Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Successful Accomplices and Failed Obstacles

Two prophecies came to pass the day Jehu was anointed king of Israel. Both predictions had been made by the prophet Elijah, and both were between sixteen and seventeen years old. Neither had been forgotten, though Elijah had by then taken his last chariot ride.

Before departing this earthly scene, Elijah anointed Elisha as his successor. Sometime later, Elisha called one of the sons of the prophets — a prophet-in-training — and commissioned him to anoint one of King Joram’s army commanders, a man named Jehu, to be king over Israel in Joram’s place.

There was plenty of precedent for anointing a new king while the old one was still alive and kicking. For example, Samuel anointed David to be king of Israel long before Saul shuffled off this mortal coil. However, unlike David, who patiently served Saul and waited for God’s timing to become king, Jehu drove straight from Ramoth-gilead to Jezreel to claim his throne by main force.

1/ The First Fulfillment

The first prophetic fulfillment concerned the late King Ahab. Right after killing Joram, Ahab’s son, Jehu gave these instructions to his aide Bidkar about the disposal of his body:

“For remember, when you and I rode side by side behind Ahab his father, how the Lord made this pronouncement against him: ‘As surely as I saw yesterday the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons — declares the Lord — I will repay you on this plot of ground.’ Now therefore take him up and throw him on the plot of ground, in accordance with the word of the Lord.”

A Memorable Pronouncement

A decade and a half earlier, Elijah had gone to meet Ahab in Naboth’s stolen vineyard and had passed on this message from the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.” Elijah then went on to tell Ahab that every male in his household would be “cut off”; his bloodline utterly wiped out. Obviously, Elijah’s pronouncement must have deeply perturbed Ahab, to the point where he repeated what the prophet had told him in front of his soldiers.

Ahab seems to have assumed all these events would occur at the same time: that he would die prematurely and violently, and his sons and household would be destroyed along with him. He immediately went into a state of mourning and humbled himself before God. As is often the case when men repent publicly, God then announced through Elijah that he would delay the fulfillment of the first prophecy, which allowed two of Ahab’s sons to rule briefly before God cut off their line as he had promised.

Every Word Fulfilled

Notice that God still fulfilled every single word of his promise, just not in the way that Ahab had envisioned. Ahab died in battle not long afterward, having been warned by God what would happen if he took up arms against the king of Syria. He might have lived longer if he had heeded God’s warning, but it turned out his moment of humility was an uncharacteristic blip in a lifetime of rebellion and wickedness. His singular act of repentance bought him less than three years. His men took Ahab’s chariot back to Samaria and washed it by the pool of Samaria, where dogs licked up the king’s blood just as Elijah had promised.

However, the prophecy had still not been fulfilled precisely as written, had it? After all, Elijah had predicted the dogs would lick up Ahab’s blood “in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth”. That was in Jezreel, roughly 30 kilometers north-east of the city of Samaria.

“Your Own Blood”

This may explain why Jehu felt it important to fulfill the prophecy to the letter when the opportunity presented itself. Had it already been precisely fulfilled, Jehu would have had no reason to instruct Bidkar to throw the body of Joram on the plot of ground that had belonged to Naboth the Jezreelite. But Jehu knew something still remained to be done in order that the requirements of the prophesy be completely satisfied.

Now, we might complain that it wasn’t exactly Ahab’s blood that was licked up by dogs in Jezreel, but rather his son Joram’s. That’s a technical distinction that would have been lost on Jehu; moreover, the wording of Elijah’s prophecy doesn’t require it. He said, “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.” But the words “your own blood” are often a euphemism for a relative, both in Hebrew and even in the English language today: “Dad, you can’t disinherit me! I’m your own flesh and blood!”

2/ The Second Fulfillment

When Ahab took possession of Naboth’s vineyard after his murder, Elijah made a second prophecy concerning Ahab’s Sidonian wife Jezebel, whose name has become associated with every kind of evil, and who had instigated and executed Naboth’s murder. Elijah prophesied, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel.” Once again, Jehu had something to do with the fulfillment of the prophecy, but not quite as much as when he gave instructions about the disposal of Joram’s remains.

After killing Joram and fatally wounding his friend, Ahaziah king of Judah, Jehu arrived at the city of Jezreel. The queen mother, Jezebel, taunted him from a window over the city gate. Jehu called to the eunuchs attending her and asked, “Who is on my side? Who?” Apparently all were. The eunuchs happily gave me occasion to use the word “defenestrated” in a post for what is probably the first and last time: they hurled Jezebel out the window to her death on the pavement below. A long day’s work successfully completed, Jehu went indoors for a bite to eat.

A little later, he began to think more like royalty. Not like a servant of God, but like a politician. He decided the politically correct thing to do with the corpse of a foreign princess — even a very evil one — was to give it a proper burial rather than to allow it to rot in the streets. Who knows, maybe he was concerned about maintaining an Israelite alliance with Sidon against Syria. This, really, in defiance of God’s prophecy about Jezebel through Elijah, with which Jehu was just as familiar as the one about her husband. But when Jehu sent his servants to attend to the body, he discovered there was almost nothing left of her to bury. The dogs had done their work before he could finish his own dinner, and God had fulfilled Elijah’s prophecy to the letter, which Jehu acknowledged.

The Will of God

One has to wonder why Jehu would go out of his way to ensure the first prophecy was fulfilled, then immediately try to thwart the second, but it speaks to the chaotic nature of the man. Nevertheless, God accomplished exactly what he had promised.

In the first case, we have a case of a prophecy at least partially fulfilled by a man who remembered what God had said and took action to make those words come true when the opportunity presented itself. Sometimes God works that way.

In the second, we have a case of a prophecy fulfilled very much in spite of the will and purposes of man. Sometimes God works that way too.

When God has declared his will, men generally respond by cooperating with it or resisting it. Sometimes they do a little of both. Peter became a testimony to the risen Christ by doing his will. He began to feed the Lord’s sheep with the word of God, as Jesus had instructed him. The early church grew as a result. Later, he compromised with the Judaizers over the issue of law-keeping, and had to be publicly rebuked by Paul. The early church prospered as a result, ultimately rejecting creeping legalism.

In both cases the Lord got his way, just as he did with Jehu. That’s always going to be the outcome in the end. But isn’t it better to a successful accomplice than a failed obstacle?

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