Shiur #12: Chapters 9-10 ֠The Yeihu Revolution
SEFER MELAKHIM BET: THE SECOND BOOK OF KINGS
By Rav Alex Israel
Dedicated in memory of Joseph Y. Nadler, zl, Yosef ben Yechezkel Tzvi
Shiur #12: Chapters 9-10 The Yeihu Revolution
Yeihu's revolt is possibly the most dramatic and sensational story of Melakhim Bet, a gripping tale of conspiracy and murder, divine justice and religious zeal. With tempestuous force (shigaon), Yeihu kills two royal families: King Yehoram and Izevel the queen mother of Yisrael, as well as King Achazyahu of Yehuda. He then turns to eliminate the pagan cult of Baal, which had flourished under royal sanction for an entire generation. His revolt reopens the battle against Baal, begun by Eliyahu, but absent in the Elisha stories.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF CHAPTERS 9-10
We begin with a brief summary of the storyline.
Yeihu, a senior army officer who had served under King Achav, is now stationed
at Ramot Gilad, on the border between Yisrael and
Most unexpectedly, a prophet arrives, sent by Elisha, who picks Yeihu from amongst the senior ranking officers, and asks him if they may talk in a side room. There, the prophet anoints him as king over Yisrael, instructing him to destroy the House of Achav and to avenge the lives of all the prophets killed under the auspices of Izevel.
Losing no time, Yeihu rides down to the royal palace in Yizrael. Greeted by both the king of Yisrael (Yehoram) and the king of Yehuda (Achazyahu), Yeihu promptly kills them both. Yehoram, in an expression of recompense for Achav's sins, is killed in the field of Navot. Izevel too is killed, and before she can be buried, the wild dogs of Yizrael consume her body.
Next, Yeihu sends word to the officials of Shomron to kill all members of the
royal family all seventy brothers of Yehoram. The city leaders who are
exceptionally fearful (10:4) of Yeihu, who has managed to kill the kings of both
kingdoms, dutifully comply with his orders. Making their way from Yizrael to
Shomron, Yeihu and his followers meet a group of royalty from the
At this point, Yeihu turns his attention to illicit religious worship. He announces a public festive sacrifice to Baal, inviting Baal devotees to the celebration. However, this is a trap, as Yeihu's men surround the idolaters, and all the illicit worshippers are slaughtered. He then proceeds to obliterate all the monuments and temples dedicated to the Baal deity.
ACTING FOR GOD
When we study the figure of Yeihu and his revolt, we should be cognizant that
Yeihu is designated and dispatched by God to act as the instrument of
retribution against the idolatry of the
Thus says the Lord, the God of Yisrael: I anoint you king over the Lord's people, over Yisrael. You are to strike down the House of Achav your master The whole House of Achav shall perish. I will cut off from Achav every last male bond and free in Yisrael. I will make the House of Achav like the House of Yeravam ben Nevat and like the House of Basha ben Achiya. The dogs shall devour Izevel in the field of Yizrael and no one will bury her." (9:6-10)
This prophecy of devastation echoes the words with which Eliyahu condemned Achav, announcing the termination of his royal line. Similar language predicts the demise of the royal Houses of Yeravam and Basha. And so, from start to finish, Yeihu acts under divine agency.
At several points in the story, Yeihu takes care to point out that his actions fulfill God's prophecies:
- When he kills Yehoram in Navot's field:
Yeihu said to Bidkar, his chariot officer, Pick him up and throw him on the field that belonged to Navot Remember how you and I were riding together in chariots behind Achav his father when God made this prophecy about him Now then, pick him up and throw him on that plot, in accordance with the word of God. (9:25-26)
2. When Izevel''s body is eaten by the dogs
It is just as the Lord spoke The dogs shall devour the flesh of Izevel in the field of Yizrael."' (9:36)
3. After the officers of Shomron kill the seventy brothers of Achav, Yeihu commends them:
Know then that nothing that the Lord has spoken concerning the House of Achav shall remain unfulfilled " (10:1-11)
4. The final summation of the chapter confirms this assessment:
The Lord said to Yeihu, Because you have acted well and done what is right in My eyes to the house of Achav, your descendants will sit on the throne of Yisrael to the fourth generation. (10:30)
MADNESS, ZEAL, AND ELIYAHU
Yeihu's confident, rapid, and aggressive style calls for some examination. When the sentry identifies Yeihu's chariot, he knows it is Yeihu because "he drives as a madman" (9:20). Yeihus madness or ferocity needs further exploration. Is he essentially a maverick who is unable to follow rules, an anarchic insubordinate? Or, alternatively, is he the quintessential firebrand, an idealist, a person driven by the rage of truth and responsibility? Perhaps his craziness lies simply in his strength and speed; after all, he is a military officer. The text fails to offer sufficient clarity to fully answer this question, but certainly everything here happens at lightning speed. Two explicit references illustrate the startling pace of the entire episode: the "deranged" running of the prophet (9:10-11) and Yeihu's furious riding (9:20).
But beyond the mere speed of things, the text articulates the manner in which Yeihu views himself as a zealot, avenging the enemies of God. When he meets an associate, Yehonadav ben Reikhav, he addresses him:
"Come along with me and see my zeal for the Lord." (10:16)
Yeihu repeatedly references Eliyahu, a prophet who professes his own status as a zealot,  a figure who ferociously opposed Baal and the idolatrous king who supported it. Yeihu and Eliyahu are kindred spirits, and indeed Yeihu makes frequent reference to Eliyahu:
"It is just as the Lord spoke through His servant Eliyahu Ha-Tishbi." (9:36)
"The Lord has done what he announced through his servant Eliyahu." (10:10)
Arriving in Shomron, he struck down all the survivors of the House of Achav until he wiped it out, fulfilling the word the Lord had spoken to Eliyahu. (10:17)
Yeihu's slaughter of the worshippers of the Baal is highly
reminiscent of Eliyahu's public execution of the Baal prophets at
"FLEE WITHOUT DELAY!" (9:3)
Let us take a moment to examine the opening scene, which triggered the revolt.
Its clandestine atmosphere is thick with intrigue and subversion. Why is one of
the benei ha-neviim selected to anoint Yeihu rather than Elisha? After
all, Elisha traveled to
[Elisha] could not travel to Ramot Gilad to anoint Yeihu as the excitement of his arrival would expose the event [of Yeihu's anointing]. He thus performed the act by proxy, giving instructions to one of the benei ha-neviim who sat before him to enact [the anointing] in an inner room so that the king not be informed and to ensure that the prophet not be endangered, and he commanded him to flee so that he not remain there.
Treason is dangerous business. One cannot openly spur a loyal army officer to revolt without risking one's life. In a similar situation, when the prophet Shmuel was commanded by God to anoint the young King David, he remarked: "How can I go? If Shaul hears of it, he will kill me" (I Shmuel 16:2). In our story, the prophet is about to interrupt a meeting of the joint chiefs of staff of the army, a group of men who are, by definition, loyal to the king, and to anoint one of them, commanding him to exact God's vengeance on the reigning monarch. We appreciate Abarbanel's point. Elisha's public profile will not allow him to incite the rebellion. The youthful prophet, who rushes in and exits quickly, may just get away, even if the plan backfires.
The reaction of Yeihu's fellow military officers is quite unpredictable. We
should note that the privacy of the anointing affords Yeihu the option of
revealing his newfound status or, alternatively, keeping it a secret. Initially
(9:11), Yeihu tries to deflect their enquiries. But when they press him for the
truth and he reveals the prophet's mission, they immediately stage an ad-hoc
coronation, using a staircase to "enthrone" Yeihu on a raised platform. Their
spontaneous backing of the mutiny is indicative of their deep dissatisfaction
with King Yehoram. We have shown how he failed in his military campaign against
Moav (chapter 3) and how he was defeated in his conflict with
A RELUCTANT PROPHET
Elisha's reluctance to personally anoint Yeihu may stem not from fear of the king, but rather from certain reservations regarding the mission itself. Rav Elchanan Samet sees the obstacle in Elisha's personality:
This is the reason that Elisha failed to appoint Yeihu personally as king. The legacy that is placed upon Yeihu is a harsh and cruel one. The command to eliminate the house of Achav, when issued from the merciful Elisha, will be insufficiently caustic, less brutal than it must be. Moreover, Elisha, unlike his master Eliyahu, has never confronted the House of Achav, and has barely rebuked Yehoram, Achav's son Under these circumstances, it is hard for Elisha to restate Eliyahu's prophecy of the decimation of the House of Achav directly to Yehoram without his voice wavering, without tearing up. This mission goes against Elisha's personality.
A SUBVERSIVE SUBTEXT
A different possibility may also be entertained. Prof. Yisrael Rozenson, in a series of articles, charts what he views as a subtext to the Yeihu narrative. Prof. Rozenson perceives Elisha's reluctance to be involved directly as reflective of Elisha's deep reservations regarding Yeihu and his furious and violent methods. Whereas, on the one hand, Yeihu is clearly the instrument of God's vengeance as we have delineated, the depiction of his revolt is accompanied by a negative subtext, one which may be identified in several details of the story:
EXCESSIVE VIOLENCE: Even if the murder of injured, bedridden King Yehoram is justified, one wonders why Yeihu had to kill the king of Yehuda, Achazyahu. Admittedly, Achazyahu had married Izevel's daughter (8:27), but that hardly qualifies him as part of the "House of Achav." And even if one might validate his execution, when Yeihu kills forty-two members of the royal family of Yehuda (10:14), it is difficult not to feel that he has more than exceeded the reasonable limits of his prophetic mandate.
The death of Izevel is depicted in gory detail, as she is hurled from an
upstairs window: "and her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, and
they trampled her" (9:34). This gratuitous violence is unprecedented in other
royal coups in Tanakh. In the very next chapter, the
Other scenes are filled with gore and savagery. The depiction of the arrow
piercing Yehoram's heart (9:24) seems unnecessary. The demand that the elders of
"PEACE" AND OTHER WORDS: Twice, as Yeihu charges towards Yizrael, the following exchange ensues:
The horseman went to meet him, and he said: "The king inquires, is all well [ha-shalom]? (literally: Is it peace?)"
And Yeihu replied: "What have you to do with peace [ma lekha u-leshalom]?"
This conversation the appeal "ha-shalom?" and its rejection by Yeihu is repeated twice. The third time, it is King Yehoram who greets Yeihu in the name of peace, only to be rebuffed by the man who quickly becomes his assassin. This refrain of the word shalom is addressed by Prof. Yehuda Kiel:
Yeihu resorts to a strategy of "falsehood"(9:12), "betrayal" (9:23), and "chicanery"(10:19). The word, "shalom," which is mentioned ten times in this section, loses its normal meaning, and is totally inverted to mean cold-blooded murder. (Daat Mikra pg. 589)
This ambivalence may be found in the closing lines of the chapter. On the one hand, the Tanakh testifies about him:
The Lord said to Yeihu, Because you have acted well and done what is right in my eyes to the house of Achav, your descendants will sit on the throne of Yisrael to the fourth generation. (10:30)
But on the reverse side, Yeihu is not perfect in his service of God:
Yeihu was not careful to follow the Torah of Hashem the God of Yisrael wholeheartedly; he failed to abandon the sins of Yeravam who lead Yisrael astray. (10:31)
In other words, Yeihu removed the Baal, but still retained traces of images and foreign sites of worship. His heart was not "whole" with God, not fully in tune to the sensitivities of God. Of course, this is deeply problematic. If one is determined to purge the kingdom of idolatry with a bloodbath, one better ensure that one's religious integrity is flawless, impeccable. This point is made in the opening lines of the book of Hoshea, which declares vengeance on the royal house of Yeihu:
I will soon punish the house of Yeihu for the blood of Yizrael, and I will put
an end to the
Why should Yeihu be punished for the "blood of Yizrael?" Rashi explains:
Because Yeihu and his children also worshipped idolatry, thus I consider the blood of the House of Achav to have been spilled in vain."
We leave Yeihu with a complex understanding of this man. On
the one hand, he is a zealot for God, and removes the royal dynasty that was
most ardently devoted to Baal, in
 II Melakhim 9:25
 See II Melakhim 8:28, 9:1,14.
 I Melakhim 19:16
 I Melakhim 21:20-24
 I Melakhim 14:10-11
 I Melakhim 16:3-4, 11
 I Melakhim 19:10,14. For a full treatment of the Yeihu-Eliyahu connection, see Pirkei Elisha pgs. 628-637.
 Daat Mikra pg. 589
 Rozenson, Yisrael, The Story of Yeihu and the Question of Mixed Messages. Megadim 25 (5756) : pp. 111-124. [Hebrew] ; Rozenson. Yisrael, A Plotter or the "King of God's People"? Yeihu Compared to David. Megadim 32 (5760) : pp. 69-82. [Hebrew]. See also Daat Mikra (ibid).