22 September 2011

"Then hurriedly they all took off their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, 'Jehu is king.'" (v. 13)


Marcion was a 2nd century Christian heretic, famous (or notorious) for compiling the first canon, or list, of the books of the Christian Bible. His canon excluded the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), and just contained an edited version of Luke's Gospel and a collection of Paul's letters. Of course, many Christians today still, to all intents and purposes, have a similarly restricted view of the Bible. And when you read a story like this, you can perhaps see why! It is difficult to see how to read this as part of the 'Christian' Bible - but it is still a jolly good story.

The time is somewhere around 845BC, and the two fragments of the great kingdom of David and Solomon are constantly threatened by, and often at war with, their neighbours (and sometimes with each other). The northern kingdom of Israel is ruled by King Joram, son of Ahab and Jezebel, who were loathed by the prophets Elijah and Elisha because of their failure to eradicate the worship of Baal from Israel. While Joram is fighting with the neighbouring Arameans, Elisha sees his chance for revenge. He sends one of his team of prophets on a covert mission to anoint Jehu, Joram's popular general, as God's chosen king, with the command to wipe out Jehu's family and, in particular, his widow Jezebel - whose gory death is foretold in gruesome detail.

Jehu's fellow officers suspect something is afoot, which Jehu at first denies - "You know what these crazy prophets are like!" (to paraphrase verse 11). But then he tells them, and they proclaim him as king. Ordering them to keep it quiet for now, he starts to plot the downfall of Joram, who has been injured in battle - a sign that God has already removed his anointing from him.

To be continued ...

The plot belongs to a lurid historical thriller, so what is it doing in the Hebrew Scriptures, let alone the Christian Bible? It shows neither God, nor his prophet Elisha, in a particularly good light. What it does, though, is give us an insight into an older, more primitive kind of religion where gods and prophets determine the fate of nations.

To Ponder

Do you think Marcion was right to exclude stories like this from the Christian Bible? Why do you think the Church decided to include them in the canon of Scripture?

There are, in fact, some interesting parallels with between Jehu and Jesus here - he is God's anointed one ('messiah') and his kingship is proclaimed by people laying their coats before him (cf Jesus and his arrival into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:8)). The imagery of Old Testament kingship is very strong in the Gospels. Why do you think that might be?

Do you think God still determines the fate of nations? How?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Rhymer

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