Sixty years had passed since the rending of the nation of Israel into two quarreling kingdoms. The ten tribes wrestled with the instabilities of a succession of kings, three of whom died by violence, while Judah enjoyed few dynastic changes. Sticking with the Davidic line afforded a sense of continuity. Israel struggled with confusion caused by adulterating their religion with paganism; Judah adhered to the precepts handed down since Abraham and Moses.
Best laid plans
Israel not only had internal turmoil, threats loomed from outside its borders—especially from the Aramean kingdom of Damascus. Omri, Israel’s sixth king, attempted to seal alliances with neighboring Tyre, by arranging a marriage between his son Ahab and Jezebel, the Tyrean king’s daughter (Bright, 238).
The match might have improved things on the commercial and military front, but it also set in motion a religious crisis which threatened dire consequences for the Kingdom of Israel. I Kings 16:31 captures the outrageousness of this action: “And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him.”
The Tanakh renders the passage this way: “Not content to follow the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as wife Jezebel…and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar to Baal in the temple of Baal …Ahab also make a sacred post. Ahab did more to vex the Lord, the God of Israel, than all the kings of Israel who preceded him (vv 31-33).”
Who was this woman Jezebel?
Carol Meyers, general editor of Women in Scripture (2000), shared some interesting observations (see heading “Jezebel 1”):
- Jezebel was a royal princess.
- She was probably well educated and efficient.
- Jezebel was no doubt the chief wife and co-ruler with Ahab.
- She might have acted as her husband’s deputy for internal affairs.
- She had her own “table,” that is, “her own economic establishment and budget.”
- She had her own prophets, or possibly controlled a pagan religious establishment.
- She was the enemy of Yahweh’s prophets and had them killed (I Kings 18:13).
- Her handling of the Naboth affair seems to indicate she had legal
knowledge of Israel’s law. For instance, she made sure the necessary two witnesses brought fatal false accusations, thereby convicting an innocent man. (See I Kings 21; Deuteronomy 17:6.)
- She was not shy to take the lead and exert her power.
All sources agree Jezebel was totally immersed in the culture of Baal worship and had a zealot’s zeal to spread it throughout her new kingdom. The united tribes were historically drawn to paganism. Now Jezebel planned to make the cult of Baal the official religion of the court. Israel’s penchant for inclusivism paved the way for her evil efforts.
The Lord God had other plans.