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JEZEBEL [ISABEL] (אִיזֶ֗בֶל, LXX and New Testament ̓Ιεζαβήλ). The name probably means chaste as does the common European name Agnes—quite inappropriate. Her story extends from 1 Kings 16 to 2 Kings 11.

Jezebel’s family origin

This remarkable evil woman was derived from a Phoenician clan which she truly represented. This family happens to constitute one of the earliest confluences of Biblical history with the written classical history of Greece—if one may suppose that such were Josephus’ sources. Though called “king of the Zidonians,” Ethbaal (1 Kings 16:31) her father was king of all Phoenicia. By assassination of his predecessor he had established his reign at the age of thirty-six. His reign lasted thirty-two years. His dynasty included a great-grandson, Pygmalion, who, at the time of his death ninety-four years after Ethbaal’s accession, brought the reign of the dynasty to an end.

Marriage (1 Kings 16:31)

Although marriage of Hebrews with the Canaanite peoples of the Levant was strictly forbidden by Mosaic law it was precisely her unlawful conjugal union with Ahab (q.v.) which rescued her name from the oblivion of most other ancients and secured for her a perpetual infamy wherever the Holy Scriptures are known.

Her anti-Jehovah acts

Scripture traces her husband’s apostasy directly to her influence (1 Kings 6:30-34). His evils, said to be more than any of his predecessors’ in office, are laid at her door. These were chiefly giving himself to Baal worship, with all its vile accompaniments, establishing a Baal cult center at Samaria, the national capital, and thereby leading the whole nation into apostasy. At her instigation (Ahab consenting) a systematic pogram aimed at extermination of all leadership of Jehovah worship in Israel was begun. Evidently the Lord’s prophets were slaughtered by the hundreds (1 Kings 18:1-4). At the same time Baal prophets were given national prominence, a number even being housed and fed in precincts of the royal palace (1 Kings 18:17-19).

Contest with Elijah (1 Kings 18; 19)

It was in this climate of national tension that the prophet Elijah (q.v.) appeared as single public advocate of the ancestral faith. The striking events of Elijah’s career—the prophesied drought (2 Kings 17:1ff.), his period of hiding and divine sustenance (17:2-24), the contest with the 850 prophets of Baal and his consort (18:1-40), breaking of the drought (18:41-46) and the flight to Sinai are all features of Elijah’s personal contest with Jezebel.

Murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21:5-15 cf. 2 Kings 9:26)

This incident which displays the worst side of Ahab’s weak character shows his wife as a true daughter of a pagan court—intrigue, treason, deception, public display of legality and virtue to cover subvert unrighteousness. The scrupulosity of apparent observance of legal (Mosaic law, for it was still official constitution) details, while perpetrating murder and theft, is a lesson in betrayal of public trust by official persons.

Prophecy of her violent death and extinction of her family (1 Kings 21:17-24)

For fulfillment of this horrible prognostication read 1 Kings 22:29-40 (Ahab’s end) and 2 Kings 9:1-37 (Jezebel and her posterity). [See also Jehoshaphat; Jehoram Joram; Ahaziah and Athaliah.]

Her permanent baleful influences

Immediately, the Scripture states, she corrupted her husband (1 Kings 21:25, 26) and through him the kingdom of Israel. Through her offspring, married to the leading scion of the house of David (viz. Jehoshaphat; Ahaziah; Athaliah), she came near to bringing the house of David to extinction (viz. also 2 Kings 8:25-27; 11:1-3; 2 Chron 21:5-7; 22:10-23:21).

Additional Material

Source 1

JEZEBEL (jĕz'ă-bĕl, Heb. ’îzevel, meaning uncertain, perhaps unexalted, unhusbanded)

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. Persecution of Yahweh’s Prophets:

This is not described; it is only referred to in 1Ki 18:4, "when Jezebel cut off the prophets of Yahweh"; and this shows the history of the time to be incompletely related. In 1Ki 18:19 we are further told that "450 prophets of Baal ate at her table" (commentators regard the reference to "400 prophets of the Asherah" as an addition). In 1Ki 19:1 Ahab tells Jezebel of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal by Elijah, and then Jezebel (19:2) sends a messenger to Elijah to threaten his life. This leads to the prophet’s flight, an object which Jezebel had in view, perhaps, for she would hardly dare to murder Elijah himself. 2Ki 9:7 regards the massacre of Ahab’s family as a punishment for the persecution of the prophets by Jezebel

2. Jezebel’s Plot Against Naboth (1Ki 21):

Ahab expresses a desire to possess the vineyard neighboring upon his palace in Jezreel, owned by Naboth, who refuses to part with the family inheritance though offered either its money value or a better vineyard in exchange. Ahab is depressed at this, and Jezebel, upon finding the cause of his melancholy feelings, asks him sarcastically if he is not king, suggesting that as king his wishes should be immediately granted by his subjects. She thereupon plots to secure him Naboth’s vineyard. Jezebel sends letters sealed in Ahab’s name to the elders of Naboth’s township, and bids them arrange a public fast and make Naboth "sit at the head of the people" (Revised Version margin), a phrase taken by some to mean that he is to be arraigned, while it is explained by others as meaning that Naboth is to be given the chief place. Two witnesses--a sufficient number for that purpose--are to be brought to accuse Naboth of blasphemy and treason. This is done, and Naboth is found guilty, and stoned to death. The property is confiscated, and falls to the king (1Ki 21:1-16). Elijah hears of this, and is sent to threaten Ahab with Divine vengeance; dogs shall lick his dead body (1Ki 21:19). But in 1Ki 21:20-23 this prophecy is made, not concerning Ahab but against Jezebel, and 21:25 attributes the sins of Ahab to her influence over him.

See Ahab; Jehu.

3. Jezebel’s Character:

The character of Jezebel is seen revived in that of her daughter, Athaliah of Judah (2Ki 11); there is no doubt that Jezebel was a powerful personality. She brought the worship of the Phoenician Baal and Astarte with her into Hebrew life, and indirectly introduced it into Judah as well as into the Northern Kingdom. In judging her connection with this propagation, we should bear in mind that she is not a queen of the 20th century; she must be judged in company with other queens famous in history. Her religious attitude and zeal might profitably be compared with that of Mary, queen of Scots. It must also be remembered that the introduction of any religious change is often resented when it comes from a foreign queen, and is apt to be misunderstood, e.g. the attitude of Greece to the proposal of Queen Olga have an authorized edition of the Bible in modern Greek.

On the other hand, although much may be said that would be favorable to Jezebel from the religious standpoint, the balance is heavy against her when we remember her successful plot against Naboth. It is not perhaps blameworthy in her that she upheld the religion of her native land, although the natural thing would have been to follow that of her adopted land (compare Ru 1:16 f). The superiority of Yahweh-worship was not as clear then as it is to us today. It may also be held that Baal-worship was not unknown in Hebrew life (compare Jud 6:25 f), that Baal of Canaan had become incorporated with Yahweh of Sinai, and that there were pagan elements in the worship of the latter. But against all this it must be clear that the Baal whom Jezebel attempted to introduce was the Phoenician Baal, pure and simple; he was another god, or rather in him was presented an idea of God very different from Yahweh. And further, "in Phoenicia, where wealth and luxury had been enjoyed on a scale unknown to either Israel or the Canaanites of the interior, there was a refinement, if one may so speak, and at the same time a prodigality of vicious indulgences, connected with the worship of Baal and Astarte to which Israel had hitherto been a stranger ..... It was like a cancer eating into the vitals or a head and heart sickness resulting in total decay (Isa 1:6). In Israel, moral deterioration meant political as well as spiritual death. The weal of the nation lay in fidelity to Yahweh alone, and in His pure worship" (HPM, section symbol 213).

The verdict of the Hebrew historian is thus substantiated. Jezebel is an example--an extreme one no doubt--of the bad influence of a highly developed civilization forcing itself with all its sins upon a community less highly civilized, but possessed of nobler moral and religious conceptions. She has parallels both in family and in national life. For a parallel to Elijah’s attitude toward Jezebel compare the words of Carlyle about Knox in On Heroes and Hero-Worship, IV, especially the section, "We blame Knox for his intolerance," etc.

In Re 2:20, we read of Iezabel, "the woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess"; not "thy wife" (i.e. the wife of the bishop) the Revised Version margin, but as Moffat (Expositor’s Greek Testament) aptly renders, "that Jezebel of a woman alleging herself a prophetess." Some members of the church at Thyatira "under the sway of an influential woman refused to separate from the local guilds where moral interests, though not ostensibly defied, were often seriously compromised ..... Her lax principles or tendencies made for a connection with foreign and compromising associations which evidently exerted a dangerous influence upon some weaker Christians in the city." Her followers "prided themselves upon their enlightened liberalism (Re 2:24)." Moffat rejects both the view of Schurer (Theol. Abhandlungen, 39 f), that she is to be identified with the Chaldean Sibyl at Thyatira, and also that of Selwyn making her the wife of the local asiarch. "It was not the cults but the trade guilds that formed the problem at Thyatira." See also Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, section symbol 73, note 7; AHAB; BAAL; ELIJAH.