In the last post, Israel’s decline into Baal worship accelerated at Jezebel’s behest. What was the attraction that kept luring Israel into idolatry?
It’s about weather
For one thing, Baal was associated with weather, and his consort, Asherah, with fertility. Since rain was essential for survival, keeping in Baal’s good graces was imperative to staving off drought and famine.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “The worship of Baal in Syria-Palestine was inextricably bound to the economy of the land which depends on the regularity and adequacy of the rains. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, which depend on irrigation, the Promised Land drinks water from the rain of heaven (Deut. 11:10–11). During the summer months the rains cease, but the temporary drought is no threat unless it is abnormally prolonged. Figs and grapes ripen during the dry season and the grain harvest also takes place before the rains resume. In a normal good year, when the rains come in due season, there is no hiatus in productivity, for the land yields its increase, the trees produce their fruit, the threshing overlaps, the vintage overlaps the sowing, and there is food aplenty, prosperity, and peace (Lev. 26:4–6). But not all years are good, and in a bad year, or a series of bad years, when the rains fail, the skies become like iron, the land like brass, and man’s toil is futile for the earth will not yield its increase (Lev. 26:19–20). A series of bad years, which were apparently believed to come in seven-year cycles (cf. Gen. 41; II Sam. 1:21), would be catastrophic. Thus in any year anxiety about the rainfall would be a continuing concern of the inhabitants which would suffice to give rise to rites to ensure the coming of the rains. Thus the basis of the Baal cult was the utter dependence of life on the rains which were regarded as Baal’s bounty.”
Whatever it takes
Slavish adherents participated in fertility rites (temple prostitution), and offered human sacrifices in hopes of blessings. “Corrupt, sensual practices involved in the worship of Baal were observed throughout the country, as Jezebel demanded that her god be considered equal to Israel’s God. Her insistence on the equality of Baal with God brought her into direct conflict with Elijah, the prophet of God” (The Woman’s Study Bible, topic “Jezebel”).
Who is the God of rain?
Clearly the Lord God of Israel had had enough (1 Kings 16:33). He answered the effrontery of this vile couple in no uncertain terms. First, He sent Elijah to Ahab with an ominous message: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Jezebel responded by ordering the massacre of the prophets of the Lord (18:4).
In a second meeting with Ahab, Elijah (by God’s instruction) issued a challenge: Gather the children of Israel, the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table (18:18-19), and let’s see whose God/god is God. The rest of the chapter chronicles dramatic events confirming the power of YHWH. Israel, convinced by His miracles, proclaimed,“the Lord, He is God!” (v 39), and Elijah summarily dispatched the odious prophets of Baal (v 40). In His mercy, the true God of rain ended the distress of a three-year drought.
The queen was not amused
Frustrated and incensed by the humiliating failure of her priests, Jezebel continued on a murderous course. She threatened Elijah’s life (to no avail), and schemed to take Naboth’s vineyard for her husband, a plot that ended in the murder of an innocent man (1 Kings 21:1-15). The latter spelled the demise of both Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah’s ensuing message to Ahab was grim: “Thus says the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours” (v 19). Three years later he was dead, just as Elijah had foretold.
So ended the life of a wicked man, one of whom the Bible records, “But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up” (v 25).
Like father…and mother
Ahab’s son Ahaziah assumed the throne, and stubbornly continued in the way of his parents, serving Baal and provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger (1 Kings 22:52-53). Two years later he suffered injuries when he fell from an upper room. Instead of turning to YHWH, he called on Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to come to his aid. The Lord charged Elijah once more with a message: Because of his idolatry, Ahaziah would fail to recover and die (2 Kings 1:15-17).
Soon after, Jezebel’s vile atrocities ended when some of her servants threw her out a window to her death. Ravenous dogs consumed her body leaving only her skull, feet, and the palms of her hands—a violent end for a violent woman (2 Kings 9:30-37). There are no indications that she ever flagged in her devotion to her impotent god.
A woman of infamy
Jezebel is mentioned once more, this time in the book of Revelation: “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:20-23).
Opinions vary about this figure: She was a literal person of the time; she personified false prophets who troubled the current church and used the same tactics as Jezebel of old; and there are questions of prophetic ramifications. If nothing else, this is one more testimony of God’s uncompromising condemnation of idolatry and all its trappings. It also illustrates how long an infamous example can last.
Jezebel through several lenses
Jezebel holds a certain fascination for Bible students and scholars. Some even champion her as courageous as she stubbornly pushes her agenda and when she meets her death. For most, though, she represents the embodiment of evil. Her name lives on today and has its own entry in most dictionaries as an offensive term for a women regarded as sexually immoral or manipulative (Encarta Dictionary online) or any woman regarded as shameless, wicked, etc. (New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd college edition).
What a sorry legacy.