Melakhim Bet Chapter 10
Ahav still has has seventy sons living in Shomron. Yehu sends word to the elders of Shomron who are responsible for the king’s children and demands that they either defend Ahav’s descendants’ right to the throne or deliver the heads of his seventy sons to Yizreel. Out of fear of the might and ruthlessness of Yehu, the elders kill all seventy sons of Ahav and deposit their heads in two piles in Yizreel. Yehu comments that they are now also complicit in his act of rebellion against the house of Ahav. He further notes that the destruction of Ahav’s royal line is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Eliyahu.
Yehu then proceeds to eliminate any remaining relatives, friends or associates of Ahav in the area. Unaware of what has transpired, forty two kinsmen of Ahazya, King of Yehuda, come to visit their extended family in Yizreel, and Yehu slaughters all of them.
Yehu partners with Yehonadav ben Rekhav to eliminate the worship of Baal from the country. He declares his outstanding and exclusive fealty to the Baal and announces throughout Israel that there will be a mandatory day of worship that must be attended by all believers in the Baal.
The Baal worshipers gather together as commanded by the new king, filling the House of the Baal, and don their special ritual garments. Yehu pauses the proceedings to clarify that no servants of Hashem are present; he emphasizes that only truly devoted Baal followers are permitted to participate in the festivities. Once the sacrifices have been offered and the service is concluded, Yehu orders his men to close off the exits and kill everyone inside. He then demolishes the House of Baal and transforms it into a public restroom. By exterminating its adherents and destroying its institutions, Yehu effectively abolishes the worship of Baal in Israel.
Yehu’s zealous behavior earns him a promise that his line will occupy the throne of Israel for four generations. However, despite his opposition to Baal and devotion to Hashem, he does not remove the altars of Yarovam and their golden calves, allowing them to remain so that his subjects are not tempted to return to Jerusalem to serve God. This failure on his part diminishes the impact of the revolution and spiritual renaissance he had orchestrated in Israel.
During the twenty eight years of Yehu’s reign, Aram continues to whittle away at Israel, conducting raids, killing and pillaging Jews, particularly in the Transjordan. Yehu dies and is succeeded by his son, Yehoahaz.
Yehu’s plot against the Baal worshipers is another instance of his modeling his leadership style after that of Eliyahu HaNavi. Perhaps the most memorable episode in the prophet’s career was his “showdown” with the prophets of the Baal, where he, too, gathered the community together, encouraged the priests of the Baal to engage in worship, and followed up by having them all summarily executed. At least insofar as his passion, enthusiasm and penchant for dramatic flair is concerned, Yehu can be thought of as the “Eliyahu HaNavi” of kings. He understood that the political success of the Kingdom of Israel would depend on their devotion to Hashem and to Torah, and that the deeply entrenched Baal worship had to be uprooted and eliminated to allow Judaism to flourish.
However, like his predecessors, Yehu’s fear of losing the kingdom prevented him from confronting the legacy of Yarovam, which by now was a “given” in the cultural world of the Northern Kingdom and would have been even more difficult to reform. In the minds of the citizens of Israel, the altars and golden calves of Yarovam were expressions of their Jewish identity and connection to Hashem, not of any rebellion against Him or of idolatry; thus, Yehu may also have rationalized that allowing them to remain could be a positive thing, at least temporarily, as they weaned themselves off of the Baal. And like many of the temporary measures we rationalize in life (either individually or communally), over time, it settled in to permanency.
Yehu’s decision to slaughter the forty two visiting relatives of King Ahazia is, at first, shocking; like his killing of King Ahazia itself, these executions do not seem to be part of his prophetic “mandate”, which was directed mainly against the House of Ahav. Apparently, Yehu’s actions were based on his understanding that the Houses of Ahav and of Ahazia were inextricably intertwined as a result of the marriage of the children of King Yehoshaphat and King Ahav.
Our observation of the decline of the Kingdom of Yehuda and the developments in future chapters will substantiate this perception. The covenant between the families, as it were, united them and significantly expanded the range of Yehu’s legitimate targets as he fought to extirpate the legacy of Ahav in all of its incarnations.