Who is Jezebel in the Bible?
Jezebel was the daughter of the priest-king Ethbaal, ruler of the coastal Phoenician cities (now in Lebanon) of Tyre and Sidon and the wife of Ahab, King of Israel, according to the Book of Kings of the Hebrew Bible. Jezebel is described today as a woman of certain wickedness spitefulness and perhaps one who is promiscuous in nature; she has come to be known as an archetype of the wicked woman or a prostitute.
According to modern culture, Jezebel is defined as a female who is seeking attention from and possibly plotting to use someone wealthy or otherwise desirable to gain status in society.
You may have heard of the term Jezebel to describe a controlling woman; a woman of certain wickedness, spitefulness and perhaps one who is promiscuous. It’s a reputation that the original Jezebel from the Old Testament would surely sustain since the inception of the text, given how she manipulated her husband, murdered prophets, before swindling scheming and condemning those who would not follow her commands or accept her god Baal as the one true God.
The Story of Jezebel in the Bible
Jezebel stories are scattered throughout the Book of Kings, but the beginning of her tale shows that she’s brought to the Northern Kingdom of Israel to marry King Ahab.
Her father, Ethbaal, the king of Phoenicians—a group of people closest to the Israelites—was eager for Jezebel to marry into Ahab’s Kingdom, so that their kingdoms could share resources, security and establish a united front.
In this sense, it seems clear that the relationship between Jezebel and Ahab were purely political, but the Old Testament does not refer to the nature of their relationship.
The main difference which separates the Phoenicians, and the Israelites were the worship of gods. The Israelites primarily worship the one God who was known by the Hebrew name Yahweh or Jehovah.
Meanwhile, the Phoenicians were said to have a more varied range of gods to choose from which were considered by the writers of the Old Testament to be the ‘pagan’ gods. The most critical figure amongst these gods, at least in this story, is the god Baal, the god of fertility and agriculture.
Jezebel in Israel
When Jezebel was first brought to Israel to marry King Ahab, she brings her gods with her. While the Old Testament doesn’t specify Ahab’s reaction, it’s clear that the gods or at least Jezebel’s commitment to the gods have a profound effect on him. We are told that Ahab goes as far as to build a sanctuary for Baal in the heart of Israel; going on to worship him and seemingly abandoned the worship of Jehovah.
Known as a controlling, manipulative woman, it’s possible that Jezebel had Ahab under her from the very beginning and that this worship of Baal wasn’t of his own volition, but of the direction of his wife.
Jezebel, of course, rejects Ahab’s God Jehovah and remains true to her gods—which, in a sense, shows another side to her, as she is militant in her beliefs, not conforming to societal expectations and unyielding to any man in a time where men were the undisputed rulers.
Jezebel’s Impact on Israel
Given how devoted the people of Israel were to God, it shows us how powerful Jezebel was. She was able to incorporate her god Baal into society and render Jehovah nearly redundant.
Her scheming and outright domination over Israel with the induction of Baal further enhances the idea that Jezebel was indeed a bold and calculating woman, but not only this, as the tales go on, we see Jezebel denounced Jehovah and proclaimed that Baal, a foreign God to the people, was the one they should all be worshipping.
Her impious ways are only further demonstrated when we see her ordered the killing of several prophets of Jehovah. It’s clear by this point the Jews was a fierce woman who will stop at nothing to achieve her goal—the goal seemingly been to eradicate the name of Jehovah, as well as destroying all who defy her.
She’s not shy about abusing the power that she has inherited out of her marriage, and some might say she takes more of a fundamental role as Queen than her husband does as King.
Not only is she thorough and brutal in the murdering of Jehovah’s prophets, but she also uses royal resources to fund and supports several hundred prophets of Baal. It’s understood that during his time of the story, with Jezebel’s frightful influence, the people of Israel were torn as to who to worship.
Baal was gaining popularity and those who are in favour of Jehovah were fearful of encountering Jezebel’s fury. It seemed that no one was strong enough nor willing enough to repel ideals for the nation—until Elijah.
Elijah Challenged the Prophets of Baal
The Prophet known as Elijah was concerned about the divide between Jehovah and Baal, especially with the presence of Jehovah now been overtaken. He took matters into his own hands and challenged 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of Asherah to the top of Mount Carmel.
The challenge was fairly simple; both Elijah and the prophets of Baal would provide a Bull each to be sacrificed before their gods. Whoever’s God could light their sacrifice in the most spectacular way would be declared the more powerful God.
Two altars were set up and the followers of Baal presented their bull. The prophets danced around the ball to please their god but after some time, Baal failed to show any sign of his presence at all.
The prophets perform their rituals, sending prayers and in some accounts even turn to self-harm to draw their god out and accept the challenge, but Baal didn’t show.
When Elijah stepped forward to his Bull, he merely asked Jehovah to show his power and thus the sky roared, and the bull was consumed in a devastating blast of flame. It was clear that Jehovah had won the contest by the demonstration of his power, especially given that bow had remained silent.
It’s here we see in the unremorseful and some might say dark side of Elijah, who spared none of the prophets. He has every single one of the over 800 prophets of Baal hunted down and slaughtered.
You might say that this was a complete overkill or perhaps that it makes Elijah’s just as bad as Jezebel in some respects, given her he had done just as she had, but you might also argue that Elijah committed this act of butchery out of revenge for the prophets of Jehovah that Jezebel had murdered—the Old Testament does not give way to Elijah’s motivations for his mass murder the Baal’s prophets, but needless to say, it hurts Jezebel to the point that she orders Elijah’s death.
While the death of her prophets would have no doubt angered the Queen, it is the consequences of their defeat that might have angered her more—as to whether the people who had converted to Baal converts straight back to Jehovah after witnessing his power.
As if this wasn’t enough of an expression of his power, God then rewards Elijah by sending him a downpour of rain which ends a three-year drought in the land.
Elijah Flees from Jezebel
Essentially this confrontation would spell the beginning of the end of Jezebel’s rule and her indoctrination of the foreign god. As a result of this, Jezebel orders the death of Elijah, who realising the potency of our power, flees and goes into hiding.
In some versions, we also see Jezebel established herself as Elijah’s equal, stating, “If you are Elijah, so I am Jezebel.” Her meaning cannot be mistaken. Despite the loss of her prophets, she’s inclined to revenge and is more than capable of delivering it.
Elijah’s hiding only helps to illustrate the magnitude of Jezebel’s power and have potential to achieve all that she desires.
Elijah fleeing has some implications. It shows us that God’s protection over him is not absolute and that maybe, Elijah maintains some doubt as to God’s plan, given that he flees in the first place. Arguably, you might say that God told Elijah to run as this coincides with what he originally intends, nonetheless, it still implies that Elijah is afraid of Jezebel, or at least, aware enough to know he cannot currently win against her.
Ahab and Naboth — The Story of the Vineyard
Around his time, we learn that King Ahab is taking things a little less seriously at home in his kingdom. He notices that a neighbour of his, named Naboth is tending to a beautiful vineyard nearby.
Upon seeing this vineyard, King Ahab wishes to own it for himself and proceeds to offer Naboth a great deal of money for it. But Naboth explains that the vineyard is something of a family heirloom, passed down from generations after having been gifted it from God himself. He claims that he can never part with it, not for any amount of money.
Even as Ahab promises Naboth a bigger vineyard to tend to, Naboth declines. King Ahab proceeds the sulk, enters depression for not being able to obtain the vineyard and refuses to eat. He locks himself away in his bedroom and lays down, unwilling to do anything except ponder over the vineyard that he knows he cannot have.
The King’s subjects alert Jezebel as to her husband sadness, and it’s on this occasion we see the dynamic of their relationship deepen. You might say that Jezebel acts of compassion as she speaks to Ahab, telling him that he is a king and then he can have whatever he wants, even the vineyard which he promises to obtain for him.
However, it’s more likely that Jezebel was using this scenario to facilitate her wicked ways and she schemes to obtain the vineyard.
Jezebel enlists a few shady characters to create an elaborate ruse to frame Naboth for crimes against the king and God. She has this group publicly accused Naboth of blasphemy and treason, which soon gains enough traction that everyone soon believes in Naboth supposed guilt.
Jezebel demands that Naboth is stoned to death, and just like that, Naboth is quickly carried away and brutally murdered.
As promised, Jezebel delivers the vineyard to King Ahab, which again shows the difference in power between the two—Ahab was not able to obtain the vineyard; despite being a king was not willing to exercise his power to obtain it by force. However, Jezebel had no problem with obtained in the vineyard. How she did, shows that, unlike Ahab, she will stop at nothing, whether morally wrong or not, to obtain her goal.
This act appears to spur on Jehovah to speak to Elijah, who is still in hiding. He tells Elijah the way Ahab will die and that the same dogs who licked up the blood of Naboth will lick up his blood as well.
When Elijah confronts King Ahab, he tells him of God’s message and goes on to predict that Jezebel will die, consumed by dogs and that every family member of Ahab will die as well, ending his legacy.
So struck by a lighters warning, Ahab melts with fear and proceeds to repent to Jehovah. During this time, Elijah has led to a man named Elisha, a man in which God instructs Elijah to adopt as his disciple. Elisha would soon become the Prophet in Elijah’s place after Elijah is taken up by the heavens.
Encounter Between Jehu and Jehoram
Years later, a war breaks out and King Ahab is killed by a stray arrow. It’s understood that as he bled out, dogs did indeed feast on his blood. Though there were also pigs present, and they also licked his blood, mocking and marking him as unclean to the Israelites who abstained from the consumption of pork.
After Ahab’s death, Jezebel and Ahab’s son Jehoram assumes the throne in the wake of his father’s death, but Jehoram’s rule is not as undisputed as one might think.
The prophet Elisha crowns Jehu, a military commander of Jehoram as king, and task Jehu with the eradication of Ahab’s house, as God had prophesied through Elijah. Both King Jehoram and Jehu encountered one another on the battlefield in the days leading up to the destruction of the house of Ahab, with Jehu killing Jehoram.
It’s during this encounter, funnily enough, that Jezebel earns her reputation for being a witch and a whore. Jezebel is often connected with promiscuity, and yet, we don’t see any examples of her sexual desires whether in the form of lust for men or otherwise.
The only mention that appears in some versions of the Old Testament is here, in the confrontation between Jehoram and Jehu, where Jehoram asks Jehu, ‘Is all well?’ To which Jehu replies, ‘how can all be well as long as your mother Jezebel carries on her countless whoredoms and sorceries.’
While it’s never mentioned explicitly in the Old Testament, Jezebel status as a harlot, or at least an adulterer, is certainly implied.
The Gruesome Death of Jezebel
We finally see Jezebel, once more in the Old Testament, where she appears in her upper window to stare down at Jehu with the blood of her son on his hands. Jezebel does not try to flee, however, but stands firm, and perhaps even proud as she calmly acknowledges her enemy.
She’s described as having painted her face and dressed her hair, indicating that she made the effort to look the best that she could in the face of her imminent death—a final show of strength perhaps and a stubbornness to die as a weak woman, but instead, a woman who stared death in the face and didn’t blink.
Other accounts imply that Jezebel had dressed herself up to seduce Jehu from the window, to save her own life. If this is the case, it shows Jezebel’s tenacity once more and she’s able to cut her ties to her former husband and all her subjects if only to live a moment more, even if it is as Jehu’s lover.
She’s not modest in her defeat as she proceeds to taunt Jehu, denouncing him as a murderer of his master and her son, but Jehu doesn’t rise to her mocking, and instead looks to her eunuch servants in the window.
He simply asks them to cast Jezebel down from the window. Knowing that they were at Jehu’s mercy, the eunuchs betrayed Jezebel and throw her from the window. It’s said that her blood sprayed the walls as she hit the ground and her blood also sprayed the horses which trampled over her leaving the wicked impious Queen nothing more than a twisted ruined corpse.
Jehu celebrated his victory by drinking and feasting, but he did not forget Jezebel’s corpse. He asked for her to be buried, given that she was a queen and that even she deserves to have some modesty in death.
However, when his men went to retrieve her body to bury it, they found nothing but her skull, her feet, and her hands. It appeared that the dogs had manifested and feasted on her flesh, devouring almost every inch of her, just as Elijah had once predicted.
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