The burning of the sacred pillars of Baal occurred during the coup and subsequent reforms of Jehu, who overthrew the House of Ahab and destroyed Baal worship in Israel. It was a violent, bloody era in both the northern and southern kingdoms' histories. After Jehu personally slew Joram, Ahab's son and heir (II Kings 9:24), he sent pursuers to kill the King of Judah, Ahaziah, who had married a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (verse 27), and later, ordered Jezebel to be thrown from an upper-story window and trampled her body under his chariot (verses 30-33).
He incited the inhabitants of Samaria to kill the seventy sons of Ahab living in the city (II Kings 10:1-7). "So Jehu killed all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men and his close acquaintances and his priests, until he left him none remaining" (verse 11). For good measure, he killed all the sons of King Ahaziah (verses 12-14), "and when he came to Samaria, he killed all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had destroyed them, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke to Elijah" (verse 17).
Once he was firmly established as king, Jehu went after the worshippers of Baal, using deception to lure them into the temple of Baal, where he had them all killed (verses 18-25). Evidently, the entire temple had been packed with Baalists ("the temple of Baal was full from one end to the other"; verse 21), and eighty of his most loyal guards and captains slaughtered them without mercy. Thus, Jehu brutally purged Baal-worship in Israel.
It was at this point that his men brought out the sacred pillars from the temple and burned them. The previous verse indicates that these pillars were in the inner sanctum, the "most holy place" of the temple. The Hebrew word for "pillars" is mashshebot, which can describe both wooden and stone pillars that can be either functional (like doorposts) or monumental and religious. These pillars stood for the presence of Baal in his temple, much as the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat stood for the true God's presence in the Tabernacle/Temple. If the pillars were of wood, they were burned to ash, and if they were of stone, they were fragmented by heating them in a bonfire and then pouring water on them. Sometimes, depending on the level of abhorrence, they were pulverized.
Not to leave anything undone, Jehu "tore down the temple of Baal and made it a refuse dump" (verse 27). Modern commentators believe that he actually redeveloped the area and made the site a public latrine. So he showed his contempt for Baal and his adherents.
Sadly, Jehu did not take the next step and renounce all paganism. Instead, he upheld the national religion represented by the golden calves that Jeroboam I had installed at Bethel and Dan during the tenth century (verse 29). For this, God limited his reward to rule over Israel for four generations (verse 30). While he did what God had asked of him in ridding the nation of Ahab and Jezebel's influence, he did not completely embrace God's way (verse 31).
There lies the lesson. If God tells us to overthrow what is evil in our lives, those things that cause us to sin—and He does command us to do so—then we had better do what we can to rid ourselves of those things completely. We cannot afford to leave any vestiges of evil lying around because they will return to haunt us.
Thankfully, we can do this through the sacrifice of Christ and the power of God's Spirit. God wants us to "go on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1), or as James writes in terms of overcoming trials, ". . . that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:4). Our Father does not want a bunch of half-finished, partially loyal Jehus as children; He wants completely perfected sons and daughters who are wholly committed to His way of life.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh