These chapters are all a bit messy and bloodthirsty. In part it comes back to the whole unpleasant fact that God sometimes commands and commends extreme violence against the enemies of Israel and her faith in him. But here we can perhaps see something else, which is bad enough in itself but also underlines the danger basic to all religiously inspired violence. Bring human, we all too easily mix our motives with those of God, and claim his authority and approval for our own hatred and ambition.
Here, Jehu is chosen by God to end the influence of Ahab’s dynasty on Israel. It’s harsh, but Ahab’s legacy is still poisoning Israel’s life and leading her into one of the more barbaric local religions. Yet Jehu doesn’t stop there. Having killed King Joram of Israel, quoting prophecy as he does, he also kills the fleeing King Ahaziah of Judah, and later orders the death of the descendents of King David as well as those of Ahab.
Yet with all of this zeal and destruction, Jehu is still blind to the need for his own change of heart, and falls to deal with the golden calves, which have themselves subtly distorted how Israel thinks of the LORD.
He stands as a warning. First of the danger of using force or power of any kind to achieve what we believe to be the will of God. It’s to hard to be sure where faithfulness to the will of the LORD stops and attachment to our own will begins for any of us to be confident in doing that, however innocent we may believe our motives and actions to be. But second he stands as a warning to apply zeal and energy to changing ourselves before we try to change anyone else. It may be no coincidence that this passage ends with the comment that ‘in those days the LORD began to trim off parts of Israel.’ Jehu has perhaps relied too much on his army and not enough on the LORD. Not only is the LORD perfectly capable of fighting his own battles, he is also better at fighting our battles for us than we are ourselves. We do well to concentrate our efforts on staying close to him, and rely on him to stand his corner and sometimes ours too.