Jezebel, from the Old Testament (Kings I and II), was the wife of King Ahab who ruled the kingdom of Israel. By opposing the worship of the Hebrew god Yahweh, neglecting the rights and well-being of her subjects, and challenging the great prophets Elijah and Elisha, she prompted the internal conflict that plagued Israel for decades.
Tyrannical Rule of Jezebel
When Jezebel married Ahab, she influenced him to worship Baal, a nature god. As a woman seeking more power, she sought to destroy those who questioned her, and most of the prophets of Yahweh were murdered at her request. These evil and tyrannical works motivated the righteous vengeance of Elijah who correctly predicted the encounter of a severe drought as divine retribution against Jezebel. Elijah later had the Baal priests killed after they had failed in a contest with him to see which God would answer their prayers to inflame a bull offering, Baal or Yahweh. When Jezebel learned of the killing, she furiously vowed to have Elijah killed, forcing him to flee for his life (I Kings 18:19–19:3).
Another cruel act credited to Jezebel is written in I Kings 21:5–16. Next to Ahab’s dwelling was a vineyard, which he envied and desired. It was owned by a civilian, Naboth of Jezreel. When Naboth declined to part with his vineyard as “the inheritance of my fathers” and Jezebel falsely accused him of cursing “God and the king,” which resulted in Naboth’s death by stoning. Elijah faced Ahab in the vineyard, prophesying that he and all his successors would be slain and that dogs would devour Jezebel.
Jezebel is Thrown Over and Overthrown
Some years after, Ahab died in fighting with the Syrians and Jezebel continued on for nearly another ten years. Elijah’s heir, Elisha the prophet, continued the determination to end Baal worship. He anointed a militant leader named Jehu to be king of Israel, an order that prompted civil war as Jehoram, Jezebel’s son, then ruled. Jehu then killed Jehoram and sought to overthrow Jezebel and take his place as ruler of Israel. Anticipating him, she decorated herself in fancy clothing for the occasion. Looking down from her window, she mocked him, and Jehu commanded her eunuchs to toss her out of the window. After her fall and death, he ordered that she be buried as a king’s daughter, however, it was found that dogs had eaten most of her body, just as Elijah had predicted. Jezebel has come to be recognized as a model of the wicked woman, embodying the characteristics of cruelty, greed, and vanity.
Significance of Jezebel in the Bible
This was the "first time that a king of Israel had allied himself by marriage with a heathen princess; and the alliance was in this case of a peculiarly disastrous kind. Jezebel has stamped her name on history as the representative of all that is designing, crafty, malicious, revengeful, and cruel. She is the first great instigator of persecution against the saints of God. Guided by no principle, restrained by no fear of either God or man, passionate in her attachment to her heathen worship, she spared no pains to maintain idolatry around her in all its splendor. Four hundred and fifty prophets ministered under her care to Baal, besides four hundred prophets of the groves [RSV, 'prophets of the Asherah'], which ate at her table (1 Kings 18:19). The idolatry, too, was of the most debased and sensual kind."
Her conduct was in many respects very disastrous to the kingdom both of Israel and Judah (21:1-29). At length, she came to an untimely end. As Jehu rode into the gates of Jezreel, she looked out at the window of the palace, and said, "Had Zimri peace, who slew his master?" He looked up and called to her chamberlains, who instantly threw her from the window so that she was dashed in pieces on the street, and his horses trod her under their feet. She was immediately consumed by the dogs of the street (2 Kings 9:7-37), according to the word of Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kings 21:19).
Is Jezebel the Evillest Woman in the Entire Bible?
Jezebel is one of the Bible’s more interesting characters, notable for the many evil things she did and for having one of the Bible’s most dramatic death scenes. The more we know about her story, the more we get a sense of how mysterious and vindictive she was.
Who Was Jezebel in the Bible?
Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal king of Sidon. She married Ahab son of Omri, king of Israel. 1 Kings 16:31 highlights that Ahab was already sinning against God before they married, but made it worse by violating commands against Israelites marrying foreigners. Sidonians worshipped several pagan gods, most notably Baal, and Ahab made the worship of Baal and Asherah acceptable in Israel. The last chapters of 1 Kings and the ninth and 10th chapters of 2 Kings tell the story of Jezebel, Ahab, and their arguments with God’s prophets (especially Elijah).
What All Did Jezebel Do?
1 Kings 16-18 details how because Jezebel and Ahab promoted idolatry, God brought a drought that ended with Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to see which god would light an altar on fire. After God lit Elijah’s altar, Elijah killed hundreds of Baal worshippers and rain came for the first time in years. When Ahab told Jezebel what had happened, she sent a message to Elijah, promising that she would kill him. As detailed in 1 Kings 19, Elijah despaired at this point and fled to Horeb, but God protected him and gave him new instructions (including to appoint his successor, Elisha).
1 Kings 20 details how Ahab wanted a vineyard next door to his palace to make into a vegetable garden. When the owner, Naboth, refused Ahab’s offer, he sulked and Jezebel asked him why he was behaving this way. When Ahab told her what was upsetting him, Jezebel responded, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (1 Kings 20:7). After that, Jezebel arranged for people to accuse Naboth of cursing God and Ahab, and he was stoned. Ahab then took control of Naboth’s vineyard and Elijah came with a dire prophecy. He warned Ahab that his family would be destroyed, particularly that dogs would Ahab’s blood where they had licked up Naboth’s blood and that “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (1 Kings 21:23). Ahab repented and God then told Elijah that he had decided to forestall this total destruction on Ahab’s family for a generation, bringing it on Ahab’s son Ahaziah.
1 Kings 20:22 through 2 Kings 1 describes how Ahab died after a battle, and his son Ahaziah tried to push back against Elijah’s warnings, ultimately dying after falling through a lattice floor. Because Ahaziah had no sons, a man named Joram took the throne. 1 Kings 2 describes how Elijah was taken up to heaven like Enoch, and Elisha took his place as prophet. In 2 Kings 9, Elisha went to Jehu, an army commander under Joram, and anointed him the new king of Israel. Elisha also instructed Jehu to wipe out Ahab’s family and repeated Elijah’s prophecy that dogs would devour Jezebel’s body.
Having killed Jezebel’s son Joram, Jehu came to Jezreel and Jezebel greeted him with a taunt about how he had killed his master. Jehu saw her, asked who was with him, and told some eunuchs standing next to Jezebel, “throw her down!” (2 Kings 9:32-33). The eunuchs threw Jezebel out the window, and when she landed, horses trampled her. Some hours later, Jehu told his men to go bury Jezebel’s body but when they went to the scene, they found much of her body had been eaten by dogs (fulfilling Elijah’s prophecy and Elisha’s repeat of the prophecy). 2 Kings 10 outlines how Jehu killed the rest of Ahab’s family, although notably, Jehu didn’t do a great job of following God either (2 Kings 10:31).
Why Was Jezebel so Evil?
The Bible says that Ahab “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). However, what stands out the most about his behavior is how passive he was. Much of Ahab’s story consists of him sulking when he didn’t get what he wanted, blaming other people and calling them troublemakers when they rebuked his behavior. Ahab was still held responsible for his actions, but it appears that often Jezebel was the power behind the throne. Hence, 1 Kings 21:25 states, “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.”
Therefore, it’s worth asking why Jezebel was so broken. Since we don’t get any details in the Bible about Jezebel’s early life or the defenses of her behavior, we don’t have a clear idea of her motivations. However, what little we know about her background gives some hints about what may have generated her behavior.
For starters, Jezebel was a princess from a Canaanite nation. Our information about Canaanites keeps developing with archeological studies, but what we know so far suggests Canaanite cultures tended to be brutal. Some nations practiced child sacrifice to the god Molech, which is referenced in 2 Kings 23:10. Others practiced temple and shrine prostitution—hence why 1 Kings 15:12 and other passages mention reformers driving out male shrine prostitutes when removing pagan practices from Israel. In Canaanite cultures, gods were seen as territorial figures (gods of this nation or that nation), so criticisms of a god were attacks against the nation’s rulers.
This means that Jezebel likely grew up with a vindictive, brutal idea of what it meant to rule people. A good Canaanite ruler demanded people follow his or her patron god, sexual or interpersonal manipulation was part of the game, and differences in opinion were not tolerated. We see hints of this attitude in Jezebel’s response to Ahab sulking; she seems upset by him behaving like a child but also implies that how to “act as king over Israel” was to do what she died (false accusations, murder, and theft).
Since many pagan cultures across history had malicious matriarchal figures (mother goddesses with bloody and sexual associations, priestesses who combined temple prostitution and human sacrifices, etc.), it’s possible that Jezebel was raised with a particularly violent idea of what female rulers were supposed to do. We don’t get many details in the Bible about how Canaanite rulers behaved except when they were fighting the Israelites, so it’s possible that Jezebel behaved more or less how a Canaanite queen in her position was supposed to behave. Having a childish husband like Ahab would have just made her behavior more noticeable, created opportunities for her to take vindictive behavior to new extremes.
3 Warning Lessons from Jezebel's Life
Jezebel made more than her fair share of mistakes, so there are any number of warning lessons we could learn from her story. Here are three basic lessons we can all start applying today:
Marry someone who challenges you. It’s likely that by the time Jezebel and Ahab married she already had a controlling personality. However, having a passive spouse like Ahab created opportunities for that to develop even more when a stronger spouse might have challenged Jezebel to mature.
With leadership comes responsibility. We don’t know all of Jezebel’s attitudes about ruling people, but her actions with Naboth and her taunting Jehu suggest that she held the view that power was hers to use as she saw fit. She learned in the hardest way possible that this was not correct.
Own up to your mistakes. When Jezebel found out that Elijah had killed her priests in a public event that clearly showed Elijah’s God was stronger than her gods, she didn’t repent or recognize that it clearly showed her gods had no power. Instead, her response was to plan revenge, fight back without contemplating what this event showed about her choices.
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