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Who Was Jezebel?

The Biblical Character Jezebel


Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth's Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee.
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Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Phoenicians, and one of the wives of Ahab, King of North Israel. Her story is recounted in 1 Kings and 2 Kings, where she is described as a worshiper of the god Baal and the goddess Asherah, and as an enemy of God's prophets.

Jezebel and God's Prophets

1 Kings 18:4 describes Jezebel as an enemy of God who was "killing off the Lord's prophets." In response, the prophet Elijah accused King Ahab of abandoning the Lord and challenged Jezebel's 450 prophets of Baal and 450 prophets of Asherah to a contest. They were to meet him on the top of Mt. Carmel. Then Jezebel's prophets would slaughter a bull, but not set fire to it, as required for an animal sacrifice. Elijah would do that same on another altar. Whichever god caused the bull to catch fire would then be proclaimed the true god. Jezebel's prophets beseeched their gods to ignite their bull, but nothing happened. When it was Elijah's turn, he soaked his bull in water, prayed, and "then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice." (1 Kings 18:38). Upon seeing this miracle the people who were watching prostrated themselves and believed that Elijah's god was the true God. Elijah then commanded the people to kill Jezebel's prophets, which they did. When Jezebel learns of this she declares Elijah an enemy and promises to kill him just as he killed her prophets.

Jezebel and Naboth's Vineyard

Although Jezebel is one of many wives, 1 Kings and 2 Kings make it apparent that she wielded a considerable amount of power. The earliest example of her influence occurs in 1 Kings 21, when her husband wanted a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. Naboth refused to give his land to the king because it had been in his family for generations. In response, Ahab became sullen and upset. When Jezebel noticed her husband's mood, she inquired after its cause and decided to get the vineyard for Ahab. She did so by writing letters in the king's name commanding the elders of Naboth's city to accuse him of cursing both God and his King. The elders obliged and Naboth was convicted of treason, then stoned. Upon his death his property reverted to the king, so in the end Ahab got the vineyard he wanted.

At God's command, the prophet Elijah then appeared before Ahab and Jezebel. He proclaimed that because of their actions "This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood - yes, yours!" (1 Kings 21:17). He further prophesies that Ahab's male descendants will die, his dynasty will end and that dogs will "devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel." (1 Kings 21:23).

Jezebel's Death

Elijah's prophesy at the end of the vineyard story (above) comes true when Ahab dies in Samaria and his son, Ahaziah, dies within two years of ascending the throne. He is killed by Jehu, who emerges as another contender for the throne when the prophet Elisha declares him King. Here again Jezebel's influence becomes apparent. Though Jehu has killed the king, he has to kill Jezebel in order to assume power.

According to 2 Kings 9:30-34, Jezebel and Jehu meet soon after the death of her son Ahaziah. When she learns of his demise, she puts on make-up, does her hair, and looks out a palace window only to see Jehu enter the city. She calls to him and he responds by asking her servants if they are on his side. "Who is on my side? Who?" he asks, "Thrown her down!" (2 Kings 9:32). Jezebel's eunuchs then betray her by throwing her out the window. She dies when she hits the street and is trampled by horses. After taking a break to eat and drink, Jehu commands that she be buried "for she was a king's daughter" (2 Kings 9:34), but by the time his men go to bury her dogs have eaten all but her skull, feet and hands.

In modern times the name "Jezebel" is often associated with a wanton or evil woman. According to some scholars, she has received such a negative reputation not only because she was a foreign princess who worshiped foreign gods, but because she wielded so much power as a woman.

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