Motives Matter

In roughly 841 B.C., the commander of Israel’s army, Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, was anointed king over the northern kingdom and was instructed by the Lord to “strike down the house of Ahab” and “cut off from Ahab all the males in Israel, both bond and free” (2 Kings 9:6-10). After receiving this command from the Lord via one of “the sons of the prophets,” Jehu began his assassination of Ahab’s family. He started by slaying Ahab’s son, Joram (also known as Jehoram), who was ruling Israel at the time Jehu was anointed king. He then proceeded to kill Ahaziah (the king of Judah and grandson of Jezebel—9:27-29) and forty-two of Ahaziah’s brethren (10:12-14). Later, he slew (or had others slay) Jezebel (the mother of Joram and former wife of the deceased Ahab—9:30-37), all seventy sons of Ahab who were living in Samaria, and “all who remained to Ahab in Samaria” (10:1-10,17), and “all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel,” including “all his great men and his close acquaintances, and his priests” (10:11). Jehu’s final stop was at the temple of Baal where, upon gathering all the Baal-worshipping leaders of Israel into the temple, he locked them up and had them massacred (10:18-27).

After Jehu had carried out his orders to obliterate all males from the house of Ahab, the Lord said to him, “Because you have done well in doing what is right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation” (10:30). Jehu had taken the most thorough means of suppressing the idolatry in Israel, and thus was granted protection on his throne, along with his sons after him unto “the fourth generation.” The following chapters of 2 Kings indicate that the Lord was true to His word (as always; cf. Titus 1:2). Although the reigns of Jehu’s sons were described as kings who “did evil in the sight of Yahweh,” the Lord allowed them to reign to the fourth generation in order to fulfill His promise to Jehu.

Several years after the above events took place, the prophet Hosea expressed words that many skeptics have claimed are in opposition to what is stated in 2 Kings 9-10. When Gomer, Hosea’s wife, bore a son, Hosea declared that the Lord said, “Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (1:4). Those trying to discredit the Bible’s integrity argue that Hosea put himself into obvious disagreement with the inspired writer of 2 Kings, who thought that Jehu had done “all” that was in God’s heart. Skeptics claim that the author of 2 Kings heaped praise on Jehu for the Jezreel massacre, but Hosea contradicted him when he said that Lord would avenge the blood of Jezreel and end the reign of the house of Jehu in Israel.

What can be said about this “obvious disagreement”? Are these two passages harmonious, or is this a legitimate contradiction that should cause all Bible believers to reject the book that has been tried and tested for hundreds of years?

First, we cannot be 100% certain that Hosea 1:4 is referring to the events in 2 Kings 9-10. Although nearly all skeptics and Bible commentators link the two passages together, it must be understood that just because 2 Kings 9-10 is the only place in the Old Testament that describes suitable events located at Jezreel, it does not mean that Hosea must have been referring to those events. The honest student of God’s Word has to admit that Hosea may have been referring to Jehu’s sons who reigned after him. Perhaps his sons performed serious atrocities in Jezreel that are not recorded in 2 Kings. One cannot be certain that Hosea was indeed referring to the events recorded in 2 Kings 10. Having made such a disclaimer, it is my position that these two passages should be linked, and thus the alleged contradiction raised by skeptics deserves an adequate explanation: How could God tell Jehu to destroy the house of Ahab, and then later condemn him (his house) through the words of Hosea for having done so?

The answer really is quite simple. As Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe observed: “God praised Jehu for obeying Him in destroying the house of Ahab, but condemned Jehu for his sinful motive in shedding their blood” (1992, p. 194). Skeptics are fond of citing 2 Kings 10:30 to support their position, but they often conveniently overlook verses 29 and 31, which state: “ Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan…. Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin.” Jehu obeyed God’s command to “strike down the house of Ahab” and utterly exterminate his descendants (2 Kings 9:7-8; 10:30), but he did not obey God in all that he did. The passage in 2 Kings 10:29-31 indicates that even though Jehu had done what God commanded, “he did so out of a carnal zeal that was tainted with protective self-interest” (Archer, 1982, p. 208). It seems obvious that since Jehu followed in the footsteps of Israel’s first wicked king by worshipping false gods and not walking according to God’s law, he did not destroy Ahab’s descendants out of any devotion to the Lord. Furthermore, in commentating on Jehu’s actions, biblical scholar Gleason Archer noted:

The important principle set forth in Hosea 1:4 was that when blood is shed, even in the service of God and in obedience to His command, blood-guiltiness attaches to God’s agent himself if his motive was tainted with carnal self-interest rather than by a sincere concern for the purity of the faith and the preservation of God’s truth (such as, for example, animated Elijah when he had the 450 prophets of Baal put to death after the contest with them on Mount Carmel) [p. 209].

Considering Jehu’s actions by examining the motives behind those actions solves the alleged contradiction. Jehu’s failure to obey God’s commands and depart from the sins of Jeroboam reveals that he would have equally disobeyed the other commands as well, had it been contrary to his own desires. The story of Jehu’s conquest teaches a great lesson, which Albert Barnes acknowledged in his commentary on Hosea: “[I]f we do what is the will of God for any end of our own, for anything except God, we do, in fact, our own will, not God’s.” Indeed, just as the apostle Paul taught in his discourse on love—motives matter (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)!


Archer, Gleason L. (1982), An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Geisler, Norman L. and Thomas A. Howe (1992), When Critics Ask: A Comprehensive Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books).


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