Time after time, Bible scripture teaches us two simple equations: honoring God = honor, dishonoring God = shame. It’s been tried, tested and proven to be true, which is why it is so ironic that humanity, divine creatures of great spirit and intelligence accumulated from ancient wells of knowledge, continue to get the variables wrong, or ignore them altogether. Of course, there are also cases where we obey for a while until our successes poison our thinking. It can happen to any of us, saved or unbeliever: pride builds, self-reliance swells and the light of truth becomes dimmer, grayer, more distant, until tragedy strikes. Today, there is a treasure in the British Museum that I believe serves as a great illustration of this, if you look closely enough. It’s called the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser.
The obelisk is a 6.5 ft black limestone bas-relief sculpture of Neo-Assyrian origin. Dating back to 824 B.C., it was erected as a memorial of the Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser’s victory over five defeated kings, who are depicted paying tribute in 20 reliefs. The inscription of one of these kings reads “‘Yaw Bit-Khumri'” or, “Jehu the son of Omri”. The biblical book of 2 Kings tells us that Jehu was a king of Israel in the House of Omri. In chapters 9-10, he had been instructed by God to destroy the rule of Israel’s then current king, Ahab, who along with his queen, Jezebel, had encouraged Israel’s descent into rampant idolatry and perversion. However, Jehu angered God at the city of Jezreel by extending the killing into a massacre that wiped out all of Ahab’s house, those connected to it and even the priests of the Lord.
Hosea 1:4 says:
“Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel…”
It is most likely that Jehu, originally acting as a divine hand of God, saw the opportunity to make certain that his new rule as king of Israel would not be challenged and acted accordingly instead of trusting God, bringing eventual ruin to his house. The obelisk treasure shows him kissing the floor in front of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser; a servant of the Lord now humbled, desperate, bowing before a worshiper of the very things God had originally used Jehu to rid Israel of: idols. Can we learn from history?
“The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.” – King Shalmaneser, caption inscribed above Jehu relief.
Replicas of this treasure can be found in places like the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and Harvard’s Semitic Museum. Keep on digging!
– British Museum page on the obelisk
– Oriental Institute, Chicago