Jezebel: infamous queen
Main themes of the story
The story of Jezebel is about two issues:
Throughout the centuries, Jezebel has been attacked as a whore, and her name used to describe a woman of promiscuous behavior. But there is nothing in Jezebel’s story to suggest that she was ever unfaithful to Ahab. In fact, she seems to have been fiercely loyal to him even in adversity.
The story of Jezebel has three episodes:
1 The conflict between worshippers of Yahweh and Baal
(at 1 Kings 16:29-34, 18:17-40,
2 The episode of Naboth’s vineyard
(at 1 Kings 21:1-16)
3 The death of Jezebel and her family (at 1 Kings 22:29-40, 2 Kings 9:21-28, 9:30-37)
For a short version of the story of Jezebel, see Bible People: Jezebel
Jezebel was a Phoenician princess, a daughter of the king and queen of the
rich coastal city-state of Sidon. She was brought up in a cultured and
luxurious environment. Her people, the Phoenicians, were cosmopolitan and
sophisticated, and controlled large areas of the eastern Mediterranean.
Jezebel was old enough, a marriage was arranged for her with Ahab, King of
Brought up as a Phoenician, she saw it as her duty to
guard the worship of Baal and Asherah. She believed these gods regulated
the fertility of the country she now lived in and ruled.
Many of the people in the northern province of Israel shared her beliefs. They worshipped a number of gods including Yahweh, Baal and Asherah. But others believed they could give your loyalty to only one god, and that this god was Yahweh. The worshippers of Yahweh were the ones who wrote the story and of course they tell the story to emphasize the power of their own god Yahweh.
At some time during Ahab's reign there was a terrible drought throughout Israel and Judah. It is hard for a modern person to appreciate what drought meant to these people, because none of us are likely to die as a result of famine.
To ancient people, it was a different matter. As food grew scarce, the old and the very young began to die, then the adults, until only the young, strong adults were left.
This was the situation in
Jezebel's kingdom at that time. As the drought worsened, so did the
desperation of the people. Every entreaty was made to the gods - to any
god who might listen. A contest developed between the people who worshipped Baal, and those who worshipped
Yahweh. It was a contest that would end with the death of many people. ‘Then Elijah said to the people “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s
prophets number four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given to us. Let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord.
The god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered “Well spoken!”’
According to the biblical text, the priests of Baal lost the contest in a spectacular way, with fire exploding from the sky.
All four and hundred and fifty were slaughtered by the followers of Elijah.
The text records the end of the severe drought that had gripped the land.
During their 20-year reign, Jezebel and Ahab built a new capital city at Samaria. Among other things, it contained an opulent palace and a temple to Baal and Asherah.
See Bible Archaeology: Palaces for images of the excavations there, and information about the extraordinary building program.
The palace was a two-storey building surrounding a grand, ceremonial courtyard. It was called the Ivory House because of the number of carved ivory decorations on its walls and furniture. Archaeologists have unearthed many of the ivory plaques that decorated the walls and furniture of this palace.
A second royal house was built near Jezreel - there are also images of the archaeological excavations there at Bible Archaeology: Cities.
It was a villa, overlooking rolling hills and lush
vineyards - Jezreel stood in a commanding position looking over the lush
Valley of Jezreel.
There was a long-standing tradition that inherited property should not be sold to anyone outside the family, if it had been continuously occupied by the one family since the settlement of Canaan. Naboth held stubbornly to this tradition, defying the king.
‘He (Ahab) lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.
His wife Jezebel came to him and said “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” He said to her “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him “Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it”, but he answered “I will not give you my vineyard”.
His wife Jezebel said to him “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food and be cheerful. I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite”.’
The key to Jezebel’s character is that she behaved like a Phoenician princess, not like an Israelite woman. She believed the monarch had absolute power, and was contemptuous of the limitations that the traditional Hebrew Law put on her. Like other Middle Eastern monarchs of the time, she believed that the ruler of a kingdom made the law.
Jezebel took matters into her own hands. She had Naboth and his sons accused of treason, on false evidence, and they were duly convicted and executed. The vineyard, being the property of convicted traitors, reverted to state ownership. Ahab had his vineyard.
This story shows royal power being misused. It is similar to the story of David, Uriah and
murder of Jezebel and her family
Ahab made a military alliance with
Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah.
warred against the king of Aram, to gain territory that they claimed as their own. In the battle between the two armies, Ahab
disguised himself so that the opposing army would not concentrate their attack on him.
This story is at Warfare:
In the aftermath of the battle, the prophecy of Elijah in
Ahab was succeeded by his son Ahaziah, whose reign lasted only two years. He was injured in a fall that may or may not have been a bizarre accident, and died soon after. His brother Joram then became king. Both these young men were sons of Jezebel.
At this stage, Jehu enters the story. He was an ambitious army officer favored by the prophet Elisha, who anointed Jehu as king even while the reigning king Joram of Israel still lived. (9:1-3, 14). Jehu planned a coup d’etat against the dynasty of Ahab.
He saw his chance when King Joram was wounded in a battle against the Arameans. Joram went to the walled villa at Jezreel to recover from his wounds, and there he was visited by King Ahaziah of Judah. Jehu set a trap for both the young kings, luring them out of the safety of the walls of Jezreel, and then he murdered them both.
Jezebel, standing on the watchtower at Jezreel, saw it all.
The slaughter did not stop there. The success of Jehu’s coup depended on the death of every member of the royal family. Jehu continued on to Jezreel, and his soldiers broke through the villa's defences.
When Jezebel heard what has happened to her son, she knew immediately what lay in store for her. She did not flinch for a moment. She dressed herself in the full regalia of a queen, with the ornate ritual make-up and head-dress of a priestess of Baal and Asherah.
She went out onto the balcony of the courtyard to face Jehu as he approached. She called him ‘Zimri’, the name of a murderer and usurper of a previous king. She accused him of murdering his anointed king.
‘When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. She painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window.
As Jehu entered the gate, she said “Is it peace, Zimri, murderer of your master?” He looked up to the window and said “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. He said “Throw her down.” So they threw her down.
Some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her. Then Jehu went in and ate and drank.
He said “See to that cursed woman and bury her, for she is a king’s daughter.” But when they came to bury her, they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and palms of her hands.’
Jezebel died as a queen should die: magnificent and defiant, hurling insults at her murderers to the last moment of her life. Jehu let marauding dogs eat her flesh, so that there was nothing left to bury. (Read about these savage dogs at Dogs in the Bible.)
Then he murdered every one of the male children of her family, about seventy in all, ordering that their severed heads be sent to him in baskets (2 Kings 10).
For more on this, see Bible Top Ten Murders
See the new material on Jezebel at Bible Bad Women
Jezebel - Bible Woman - Women of the Old
Testament; Bible Study Resource