Scripture References—1 Kings 16:31; 18:4-19; 19:1, 2; 21:5-25; 2 Kings 9
Name Meaning—This heartless woman with a bloody history belied the name she bore, for Jezebel means, “chaste, free from carnal connection”; but by nature she was a most licentious woman. She was a voluptuary, with all the tawdry arts of a wanton woman. Thus no name could have been more inappropriate for such a despised female.
Family Connections—She was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians, and both king and priest of Baal worshipers. The Phoenicians were a remarkable race, and outstanding as the great maritime peoples of the ancient world, but they were idolaters who regarded Jehovah as only a local deity, “the god of the land.” Their gods were Baal and Ashtaroth or Astarte, with their innumerable number of priests, 450 of whom Ahab installed in the magnificent temple to the Sun-god he had built in Samaria. Another 400 priests were housed in a sanctuary Jezebel erected for them, and which she fed at her own table. Cruel and licentious rites were associated with the worship of Baal. Jezebel sprang from an idolatrous stock, the same source which afterward produced the greatest soldier of antiquity, Hannibal, whose temper was not more daring and unforgiving than hers.
It was this heathen woman who married Ahab, king of Northern Israel, and who in so doing was guilty of a rash and impious act which resulted in evil consequences. As a Jew, Ahab sinned against his Hebrew faith in taking as his wife the daughter of a man whose very name, Ethbaal, meant, “A Man of Baal.” How or where the strong-minded idolatrous woman and the weak and spineless king met we are not told. Doubtless seeing her, Ahab was fascinated by her beauty and forcefulness of character and fell for her, and Jezebel, ambitious and proud, eagerly seized the opportunity of sharing the throne of a king. Any man, able to resist the wiles of a beautiful but wicked woman possesses true heroism. Joseph succeeded against the lovely yet lustful wife of Potiphar, but Caesar and Antony after conquering almost the whole world, were conquered by the fair but foul Cleopatra.
Let conquerors boast
Their fields of fame. He who in virtue arms
A young, warm spirit, against beauty’s charms,
Who feels her brightness, yet defies her thrall,
Is the best, bravest conqueror of them all.
Ahab, captivated by Jezebel, “took her to wife, and went and served Baal and worshipped him.” All the other sins of Ahab were light compared with his marriage with Jezebel and the serving of Baal that followed (1 Kings 16:31, see Micah 6:16). For over 60 years idolatry had made terrible inroads upon the life and ways of the Hebrews and meant more to them than the breaking of the first two commandments of the law; it produced spiritual and moral disintegration which was accentuated by Jezebel’s determined effort to destroy the worship of Jehovah. Let us try to delineate the character of Jezebel—a name which has come to mean in all ages a striking proverb for seductive power, worldly subtlety and wickedness of the worst type.
Jezebel was no ordinary woman. Such was her demeanor that she attracted immediate attention. Edward B. Coe wrote of her as “the Clytemnestra, the Lady Macbeth of Hebrew history. Though by no means an attractive personage, she was invested by her extraordinary force of character and her appalling fate with a tragic grandeur which belongs to no other woman of the Bible.” While the Bible does not analyze or even portray her character, but simply sets forth the events in which she bore so prominent a part, yet as we read between the lines we cannot fail to see her as a woman of prodigious force of intellect and will. The sacred narrative does not record that she possessed any of the finer, nobler feminine qualities. She knew nothing of the restraint of higher principles. Savage and relentless, this proud and strong-minded woman carried out her foul schemes. A gifted woman, she prostituted all her gifts for the furtherance of evil, and her misdirected talents became a curse. Persuasive, her influence was wrongly directed. Resolute above other women, she used her strength of character to destroy a king and her own offspring, as well as pollute the life of a nation.
Baal had no more dedicated devoteé than Jezebel. None could match her zeal for the worship of Ashtaroth the famous goddess of the Zidonians, as zealous and liberal maintenance of hundreds of idolatrous priests clearly proves. Not content with establishing the idol worship of her own country in her husband’s court, she sought to convert Israel to Baal worship. Two heathen sanctuaries were built, one at Samaria with its 450 priests, and the other at Jezreel with its 400 priests. In a most relentless fashion Jezebel tried to drive out the true prophets of Jehovah from the land, and thus became the first religious female persecutor in history. From her idolatrous father, a high priest of Ashtaroth, she inherited her fanatical religious enthusiasm which inspired her to exterminate the worship of the true and living God, and almost succeeded in the attempt.
The flooding of the nation with all the immoralities and cruel superstitions of such a demoralizing cult as Baalism, brought upon the scene the chief of the true prophets, Elijah. He appeared suddenly before Ahab, predicted three years of drought, and at the end of the period unexpectedly appeared again and challenged the 850 prophets of Baal to a supreme test of power on the top of Mount Carmel. “In language of unparalleled audacity Elijah taunted them with the impotence of their boasted deities, and the strange contest ended in the triumphant vindication of Jehovah.” The people seized the priests of Baal and massacred them and Ahab was completely frightened.
The triumphant Elijah had yet to reckon with Jezebel, however, who, when she heard from Ahab about the slaughter of all her well-fed priests, swore a terrible oath to destroy Elijah and his partners “by tomorrow this time.” But Elijah, although he had defied the king and stood out alone against the multitude of the priests and worshipers of Baal, felt that the fury of a murderous woman was more than he could face, and fled for his life across the kingdom of Judah, leaving the haughty queen, for the time being, in undisputed possession of the stage.
Ahab was like a puppet in the hands of his overpowering wife. Because he was pliant and weak, Jezebel found it easy to achieve her murderous designs. How could worthless and spineless Ahab resist the evil scheming of his unscrupulous partner? With Lady Macbeth, Jezebel was the evil genius of the man, and a frightful crime ensued. It was Jezebel who became the feared commander in Israel and not the cowardly husband she could wrap around her thumb. It may be that Ahab was more luxury-loving and sensual than cruel, but under the complete domination of a ruthless woman he was forced to act against his finer feelings. “His culpability in this hideous drama lies chiefly in his using his personal power as a means to Jezebel’s wicked ends,” says Mary Hallet. “For without Ahab’s authority, Jezebel would have been a serpent without fangs.” In this marriage, Ahab was the weaker vessel with a wife who mocked at his conscientious scruples and bound him in all wickedness as with strong chains.
Our Lord used a striking figure to illustrate the continuing influence of evil, emanating from a life destitute of godly principles—
Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? ... a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.... a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit (Matthew 7:16-20).
Jezebel was rotten root and branch, and thus everything connected with her was contaminated. How appropriate are the lines of Shakespeare as we think of Jezebel who, in her strength of character, lust for power, remorseless rejection of godliness, and unshrinking and resolute activity to abolish all that interferes with the fulfillment of her wicked designs, was a veritable prototype of Catherine de Medici &--;
A strong adversary, an inhuman wretch, incapable of pity, void and empty from every drachm of pity.
Her offspring imbibed and continued the wickedness they grew up in. Jezebel’s evil influence was revived in her daughter Athaliah of Judea (see href="/id/42363331-3041-4246-2D41-3445382D3344">Athaliah). Her malign character reappears in her eldest son, Ahaziah, who, like his idolatrous mother, was a devout worshiper of Baal. Her second son, Jehoram or Joram, was another image of his mother—further corrupt fruit from a corrupt tree. It was Jehoram, who heard from the lips of Jehu who had been raised up to obliterate the Ahab dynasty, that there would be no peace in Israel, “so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many” (2 Kings 9:22). Is it to be wondered at that Jehoram suffered a similiar fate to that of his mother’s at the hands of Jehu?
The tragedy of Naboth and his vineyard reveals how despicable a woman Jezebel was. Life was cheap to such a female who had murder in her veins. Her father, Ethbaal, murdered his predecessor, Phelles. Brought up in such a home of intrigue and massacre what else could we expect but a she-devil as Jezebel became? Clarence E. Macartney in his volume on Bible Characters in dealing with Naboth says &--;
His refusal was the introduction to one of the strangest, most powerful, and most terrible dramas of the Bible; a drama, on the one side, of innocence, courage, independence, and the fear of God, and, on the other side, of covetousness, avarice, cruelty, perjury, death and terrible retribution. Outside of the Bible itself, it would take a Shakespeare or one of the Greek tragic poets to do justice to it.
As a typical Oriental despot, Jezebel was prepared to murder in her stride toward the desired objective, as the incident of Naboth’s vineyard reveals. King Ahab happened to see this fruitful vineyard and inquired as to its owner. Learning it belonged to Naboth, Ahab called him to the palace and offered to buy the vineyard. But it was not for sale. It had belonged to his forefathers and had become precious to Naboth, and as an Israelite Ahab understood his desire to retain it. Thwarted in what he coveted, Ahab took to his bed and refused food.
Then Jezebel came upon the scene. Learning what had happened, and, as a foreigner from a country where the wishes of a king were never questioned, she revealed herself as a woman of accumulated authority when she consoled Ahab by saying—
Arise and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry. I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.
Jezebel ordered, by letter, stamped with the royal seal, a public feast. She also instituted an assembly of the people of Jezreel to try the pious Naboth for blasphemies against God and the king. Naboth was arrested, tried and condemned on the false witnesses secured by Jezebel. She found these witnesses in order to appear within the bounds of the law. Found guilty, Naboth was stoned until his innocent life was beaten out of him, and Ahab took possession of the much-coveted vineyard. But the blood of godly Naboth did not cry out in vain. God called Elijah out of his retirement to go to Ahab and pronounce the fearful doom awaiting the murderous pair and their unholy seed. The prophet told the king of his fate—
In the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.
This prophecy was fulfilled shortly after its pronouncement for war broke out between the Israelites and the Syrians, and Ahab, while riding in his chariot, received his death wound. The blood-soaked chariot was taken to the spring which ran through Naboth’s vineyard, and the dogs came and licked up the bloody water. Concerning Jezebel, Elijah said, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel,” and shortly we shall see how this prophecy was also fulfilled to the very letter.
The death of the one whom Jezebel had “stirred up to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord” revealed her to be as incapable of remorse as of fear. There was no sign of repentance in her, as she went out proudly to meet her prophesied doom. Jehu had been appointed and anointed as the avenger of Jehovah, and he set about his grim task of meting out justice to those who had polluted the land. Jezebel’s son and grandson met Jehu in the blood-stained vineyard Naboth had once possessed. Jehu slew Jezebel’s son, the king of Israel, and her grandson was overtaken in flight and was slain. The still proud, defiant queen-mother knew her last hour was not far away, and great-grandmother though she was, she took time to arrange her hair and paint her face, and looked out at a window to greet Jehu as he passed by. Perhaps as Morton suggests, “Jezebel did not paint her face from any motive of coquetry or vanity. She knew that death was ready to take her. Therefore, she determined to die like a queen.... As Cleopatra, when about to die, robed herself in festal garments, so Jezebel painted her eyes with antimony and placed her jewelled crown upon her head; then, mounting to the palace tower, she watched the thundering advance of Jehu’s chariot.”
This one touch of grandeur in her foul life gave rise to the bitter taunt, “a painted Jezebel,” which came into vogue in England during the sixteenth century when, as Edith Deen reminds us, “painting the face was accepted as prima-facie evidence that a woman had loose morals. Certainly no woman’s name in history has become so commonly accepted as a synonym for wickedness.”
The climax came as Jehu entered the city gate. Reaching the palace, he looked up to the window from which came the taunting voice of Jezebel: “Is it peace, thou Zimri, thou murderer of thy master?” Such a taunt maddened her victorious enemy, and seeing the two eunuchs standing at the window with the defiant queen he shouted up to them, “Who is on my side? Who? Throw her down!”
They obeyed and threw her out of the window, and as she fell the walls were sprinkled with her blood. Below her were the soldiers with their spears, the horses to tread her underfoot and the hungry dogs waiting for her flesh. The triumphant Jehu entered the palace over Jezebel’s dead body. As he ate and drank, he remembered that the one who had just died as prophesied had been a queen and a mother of kings, so he ordered—
Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her. And they went to bury her, but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands.
So died Jezebel, the idolater, the tyrant, the murderess. She had sown to the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. Many of the godly in Israel must have felt that while Jezebel held evil sway over the land, the mills of God seemed to grind slowly. They came to realize, however, that they grind exceedingly sure and small. Thus Jezebel encountered a “mysterious, terrible and divine retribution.”
Ere we turn from our portrait of one of the most wicked women who ever breathed, there are one or two lessons to glean from her deeply stained record. No matter from what angle we approach the life of Jezebel she stands out as a beacon to both nations and individuals that the wages of sin is death. Further, from this great tragic figure of literature and of history we learn how important it is for the influence of a wife and mother to be on the side of all that is good and noble. As Ahab’s evil genius, Jezebel was the absolute negation of all God meant woman to be, namely, a true help-meet of man. Ahab, we read, was “stirred up” by Jezebel but stirred up in the wrong direction. When a man marries a woman because of her beauty or forceful personality, or marries a wicked woman or one opposed to his religion, he usually courts sorrow, heartache and disappointment. Jezebel retained her obstinate, unbending character to the very end. The death of the man whose life she polluted brought no repentance. What a difference story would have been written if only she had learned how to stir up her husband and children to love God and follow good works (2 Timothy 1:6; 2 Peter 1:13). Her misdirected talents, however, brought upon her a curse. The evil she perpetrated was done under the guise of religion, just as the cruelties of the Inquisition and the tortures of Smithfield were.
Finally, evil and craft and godlessness bring their own reward, and the wicked reap what they sow. Retribution overtook Jezebel when her body was thrown out of the window to be torn and mangled, and then eaten by dogs. As a daughter of the devil, she suffers a worse retribution in the realms of the doomed. Milton wrote of the God-rejector as—
Him the Almighty Father hurled headlong flaming with hideous ruin and combustion down to bottomless perdition, there to dwell in adamantive chains and penal fires, who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.
There are those who reject such a lurid description of the fate of the wicked who, like Jezebel, defy and deny God, but the divine Word still stands, that Christ is to be revealed from heaven to take vengeance on those who spurn God and who reject the saving Gospel of His beloved Son (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).
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