31 Days of Women from Scripture
Lessons from Jezebel & Athaliah
Jezebel. What does that name bring to mind? Beauty and devoted love? Bette Davis and seduction? Evil? Modern day baby name sites list Jezebel, but it makes it nowhere near the top 100. It has, however, grown in popularity in recent times because some hold her up as a strong woman, being the power behind the king. Let’s see what God has to say about her use of strength.
Revelation 2:20 says, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” It is difficult to say whether this woman’s name is Jezebel or if Jesus is using the name to add depth to the description of her activities. The latter would only be accomplished if the name had a certain connotation to it. Let us take a look at the “original” Jezebel and see if there is any similarities to the one in Revelation.
We first read of Jezebel in 1 Kings 16:31-33. It reads, “It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him. So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” King Ahab takes a wife. God’s opinion of this pairing is obvious! Ahab’s choice shows no regard for doing the will of the Lord. Not only has he been walking in the same ways as Jeroboam (1 Ki. 12:25-33; 14:6-11), but he chooses Jezebel the daughter of the Sidonian king as wife. We do not yet know anything personal about Jezebel, but God immediately connects her with being worse than the ways of Jeroboam and implies that Ahab’s idolatry is connected to his marriage.
The name Jezebel means “Baal exalts” or “Baal is husband to”. Sidon was one of the northern nations, in Lebanon, who Israel had conflict with many times (Josh. 13:2-7; Judg. 10:12; Ezek. 32:32). Ahab was not the first king to marry a princess of Sidon and that she be connected to idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-11). Something is different in this instance; something is even more despicable. The next time we hear her name we begin to see what made the difference.
In 1 Kings 18:3-4 we learn that sometime before this she had destroyed the prophets of the Lord. Obadiah, head servant over Ahab’s household who feared the Lord, managed to secretly save 100 of these prophets. Elijah intends to challenge Ahab, Jezebel, and their idol worshiping prophets. He sends Obadiah with a message for 450 Baal prophets and 400 Asherah prophets to meet Elijah at Mount Carmel. Elijah knows where these prophets can be found – they eat at Jezebel’s table (1 Ki. 18:19). Jezebel has actively sought to kill the prophets of the Lord and she gives sustenance to the prophets of Baal and Asherah.
When Ahab told Jezebel that Elijah had killed all 450 prophets of Baal, Jezebel sends a message to Elijah. “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time” (1 Ki. 19:2). Elijah killed her prophets so she is going to kill him. Elijah had no question that she meant it, with God’s help he fled to Horeb (1 Ki. 19:3-8).
1 Kings 21:5-16 gives us our next look at Jezebel’s ways. Next door to the palace in Samaria, a man named Naboth owned a vineyard. Ahab approaches Naboth to purchase the vineyard. Naboth refuses. Ahab goes home “sullen and vexed”. He lays down on his bed and refuses food (aka Ahab pouted and threw a fit). Jezebel comes and finds out what is troubling her husband. She reminds him that he is king, to get up, eat, and be happy. SHE is going to get the vineyard for Ahab. Jezebel instructs the elders and nobles who lived in the same city as Naboth to organize a feast, setup false witnesses against Naboth and have him stoned to death. When it is done, Jezebel tells Ahab he can now go take possession of the vineyard because Naboth is dead.
Ahab finds out that even though he did not kill Naboth himself, he is just as guilty as Jezebel. Ahab’s entire house will be destroyed just like Jeroboam’s (1 Ki. 21:20-24). This shows us how God views things. The idea of “my hands are not dirty so I am not to blame” is not a valid one (Matt. 27:19-26). Knowing someone is going to do evil and doing nothing to stop it is the same as doing it yourself (Rom. 1:28-32).
1 Kings 21:25-26 lets us know what part Jezebel played in all of Ahab’s evil deeds: “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife incited him.” NOW we know why God said it was so much worse that Ahab added marrying her to his transgressions.
Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, comes to power. The legacy of his parents lives on in him (1 Ki. 22:51-53). When Ahaziah dies, his brother Jehoram (also called Joram) becomes king. He too is evil, but “not like his father and mother” (2 Ki. 3:1-3).
Another Jehoram became king of Judah and he walked in the way of the kings of Israel “just as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab became his wife” (2 Ki. 16-18). Here we are introduced to Athaliah. Jezebel’s legacy lives on in each of her children!
Athaliah spreads the influence to Judah by encouraging her husband in the same way that Jezebel did Ahab. Her husband dies and their son, Ahaziah becomes king. 2 Kings 8:26-27 gives us her name and her lineage of evil from Ahab’s side – “his mother’s name was Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri king of Israel.” Omri had been evil (1 Ki. 16:25-28) but Ahab had surpassed him thanks to Jezebel’s influence. We know Athaliah taught the same to her sons because in 2 Chronicles 24:7 it says, “For the sons of the wicked Athaliah had broken into the house of God and even used the holy things of the house of the Lord for the Baals.” This is the family legacy!
God sends Jehu to deal with Ahab’s house as was told to Ahab. Jehu meets Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah in Naboth’s vineyard (2 Ki. 9:21-26) and Jehu kills Joram and avenges Naboth’s blood. Jehu pursues Ahaziah and kills him as well (2 Ki. 9:27-28). Jezebel learns of Jehu’s coming to Jezreel and likely of the deaths of her son and son-in-law. Her response? She puts on her makeup and fixes her hair! She arrogantly compares Jehu to Zimri (1 Ki. 16:8-20) who was a servant who killed the king to become king. Jehu asks the officials standing by Jezebel if any are on Jehu’s side – then asks that they throw her down from the window. Jehu goes and eats a meal, then orders that she “this cursed woman” be buried because she was a king’s daughter. Elijah’s prophecy is fulfilled though because when they go to bury her there is nothing left; the dogs had already gotten to her (2 Ki. 9:33-37). But let’s see what became of Athaliah.
Once Athaliah realized that her son, Ahaziah is dead (2 Ki. 9:27-28), she immediately kills all of his children (2 Ki. 11:1). Only one son, Joash, is saved by Jehosheba, daughter of Athaliah and sister to Ahaziah (2 Ki. 11:2). Joash is hidden with his nurse in the house of the Lord for six years while his grandmother reigns as queen (2 Ki. 11:3). A plan is made to make Joash king (2 Ki. 11:4-12). Athaliah cries “treason”, but there is no help for her. Jehoiada the priest led the people in tearing down the house of Baal, all the items for idol worship, and they killed the priest of Baal. How did the people feel about Athaliah’s death? “So all the people of the land rejoiced and the city was quiet. For they had put Athaliah to death with the sword at the king’s house” (2 Ki. 11:20). How evil must she have been to be the ONLY royal to die and it be said the people rejoiced over it?
That is all that is said about Jezebel and Athaliah – but really, what else do we NEED to know? Mark 7:20-23 says, “And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.'” Look at how Jezebel and Athaliah match up to this list! They were guilty of all of them! God teaches us both the right way to be AND He shows us how NOT to be!
Was Jezebel a doting wife? Yes she was. She showed care for Ahab. But she also lorded over him when she thought he was being weak. She wanted to give him what she thought was owed him because he was king – and went so far as to murder to get it. We need to be loving, dutiful wives – but Jezebel’s path of sin is not one we should follow to be such. Jezebel was a strong woman. She is an example of a woman being the power behind the man. There is nothing in the way she exerted her strength or power that is for us to imitate. She is condemned for every action that she took in that regard. She is NEVER held up as a woman of strength. She is held up as one who never brought peace because of “the harlotries…and her witchcrafts” being so many (2 Ki. 9:22)! “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Is. 5:20)!
Was Jezebel a good mother? No! She was good at teaching them and influencing their lives, for sure. But she did not give them good things. Athaliah took Jezebel’s influence and stepped further to evil by doing her best to kill any possible heirs, her grandchildren, so she could be queen. As mothers a HUGE lesson we can take from Jezebel and Athaliah is to NEVER underestimate your influence with your children! How much focus you put upon serving the Lord and the way you treat others WILL teach your children how to do those things. Where your focus is, that is where theirs will be also. There are children who will be exceptions – but they are exceptions that prove the rule. The way you lead, the way you submit, the way you love (or do not love), all will be seen and imitated by your children. Train your children, but do not practice the “do as I say and not as I do” philosophy. Instead, “Take note, and see what you should do” (1 Ki. 20:22). Live your life in such a way that you are teaching good things to your children. Preserve your own soul (Phil. 2:12-13) by living God’s word (Rom. 12:1-2) and teach your children as you “continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (1 Tim. 2:15).
What legacy will be remembered because of you and your actions? Doing the right thing at the right time like Esther? Being so vile that other evil people are compared to you, like Jezebel? Or being cut throat enough to kill your own grandchildren to elevate yourself like Athaliah? These women show how others responded to their behavior. How do others respond to you? What do they think of you? What type of behavior do you encourage in others by your example?
Be a woman of strength like Esther and Deborah. They were strong women behind men, but they did so without taking anything away from those men. Pay attention and make the most of the opportunities that you have to be improved by the refining that comes from God’s word (Ps. 66:10) and let that be YOUR strength (Ex. 15:2; Ps. 105:4; Prov. 31:25).