The Bible describes a number of women whose names have become associated with fear and loathing. Delilah who seduced Samson and reduced him to a weakling. The evil Queen Atalia. But perhaps most of all – Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, the foreign woman from the pagan city of Tyre in Lebanon, and the arch-nemesis of Elijah the Prophet.
Who was this dangerous woman whose name became synonymous with corruption, witchcraft, ungodliness and manipulative behavior?
Jezebel was the daughter of Etbaal, a Lebanese king. A lady of talent and poise, she is one of the only women in the Bible described as authoring official documents. Ahab, King of Israel, married her to strengthen the alliance between Israel and Tyre. This was an important alliance which enabled Ahab to overcome the superior Assyrian army that threatened to take over the region.
The Bible describes Ahab as a wicked, but also brave, king. Not the kind of king you would expect to be easily swayed by his wife. Yet Jezebel was able to officially license the pagan worship of Baal in Israel, promoting the wicked idolatry to center stage in the nation. Elijah, and the other prophets of God, were in constant struggle with Jezebel.
Another terrible act of Jezebel was the murder of Naboth the Jezreelite, and a rich landowner. King Ahab craved his vineyard, but Naboth refused to sell, and the king sat at home depressed and fuming.
“And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.” (I Kings 21: 4)
Worried, Jezebel asked him what was going on. When he told her, she arranged for Naboth to be falsely accused of blaspheming the God of Israel, and to be put to death by the people. His land was then legally transferred to Ahab.
Jezebel could have been remembered somewhat differently if she had dissuaded Ahab from coveting Naboth’s vineyard. She could have told him, “Enough already. You have plenty of possessions!”
Reading about Naboth’s vineyard, we can understand more about the relationship between Jezebel and Ahab, and each one’s character. Some say that in life, everything starts and ends with relationships – with ourselves and others. Relationships tell the story of people and their behavior in the world.
This couple appears to have experienced marriage as a legal agreement based on geopolitical interests, not as friendship or emotional partnership. We all know of couples like this. Each of you can think of an example, whether from the world of politics, or movies, or even people you know.
At first glance, the couple seems exemplary – two strong, talented people with a seemingly wonderful relationship. Later it turns out that their relationship is nothing more than a cold, cynical economic arrangement. Any loyalty between them is saturated with selfish interests. Such relationships end up causing destruction, instead of what relationships should bring – security and cooperation.
When Jezebel secured the vineyard for her husband, it may seem like an example of loyal friendship. But true loyalty means confronting our friends, spouses, or family with clear boundaries when they are acting illegally or immorally. In the end, no one benefits.