Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Monday, July 31, 2006

Ch.9-10 – The Yehu Revolution

Without doubt any person who holds God at the center of their concern should view Yehu as one of the heroes of the Tanach. After a series of Kings dedicated to Baal worship, Yehu's first act is to kill the Kings that lead the nation astray, and to eradicate the Baal worship from Israel. Yehu is animated by a spirit of fury (shigaon) and in that sense he reminds us of the classic zealot – he is a Pinchas type figure. He avenges the place of monotheism at the heart of the nation.

A quick summary of the story should be of assistance. The story is fast paced and extremely dramatic. Make sure that you read the chapters "inside".


Yehu is a senior army officer. As we have mentioned there is a longstanding campaign, a war of attrition against Hazael, the Syrian (Aram) king. It would appear that Yehu's division are posted at the war front in Ramot ha-Gilad (the Golan?), and he is responsible for the troops. Most unexpectedly, a Navi arrives and calls Yehu into a side room. He anoints him as king and tells him to destroy the House of Achav, avenging the lives of all the Neviim killed under auspices of Izevel.

Losing no time, Yehu rides down and is greeted by both King of Israel (Yehoram) and King of Yehuda (Achazyahu) and he promptly kills both of them. In a sense of poetic justice, Yehoram is killed in the field of Navot. He then kills Izevel

Following this, he sends to the town officials of Shomron to kill all the royal family – all 70 brothers of Yehoram. The city leaders who are exceptionally fearful (10:4) of Yehu especially as he has managed to kill both Kings of Israel, comply with his orders. It would appear that God then arranges the "coincidence" of Yehu and his followers meeting the royal family of Yehuda as they make a visit to Yizrael. Yehu kills them too!

And so Yehu has pretty much destroyed BOTH royal houses. But it's not over yet! He organizes a great celebration of the Baal, and calls all the followers of the Baal to the celebration. (I imagine that the people thought that this coup was more political than religious at this stage.) There he has all of the idol-worshippers killed. And he proceeds to obliterate all the monuments and temples dedicated to the Baal deity.

So much for the summary. What can we say about this story?

1. Act of God:
Despite the fact that Yehu's appointment is unprecedented in Tanach in that it comes not at the hands of a bona fide prophet, but rather at by one of the "Bnei Nevi'im," it is clear that Yehu is chosen by God for this task. One can see this by following the pesukim themselves:

There is the command itself, which is an expression of God's will. See 9:7:

כֹּה אָמַר יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מְשַׁחְתִּיךָ לְמֶלֶךְ אֶל עַם יְדֹוָד אֶל יִשְׂרָאֵל: (ז) וְהִכִּיתָה אֶת בֵּית אַחְאָב אֲדֹנֶיךָ וְנִקַּמְתִּי דְּמֵי עֲבָדַי הַנְּבִיאִים וּדְמֵי כָּל עַבְדֵי יְדֹוָד מִיַּד אִיזָבֶל:

The verse begins with "So says Hashem!" and it continues as God speaks in the grammatical First Person "And I will take My revenge for the blood of My servants, the prophets etc."

In 9:25-26, we find that Yehu commands that Yehoram's body be deposited in Nabot's field as a sign that this killing is direct punishment for Achav's sin there:

...וַידֹוָד נָשָׂא עָלָיו אֶת הַמַּשָּׂא הַזֶּה: (כו) אִם לֹא אֶת דְּמֵי נָבוֹת וְאֶת דְּמֵי בָנָיו רָאִיתִי אֶמֶשׁ נְאֻם יְדֹוָד וְשִׁלַּמְתִּי לְךָ בַּחֶלְקָה הַזֹּאת נְאֻם יְדֹוָד ....

Similarly 9:36-37 describes the circumstances of Izevel's death "as the word of God which he spoke to his prophet Eliyahu." And after the killing of all the sons of Achav, Yehu pronounces (10:10 … and see also passuk 10:17):

דְּעוּ אֵפוֹא כִּי לֹא יִפֹּל מִדְּבַר יְדֹוָד אַרְצָה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְדֹוָד עַל בֵּית אַחְאָב וַידֹוָד עָשָׂה אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר בְּיַד עַבְדּוֹ אֵלִיָּהוּ:

Last of all, the story ends with a closing line that demonstrates how Yehu's act was unquestionably a fulfillment of a Divine mandate:

(ל) וַיֹּאמֶר יְדֹוָד אֶל יֵהוּא יַעַן אֲשֶׁר הֱטִיבֹתָ לַעֲשׂוֹת הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינַי כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבִי עָשִׂיתָ לְבֵית אַחְאָב בְּנֵי רְבִעִים יֵשְׁבוּ לְךָ עַל כִּסֵּא יִשְׂרָאֵל:

And so, our first point is simply to emphasise the manner in which Yehu functions as the vehicle, the instrument o God's retribution.

2. Madness
The style of Yehu – it would seem that this is his personality type, is one of "madness." When the sentry identifies Yehu's chariot, he knows it is Yehu because "he drives as a madman." Now this phrase needs some further definition. Is he a maverick who is unable to follow rules, an anarchic insubordinate? Or alternatively, he is the quintessential firebrand, an idealist, a person driven by the rage of truth and responsibility? Or maybe his craziness lies in his strength and speed; after all he is a military officer. I do not know the answer to this and I will let your imagination take the lead here. But certainly, everything here happens at lightening speed; the pace is overwhelming. Even at the start of the story, the apprentice Navi is depicted as running in and then out, and his appearance or possibly his behaviour were so strange that Yehu's associates saw him as "deranged." (9:11)

3. Justified Goal; Questionable methods.
Yehu's method's are unconventional, and frequently deceitful. We find the phrases: שקר, מרמה, עקבה in this story. Dr. Yisrael Rosenson (in Megadim #25) dedicated a lengthy article to this topic in which he suggested that despite the Godly nature of Yehu's mission, the Tanach disapproves of Yehu's means. He claimed that the unusual length and detail of the story, the depictions of the piling of skulls, the mass killings, the hurling Izevel from the window and many other features of the story, all lead to a subtext that is critical of Yehu. He could have achieved the same aims without that degree of cruelty, bloodshed and trickery.

Some argue precisely the opposite! That this story demonstrates the extent to which we must pursue idolatry and its practitioners, demonstrating zero compassion and tolerance, and even acting cruelly and cunningly in order to uproot the seeds of deviance.

Again, I will leave you to judge which view you take

4. Politics and Religion!
One question that might be raised here relates to politics. Why did the army follow Yehu? Why did the government so readily comply with his revolt. The government is an explicit passuk. They were motivated by fear. They were terrified after they saw the manner in which Yehu killed two kings,, they certainly were not about to cross Yehu. They feared their own lives. And here, this is important because we must realise that not everyone became Baalei Teshuva overnight.

But regarding the army, we should think about them politically. As we read (8:28-9, 9:15) the king is wounded in battle. He has suffered a defeat at the hands of Aram. To that end, we can certainly imagine discontent on the part of senior army figures as he has mismanaged the war campaign. In addition, and for the same reasons, we might figure that Yehoram's popularity pools are showing rather low figures. In short, Yehu realizes that the time is ripe for rebellion, not only prophetically but also politically.

5. Religious Integrity and Yehu

In #3 we asked whether the Yehu rebellion was ethical, even if it was justified. The story of Yehu ends on an extremely disappointing note. Yehu, despite his Divine instruction, despite his power and zeal, and notwithstanding his achievements in destroying the House of Achav, fails to have a pure commitment to God. This, to my mind is the deepest question that relates to Yehu's integrity. If Yehu is acting in a spirit of religious idealism, then he will not find himself transgressing, or contradicting God in the road ahead. The very fact that the Tanach testifies about him (10:31):

לא) וְיֵהוּא לֹא שָׁמַר לָלֶכֶת בְּתוֹרַת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל לְבָבוֹ לֹא סָר מֵעַל חַטֹּאות יָרָבְעָם אֲשֶׁר הֶחֱטִיא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל:

"Yehu was not careful to follow the Torah of Hashem the God of Israel whole heartedly; he failed to abandon the sins of Yerovam who lead Israel astray."

In other words, he removed the Baal, but still retained traces of images, and foreign sites of worship. His heart was not "whole" with God, not fully in tune to the sensitivities of God. How could a man like this who lacks religious integrity, find the justification to engage in widespread slaughter in the name of God. Does not such a person need to represent an impeccable Judaism?

In this sense, I feel that Yehu is a not a flawed hero; he is not a hero at all! He is a man who leaves us frustrated and disgruntled. Maybe we can console ourselves in the following way; a reframing of expectations. We might suggest that Yehu was never designated as the saviour of Israel. Rather he was the instrument of punishment for Beit Achav. At that task he succeeded admirably. The religious upturn will be left to others.

[Much of this class comes from the perek summary of Daat Mikra.]