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Jezebel

JEZEBEL

jez'-e-bel 'izebhel, "unexalted," "unhusbanded" (?); Iezabel; see BDB; 1 Kings 16:31; 18:4,13,19; 19:1,2; 21:5; 2 Kings 9:7,30; Revelation 2:20):

Daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians, i.e. Phoenicians, and queen of Ahab, king of Northern Israel. Ahab (circa 874-853 BC) carried out a policy, which his father had perhaps started, of making alliances with other states. The alliance with the Phoenicians was cemented by his marriage with Jezebel, and he subsequently gave his daughter Athaliah in marriage to Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. His own union with Jezebel is regarded as a sin in 1 Kings 16:31, where the Massoretic Text is difficult, being generally understood as a question. The Septuagint translations: "and it was not enough that he should walk in the sins of Jeroboam ben Nebat, he also took to wife Jezebel," etc. The Hebrew can be pointed to mean, "And it was the lightest thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam ben Nebat, he also took to wife Jezebel, and went and served Baal and worshipped him," i.e. all the other sins were light as compared with the marriage with Jezebel and the serving of Baal (compare Micah 6:16). Is this a justifiable view to take of the marriage? One answer would be that Ahab made a wise alliance; that Baal-worship was not non-Hebrew, that Ahab named his children not alter Baal but after Yahweh (compare Ahaziah, Jehoram, Athaliah), and that he consulted the prophets of Yahweh (compare 1 Kings 22:6); further, that he only did what Solomon had done on a much larger scale; it may be added too that Ahab was in favor of religious toleration, and that Elijah and not the king is the persecutor. What then can be said for the unfavorable Verdict of the Hebrew historians? That verdict is based on the results and effects of the marriage, on the life and character of Jezebel, and in that life two main incidents demand attention.

1. Persecution of Yahweh's Prophets:

This is not described; it is only referred to in 1 Kings 18:4, "when Jezebel cut off the prophets of Yahweh"; and this shows the history of the time to be incompletely related. In 1 Kings 18:19 we are further told that "450 prophets of Baal ate at her table" (commentators regard the reference to "400 prophets of the Asherah" as an addition). In 1 Kings 19:1 Ahab tells Jezebel of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal by Elijah, and then Jezebel (19:2) sends a messenger to Elijah to threaten his life. This leads to the prophet's flight, an object which Jezebel had in view, perhaps, for she would hardly dare to murder Elijah himself. 2 Kings 9:7 regards the massacre of Ahab's family as a punishment for the persecution of the prophets by Jezebel

2. Jezebel's Plot Against Naboth (1 Kings 21):

Ahab expresses a desire to possess the vineyard neighboring upon his palace in Jezreel, owned by Naboth, who refuses to part with the family inheritance though offered either its money value or a better vineyard in exchange. Ahab is depressed at this, and Jezebel, upon finding the cause of his melancholy feelings, asks him sarcastically if he is not king, suggesting that as king his wishes should be immediately granted by his subjects. She thereupon plots to secure him Naboth's vineyard. Jezebel sends letters sealed in Ahab's name to the elders of Naboth's township, and bids them arrange a public fast and make Naboth "sit at the head of the people" (Revised Version margin), a phrase taken by some to mean that he is to be arraigned, while it is explained by others as meaning that Naboth is to be given the chief place. Two witnesses--a sufficient number for that purpose--are to be brought to accuse Naboth of blasphemy and treason. This is done, and Naboth is found guilty, and stoned to death. The property is confiscated, and falls to the king (1 Kings 21:1-16). Elijah hears of this, and is sent to threaten Ahab with Divine vengeance; dogs shall lick his dead body (1 Kings 21:19). But in 1 Kings 21:20-23 this prophecy is made, not concerning Ahab but against Jezebel, and 21:25 attributes the sins of Ahab to her influence over him.

The prophecy is fulfilled in 2 Kings 9:30-37. Ahaziah and Jehoram had succeeded their father Ahab; the one reigned for 2 years (1 Kings 22:51), the other 12 years (2 Kings 3:1). Jehu heads a revolt against the house of Ahab, and one day comes to Jezreel. Jezebel had "painted her eyes, and attired her head," and sees Jehu coming. She greets him sarcastically as his master's murderer. according to Massoretic Text, Jehu asks, "Who is on my side? who?" but the text is emended by Klostermann, following Septuagint in the main, "Who art thou that thou shouldest find fault with me?" i.e. thou art but a murderess thyself. She is then thrown down and the horses tread upon her (reading "they trod" for "he trod" in 2 Kings 9:33). When search is afterward made for her remains, they are found terribly mutilated. Thus was the prophecy fulfilled. (Some commentaries hold that Naboth's vineyard and Ahab's garden were in Samaria, and Naboth a Jezreelite. The words, "which was in Jezreel," of 1 Kings 21:1 are wanting in Septuagint, which has "And Naboth had a vineyard by the threshing-floor of Ahab king of Samaria." But compare 1 Kings 18:45; 21:23; 2 Kings 8:29; 9:10,15,30.)

See AHAB; JEHU.

3. Jezebel's Character:

The character of Jezebel is seen revived in that of her daughter, Athaliah of Judah (2 Kings 11); there is no doubt that Jezebel was a powerful personality. She brought the worship of the Phoenician Baal and Astarte with her into Hebrew life, and indirectly introduced it into Judah as well as into the Northern Kingdom. In judging her connection with this propagation, we should bear in mind that she is not a queen of the 20th century; she must be judged in company with other queens famous in history. Her religious attitude and zeal might profitably be compared with that of Mary, queen of Scots. It must also be remembered that the introduction of any religious change is often resented when it comes from a foreign queen, and is apt to be misunderstood, e.g. the attitude of Greece to the proposal of Queen Olga have an authorized edition of the Bible in modern Greek.

On the other hand, although much may be said that would be favorable to Jezebel from the religious standpoint, the balance is heavy against her when we remember her successful plot against Naboth. It is not perhaps blameworthy in her that she upheld the religion of her native land, although the natural thing would have been to follow that of her adopted land (compare Ruth 1:16 f). The superiority of Yahweh-worship was not as clear then as it is to us today. It may also be held that Baal-worship was not unknown in Hebrew life (compare Judges 6:25 f), that Baal of Canaan had become incorporated with Yahweh of Sinai, and that there were pagan elements in the worship of the latter. But against all this it must be clear that the Baal whom Jezebel attempted to introduce was the Phoenician Baal, pure and simple; he was another god, or rather in him was presented an idea of God very different from Yahweh. And further, "in Phoenicia, where wealth and luxury had been enjoyed on a scale unknown to either Israel or the Canaanites of the interior, there was a refinement, if one may so speak, and at the same time a prodigality of vicious indulgences, connected with the worship of Baal and Astarte to which Israel had hitherto been a stranger ..... It was like a cancer eating into the vitals or a head and heart sickness resulting in total decay (Isaiah 1:6). In Israel, moral deterioration meant political as well as spiritual death. The weal of the nation lay in fidelity to Yahweh alone, and in His pure worship" (HPM, section symbol 213).

The verdict of the Hebrew historian is thus substantiated. Jezebel is an example--an extreme one no doubt--of the bad influence of a highly developed civilization forcing itself with all its sins upon a community less highly civilized, but possessed of nobler moral and religious conceptions. She has parallels both in family and in national life. For a parallel to Elijah's attitude toward Jezebel compare the words of Carlyle about Knox in On Heroes and Hero-Worship, IV, especially the section, "We blame Knox for his intolerance," etc.

In Revelation 2:20, we read of Iezabel, "the woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess"; not "thy wife" (i.e. the wife of the bishop) the Revised Version margin, but as Moffat (Expositor's Greek Testament) aptly renders, "that Jezebel of a woman alleging herself a prophetess." Some members of the church at Thyatira "under the sway of an influential woman refused to separate from the local guilds where moral interests, though not ostensibly defied, were often seriously compromised ..... Her lax principles or tendencies made for a connection with foreign and compromising associations which evidently exerted a dangerous influence upon some weaker Christians in the city." Her followers "prided themselves upon their enlightened liberalism (Revelation 2:24)." Moffat rejects both the view of Schurer (Theol. Abhandlungen, 39 f), that she is to be identified with the Chaldean Sibyl at Thyatira, and also that of Selwyn making her the wife of the local asiarch. "It was not the cults but the trade guilds that formed the problem at Thyatira." See also Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, section symbol 73, note 7; AHAB; BAAL; ELIJAH.

David Francis Roberts


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'JEZEBEL'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.