women, it seems, come in two Biblical flavors: the sensual seductress
(Delilah, Salome) or the woman behind the throne (see also Athaliah). Jezebel
is of the latter flavor. It is interesting, therefore, that she is being
“re-interpreted” in our time – something that says more about our time than it
1Ki 21:1-6 NASB
Now it came about after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard
which was in Jezreel beside the palace
of Ahab king of Samaria. (2) Ahab spoke to
Naboth, saying, "Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable
garden because it is close beside my house, and I will give you a better
vineyard than it in its place; if you like, I will give you the price of it in
money." (3) But Naboth said to Ahab,
"The LORD forbid me that I should give you the inheritance of my
fathers." (4) So Ahab came into his
house sullen and vexed because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had
spoken to him; for he said, "I will not give you the inheritance of my
fathers." And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and ate no
food. (5) But Jezebel his wife came to him
and said to him, "How is it that your spirit is so sullen that you are not
eating food?" (6) So he said to her,
"Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your
vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you a vineyard in
its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'"
completely understand what is happening here, there are two relevant items of
We are dealing
with the northern kingdom of Israel, which split off from the southern kingdom,
Judah, after the death of Solomon. The kings of Judah were a mixed lot; some
good, some evil. The kings of Israel were much more uniform: they were evil
It seems strange
that the king cannot persuade Naboth. But Naboth was a man who understood the
Law of Moses – he was not allowed to sell the land outside his clan.
Naboth was, evidently, a right wing fundamentalist in a time of liberal
doesn’t take much to see that Ahab provides a series of handles by which his
wife can manipulate him. In particular, we have:
sulking. He didn’t get what he wanted so he went home to pout about it.
Perhaps being king he could get away with it.
is also a lack of courage. To put it simply, he lives in a time where the
king can get his way by telling one of the military types to put a sword
in the man. He was afraid of the consequences.
of all there is wounded pride. I’m the king; I should be able to get my
three will give Jezebel all the maneuvering power she needs.
than anything else we see in Ahab a weak man. He was frightened by Elijah and
managed by his wife. Even the stubborn resistance of a righteous man was
enough to make him feel helpless. This was a man who looked in the mirror each
day in the hopes of seeing someone else.
1Ki 21:7-15 NASB
Jezebel his wife said to him, "Do you now reign over Israel? Arise, eat
bread, and let your heart be joyful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the
Jezreelite." (8) So she wrote letters in
Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal, and sent letters to the elders and
to the nobles who were living with Naboth in his city. (9) Now she wrote in the letters, saying, "Proclaim a fast
and seat Naboth at the head of the people; (10)
and seat two worthless men before him, and let them testify against him,
saying, 'You cursed God and the king.' Then take him out and stone him to
death." (11) So the men of his city, the
elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them, just as it was written in the
letters which she had sent them. (12) They
proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the people. (13) Then the two worthless men came in and sat
before him; and the worthless men testified against him, even against Naboth,
before the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." So they
took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. (14) Then they sent word
to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned and is dead." (15) When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned
and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Arise, take possession of the
vineyard of Naboth, the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for
Naboth is not alive, but dead."
of the factors which feed our fascination with conspiracies, real or imagined,
is that we can picture a situation just like this. Which conspiracy seems to
be a matter of personal politics, but it is because we can picture something
like this happening in our time as well.
Indeed, that is what this was: conspiracy. Let’s look at the rules to this
knows that Ahab won’t ask any questions; he prefers to be “kept out of the
loop.” One suspects she’s done this before.
of that day were expected to be loyal wives at their husband’s side. It’s
a very short jump from “side” to “behind the throne.” She sends the
letters in the king’s name, with his seal.
rule for certain: once the deed is done, Ahab will get along and go
along. His wife has already murdered many of God’s prophets;
it’s not a good idea to rock her boat.
creep of sin
is a subtle woman. She knows how to encourage the creep of sin. For example:
doesn’t just tell the authorities to put a sword in Naboth. No, she
involves the local leadership in deceit. Once they have had Naboth
stoned, none of them would want the secret to come out. Thus, they can be
trusted to keep their mouths shut – and collude with the Queen.
sounds pious to proclaim a fast, then a banquet – so all is done under the
cover of strict righteousness. Those who threw the stones no doubt
thought that they were being righteous people and good citizens.
these Jezebel adds what is normally considered a virtue: patience. She
waits patiently for things to develop. Satan cannot create, only twist.
no doubt had her pride. See if these sound familiar:
can make my husband do anything.” Tell me, what do you think of the
husband of such a wife?
am the real power around here – no one crosses me!” Tell me, what chance
do right and justice have around here?
can make the good guys sweat.” If you can’t be respected you can at least
arrange to be feared.
1Ki 21:16-29 NASB
When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of
Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. (17)
Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, (18) "Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of
Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth where he has
gone down to take possession of it. (19)
"You shall speak to him, saying, 'Thus says the LORD, "Have you
murdered and also taken possession?"' And you shall speak to him, saying,
'Thus says the LORD, "In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of
Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours."'" (20) Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O
my enemy?" And he answered, "I have found you,
because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the LORD. (21) "Behold, I will bring evil upon you, and
will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond
and free in Israel; (22) and I will make your
house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha
the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and because
you have made Israel sin. (23) "Of
Jezebel also has the LORD spoken, saying, 'The dogs will eat Jezebel in the
district of Jezreel.' (24) "The one
belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city, the dogs will eat, and the one who
dies in the field the birds of heaven will eat." (25)
Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of
the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. (26)
He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites
had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel. (27) It came about when Ahab heard these words, that
he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth
and went about despondently. (28) Then the
word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, (29)
"Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled
himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his
views of Jezebel are quite different.
wasn’t all that bad
me to share a book review:
Fortress Press, the publishing house of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has announced the publication of The
Jezebel Letters, which "combines top-notch biblical scholarship with a
fictionalized first-person account of the biblical character." According
to the Fortress press release, the book "transforms the stereotype of the
notorious biblical queen into a more historically based portrayal of a
powerful, literate royal woman."
You may have gotten a bad impression of Jezebel from the
Biblical account, but this book argues that the facts are "she was 'the urbane
and thoughtful Queen of Israel who gives voice to her efforts and those of her
family in guiding Israel through one of its most challenging, and least
Fortress Press, where the truth is what we make her.
see the point, of course. We start with the idea that the traditional
interpretation must be wrong, and therefore we have this serious
misimpression. After all,
was just doing what was natural and normal in her time.
how devoted she was to her husband and family! Don’t you have any
appreciation for family values?
a victim of bad press, and was really a stellar human being. (There are
only two accounts of her life from ancient times, the other being in
Josephus, several hundred years later.) Since she was so wonderful, it
proves once again that you can’t trust the Bible.
course, since she lived in a male-dominated time, you really don’t see her for
what she is. Which is, of course, the liberated woman so beloved of modern liberalism.
The arguments for this boil down to these:
we must take account of realpolitik. She did what she had to in
order that she might survive and her husband’s reign continue. After all,
her chief opponent was a religious nut case (read: right wing
fundamentalist) who lived like a hermit.
there be a right and a wrong for those (women) who are oppressed and
enslaved by the male hierarchy? Such oppression surely excuses any
so-called moral failings.
as we all know, evil is liberating! It sets you free from conventional
morality so that you may rise above it, as she did.
is ever a total loss, it can always be used as a bad example. But the bad
example has to be turned into good advice to be of any use. So I present three
questions for the contemporary woman of the church:
you re-writing history for your own point of view? Do you justify the sin
of yesterday be re-interpreting your memories?
your marriage a push-his-buttons relationship or a partnership? Do you
find yourself saying that “I won” after an argument?
you view the sin of the past as one who is justified by suffering
oppression – and thus convert it from sin unforgiven to a memory showing
how great a martyr you are?