Jehu Punished as Jezreel

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An exegetical alternative to Pete Enns “When The Bible Corrects Itself – More On Violence In the Bible”

It’s no secret that Pete Enns is a Biblical Expositor with a Redactive Limp.  That is, wherever one finds apparent “inconsistencies” in the Biblical record or a putative redaction of one part of Scripture by another, one can safely disabuse Christians of any claims of inspiration that preserves as “high view” of Scripture.  He is at least consistent in repeating his mantra:

To smooth over this debate between Hosea and our historian in the name of preserving a error-free Bible is to mishandle and therefore disrespect the sacred text. And, as Williams hints at the end, we miss something of the Gospel when we miss theological dynamics like the one we see here.”

Translation – No attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction here is acceptable.  I say it is evidence against your view and I’m sticking to it.

So from time to time it is appropriate to kick Pete in the schins and challenge his ethos and scholarship by referencing just the tip of the iceberg of Scholars who don’t share his views and give a reasonable answer for what the text appears to say.  In this case the exegesis below shows that Enns has not included some very important but basic methods of hermeneutics in his rush to “disabuse” those pesky high view of Scripture Christians.  Sorry Pete, but you do deserve that.


And the LORD said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. (Hos. 1:4 KJV)

Name and Explanation of Punishment (1:4–5)

1:4 He gave the boy the name Jezreel. As a personal name it apparently was quite uncommon; it appears only one other time as such in the Bible (1 Chr 4:3). A town in Judah had the name Jezreel; one of David’s wives, Ahinoam, came from there (1 Sam 25:43).

But for Hosea’s audience Jezreel signified the town and valley of the same name located between Galilee and Samaria (the town of Jezreel was in the valley and just northwest of Mount Gilboa). This area was the scene of many significant—and violent—events in Israel’s history. There Israelite forces mustered in preparation for a disastrous battle with the Philistines (1 Sam 29:1). It was part of the abortive kingdom of Ishbaal (or Ishbosheth) according to 2 Sam 2:8. Jezreel was where Naboth had his vineyard until he was framed and murdered by the agents of Jezebel (1 Kgs 21:1). It was here also that Jehu killed Joram, Jezebel, and the rest of Ahab’s household and supporters (2 Kgs 9:24–10:11). The valley of Jezreel, moreover, was the scene of battles fought by Deborah (Judg 4–5) and Gideon (Judg 6–7). In the mind of an Israelite, Jezreel may have signified bloodshed in the same way that Chernobyl signifies nuclear disaster to a modern person.

Another curious fact about this name, however, is that it means “May God sow” and thus associates God with the productivity of the land. In this it addresses the fertility cults that figure so heavily in the background of the Book of Hosea. For the prophet no doubt the name contrasts Yahweh, the true giver of life, with the false fertility god Baal. We thus have in this name associations of both death by violence and of a prayer to God, the giver of bountiful harvests.

God explains the name by saying that he will soon punish the house of Jehu and bring Israel to an end. As the NIV (and most versions) translate it, however, there is something troubling about the statement “because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel.” The problem is that elsewhere in the Bible the prophetic word commends Jehu for his zeal in finishing off the dynasty of Omri and in particular for the slaughter of the priests of Baal (2 Kgs 10:30). In fact, Jehu had obeyed a word from the Lord (2 Kgs 9:7).

Why now would the dynasty be punished for the same act? Modern readers, offended by the sheer volume of blood Jehu spilled, perhaps do not find this troubling, and some scholars even suggest that Hosea’s pronouncement represents a major step forward in the evolution of Israel’s understanding of God: the religious pogrom once commended by the prophets now stands condemned. But, as Andersen and Freedman remark, such analysis “seems detached from the realities of the ninth-eighth centuries b.c.e. in the Near East.” Hosea himself described the wrath of God in the goriest of terms (e.g., 13:7–8), and he certainly does not distance himself—even a little bit—from his predecessors Elijah, Elisha, and the other prophets.

Another possibility is that Jehu was right to destroy the house of Omri but that the way he went about it was overly zealous and bloodthirsty. One might compare this to Isa 10:5–12, in which God condemns Assyria for the arrogant manner in which it went about fulfilling its God-given task of punishing the nations. But this too fails for two reasons. First, Hosea never accuses Jehu of having too much pride or of being overly zealous—he simply mentions the “bloodshed of Jezreel.” Second, again in 2 Kgs 10:30 God unconditionally approves of what Jehu did at Jezreel. This is something we never hear about the exploits of Assyria.

We must take another look at the phrase “because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel.” In all probability this misrepresents what the Hebrew means here. The word translated “punish” pāqad has a wide variety of meanings (“attend to,” “appoint,” “visit,” “muster,” etc.), and its specific meaning in any verse is dependent on context. In some cases, to be sure, it can be translated “punish,” as when “I will visit their iniquity upon them” means “I will punish them for their iniquity.” We should not conclude from this, however, that pāqad is the semantic equivalent to the English “punish.” In addition, this verse is unusual in that it is the only verse in the Bible with this particular construction, using pāqad with dāmîm (“bloodshed,” “massacre,” NIV) as its object. Nothing in the text requires that we understand this to mean “punish” in the sense that the house of Jehu would receive retribution for what he did to the house of Omri at Jezreel. Rather, it seems to mean “visit upon” in the sense that God would bring upon Jehu’s dynasty the same violent destruction that befell Omri’s dynasty. It should be translated, “And I will bring the bloodshed of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu.”

This is not punishment for Jehu’s zeal in the slaughter at Jezreel; rather it is punishment for not learning the lesson of Jezreel. Jehu himself had been the agent of God’s fury and personally had seen how terribly it fell upon an apostate dynasty. But he and his household went on to repeat the apostasy of the Omrides and their predecessors (2 Kgs 10:31; 13:1). God visited the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu because, in the final analysis, his dynasty’s rule was little better than that of Jeroboam I or of Ahab and Jezebel. Jehu’s actions at Jezreel were, if anything, the main reason God did not eliminate his dynasty sooner (2 Kgs 10:30).

1:5 Mays and Wolff both argue that this verse is an independent but authentic saying of Hosea, but it is difficult to understand how such a small saying could have survived independently, or on what grounds we can say it is authentically Hoseanic if it once circulated separately from this book.59 Also the structure of the oracle requires that this verse not be omitted. The following diagram demonstrates the structure of the poem:

Call his name Jezreel (A)

For it is just a little while (B)

And I will bring the bloodshed of Jezreel (C) upon the house of Jehu (D)

And I will put an end (C) to the kingdom of the house of Israel (D)

And it will be in that day (B)

And I shall break (C) the bow of Israel (D)

In the valley of Jezreel. (A)

“Jezreel” forms an inclusion pattern at the beginning and end of the oracle (lines marked “A”), within which there is an incomplete parallel structure composed of temporal clauses (lines “B”) followed by statements of doom for Israel and the house of Jehu (“C” and “D”). Each of these statements of doom is composed of two parts, a verb phrase that describes God’s action (“C” = “bring the bloodshed of Jezreel,” “bring an end,” “and I shall break”) and a noun phrase identifying the objects of God’s judgment (“D” = “house of Jehu,” “kingdom of the house of Israel,” and “bow of Israel”). The parallel structure is incomplete because the first half has two “C–D” lines but the second has only one. But there appears to be a reason for this. In the first half “house of Jehu” describes the royal house, and “kingdom of the house of Israel” describes the nation as a whole. In the second half, however, the metaphor “bow of Israel” jointly describes both the military power of the nation as a whole and the king as its head. In short, king and nation will fall as one. The entire structure is lost, however, if v. 5 is omitted.

We cannot be sure precisely what event constituted the fulfillment of this prophecy. Wolff argues that it refers to the events of 733 b.c., when Tiglath-pileser III, in response to Judah’s pleas for help, subjugated the Israelite territory in the valley of Jezreel (2 Kgs 15:29). Others, however, argue that Jehu’s dynasty specifically ended when Shallum assassinated Zechariah, the last king of Jehu’s dynasty. If an ancient Greek translation of 2 Kgs 15:10 is correct, Shallum killed Zechariah at Ibleam, a town located in a southern part of the valley of Jezreel. This is appropriate. It implies that the dynasty ended, as it had begun, with the assassination of the ruling house in the valley of Jezreel. Not only was poetic justice done to Jehu’s line, but Hosea’s prophecy was completely fulfilled. Perhaps we should best understand the verse to mean that the environs of the valley of Jezreel relate to both the fall of the dynasty and to the destruction of the nation.

Garrett, D. A. (1997). Hosea, Joel (Vol. 19A, pp. 55–59). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


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