Justice, it seems, has fallen on hard times in our day. According to divine revelation, the principle of retribution should govern how crime is punished (Ex. 21:23–25). However, more often than not, rehabilitation is the primary driver of the modern criminal justice system. Attempts to rehabilitate offenders are often prized above ensuring that they receive a just punishment for their crimes. Our modern culture is so averse to biblical justice that many people have trouble with the Old Testament. Retributive justice appears again and again in the history of old covenant Israel.
We see this in today’s passage. King Joram (or Jehoram) of Israel, the son of Ahab, had been injured in a battle against Syria and had gone to the city of Jezreel so that he could recover (2 Kings 9:14–15; see 3:1). Jehu, seeing an opportunity to fulfill his calling to put an end to Ahab’s line and become king of Israel, told his army not to announce in Jezreel that he had been anointed king in place of Joram, and he set out for Jezreel (9:13–16). Seeing Jehu’s approach, Joram sent emissaries to find out if Jehu was coming in peace, but they joined Jehu when they learned he would attack Joram (vv. 17–20).
Finally, Joram himself went to meet Jehu, along with his friend and ally King Ahaziah of Judah (v. 21; not the same Ahaziah as the earlier king of Israel described in ch. 1). King Ahaziah had been visiting Joram at Jezreel (9:16), and the king of Israel wanted help in case Jehu was against him. So, Ahaziah and Joram met Jehu at Naboth’s vineyard, where years earlier Elijah had predicted that Ahab’s line would end and that Ahab’s son would be killed at the very place Ahab and Jezebel stole from Naboth, whom Jezebel had murdered (1 Kings 21:1–24). At that place, Joram was killed for “the whorings and the sorceries of . . . Jezebel”—a reference to Jezebel’s leading Israel away from the Lord and into idolatry and the dark arts of sorcery (2 Kings 9:21–26; see Deut. 18:10; Ezek. 16:1–58; Hos. 1:2–3). Then, Jehu killed King Ahaziah of Judah, another idolater (2 Kings 9:27–29; see 8:25–27). Finally, Jehu executed Jezebel, fulfilling Elijah’s prophecy about her (9:30–37; see 1 Kings 21:23).
Many modern people might be horrified at all this bloodshed, but what happened to Joram of Israel, Ahaziah of Judah, and Jeze-bel was just. All of them had committed capital crimes such as idolatry and murder (Gen. 9:6; Deut. 13; 18:9–14). They were repaid what they deserved. They received retributive justice.