “breaking of her power”.
So, what is the house of Jehu going to be punished “with”? What is going to be “visited upon them” that will destroy Israel?
The phrase here is “blood of Jezreel”. As Stuart noted above, this probably means “massacre” [or “bloodshed”], instead of “blood-guilt”, and most of the modern English translations noted above all reflect that understanding (with “bloodshed” predominating over “massacre”).
· If it means “massacre”, then it probably hearkens back to Jehu’s massacre of the Ahab’s dynasty and all his civilian supporters [The conjunction of the words “Jehu” and “Jezreel” might trigger this image for the reader]. What the passage would then be saying is (a la Stuart):
“Rather, just as Jehu’s actions at Jezreel eliminated the Omri dynasty, so now Yahweh will eliminate the Jehu dynasty, and, depending on how the word twklmm is to be taken, perhaps eventually the entire kingship of the North. There will be “another Jezreel”—another massacre.” [WBC: in loc.]
And in this case, the name Jezreel is used for ‘shock value’:
“It [Jezreel] refers to a beautiful city and valley between the mountains of Samaria and Galilee, but the beauty of that place had been marred by the events of extreme violence which had happened there…Thus the name of the beautiful city and valley was forever linked with violence and mass murder. To name a child ‘Jezreel’ might be like naming a child today ‘Auschwitz’ or ‘Hiroshima’. An announcement of punishment indicates the ominous significance of the name: ‘and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel’” [Limburg, Hosea-Micah, Interpretation series]
· If, on the other hand, it means the more general “bloodshed” it probably refers to the “bloodshed” of all the northern kings—including the current Jehu-dynasty ruler, Jeroboam II:
Jezreel in this passage can refer to either the town or the valley, but the town is more likely since it was one of the main capitals of the monarchy:
“During the ninth century BC, King Ahab made Jezreel his winter capital; its situation on a cliff overlooking the Jezreel Valley made it both scenic and well protected, and in addition it enjoyed a year-round mild climate. It was during the Omride period that most of the events described in the OT with reference to Jezreel took place: (a) Elijah ran ahead of Ahab's chariot to Jezreel (1 Kgs 18:45-46); (b) Naboth's vineyard, which was next to Ahab's palace in Jezreel, was coveted by the king (ch. 21); (c) Joram and all Ahab's line were killed by Jehu at Jezreel (2 Kgs 8-9); and (d) Jezebel was killed there (ch. 9).” [NIDOTTE: s.v. “Jezreel Valley, Theology of”]
“The town had been a second royal residence, in addition to Samaria, for the Omri dynasty kings” (1 Kgs 18:45–46; 21:1, 23; 2 Kgs 8:29). [WBC: Hosea]
And as one of the capitals of the northern kingdom, it had a long history of oppression and bloodshed:
“To grasp the symbolic significance of this name, it is necessary to recall certain of the bloody events that characterized the history of the city of Jezreel. First, it was the blood of Naboth that flowed here (1 Kgs 21); shortly after that Jehu (H3369) appeared on the scene and went to Jezreel to take revenge against the house of Ahab (2 Kgs 9-10). And even in Hosea's days this state of affairs (bloodshed and usurpations) still continued in the monarchial sphere (cf. Hos 7:3-7). The symbolic name of Hosea's firstborn therefore served as a constant reminder and indictment against the malfunctioning and the bloody history of the kingship institution in the northern kingdom” [NIDOTTE: s.v. “Jezreel”]
So, the “really bad thing” would be either:
· a “massacre” like that done by Jehu will happen to whoever is on the Jehuite throne at the time of the fulfillment [WBC]; or
· violent bloodshed like that perpetrated by all the Northern idolatrous kings (based out of Jezreel) will happen to whoever is on the Jehuite throne at fulfillment time. [NIDOTTE:]
In the first case, the “of Jezreel” would mean “at Jezreel”, and in the second case “of Jezreel” would mean “from out of Jezreel”. [Note that the passage does not specify ‘at Jezreel’ at all—it could easily and naturally refer to events ‘loosely’ connected with the city/valley.]
So, the argument flow in Hosea 1.2-5 becomes:
· Israel as a people and as a nation is guilty in widespread unfaithfulness, including the monarchy.
· God will destroy the reigning monarchy in either the same way it was instituted, or in the same way it has violently dealt with others.
· The kingdom of Israel will end at the same time, in a “breaking” of her military might and power structures [before the Assyrians, as it turned out].
But in neither case—and this is the point—are the actions of Jehu at Jezreel even commented on. In other words, NO JUDGMENT is made in the passage about Jehu’s actions, intentions, over-stepping, savagery, or zeal. There is actually nothing in this passage about whether or not God ‘approved’ of Jehu’s actions, only a use (perhaps) of the violent image and reputation of the city of Jezreel.
And so I have to concur with Stuart’s analysis:
“It should be noted that the present oracle does not per se condemn Jehu’s coup at Jezreel, called for by Elisha (2 Kgs 9:1–10)” [WBC: in loc.]
So, in this case, instead of having a surface-contradiction that we have to resolve by ‘digging under it’ to find background, context, etc., we do not even have a contradiction on the surface. The passages just aren’t even talking about the same thing. The Elijah passage is talking about Jehu’s actions and the Hosea passage is talking about Israel’s unfaithfulness (and its consequences). There is not even a ‘problem’ here to actually solve.
glenn miller, june 2001