When Heads Roll

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Imagine you live in a land where a wicked dictator rules without opposition.  People go missing in the night, never to be heard of again.  Kangaroo courts host show trials where so called enemies of the state are found guilty of trumped up charges and disposed of.  Members of your own family have disappeared and you have no idea where they might be, if they're alive or dead.  You yourself live in fear of being accused of crimes against the state, so does everyone you know.

That might be easier for some of us to imagine than others.  It's the stuff of nightmares isn't it?  But sadly it's also the stuff of history – it's the history of the 20th Century throughout the communist block, and China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Uganda … the list goes on and on.

And it's the stuff of reality for millions of people around the world right now.

Just over a month ago we had a visit from Sasa in our 9.15 service.  He told us what it's like in Burma – he described it as a country with no outside enemies that spends 90% of it's income on weapons to be used against it's own citizens.  He himself lives as a marked man, with a price on his head.  His crime?  Provide medical care to his village and the surrounding villages.

If you experienced conditions like that do you think you'd long for justice?  Would you cry out to God for an end to the regime?  Would you want the murderers of your family to come to a sudden end?

That's the sort of territory we're in, in our morning series in 2 Kings 10.  Israel's been ruled by a wicked King and his wicked family.  They've killed the prophets and those faithful to God and introduced Baal worship and all kinds of corruption.  But in 2 Kings 9 and 10 God's judgement finally comes down, and it's gruesome and violent.

And it offends our sensibilities – doesn't it?  But when we come to passages like the one we're studying this morning, and the one we had last week, we need to be careful about the judgements we make.  We need to learn to take a couple of steps back from the action and try and see things as God sees them. Conveniently for us this morning our passage includes a word from God to help us to make a judgement about Jehu's reign of blood.  So before we get into the action, we're going to skip to the end to hear God's verdict on Jehu, then there's a few more gruesome scenes for us to witness.  We'll look at the two main scenes in this chapter and then we'll draw the threads together at the end.

So before we go any further let's here God's verdict on Jehu:

God's Verdict

Read with me from verse 30:

30 The LORD said to Jehu, "Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation."

What does God say about Jehu?  He did well in destroying the house of Ahab.  The bloodshed, the destruction, the things that seem just a little morally dubious to us – those are the very things that God commends Jehu for.  What he did was to execute God's command, to put into action God's decision on the house of Ahab.

Sometimes the things that seem most wrong to us are considered quite straight forward by God.  They're written for our encouragement and training – encouragement, because if we're persecuted we can know that God remembers us and cares about our treatment – we can trust him to bring justice for us; And training so that we won't fall into the company of the wicked and run into God's judgement in the way that Ahab and all his family did. In 1 Kings 19 God says that under Ahab there were only 7000 people in the whole of Israel who hadn't turned away from him.  How great a punishment do you think Ahab and his rotten cronies deserve for leading the people of Israel into apostasy, let alone for the violence and the corruption they oversaw?  The blood and the guts that we're about to see are the right and proper judgement of God.

If we don't think it's fair, that may be because we have too small a view of God and his worth and his glory.  We undervalue God and so we think that slighting his name and leading people away from worshiping him is no serious thing.  And we have too little love for the people who were led astray into sin, and for the people they hurt along the way.

God sets a high price on his glory, and on his people.  And to see just how high a price we need to look at the judgement that he brings through Jehu in this chapter.  And it comes in two main scenes.

So to the first scene of judgement in chapter 10:

Scene One: Jehu Destroys Ahab's Family.

Have a look with me at verse one:

1 Now there were in Samaria seventy sons of the house of Ahab. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria: to the officials of Jezreel, to the elders and to the guardians of Ahab's children. He said, 2 "As soon as this letter reaches you, since your master's sons are with you and you have chariots and horses, a fortified city and weapons, 3 choose the best and most worthy of your master's sons and set him on his father's throne. Then fight for your master's house."

- So Jehu issues a challenge – do you want to fight for the Kingdom? Fight for Ahab's dynasty?

4 But they were terrified and said, "If two kings could not resist him, how can we?" 5 So the palace administrator, the city governor, the elders and the guardians sent this message to Jehu: "We are your servants and we will do anything you say. We will not appoint anyone as king; you do whatever you think best."

- Jehu issues the challenge and all Ahab's supporters crumble in an instant – we won't fight for our master, we'll switch sides, we'll do whatever you want.

6 Then Jehu wrote them a second letter, saying, "If you are on my side and will obey me, take the heads of your master's sons and come to me in Jezreel by this time tomorrow." Now the royal princes, seventy of them, were with the leading men of the city, who were bringing them up.

This is putting their loyalty to the test isn't it?  All right, if you'll follow me, step in line now.  No time for second thoughts or changing their mind.  If they'll follow him, they'll sign their allegiance in blood.

7 When the letter arrived, these men took the princes and slaughtered all seventy of them. They put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu in Jezreel. 8 When the messenger arrived, he told Jehu, "They have brought the heads of the princes." Then Jehu ordered, "Put them in two piles at the entrance of the city gate until morning." 9 The next morning Jehu went out. He stood before all the people and said, "You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master and killed him, but who killed all these?10 Know then, that not a word the LORD has spoken against the house of Ahab will fail. The LORD has done what he promised through his servant Elijah." 11 So Jehu killed everyone in Jezreel who remained of the house of Ahab, as well as all his chief men, his close friends and his priests, leaving him no survivor.

This is shocking, disgusting, a shameful end to the house of Ahab, no way for a prince to be treated.  But remember, it's just what the house of Ahab deserved.

And notice that, though Ahab had 70 sons (or descendents); and though his sons had been separated out into the care of many different people – though they did all they could to avoid God's judgement – they couldn't escape justice.

And along with them Jehu also killed all those who shared in Ahab's rule – his chief men, his close friends and his priests, men and women who egged him on in his wickedness.  And all this was God's judgement.  This is what God commissioned Jehu to do in chapter 9, and commends him for in chapter 10.

As shocking and distasteful as this may be to us we need to see that it isn't wanton – this isn't just blood lust or a grab for power.  Jehu is very clear what this is all about and he wants everyone else to be clear about it too: This is the just judgement of God.  Verse ten is abundantly clear – 'Know then, that not a word the LORD has spoken against the house of Ahab will fail.  The LORD has done what he promised through his servant Elijah'.

Ahab's rule was soaked in the blood of the innocent.  God alone knows the full extent of their guilt, but God's judgement here gives some idea of just how wicked Ahab was.  He and his family were stained with blood, they deserved nothing more than to be slaughtered and shamed.  So they meet their end, just as God said that they would.

So Jehu mops up the political side of Ahab's support.  But there remains the religious aspect to be dealt with.  Ahab led the nation into sin both through his corrupt politics and through his corrupt religion.  If Jehu leaves the religious legacy unchallenged the people will be no better off than before.  So Jehu has to deal with Ahab's religious set up too.  He heads off to Samaria to sort it out.  On the way we get a little sub scene – you might call it a vignette perhaps – he meets two groups of people: some more relatives of Ahab from Judah; and a man of humble birth who's known for his godliness.   Ahab's relatives he kills, but the godly man he honours by taking him up into his chariot and taking him to Samaria.

And now let's move on to the second major scene:

Scene Two: Jehu destroys Ahab's Religion

Have a look at verse 18:

18 Then Jehu brought all the people together and said to them, "Ahab served Baal a little; Jehu will serve him much. 19 Now summon all the prophets of Baal, all his ministers and all his priests. See that no-one is missing, because I am going to hold a great sacrifice for Baal. Anyone who fails to come will no longer live." But Jehu was acting deceptively in order to destroy the ministers of Baal. 20 Jehu said, "Call an assembly in honour of Baal." So they proclaimed it. 21 Then he sent word throughout Israel, and all the ministers of Baal came; not one stayed away. They crowded into the temple of Baal until it was full from one end to the other. 22 And Jehu said to the keeper of the wardrobe, "Bring robes for all the ministers of Baal." So he brought out robes for them. 23 Then Jehu and Jehonadab son of Recab went into the temple of Baal. Jehu said to the ministers of Baal, "Look around and see that no servants of the LORD are here with you--only ministers of Baal." 24 So they went in to make sacrifices and burnt offerings. Now Jehu had posted eighty men outside with this warning: "If one of you lets any of the men I am placing in your hands escape, it will be your life for his life." 25 As soon as Jehu had finished making the burnt offering, he ordered the guards and officers: "Go in and kill them; let no-one escape." So they cut them down with the sword. The guards and officers threw the bodies out and then entered the inner shrine of the temple of Baal. 26 They brought the sacred stone out of the temple of Baal and burned it. 27 They demolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day. 28 So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel.

Again this is heavy stuff.  Jehu tricks the priests of Baal and then he kills them.  He goes to great lengths to make sure that he's got the whole lot of them, and he leaves no one alive.

This is scorched earth reformation – root and branch.  These men are a cancer on the people of Israel, leading them away from the true god and encouraging and enabling the reign of Ahab and his wicked family.

Again we can be tempted to ring our hands and think 'what they were doing wasn't that bad, that they really didn't deserve what they got'.  But that's not God's verdict.

In fact there is a poetic justice about this scene.  The prophets of Baal were liars – preaching a made up religion, leading people astray with false prophecy.  With Jezebel they killed the priests and prophets of God.  And in their worship of Baal they would cut themselves with swords and spears so that their blood flowed (see 1 Kings 18:28 for an example).  Their end is designed as a poetic reversal of their lives – a punishment that fits the crime. What's more this slaughter of the priests of Baal echoes 1 Kings 18 – Elijah's contest with the ministers of Baal (look it up when you get home).  God demonstrated he was real that day and slaughtered the false priests and prophets.  We're supposed to notice the symmetry of these events.  They're like two book ends to the story of Ahab and the story of Elijah.

So through Jehu God brings an end to this chapter in Israel's history.  It's a chapter soaked in blood, from beginning to end.  The blood of the innocent, shed by Ahab and his cronies, and the blood of the guilty, shed by God and his servants.

So as we finish, let's draw the threads together: What do we learn from all this?

Well there's more food for thought before the end.

Read with me from verse 28 again:

28 So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. 29 However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit--the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. 30 The LORD said to Jehu, "Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation."

31 Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit. 32 In those days the LORD began to reduce the size of Israel. Hazael overpowered the Israelites throughout their territory 33 east of the Jordan in all the land of Gilead (the region of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh), from Aroer by the Arnon Gorge through Gilead to Bashan. 34 As for the other events of Jehu's reign, all he did, and all his achievements, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? 35 Jehu rested with his fathers and was buried in Samaria. And Jehoahaz his son succeeded him as king. 36 The time that Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria was twenty-eight years.

God doesn't see anything wrong with wiping out the whole family of this wicked king, and destroying the false system of belief and all it's teachers.

But God does have a problem with Jehu.  In God's sight this programme of aggressive spiritual reformation doesn't go far enough.  Jehu stamped out a great evil.  But he allowed another great evil to go unpunished – the people continued in the twisted worship that Jeroboam had introduced.

Jehu was selective in his reformation campaign – he did the things that would secure his rule from the previous regime; but he didn't do the things that might have been risky for his own regime.  Jeroboam was the first King of the Northern Kingdom.  He was afraid that the people might defect to the southern kingdom if they had to go down to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God.  So he created his own way to worship God, complete with golden bulls and a new priesthood and liturgy.

Among all the sad ironies of this false worship is this:  God promised a dynasty to both Jeroboam and Jehu.  They didn't need to stop the people from rejecting because God had promised to do it for them.  God's promise to Jehu is right there between verses 29 and 31 – but Jehu doesn't seem to have been able to trust God to keep his word.

Now that is ironic isn't it?  What has Jehu been doing for the last two chapters?  He's been deliberately and explicitly fulfilling God's promises.   He said it himself – verse 10 'know that not one word the LORD has spoken against the house of Ahab will fail'.  Not one word God has spoken will fail. And yet he doesn't trust God to keep his promises to him?

Don't you want to shake him?  What are you thinking Jehu – just listen to yourself, of course God will look after you, of course he'll keep his promise to you, he always keeps his promises!

And if that's what you're thinking – then good, now take the lesson to heart for yourself.  When was the last time you doubted God's word?  When was the last time you were tempted to doubt that obedience would be better and more rewarding than disobedience?  or when was the last time you had to take a risk to serve God – to do the right thing when everyone else was doing the wrong thing, or to let others know that you're a Christian, to stand out from the crowd;

We're at least as bad at this as Jehu, aren't we?  We know God's promises, and we've seen God's faithfulness – even this morning we've seen his promises kept.  So take courage and stand on God's promises.  Know that not one word the Lord has spoken will fail.

If you take nothing else from 2 Kings 9 and 10 remember this: God's word is powerful and effective.  God spoke and the universe came into being.  No one can stand against his word, not Kings and dynasties, not the greatest power nor the most devious schemes can stop God's word from finding its fulfilment.  Not a word that God spoke against Ahab failed.

And as if to emphasise the point the chapter ends with Hazael overpowering the Israelites – just as he promised Elijah in 1 Kings 19 and Moses in Deuteronomy.

So what do we learn from these verses – God is faithful 100%, none of his promises will fail.  God cares for his people and so will severely punish anyone who harms them or leads them astray.  And God values his name, his honour.  He will not allow it to be slighted forever –he punishes those who do not honour him.

So how should we respond?  Don't be an Ahab, don't indulge selfishness, corruption and pride.  Don't be like the priests of Baal – playing around with false gods, believing and teaching a lie.  Don't be a persecutor of God's people, storing up judgement against yourself.  And don't be a Jehu, a half-way follower of God.  Instead, follow Jesus as your model and put your trust in the Lord, believe his promises and live wholeheartedly for him.

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