Old Testament

Punishing Jehu for the Blood of Jezreel?

The names of Hosea’s children surely raised quite a few eyebrows in Hebrew kindergarten. The name Jezreel means, “May God sow.” But more shockingly, the Jezreel valley was well known as the location of much fighting and bloodshed (1 Sam 29:1; 2 Sam 2:8; 1 Kgs 21:1; 2 Kgs 9:24ff). Lo-Ruhamah, Hosea’s second child, means “Not loved.” You can imagine roll call when that name comes up. The third child, Lo-Ammi, means “not my people.” Each of these names were given to Hosea from God to symbolize God’s relationship with the people Israel.

Although it seems relatively clear why Hosea was told to declare Israel’s sin and their broken relationship with God, some of the details are less clear. In fact, Hosea 1:4, seems to be a bit puzzling.

And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.

As this verse seems to indicate, Jehu’s family (and Northern Israel’s last dynasty) is going to be punished because of the bloodshed at Jezreel. The only possible reference seems to be 2 Kings 9:24–10:17, where at Jezreel, Jehu kills Joram, Ahaziah, Jezebel, and Ahab’s descendants.

However, this seems to be problematic when we compare 2 Kings 10:30:

The LORD said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in executing what is right in My eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in My heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.”

In 2 Kings 10:30 it seems that the Lord is pleased with Jehu’s actions in killing the idolatrous kings of Israel and wiping out Baalism from the land. So, why does Hosea 1:4 seem to indicate that Jehu’s family will be punished “for the bloodshed of Jezreel?”

Image of Jehu bowing to Shalmaneser III sometime after Jezreel
A picture of Jehu, giving tribute to King Shalmaneser III of Assyria. From the Assyrian Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III on display in the British Museum (London).

The above translations come from the NASB. Other translations also give the same idea. For example, the NIV translates the phrase, “I will soon punish the dynasty of Jehu on account of the bloodshed in the valley of Jezreel.”

In Hebrew the pertinent section of Hosea 1:4 reads וּפָקַדְתִּי אֶת־דְּמֵי יִזְרְעֶאל עַל־בֵּית יֵהוּא, which translates as “I will visit the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu.” This leads to the interpretive issue of what the “blood of Jezreel” refers to. Does it refer to Jehu’s wrongful action? Or, as is more likely in my opinion, does “the blood of Jezreel” refer to the outcome of the slaughter at Jezreel?

In other words, what Jehu justly accomplished at Jezreel will now be done to his family because of their own iniquity. Jehu and his family should have learned from history, but now the same fate of the evil kings Joram and Ahaziah will come upon Jehu’s family.

This interpretation follows the HCSB translation, “Then the LORD said to him: Name him Jezreel, for in a little while I will bring the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu and put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.”

Although the majority of English translations do not follow this interpretation, it seems to be a simple, straightforward approach to the grammar of Hosea 1:4, and also takes God’s positive evaluation of Jehu’s action in 2 Kings 10:30 into consideration. The house of Jehu is not being punished for what Jehu did at Jezreel. Rather, what happened at Jezreel will now happen to Jehu’s house.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

2 Comments

  • Leeor Peled

    Shalom!

    Just read through your article, as I am looking at verse 1:4 in my personal study of Hosea. Thanks for putting this online; and the thought of every time these kids had to announce their names to people is definitely one worth thought — it seems that those awkward moments of explaining why they had those names was all part of God’s plan. It gave people something to ask, so they or their father could have an open door to speak up.

    I think your interpretation makes sense, though I am not fully sure yet. It does match up with several similar Rabbinical interpretations, e.g. Rashi רש”י, who said that since Yehu’s family followed the same idols that Ahab’s family did, and thus should be punished the same way. He goes farther, to say something along the lines of “who was Yehu to have punished, if he himself committed the same crime?”

    I thought to point out that the name “Lo-Ruhama” is not “Not-Loved” as sometimes translated, rather “Not-Mercied” (The noun “mercy” can also be used as a verb in Hebrew, as we do in many other cases) — it is derived from Rehem / רחם – i.e. womb, and ties in the compassion and mercy a mother has for the child she carried and birthed.

    Peace in Yeshua!
    Leeor

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