Jezebel – it’s a name laced with dark and heavy undertones. We don’t name our daughters Jezebel, and, if we do use the name in a sentence, it’s usually used as a derogatory term. I have to admit, though, Jezebel is one of those Bible characters who has always confused me. First of all, she seems disproportionately well-known for the amount of screen time she gets in the Bible. She gets about twenty verses in the entire Bible, not all together, and roughly half of those twenty (ish) verses cover her death. She’s a bit part, yet I bet you could tell me more about Jezebel than, say, King Asa, who gets a few chapters to himself. The other thing is this: her behavior just doesn’t seem to make sense.
A Quick Overview of Jezebel
Let’s take a look at the events of her life (not including her death).
- I Kings 16:31 – King Ahab of Israel finds a nice girl named Jezebel and marries her. She influences his idolatry. So far so good.
- I Kings 18:4 – Jezebel is slaughtering prophets. Okay, lady, I get that you like Baal, but why the murder of God’s prophets? Seems a tad extreme.
- I Kings 19:1-2 – Jezebel learns that Elijah called fire from heaven, defeated the prophets of Baal, had all of the false prophets killed, and restored rain to the kingdom. The logical response? Decree Elijah’s death. I’d think most would back down at this point, but okay.
- I King’s 21:5-16 – Jezebel learns a guy named Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to Ahab. She launches an overly convoluted plot (the likes of which would make Yzma proud) to ensure Naboth’s death, and she delivers the vineyard to Ahab. Really, read those verses; this plot is complicated.
The more we see of her, the stranger Jezebel seems. Take the final story as an example. She learns of Ahab’s disappointment, and it makes sense that she’d want to get rid of Naboth to get the vineyard. She’s queen, though. She could have sent mercenaries to take care of him. She could have found an excuse to force him from the land. Instead, she writes letters using Ahab’s seal and invites some elders and nobles to honor Naboth at a ceremonial fast. Then, they are to seat some false witnesses by Naboth who will claim the man somehow blasphemed God and the king. (Think about the irony of that for a moment.) The result: Naboth is stoned, and Ahab gets the vineyard.
Jezebel’s Primary Motivator
I stated earlier I have a hard time understanding Jezebel, but her motivations are actually pretty clear in light of the events surrounding Naboth’s vineyard. Jezebel, like so many of us, is solely concerned with what’s best for herself and only herself. Think about it. Of course she wants God’s prophets eliminated; they make her look bad. Of course she wants Elijah murdered after the events of Mount Carmel; his success was a personal affront to her. And Naboth? Jezebel doesn’t want her husband to look weak, for that reflects poorly on her. On the other hand, she doesn’t want to get her own hands dirty, so she launches a complicated plot where, should anything go wrong, any and all blame would fall on Ahab, allowing her to escape consequences unscathed.
She doesn’t do what she does out of love for Ahab, for her country (another motivator often leading to sinful attitudes and activities), or for her gods. Her actions are governed entirely by a love of self and a desire to put self before anything else. Seen in that light, Jezebel’s actions click into a logical pattern.
Sacrificing Self for Christ
We’re most likely familiar with Matthew 16:24-27:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
During the time of Christ, this image of bearing one’s cross would not have elicited thoughts of illness or frustrations. No one would have equated a cross with a difficult child, parent, boss, or teacher. They would not have even seen the cross as a lifetime ailment or disability. To bear a cross was to be walking toward one’s own death. This is not a passage about enduring hardships. It is about self-sacrifice. It is about crucifying self to put God first in our lives.
We live in a world of personal cars, home theater systems, self-serve gas stations, personal shoppers, personal assistants, individual rights, and personal freedoms. We grow offended when we are asked to sacrifice anything, whether that sacrifice be sharing food, helping pay for someone else’s needs, or simply being told we can’t have our way. At times, we are as self-centered as Jezebel, but a Christian should never behave so.
If we are walking in a Christ-like attitude, we put self last. We put others’ needs and interests before our own. We look after their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. We put our self-defined rights in the background and prefer others. We submit our will to God’s, and we humble ourselves in His presence. Think on Christ, on Paul, on Peter, on Stephen – to what extent did these heroes of faith devalue self to glorify God? In God’s eyes who would you rather be, a Stephen or a Jezebel? It all depends on where you place self.