Jezebel, Part 4: Troubled Soul, or Evil Witch?
Jezebel is immediately associated with cruelty and wickedness. But I want to suggest a different way of looking at her life.
There are many ways to interpret the stories in the Bible, and I would like to introduce you to a look at Jezebel supported by some Israeli commentators. Like highly-respected biblical scholars such as Yochi Brandes, who openly express her “love of faith in Jesus as Jew,” I am also trying to look behind the scenes and understand the very human dilemmas the people in the Bible faced, even those consider “evil.”
Jezebel, that women whose very name conjures up cruelty, violence and witchcraft, was also a human being, though a troubled and lost soul.
Scripture tells us that Jezebel brought foreign worship and rituals to her husband Ahab, who was himself described as a “wicked king in Israel.” Consider for a moment that Jezebel, who grew up in Sidon, a port city along the coast of Lebanon, was raised in a culture that worshipped Baal, who was already a well-known god in Israel. In fact, Ahab married Jezebel in order to expand his kingdom and saw her religious views as an advantage to bringing yet another Baal worshipper to Israel and thus challenging the worship of the LORD in Jerusalem.
Was Jezebel wrong to bring her culture and religious practices to Israel, the only culture and religious practices she knew? Could she have acted in any other way without knowledge of the God of Israel? And how could she have known Israel’s God if her husband, the King of Israel, was himself evil and an avid supporter of Baal? (1 Kings 16:30)
Jezebel was seen as an outcast and rejected by the “mainstream” religious groups of her time. In those days, minority religious groups in Israel who did not believe in the conventional way, like today’s Messianic Jews for example, were called heretics, persecuted, and even executed for their faith.
Because of her minority status, could Jezebel have been more permissive in allowing others to worship God as they saw fit? We can’t be sure, but what we do know is that the Bible tells us that Jezebel “cut off the prophets of the LORD,” and yet these prophets appear repeatedly throughout the texts as if nothing happened to them. We know that Obadiah “hid the prophets in a cave” and it does not appear that Jezebel had the prophets of the LORD killed. (I Kings 18:4)
We also know that she was at war with Elijah, who himself had 850 prophets massacred (I Kings 18). As mentioned, those who did not follow the conventional ways, or did not worship God as requested, were executed.
The story of Nabot’s vineyard, where Jezebel killed the kind gardener so that her husband could take his land, is an unquestionably evil and morally unacceptable act revealing the tyranny of kings and the exploitation of the laws for their own corrupt purposes. At the same time, we can wonder as to why Jezebel did it. Did she do this out of love for her husband? Was she afraid for herself and trying to do everything to please and reassure him?
We may never know, but Scripture tells us that Jezebel goes on to live a much longer life than Ahab, and through her sons even continues to have a place of power within the Kingdom of Israel.
Her death, as predicted, was cruel, but took place many years after the sad story of Nabot’s vineyard. Ahab, on the other hand, found his death very early.
How do you think the Bible wants us to look at Jezebel?