These chapters of 2 Kings present the slow deterioration of Israel and Judah. The failure of God’s people was declared by the prophets. Thus, Elisha was able to protect the Shunammite woman from the approaching famine (2 Kgs 8:1-7) and weep at the vision of the onslaught the king of Aram would administer to Israel (2 Kgs 8:7-15). Elisha explained his anguish to Hazael of Aram saying, “I know the evil you will do to the people of Israel. You will set their fortresses on fire. You will kill their young men with the sword. You will dash their little ones to pieces. You will rip open their pregnant women” (2 Kgs 8:12).
The excessive aggression of Jehu in 2 Kings 9-10 contributed to the demise of Israel. According to the word of Elisha, Jehu was anointed king in Israel and immediately conspired against King Joram (2 Kgs 9:1-15). Jehu’s reply to the messengers of Joram, “What do you have to do with peace?” (2 Kgs 9:18, 19), revealed Jehu’s zeal for power. Jehu confronted Israel’s king saying, “What peace can there be as long as there is so much prostitution and witchcraft from your mother Jezebel?” (2 Kgs 9:22). Besides Joram, Jehu annihilated King Ahaziah of Judah (2 Kgs 9:27-29), King Ahab’s wife Jezebel—whose death fulfilled the word of Elijah (2 Kgs 9:30-37; 1 Kgs 21:17-19)—those who remained of the house of Ahab (2 Kgs 10:1-17), and the prophets of Baal (2 Kgs 10:18-27).
On the surface, Jehu’s fury seemed an apt response to the Lord’s call on his life (2 Kgs 9:6-10, 24-26, 36-37; 10:17). “Jehu eliminated Baal worship from Israel” (2 Kgs 10:28) and the Lord said to him, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in My sight and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, four generations of your sons will sit on the throne of Israel” (2 Kgs 10:30). Yet, Hosea spoke of the Lord’s judgment upon the house of Jehu to “avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel” (Hos 1:4). Jehu carried out the word of the Lord, yet the manner of his reign was ungodly. Jehu put the leaders of Samaria in a compromising situation by asking them to execute Ahab’s sons, as opposed to fulfilling the word of the Lord himself (2 Kgs 10:1-7). Further, Jehu had the heads of Ahab’s sons piled at the city gate, where he left them overnight, only to boast of his actions in the morning (2 Kgs 10:8-11).
In 2 Kings, Israel’s weakened political strength expresses the spiritual decline of the nation, especially its leaders. Because of the unfaithfulness of King Jehoram of Judah—who “walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for Ahab’s daughter was his wife. He did what was evil in the LORD’s sight” (2 Kgs 8:18)—the southern tribe was no longer able to control Edom (2 Kgs 8:20-22). Further, at the end of Jehu’s reign the author noted, “In those days the LORD began to reduce the size of Israel. Hazael defeated the Israelites throughout their territory: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead—the Gadites, the Reubenites, and the Manassites—from Aroer which is by the Arnon Valley through Gilead to Bashan” (2 Kgs 10:32-33).
This statement has significance for understanding the storyline of Scripture. The Transjordan territories allotted to the two-and-a-half tribes were the first to be taken by foreigners. Moses and Joshua had approved these territories for Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 32, Joshua 13) and the Lord had promised that the land was theirs as long as they would remain faithful to Him (Deut 28:1, 8-9). It was thus during Jehu’s reign that Israel began to experience the Lord’s punitive discipline upon their idolatry. The Mosaic covenant was failing because the Lord found fault with His people. Not until He changed their hearts—causing them to love Him with all of their heart and soul (Deut 30:6; Rom 2:29)—not until the days of the new covenant (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:7-13), would they live before Him.