Question: "Why did Jehu destroy the Baal worship in Israel but not the worship of golden calves?"
Answer: Jehu was anointed by the prophet Elijah as king over Israel in place of the evil Ahab. This took place as part of the judgment on Ahab for his worship of Baal. Therefore, Jehu’s role was to end Baal worship in Israel.
In this role, Jehu clearly succeeded. First, he had all of the people who worshiped Baal put to death (2 Kings 10:18–26). After that, at Jehu’s command, “they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day. Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel” (verses 27–28). God’s goal of ridding the land of Baal worship had been accomplished.
However, the very next verse (2 Kings 10:29) states, “But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.” So, even though Baal was gone, other types of idolatry remained in Israel.
According to 1 Kings 12:28–29, Jeroboam himself had made the golden calves in Bethel and Dan. Some scholars surmise that, because Baal was originally a god of foreigners, Jehu may have limited his work to only clearing out the foreign gods. He left alone the “domestic” gods—those created and installed by Israel.
A more likely explanation is that the calf-worship sites were left intact because Israel was still a divided kingdom. The alternative would have been to realign with Judah and worship according to the Law at the temple in Jerusalem. This was not going to take place, as Jehu was at war with Judah (2 Chronicles 22:7–9).
Jehu was one of a long line of wicked kings in the northern kingdom of Israel—yet he was one of the “better” of the “bad kings.” Others were much worse. God granted Jehu a long reign of 28 years and gave him a promise: “Because you have done well in carrying out 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” (2 Kings 10:30). Jehu reigned approximately 841—814 BC.
Jehu’s influence in the northern kingdom would extend for a century; however, Syria began to take over larger portions of Israel: “from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan” (2 Kings 10:33). Jehu’s reforms were ultimately only a partial and short-lived effort. Israel continued on the path to destruction, eventually being defeated by their enemies as prophesied (Hosea 1:4).