Jezebel in the Bible

Jezebel is one of the most famous women mentioned in the Bible. Sadly,she was not a righteous woman but one who encouraged idol worship and abuse of power.

This article part of a series about queens in the Bible.

Jezebel Mentioned in the Bible

Jezebel is mentioned by name in these chapters of the Bible:

  • 1 Kings 16, 18, 19, 21
  • 2 Kings 9

Even though her name is mentioned only a few times, she is the main actor in several of the recorded incidents.

In this article I will discuss most of the incidents involving Jezebel. My focus will be on Jezebel and, therefore, I will not attempt to explain all the details of each event.

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Meaning of the Name Jezebel

The name Jezebel is the anglicized version of the Hebrew name “Eizevel” (spelled aleph-yud-zayin-bet-lamed).

According to the commentary Daat Mikra, the name is composed of two Hebrew words: avi-zevel. These words mean “my father rules” or “my father is king.”

Hebrew words based on the 3-letter root zayin-bet-lamed appear only a few times in the entire Bible.

The first time is when Leah gives birth to her sixth son:

Genesis 30
19. And Leah conceived again, and bore Jacob the sixth son.
20. And Leah said, God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will live with me, because I have born him six sons; and she called his name Zebulun.

The phrase “my husband will live with me” is from the Hebrew word “yizbeleini” (yud-zayin-bet-lamed-nun-yud). Leah is expressing the idea that now Jacob will make is main dwelling with her.

She could also be expressing the idea that now Jacob will treat her in a more exalted and honorable way.

Jezebel and Her Husband Ahab

The king of Israel who married Jezebel was Ahab. Ahab became king after his father Omri died.

1 Kings 16

30. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all who were before him.
31. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took for a wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him.
32. And he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.
33. And Ahab made an Asherah; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

The description of King Ahab is not at all flattering. Verses 16:31-33 describe several of his sins. King Ahab

  • followed the ways of Jeroboam
  • married Jezebel
  • worshiped the Baal
  • erected an altar for the Baal
  • built a temple for the Baal
  • made an Asherah-tree (for idol worshiping).

According to Jewish tradition, it was Jezebel who taught Ahab about the worship of the Baal.

Jezebel was the daughter of the a non-Jew, Ethbaal the king of Sidon. The people of Sidon are also known as the Phoenicians.

Why did Ahab marry Jezebel? Probably he wanted to form an alliance by marriage with the Phoenicians who lived north of the Land of Israel.

Even though Jezebel was married to King Ahab, she is never honored with the title “Queen.” On one occasion she is referred to with the title “gevirah” which means “mistress” or “lady.” (See Rashi and Radak on 2 Kings 10:13.)

crown for a queen in the Bible

Jezebel Kills God’s Prophets

Jezebel went beyond merely introducing Ahab to the worship of the Baal. She also engaged in active persecution and murder of God’s prophets.

1 Kings 18

2. And Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. And there was a severe famine in Samaria.
3. And Ahab called Obadiah, who was the governor of his house. And Obadiah feared the Lord greatly;
4. For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by fifties in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.

These verses contrast the actions of Jezebel and Obadiah.

Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, is intent on killing God’s prophets. So much so that to survive they must hide in caves.

At the same time, Obadiah figured out how to save 100 of them. Obadiah is also part of Ahab household. At great risk to himself, he is able to work under Jezebel’s nose and preserve some of the prophets.

Here is part of what Obadiah said to Elijah the prophet when they met:

1 Kings 18

13. Was it not told my lord [Elijah] what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord’s prophets by fifties in a cave, and fed them with bread and water?

Obadiah accuses Jezebel of killing God’s prophets. Should we understand literally that Jezebel committed the murders, or did she order someone else to do it?

Fundamentally it does not matter. The person who orders a murder cannot escape responsibility for the murder.

Elijah later met Ahab and had him gather the people together at Mount Carmel.

1 Kings 18

19. And therefore send, and gather to me all Israel to Mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the Asherah four hundred, who eat at Jezebel’s table.

We learn from this verse that Jezebel was actively supporting the worship of Baal and the Asherah.

So we see that Jezebel was simultaneously fighting against God and supporting the evil idol worship Baal and Asherah.

Jezebel and Naboth’s Vineyard

King Ahab wanted to buy a vineyard that was near his palace.

1 Kings 21

1. And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, near the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.
2. And Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near to my house; and I will give you for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its worth in money.
3. And Naboth said to Ahab, The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you.

Naboth rejected the king’s offer. He based his refusal on the concept of keeps his ancestral lands in his own family.

King Ahab accepted Naboth’s refusal but was not at all happy about it.

1 Kings 21

4. And Ahab came to his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.
5. But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said to him, Why is your spirit so sad, that you eat no bread?
6. And he said to her, Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you another vineyard for it; and he answered, I will not give you my vineyard.
7. And Jezebel his wife said to him, Do you now govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let your heart be merry; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.

Jezebel mocks her husband for refusing to exercise power as the king of Israel. She then promises him that she will get control of the vineyard. It’s as if she says to him: “You are acting from weakness. I am the strong one. I will get the vineyard for you.”

Don’t be fooled. Jezebel does not go to Naboth and propose a better deal to convince him to sell his vineyard.

Rather, Jezebel orders the leaders of Naboth’s town to falsely accuse Naboth of blasphemy. They carry out her orders and Naboth is stoned to death.

As the events are presented in the text, Ahab does not know what Jezebel did. He merely accepts that Naboth is dead and takes control of the vineyard.

Prophecy of Jezebel’s Death

After the murder of Naboth, God sends Elijah to rebuke King Ahab.

1 Kings 21

17. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,
18. Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone down to possess it.
19. And you shall speak to him, saying, Thus said the Lord, Have you killed, and also taken possession? And you shall speak to him, saying, Thus said the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.

Did Ahab kill Naboth? Not directly. Rather it was the leaders of Naboth’s town who committed the murder based on the orders they received from Jezebel.

According to the commentary Daat Mikra, Ahab’s complicity is based on the fact that he permitted Jezebel to use his signet ring to seal and sign letters (see 1 Kings 21:8).

At the same time, Elijah also had a message for Jezebel.

1 Kings 21

23. And of Jezebel also spoke the Lord, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.

The last mentions of Jezebel in the Bible are the fulfillment of this prophecy.

Where Did Jezebel Die?

Elisha the Prophet was given the task of anointing Ahab’s successor, a man named Jehu. Elisha assigned one of this students to do it.

The student was given a message for Jehu. Here is the relevant section of it:

2 Kings 9

7. And you shall strike the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Jezebel.
8. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; and I will cut off from Ahab any who pisses against the wall, and he who is shut up and left in Israel;
9. And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah;
10. And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her…

These verses are a prophecy about the deaths of both Ahab and Jezebel. God is going to exact payment from Ahab and Jezebel for their murders.

Jehu caught up with Jezebel. Here’s what happened:

2 Kings 9

30. And when Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and adorned her head, and looked out from a window.
31. And as Jehu entered the gate, she said, Is it peace, Zimri, who murdered his master?
32. And he lifted up his face to the window, and said, Who is on my side? Who? And there looked out to him two or three eunuchs.
33. And he said, Throw her down. And they threw her down; and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses; and he trampled her under foot.
34. And when he came in, he ate and drank, and said, Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her; for she is a king’s daughter.
35. And they went to bury her; but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands.
36. And they returned, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the territory of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel;
37. And the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the territory of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel.

The prophecy was fulfilled: Jezebel died in Jezreel, her blood splattered on the wall, dogs ate her body, and she was not buried.

Jezebel’s Character

Let’s be clear: Jezebel was an evil woman with few redeeming qualities.

Let’s start with the positive by revisiting a verse that was quoted above.

2 Kings 9

35. And they went to bury her; but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands.

Why did the dogs leave behind these body parts?

According to Jewish tradition this was because she used them in a positive way. She would clap with her hands and dance and sing before newlywed couples. So she was rewarded that those body parts were not touched by the dogs.

On the negative side, Jezebel was responsible for many of the sins of her husband Ahab. Above I quoted part of Elijah’s to rebuke King Ahab. Here is more of it:

1 Kings 21

23. And of Jezebel also spoke the Lord, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.
24. He who dies of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and he who dies in the field shall the birds of the air eat.
25. But there was none like to Ahab, who gave himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife incited.
26. And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.

Note verse 21:25 gives credit to Jezebel for leading Ahab astray.

Jezebel introduced Ahab to idol worship. She is also the person credited with giving financial support to the priests of the idols (see 1 Kings 18:19).

Jezebel plotted and ordered the death of Naboth. She was willing to use the power of the throne for murder and financial gain.

In short, Jezebel was an evil woman and one that no one living today should seek to emulate.

beautiful Painted Jezebel butterfly

Jezebel Butterfly

As I was finishing this article I discovered there is a beautiful butterfly called Delias hyparete or the Painted Jezebel.

The Bible does not reveal if Jezebel the woman was beautiful but it makes it clear her character was not beautiful.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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