Melakhim Bet Chapter 9
Elisha sends one of his students on a secret mission to anoint Yehu ben Nimshi as the new King of Israel. The student arrives at the garrison in Ramot Gilead where Yehu is serving as leader of the Jewish army in their war against Aram. He takes Yehu into a private room, anoints him, and informs him that Hashem has tasked him with the responsibility of killing King Yehoram and wiping out the entire royal line of Ahav.
The student leaves hastily and the troops ask Yehu what transpired behind closed doors. At first he hides the truth; eventually, he reveals the content of his exchange with the young prophet. Apparently already dissatisfied with the current regime of Yehoram, the assembled men are happy to symbolically coronate Yehu as their new king by placing their garments under his feet and blowing a shofar. Yehu gathers an entourage and heads to Yezreel to confront Yehoram as he was commanded. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Yehoram was recovering from wounds he sustained on the battlefield and had been joined by Ahaziah, King of Yehuda, who had come to visit him.
King Yehoram’s watchman spots the approaching group of horsemen and informs the king. Twice, sentries are dispatched to clarify whether Yehu comes in peace; each time, he gruffly orders them to fall in step behind him. At this point, the watchman recognizes that the leader of the company of men is Yehu, who can be identified by his wild and reckless style of riding. The two kings have their horses saddled and go out to intercept Yehu; rejecting their salutations and offers of peace, he condemns the wickedness of Izevel that has corrupted Israel and kills them both in the vineyard of Navot. Yehu notes that his act is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Eliyahu that the blood of Navot would be visited upon the house of Ahav.
Yehu proceeds to the palace where he finds Izevel who has done her hair and makeup and is not surprised by his arrival. She insults Yehu, comparing him to Zimri who murdered his master, Elah. Yehu commands the guards attending to Izevel to cast her out the window onto the ground below, and they speedily comply with his instructions. She dies on impact and is then trampled by a horse.
Yehu sits with the men and has a meal. He then orders them to give Izevel a proper burial, since she was of royal lineage; however, dogs have already consumed most of her corpse, leaving only her skull, hands and feet to be interred. Yehu again notes that this is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Eliyahu who predicted that Izevel’s body would fall like dung in the portion of Yezreel, that dogs would eat her flesh and that she would be unrecognizable as a result.
One question that we can raise here is why Elisha does not anoint Yehu himself, instead appointing a student to carry out the task. It cannot be simply because the selection of Yehu was communicated by God to Eliyahu and not to Elisha directly. After all, Elisha personally anointed Hazael, King of Aram, even though this, too, was a fulfillment of a commandment received by his master, Eliyahu. What prevented him from approaching Yehu himself for the same purpose?
Elisha’s behavior can be explained in at least two possible ways. Perhaps he reasoned that a public figure like himself entering the Israelite garrison in wartime was too unusual and suspicious an act for it to go unnoticed. This would have undermined the elements of secrecy and surprise that proved to be critical to Yehu’s victory. Alternatively, Elisha may have thought that the theme of his prophetic career – demonstrating Hashem’s mercy and compassion rather than His strict justice – was fundamentally incompatible with the bloody and violent mission on which Yehu was being sent, and therefore delegated his anointment to a student.There is no question that the activities of Yehu, while sanctioned by Hashem, have little in common with Elisha’s leadership style and conduct.
Yehu, if anything, is very much a “throwback” to the methodology and attitudes of Eliyahu HaNavi. In fact, in this chapter and the one that follows, Yehu explicitly invokes the name and prophecies of Eliyahu as justification or validation of his deeds several times. Yehu describes himself as a zealot, again casting himself in the mold of Eliyahu, and both Yehu and the young prophet who anoints him are dubbed “crazy” during the narrative, indicating that Yehu had a rare religious charisma and energy about him that distinguished him from his colleagues and made him seem comparable in his aura to a prophet. We will hopefully identify more textual and substantive parallels between Yehu and Eliyahu in future summaries.
Yehu’s “retrogression” to the style and approach of Eliyahu seems, first of all, to suggest that the retired prophet was correct, although his timing may have been premature: the House of Ahav and the Kingdom of Israel were in need of some punishment to adjust their course. Elisha’s kindness and compassion have certainly endeared the prophet to many and have served as a source of tremendous benefit to the people but they have not addressed the root of the dysfunction in Israel – its entrenchment in idolatrous ideas and practices. Yehu emerges like another incarnation of Eliyahu to once again bring divine justice to bear on those who have created distance between the Jewish people and Hashem.
One wonders how, in the midst of rampant idolatry, Yehu happens to be a devoted worshiper of Hashem. Was he feigning religious fervor merely in order to legitimize his claim to the throne and the displacement of the house of Ahav? Did he take up the mantle of destroying idol worship just to avoid being labeled a rebel without a cause? When did this passion for Judaism become so central to Yehu’s life?
I would suggest that Yehu was not faking; he was a sincere Jew who genuinely abhorred idolatry and embraced Torah. True, he worked for King Yehoram and was a pragmatic “company man”; nonetheless, he harbored no illusions and recognized the spiritual and political corruption of the Israelite regime for what it was. From the very fact that Hashem specifically designated Yehu to become the next king of Israel, we must surmise that he was qualified for the position. This means that we must assume that Yehu rejected idol worship and served Hashem alone.
Although, in the final analysis, he too falls short of the expectations Hashem articulated to him, Yehu started out with a fundamental commitment to Hashem and Torah and – as we will see in the next chapter – was able to at least partially reverse the self-destructive national trend towards idolatry and paganism.