Lessons from the Bad Girls of the Bible - Jezebel
Nestled between the pages of the Bible is an array of characters whose reputation leaves much to be desired but whose lives, in modern times, would be labelled soap opera gold. One such character is the pagan princess, Jezebel, who becomes the wife of King Ahab (ruled c. 874–c. 853 BC), the leader of a people called by God. It was the first time that a king of Israel had allied himself by marriage with a heathen princess and, inevitably, paganism and Judaism collided. Jezebel persuaded Ahab to introduce Baal worship. That meant paying homage to many gods and engaging in ritual sex and temple prostitution. In Israel, the Hebrew God was the sole deity and Baal worship was scorned.
In time, Jezebel emerges as the real power behind the throne. She is recorded in the book of Kings as slaughtering the prophets of God as she strove to “maintain idolatry around her in all its splendour. Some 450 prophets ministered under her care to Baal, besides 400 prophets of the groves, which ate at her table. The idolatry, too, was of the most debased and sensual kind,” Seer Prophetess Matilda L. Gray writes in the book Will The Real Queen Rise Up?
Callous and relentless, Jezebel further stained her already ugly reputation by having her innocent neighbour and his sons killed. A sulking King Ahab told his wife that their neighbour, Naboth, had refused to sell him his exquisite vineyard. Jezebel comforted him, “I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (1 Kgs. 21:7). She got two false witnesses to testify that they heard Naboth blaspheme God and the king so that both he and his sons would be stoned to death (2 Kings 9:26). Mission accomplished. By law, the property reverted to the king because the owner was dead and there were no heirs.
Notably, King Ahab was no saint either, and the Bible says of him in 1 Kings 16: “And Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.”
And just like how Ahab provoked the wrath of God, Jezebel provoked the wrath of a prophet named Elijah, who had a showdown with the priests of Baal to prove who was the real God. Elijah challenged 450 Baal priests to see whose sacrifice would be accepted by way of fire from heaven. The priests called upon the name of Baal in vain. They cut themselves with swords until the blood gushed out, but Baal did not accept their sacrifice.
Elijah, after mocking them that their god was perhaps sleeping, soaked his bullock sacrifice with water then prayed to his God. The Bible states: “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust ...” The people were convinced. Elijah, with help from the Israelites, killed the priests of Baal.
When Jezebel heard that Elijah had killed her priests, seething with anger, she sent a message to him that he was a dead man. In fear of Jezebel, Elijah fled. Jezebel met her end when she was flung from the palace balcony, a decade after the death of King Ahab, and just as Elijah had predicted, her flesh was eaten by dogs.
The name Jezebel has echoed down through the ages and has become synonymous with prostitution and cunning ambition. “She is often represented looking coyly into a mirror, the original selfie-snapping Kim Kardashian,” (Wednesday Martin lithub.com).
Fr Sean C. Major-Campbell, dean of Kingston and rector of Christ Church, Vineyard Town, says there are some time-honoured lessons from the Jezebel story.
“It is important at the outset to observe that reflections on Jezebel have, through the ages, been used in religious contexts to affirm misogyny as her character flaws are misguidedly applied to women universally. However, a closer look at the personality presented in the Bible reveals that her character flaws are gender neutral,” he states.
He notes that those who lead or influence in politics and religion often resemble Jezebel when she abused her authoritative platform in her service of selfish ambitions and an ever-hungry ego. “Those with political muscle should seek only to faithfully serve their constituents with compassion and justice, since by so doing, the community is strengthened and sustained. Those who hold political capital are not to abuse their capacity for reach and influence,” Fr Sean asserts.
Fr Sean says that another important lesson has to do with the handling of authority. “We see how Jezebel used her power to get Naboth killed. One may recall how David used his power to get Uriah killed. Sadly, through the ages, those who held power in politics and religion often used murder as a weapon to get their own way.”
Religious leaders, he says, may learn the importance of maintaining the integrity of the faith. “The Jezebel story is set within a Hebrew context. It calls only for the worship of Yahweh. It was therefore out of place for Baal worship to be accorded the same status as that of Yahweh’s,” he said. “For religious purposes, an important lesson is that worship is to be of the one, true, God,” he adds.
He notes, however, that “mutual respect in plural religious societies demands that we understand that survival of the one should not mean destruction of the other.”
Jezebel was a Phonecian princess. She was a queen. All her life she lived in a royal household and enjoyed the lifestyle of the political elite. In Jamaica we might say ‘she came off good table’. However, with all of this, she was bereft of moral turpitude.
“Jezebel’s death reminds us poignantly that it is possible to live a glamorous life marked by power and prestige and still die in disgrace. May this reflection be a call to all of us to explore what really are our core values and how we serve in love, our common humanity,” Fr Sean concluded.