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Jehu and Common Grace (II Kings 10:30)?

Herman Hoeksema

(Originally published in the Standard Bearer, 15 February, 1964, vol. 40)


Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan. And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which was right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart; thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel (II Kings 10:29–30).

This was one of the scriptural passages to which the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church referred to as proof for the "Third Point." These passages were quoted (without any interpretation) to prove that the natural man can do good.

This, after all, is the question. It is not the question whether Jehu was an able general or whether he was zealous in the accomplishment of the task assigned to him. All this may readily be granted. Also today the natural man is often very able and ambitious. But the question is whether he did good in the moral, ethical sense of the word. That is a question of motive. And motive is a matter of the inner man, of the mind, of the will, of the heart.

The Christian Reformed Synod, in the Third Point makes a distinction between saving good and civil good. Let that be as it may, although I do not want to subscribe to the distinction. Any act of man is either good or evil, i.e., in the moral or ethical sense of the word.

Good is an act when it is motivated by the love of God and of men; evil an act when in its deepest root it is motivated by hatred of God and our fellow men [Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 91]. There is nothing else. There can be nothing else. Now, according to the Synod of Kalamazoo (1924) the unregenerate man can do what is called civil good. Hence, the Synod maintains that a man that is not motivated by the love of God and of the neighbour, who, in fact, in his deepest heart is motivated by enmity against God and against the neighbor, can do good. You may call it natural or civil good—to me that makes no difference—it is not sin but good, in the moral and ethical sense of the word.

This I, and all Protestant Reformed people, deny.

To me, and to all of our people, an act of man is either good or it is sin.

But what, then, about Jehu?

Did not God Himself say that Jehu did well in executing that which was right in the sight of God?

Concerning this I make the following remarks:

1. Jehu was, according to Scripture, a wicked man. Before and after the statement that he had done well in executing that which the Lord had commanded him, we read that "from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel and that were in Dan" [II Kings 10:29, 31] Is it possible, then, that he could do anything good in the moral, ethical sense of the word? The answer to this question is and must be negative.

2. It is evident that Jehu was a very able man. As a soldier and general, he was courageous and undaunted in battle. He was thorough in all his work.

3. It is very evident from the entire narrative that Jehu saw in the command of God to extinguish the house of Ahab a golden opportunity to further his own cause—namely, that he might occupy the throne of Israel. That was Jehu's sole ambition. And that was also the motive for all that he did. His motive was not and could not be the love of God. O, yes, he did well. Perhaps, we may say that he belonged to those men that are mentioned in Matthew 7:22: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name have done many wonderful works?" No doubt, they did all these things. Jehu did the same things; he also did wonderful works. But what did the Lord say to them? He answered: "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work in iniquity" (v. 23).

4. Moreover, for the very thing which Jehu did so well he was punished. For thus we read in Hosea 1:4: "And the Lord said unto him, Call his name Jezreel, for yet a little while and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and I will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel." Indeed, Jehu did very well in destroying the house of Ahab, but in doing so he was not motivated by the fear of the Lord, but his own wicked ambition.

Hence, in doing well he sinned. Hence, the text does not sustain the doctrine of the third point that the natural man is able to do good, civil or otherwise.

Westminster Confession 16:7: "Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God."

For more, see "The Curse-Reward of the Wicked Well-Doer."