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Category Archives: Tribes of Israel

Jael: Perplexing Participant in the Dark Side of History

Map of ancient Palestine/Israel

Map of ancient Palestine/Israel (Photo credit: cod_gabriel)

When the tribes of Israel settled in Canaan, they failed to evict the resident peoples as God had commanded. This failure was a costly mistake. From then on Israel had to deal with the greatest danger posed by the culture of Canaan: idolatry. Inevitably, the religions of Canaan undermined the faith of Israel. In turning away from God, Israel suffered inescapable consequences: the Canaanites oppressed them, nations attacked them, and they fought one another.

Dangerous co-existence

In trying to co-exist with Canaanites, the people of Israel “led dangerous yet simple lives in which warlike pursuits alternated with ordinary peacetime activities.”[1] God sent judges to deliver Israel from their Canaanite enemies, but Israel never returned to God whole-heartedly. Regional judges were unable to unite the people under one authority, so the tribes functioned in a loose confederation. Lacking a central authority, tribes took matters into their own hands. People did what they wanted without the restraining influence of God’s laws (Judges 21:25).

When Deborah ruled in northern Israel, God sent word for Barak to lead an attack on the army of King Jabin and General Sisera. For twenty years Jabin’s kingdom “had harshly oppressed the children of Israel” (Judges 4:3, 6). Because Barak was reluctant to lead the Israelite forces, Deborah prophesied “there will be no glory for you…for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9).

Intervention

From the outset God said He would win the battle. Working through Israel’s forces with the addition of powerful weather, God defeated the Canaanites. Not a man was left in Jabin’s army–except General Sisera. He fled to the tent of Jael, a woman who lived peaceably with the Canaanites. Jael agreed to hide Sisera, and in her tent he slept, exhausted.

 Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him (Sisera) and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died (Judges 4:21).

English: Jael Shows to Barak, Sisera Lying Dea...

English: Jael Shows to Barak, Sisera Lying Dead, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) or followers, gouache on board, 5 1/2 x 9 7/16 in. (14 x 24 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Victor or Villain?

Somewhere in the story Jael switched alliances and “refused to remain neutral in this crucial conflict.”[2] As a tough, pragmatic Bedouin wife, she sided with Israel. As an ally of Israel, the general was her enemy because he was Israel’s enemy. In a lengthy poem describing the battle (Judges 5:24-27), Deborah praised Jael as most blessed among women for striking the blow that killed Sisera.

Not everyone agrees that she should be remembered with honor. Author Herbert Lockyer severely criticizes Jael with the words murder, revolting cruelty, treachery, foul, reprehensible, executioner. He states, “lacking courage, she dare not attack Sisera fairly.”[3] He adds, “Had Sisera attempted to rape Jael, and in defense of her honor she had killed him, that would have been another matter, but to kill him as an assassin kills a victim was something different.”[4] His most troubling phrase suggests condemnation: “she remains forever censurable for the cruel way she killed Sisera.?[5]

In the book Women of the Bible, Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda take a light approach in discussing Jael. They avoid the details of Sisera’s death and emphasize that Jael was decisive, courageous, and she seized the opportunity to slay an enemy of God’s people.[6] The authors focus on Jael’s strong qualities that women can apply today. Women learn from Jael’s decisive courage to stand up against their enemies. Courageous women need to stay close to God “in the midst of the fray.”[7]

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary discusses Jael in the setting of despair and disorder that characterized the times. “Between the days of Joshua and Samuel, Israel plummeted to moral and spiritual disaster.”[8] When the tribes came together to fight a common enemy, they believed that their enemy was God’s enemy. “Wicked, murdering leaders deserved to die” [9] and killing them was a way to glorify God.

Becoming a cautious observer of history

That God allowed Jael to kill the general is undeniable. Some Bible commentators question whether He approved of the way she did it. Did He favor, like, support, agree, accept, commend, esteem, endorse, back up, sanction what she did?It’s a bigger question than a tent peg execution. Hers was not the most horrific event that occurred in the time of the Judges.

Whether God approved of the way Sisera was killed, I wouldn’t want to comment. Can the word approve be applied to anything that is unlike God? At times God accomplishes His purposes through sinful humankind.

Readers may differ on how to think about the story, but scholars agree that the three centuries under the Judges was a dark time in history. Deborah, Barak and Jael figured in one of God’s merciful interventions in Israel’s past. Reading their stories reminds me to be a cautious observer of history.—Mary Hendren

 ***

( For more information concerning this time period see the dark period of the Judges.)

 ***

[1] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 376

[2] Same source, p. 415

[3] Herbert Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible, p. 71

[4] Same source and page

[5] Same source and page

[6] Spangler and Syswerda, Women of the Bible, p. 115

[7] Same source, p. 121

[8] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 376

[9] Same source, p. 380

Achsah: The Daughter Who Asked for More, Part 3

Caleb approached his friend, Joshua, with something on his mind. They had experienced many things together since that disastrous spying expedition. At age forty and in his prime, he had been ready to complete the mission entrusted to a covey of spies. Only he and Joshua returned with an encouraging report, and garnered God’s blessing. The rest met an inglorious end, and a quarrelsome Israel found itself consigned to forty years of wandering.

With the passage of time

In spite of the difficulties during those years in the wilderness, the life cycle continued as it always had—births, marriages, families, death—and a new generation emerged to carry out the next objective of entering the promised land. Achsah, Caleb’s little Anklet,[1] had been born during a troublesome time.[2] She’d grown up amid the contentions between the LORD and Israel, watching Caleb and Joshua stand firm in their faithfulness. Her father was a man of integrity.

It took several years, but finally Canaan was subdued. One by one the tribes received their territories by lot, including Caleb’s own, the tribe of Judah.[3] But the faithful spy had been promised more, and he now prepared to present his petition.

A promise to be claimed    

English: Joshua and Caleb; as in Joshua 14:6-1...

English: Joshua and Caleb; as in Joshua 14:6-15; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joshua listened as his trusty companion began to speak.[4] “You remember how we were sent by Moses to spy out the land. And how the ten angered the LORD with their evil report. Because I followed God with my whole heart, Moses made a promise that wherever my feet had gone would be my inheritance. That was forty-five years ago. I’ve come to claim his promise.”

Caleb proceeded to request the very land that had so terrified the anxious spies—the city of Hebron and its surrounds—home to the Anakim.  Reports indicated the displaced giants were attempting to reestablish themselves after Joshua’s initial rout,[5] and the eighty-five-year- old was itching to dispatch them and claim their stronghold as his own. Joshua honored his friend’s petition, affirming it with his blessing.

A prize for the taking

Caleb and his troops wasted no time taking Hebron and driving out Sheshai, Ahiman, Talmai, the sons of Anak.[6]  Satisfied with his conquest, he turned his attention to Debir, some fifteen or so miles to the south. He had plans for this town.

English: Othniel Ben Kenaz is the first of the...

English: Othniel Ben Kenaz is the first of the Biblical Judges. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Word spread quickly about an extraordinary offer: To the man who conquered the formidable Debir, another city of Anak, Caleb promised the hand of his daughter, Achsah, in marriage. Only one man proved worthy—Othniel, his own brother.[7] Cut from the same cloth as his courageous sibling, Othniel won the city, and returned to present his victory as a sort of bride-price[8] for his lovely niece.

It was not as though he was a total stranger. After all, he and Achsah were from the same clan, and relatives; they had experienced the years of wilderness wandering together. Perhaps that fact alone spurred the young man’s ardor for her more than the promise of land. Had her wise father sensed—or perhaps even manipulated—the outcome in advance? Othniel was indeed a fine man.

A dowry of land

True to his word, Caleb gave Achsah to Othniel, and looked on as the young bridegroom and his entourage took her from the family compound to begin a new home. Her dowry[9] consisted not of the customary money or jewelry, but rather, of a piece of land. How many fathers of the day would give such a treasure to a daughter?

There was just one problem—one of considerable magnitude. The parcel he had given to her had no water source—a vital necessity for the productivity of the arid terrain. Achsah expected to grow gardens there, and even maintain some livestock.  She would need more water than cisterns could supply. So she and Othniel devised a plan.

A new wife with a mission 

English: Achsah - "anklet", was Cale...

English: Achsah – “anklet”, was Caleb ben Yefune’s only daughter (1 Chr. 2:49). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Caleb watched the distant figures grow larger until he could clearly see the comely features of his daughter. As her entourage drew close she caught sight of him and quickly dismounted from her donkey, a sign of her enduring respect. After the proper greetings, he listened as Achsah began to speak. This daughter of his was not only beautiful, she had a good head on her shoulders as well. Her husband must have recognized as much, since here she stood before her father, not Othniel, laying out the reason for her visit and presenting their request.

“Father, you gave me a parcel of land, and for that we are grateful,” she began respectfully. “But there is no water. Please give me one blessing more—springs of water.” She was asking for an additional gift, and she carefully avoided any perception of making improper demands on the family land allotment.

The terrain of the Negeb where Debir lay situated ranged from fertile and hilly, to dry and arid. Without proper water, no vegetation could survive, nor could an agricultural endeavor thrive. Instead of challenging her request, and viewing it as a violation of the laws of inheritance, Caleb gave her an adjoining field which contained both upper springs and lower springs,[10] virtually insuring the productivity of her land.

As Achsah returned to her new home, she was secure in the knowledge that her household would be fed, her potential for commerce improved, and her husband’s worth would increase—all because she dared to ask for more.

Afterwards

Some years later Othniel proved himself once again a valiant warrior, moving against the Mesopotamians who had been oppressing Israel. He became the first judge of Israel (Judges 3:7-11).

Scripture records, “So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.” There is no other mention of Achsah.


[1] The Hebrew word for Achsah translates as ankle or anklet. Both men and women of the time wore bracelets. Women often wore ankle bracelets; those who were wealthy adorned themselves with ones made of gold and which often made a tinkling sound as they walked. Perhaps Achsah was a name of endearment chosen by Caleb and his wife at the birth of one who seems to have been his only daughter. According to one rabbinic tradition, Achsah was so beautiful that any man who looked upon her would be angry with his own wife for being less beautiful. For more information, see Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible (1980), Packer & Tenny, Eds., p 484.

[2] I feel it likely that Caleb also had sons, but in referencing the genealogies in I Chronicles 2 there are two Calebs who lived several hundred years apart. It proves challenging to distinguish between them with regard to their wives and offspring. So I will err on the side of caution and stick with what the Bible clearly records: Caleb the spy had a daughter named Achsah.

[3] Commentators discuss whether Caleb was fully of the tribe of Judah by ancestry, or included by adoption. See Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, topic “Caleb.”

[4] What follows is my paraphrase of Joshua 14:6-13.

[5] Some sources comment that possibly the Anakim had reestablished themselves in the environs of Hebron, and thus had to be re-conquered. See Joshua: His Life and Times (circa 1889), William J. Deane, p 142, and Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, electronic version (1996), comment on Joshua 14. I have adopted that scenario for this post; however there is not full agreement that this indeed was the case.

[6] Joshua 15: 14

[7] There is much discussion as to Othniel’s relationship to Caleb. Some feel that he was Caleb’s brother or half-brother by a different mother (Deane, p 142; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Joshua 15:17) while others identify him as a nephew (The Woman’s Study Bible, Joshua 15, profile “Achsah”).

[8] For more on bride-price and marriage customs, please see Mary Hendren’s upcoming post on Rebekah.

[9] According to one source, the dowry remained the woman’s even if she were widowed or divorced. Achsah’s interest in water supply could have future ramifications.

[10] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary has some interesting comments concerning the possible location of these springs, and their relevance to Arab shepherds. See notes on Joshua 15:19. William Deane (Joshua: His Life and Times) records a citation from Pal. Survey Reports (1874), written by Scottish geologist, JamesGeikie, that “in a secluded valley near Debir there is quite a phenomenal supply of water, fourteen springs in all, some in the upper part of the valley, some in the lower, which never fail in the driest summer; the land thus fertilized became Achsah’s portion” (p 143).

Achsah: The Daughter Who Asked for More

Caleb watched as distant figures, shimmering like a mirage from the arid Negeb, gradually assumed familiar shapes, and he waited. It was his lovely daughter, Achsah, with her new husband. She was no longer under his protective care in the family compound near Hebron. She now dwelled with the one who had won her hand by his acts of bravery and courage—Othneil, slayer of giants, conqueror of Debir. Caleb wondered why they were coming.

How it all began[1]

Over forty years before, Caleb, Joshua, and ten others, leaders all of Israel’s twelve tribes, embarked on a reconnaissance of the land of Canaan, one commissioned by the LORD through Moses. Their mission? Spy out the land, and its inhabitants. Were the Canaanites a people strong, or weak? Many, or few? Did they dwell in fortified strongholds, or tents? Was the land fertile? Were there ample forests for Israel’s needs?

English: Joshua and Caleb, as in Numbers 13

English: Joshua and Caleb, as in Numbers 13 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was around the month of Elul, the season for the first grape harvest. What better time to bring back samples of the ripening fruit of the land? Above all, Moses exhorted them to be of good courage. Much depended on their findings, as would soon become evident.

The twelve tribal emissaries set out immediately, and for forty days furtively scouted the land, covering some 300 miles[2] before returning to their launch point, Kadesh-barnea. En route they saw date palms, pomegranates, ripening grapes, all thriving in abundance. There was ample pasture for sheep and cattle, and fields suitable for growing barley and wheat. Olive and fruit trees dotted certain regions of countryside. The coastline provided fishing, and perhaps even dye works. Canaan, indeed, was full of resources and promise.

Its inhabitants, however, were an entirely different matter—especially the hulking sons of Anak!

An ill wind

 “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey,” the returning  spies reported to eager ears. “Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there.” Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites—all formidable and well-armed—would have to be dealt with as well.

Anak! Apprehension swirled through the ranks of Israel. Caleb quieted the people, then exhorted them, saying, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” The agitators would have none of it, and retorted, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. . . . The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

With weeping and wailing, Israel turned on Moses and Aaron, demanding new leaders, and refusing to enter Canaan. Moses and Aaron, in shock and horror, fell on their faces before the unruly assembly, undoubtedly recognizing a grievous affront to the LORD, their Deliverer.

Only two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, confronted the growing spirit of revolt, warning the tribes not to rebel against the Lord. They implored them rather to trust that “if the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us . . . .” Those words only moved the mob to violence, and cries of, “Stone them! Stone them!” filled the air. Little did the tribes of Israel realize that their own fates were sealed in the wake of that murderous intent. The LORD had had enough!

And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the LORD have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die'”[3] 

To be continued…


[1] Please read Numbers 13 for the entire account.

[2] I estimate that the trip northward was roughly 150 miles based on an atlas scale. The envisioned round-trip could have covered approximately 300 miles using that scale.

Michal’s window

Prologue

Young David had made quite a name for himself. Who had not heard the glorious tale? Imagine! Felling Goliath, the Philistine giant, armed with only a slingshot and his faith in the God of the armies of Israel (I Samuel 17). Word had it that such a deed would not go unrewarded. “It shall be that the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel” (vs. 25). The future looked bright for the handsome lad.

David and Saul

David and Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From that momentous day, David served Saul wherever he was sent, and word of his exploits spread throughout the land. He soon became a familiar figure in the royal household, often soothing his tormented king with music. He and Jonathan, the king’s son, forged a lasting friendship. Did he notice the princesses Merab and Michal watching him with admiring eyes as he went about their father’s business?

Hero or menace?

He often went into battle, and always returned victorious. Women danced and swayed to the rhythm of their tambourines, singing jubilantly of his conquests. “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” The king’s mood turned dark toward this young hero; no rewards were forthcoming, only sudden fits of anger and malevolence. David’s acclaim grew. So did Saul’s paranoia and fear. His troubled mind devised a plan to rid himself of this perceived threat.

Of traps and snares

First, there was the promise of Merab’s hand in marriage. Just fight for me, the king had said, hoping for David’s death in battle, and you can have her to wife. But when David failed to fall into his trap, Merab was abruptly given to another.

Then word came that his younger daughter Michal was in love with David, and Saul immediately saw her as the snare to bring this interloper’s demise. It became increasingly clear that life with Saul was going to be a challenge.

A window of escape

Michal could hardly believe it. David provided  the bride-price Saul requested: one hundred foreskins of his enemies, the Philistines–in fact he doubled it. Only after a tally of the grisly payment were they allowed to wed. When her father should have felt secure as David repeatedly proved his loyalty, he only grew more obsessed. Even her brother Jonathan couldn’t reason with him, and became alarmed at their father’s murderous intent.

What could she do? Even in the dark, she felt the presence of her father’s assassins waiting near the courtyard below. Slowly a plan crystallized. Perhaps it was her trusted servants, or even Jonathan himself who helped her quietly lower David from her window to the ground. She leaned out after him, watching him disappear into the inky night.

Michal’s feint

Now she must move quickly. Her father’s messengers of death could enter her room at any time. Michal managed to pivot a household image onto David’s bed, and disguise it with goats’ hair and clothing. After a few minor adjustments she was satisfied it would pass for her sleeping husband—at least temporarily. By the time Saul’s henchmen discovered her ruse David was well on his way to Ramah.

Waiting

Saul’s rage would not be cooled until David was dead, that he proved by an endless, merciless pursuit. Michal’s fugitive husband was forced farther and farther away. There was spotty news of him now, usually from the mouth of an itinerate tradesman, and what little she did receive only caused her heartbreak and despair. Could it be true—he had another wife…was her name Abigail? And then another? Why had he not sent for her?

As if unknowing was not enough, her father did the unthinkable. He gave Michal as wife to another, one Paltiel, and with the passing years, she made a new life. When she learned that her father and brother were killed in battle, there was still no word from David—only reports that he had been made the king of Judah.

Key to the contest

Now some fourteen years later[1], David laid claim to the throne of Israel in order to unify its tribes with Judah. Once again Michal found herself helpless, now in the midst of a contest for a united monarchy. Key to David’s ascendency as she was his rightful wife and daughter of Israel’s deceased king, he wasted no time in demanding her return. In spite of Paltiel’s tearful pleadings, Michal now found herself  in David’s palace.

English: "David danced before the LORD wi...

English: “David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod”; 2 Samuel 6:14; watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A window of judgment

Once again she stood at her window, drawn by sounds of trumpets and shouts of jubilation. The ark of the Lord was coming to Jerusalem! As she watched the nearing crowd, she spied her husband, leaping and whirling, in an ephod[2]. Disgust filled her heart. He should have stayed a shepherd. Such dancing in public and he, the King!

Hours passed before David returned home. His day had been filled with celebration, offerings, and gifts for the whole multitude of Israel. Now his own household would receive his blessings. Michal met him with cold anger and disdain. “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”[3]

Unintended consequences

Michal had gone too far. David met her derision with a stern rebuke. “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.”[4]

Michal’s scorn for her husband ended with the ultimate curse for a woman of her day: “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.”


[1] The Woman’s Study Bible, Topic “Michal,” says, “Fourteen years later and seven years after the death of Saul, David was still not the king over all of Israel. As condition of a treaty with Abner, David demanded the return of Michal in order to stabilize his position over the Kingdom. Once again, Michal was used for political advantage” (page 475).

[2] The ephod was a linen vest worn by a priest over his robe. It was much shorter than the usual outer garment, which made it convenient for dancing. The Woman’s Study Bible, reference, 2 Samuel 6:14.

“From the historical books we learn that ephods were worn by persons other than the high priest. Thus, the boy Samuel was girded with a linen ephod while assisting the aged high priest (1 Sam 2:18); the priests at Nob, 85 in number, are described as men wearing a linen ephod (22:18); and David was girded with a linen ephod when he danced in the procession that brought the ark into Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:14). (from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.)

[3] 2 Samuel 6:20

[4] 2 Samuel 6:21-22

Evil meets its end

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.

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