Her name means: "Where Is the Prince?"
Her character: A religious woman, she spread idolatry throughout Israel. Powerful, cunning, and arrogant, she actively opposed God, even in the face of indisputable proofs of his sovereignty.
Her triumph: To have enhanced her own power at the expense of others.
Her tragedy: Her arrogance led to a shameless death.
Key Scriptures: 1 Kings 16:29-33; 18:1-19:2; 21:1-25; 2 Kings 9
Jezebel was a Phoenician princess, daughter of the priest-king of Sidon. Married to King Ahab, she reigned as queen in northern Israel one hundred years after David's death and sixty years after Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms just after Solomon's death.
A woman of great conviction and unwavering devotion, Jezebel's ardent worship was directed not to the God of Israel but to the pagan fertility god Baal, thought to control the rain and hence the harvest. So determined was she to convert Israel to her own religion that she hunted down and killed all the prophets she could lay hands on, replacing them with 850 of her own.
Despite Jezebel's efforts, one prophet had escaped her, and he was the most annoying of all. His name was Elijah, which meant "My God Is Yahweh." By contrast, Jezebel meant "Where Is the Prince (Baal)?" or "The Prince (Baal) Exists." Inevitably, the two squared off.
By pushing Baal worship, Jezebel was spreading idolatry across Israel, but her brand of worship wasn't producing the desired results for the fields remained barren. The fertility gods, it seemed, had gone AWOL, or else they were impotent.
Elijah, meanwhile, warned King Ahab: "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word."
After three-and-a-half years of drought and famine, Elijah challenged the king to assemble the prophets of Baal and Asherah to compete in a lopsided contest—850 to 1. Two bulls were prepared for sacrifice, but the fire for sacrifice was not lit. Instead, the true God would prove himself by sending fire from heaven.
From morning until noon Baal's prophets danced and shouted, "O Baal, answer us!" But the god of the storm was silent.
Relishing the spectacle, Elijah couldn't resist a few well-aimed taunts: "Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." Elijah's sarcasm spurred the prophets of Baal to more frenzied efforts, but that day Baal, the god of fire, couldn't even light a match.
Then Elijah's turn came. To dramatize the difficulty of his task, he drenched the sacrifice with water not once but three times, praying: "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command."
Immediately, fire burned up the sacrifice. Rallying the people, Elijah then slaughtered Jezebel's 850 prophets.
Enraged at the news, the queen sent a messenger to Elijah, vowing to kill him. But he fled south, beyond her grasp.
Still, Jezebel kept busy, managing to find other targets for her schemes. One day she discovered her husband, Ahab, in a childish rage. Pouting, Ahab confided his troubles to her. Naboth, his near neighbor, had a lovely vineyard that the king desired. It would make such a nice vegetable garden. Yet his stingy subject refused to sell it.
"Is this how you act as king over Israel?" Jezebel challenged. "Get up and eat! Cheer up. I'll get you the vineyard."
Jezebel wrote a letter in Ahab's name and sent it to the elders of the town instructing them to produce witnesses to testify falsely that Naboth had cursed both God and the king, offenses punishable by death.
Ahab felt better when he heard the news that Naboth had been stoned to death as a traitor. Now his table would be laden with delicious vegetables straight from the garden. But then who should show up but Elijah, interrupting the king's leisurely stroll through his new garden.
"So you have found me, my enemy," the king greeted him.
"I have found you," Elijah replied, "because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. And also, concerning Jezebel, the Lord says: 'Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.' "
Elijah's words came true. Ahab eventually died in battle, the dogs licking the blood from his chariot. Jezebel, however, survived him by at least ten years. Then one day, a man called Jehu came riding into Jezreel to carry out the last half of Elijah's prophecy.
Tough as nails, Jezebel stood proudly at the window of her palace. Never one to back away from a challenge, Jezebel seized the initiative, shouting at Jehu: "Have you come in peace, Zimri (the name of a traitor), you murderer of your master?"
But Jehu simply ignored her, challenging those who stood near her. "Who is on my side? Throw her down!" Quickly, Jezebel's servants shoved her through the window. The palace walls were splattered a bloody red as horses trampled her body and the palace dogs finished the job. A powerful figure while she lived, hardly anything of her remained just shortly after her death.
Paired with Israel's worst king, Jezebel was the nation's worst queen and one of the Bible's most infamous women. How different her story would have been had she harnessed her power, her drive, and her devotion. A strong character, Jezebel could have been a female apostle Paul, whose misguided zeal was redirected toward the kingdom of God. Instead, unlike many biblical figures who are depicted with a mixture of good and bad traits, she stands out as someone purely evil, whose moral character is one-dimensional. Totally devoted to her gods, she reflected their image completely. Despite obvious miracles and repeated warnings, she was a woman who chose to harden her heart and suffer the consequences.
Jezebel's end (2 Kings 9:33-37) is exactly what Elijah had earlier prophesied for her (1 Kings 21:23). No doubt judgment for her wicked life was swift and sure. It's hard to reconcile this aspect of our God with our image of him as loving and compassionate, yet he is a God who hates evil and will surely punish it. If, however, we come to him for forgiveness and reconciliation, he is also a God who loves to show mercy.
This devotional is drawn from Women of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Women in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda. Used with permission.
Jezebel reigned as queen in northern Israel one hundred years after David's death and sixty years after Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms.