Bible Reference: 1 Kings 18:1 – 19:3.
Heart of the Story: This entry provides detail about Jezebel’s background and is the first in a three-part series on this powerful queen.
Background: King Ahab ruled the ten northern tribes (Israel) of the divided Israelite kingdom from Samaria. He was grossly wicked. The Bible described King Ahab as far more wicked than any king before him. King Ahab married Jezebel as part of a military and trade alliance between Israel and a number of city states known collectively as Phoenicia. Jezebel was a royal princess. Her father was King Ethbaal of Sidon who ruled the loosely confederated Phoenician city-states. King Ethbaal was a priest of Asherah (Astarte), the primary Phoenician goddess (Gaines, 2016). Likely Jezebel served as a priestess as she was growing up. At the very least, Jezebel was reared to honor the gods of her native land. The Bible recorded that every evil act done by King Ahab was urged on by Queen Jezebel (Kings 21: 25).
Soon after Ahab and Jezebel married, Ahab started to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:31-33). Ahab built a temple dedicated to Baal and set up an altar in the temple. Further, Ahab made a pole to Asherah. Apparently, Ahab abandoned God worship and dedicated himself to idol worship (1 Kings 18:18). In contrast, Jezebel remained completely loyal to Phoenician gods even though she lived in Israel. At her royal table Jezebel fed 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19). At the same time she initiated a massacre of all priests of God in Israel (1 Kings 18:4).
Pondering Relationships: An episode that showed Jezebel’s character was a faceoff between the prophet Elijah and 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:22-40). The prophets were unable to get Baal to light and burn a sacrifice to him after trying to do so all day. In contrast, the first time Elijah asked God to burn his sacrifice the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, wood, stones, soil, and water. In response to seeing the glory of God, the men who watched the episode, fell down and worshiped God. Immediately, Elijah ordered the men seize the prophets of Baal and slaughter them; that day 850 false prophets were killed.
Only men were on Mount Carmel so Jezebel did not have first-hand knowledge of what happened there. When Ahab told her about the loss of her prophets, Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah. The message was, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like one of them” (1 Kings 19:2 NIV). In essence, Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah within the next 24 hours because Elijah incited the men of Israel to kill the Baal and Asherah prophets. Fearful Elijah fled from Israel, passed through Judah, and hid on Mount Horeb in the Sinai wasteland. Although the Bible seems to be accusatory about Jezebel because she had God’s prophets killed, it is silent on Elijah’s instigation of Israelite men killing 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah.
Jezebel was one of the strongest, if not the strongest, women identified in the Bible; yet, she was not a Jew nor or a Christian. Her name is synonymous with apostasy, i.e., Israel’s rebellion against God. We do not know how soon after Ahab became king that he married Jezebel; however, he ruled the northern kingdom (Israel) for 22 years. Jezebel lived for some years after his death when her sons ruled Israel. Jezebel was the dominant partner in her marriage to Ahab.
Reflection: Do you see how Jezebel was true to her beliefs, even through they were wrong beliefs? Have you ever been like her?
Copyright: November 7, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth.
If you want to read more about lesser known Bible characters, go to my website: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com