By the time Jehu was anointed as the ruler over the northern kingdom of Israel, deep spiritual rot had corrupted almost the entire nation. The idolatry to which Ahab and Jezebel gave state support had not let up. In fact, “the whorings and the sorceries of . . . Jezebel” were nearly innumerable (2 Kings 9:22; see 1 Kings 16:29–34). The only solution was for Ahab’s family and the priests of Baal to be wiped out completely. However, as we will see, Jehu did not finally accomplish his objective of destroying idolatry. In fact, he succumbed to it himself.
Having killed Ahab’s son, King Joram (or Jehoram) of Israel, Jehu moved to eliminate the rest of Ahab’s sons (2 Kings 9:14–26), who were rivals for the throne. He convinced the leaders in Samaria, Israel’s capital, to decapitate Ahab’s remaining progeny. Then, he killed all those outside of Ahab’s family who supported that dynasty (10:1–11). Today’s passage also tells us that Jehu eradicated Baal worship in Israel, at least for a time. He killed the priests of Baal and destroyed the temple and pillar of Baal, displacing the foreign god from Israel (vv. 18–27). In these things, Jehu did well, for he brought about the Lord’s judgment on Ahab’s house, as Elijah had predicted, and he made the worship of Israel purer (1 Kings 21:17–29).
Still, not all was well during the leadership of Jehu. In 2 Kings 10:12–14, we read that he put to death the relatives of King Ahaziah of Judah who were on their way to visit the king at Jezreel. Ahaziah, of course, had met a deserved end at the hands of Jehu for his own idolatry and friendship with Israel (8:25–29; 9:27–28). But the Lord never told Jehu to destroy the family and friends of Judah’s king. Jehu took things too far, showing that he was not motivated solely by a desire to accomplish God’s will with respect to Ahab’s descendants. The prophet Hosea declared that Jehu’s house would eventually fall as a punishment for this bloodshed at Jezreel (Hos. 1:4–5).
Moreover, Jehu did well in purifying Israel of Baal worship, but he did not go far enough in cleansing Israel of idolatry. He continued Jeroboam’s practice of worshiping Yahweh under the guise of golden calves at Bethel and Dan (2 Kings 10:28–29). Even Jehu, the instrument of God’s vengeance against Israel’s idolatry, could not escape the spiritual rot of forbidden worship. The Lord gave Jehu a dynasty in Israel because of what he did to the house of Ahab, but the northern kingdom remained far from God (vv. 30–36).