Read: 2 Kings 9:30-37
When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window. As Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it peace, Zimri, murderer of your master?” He looked up to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her (2 Kings 9:30-33, NRSV).
Jezebel. Her name has become a byword for wanton wickedness, a metaphor for immorality. If there were a lifetime achievement award for biblical villainy, she would be a contender.
Still, one wonders if a biographer from her home town of Sidon might have been more sympathetic than the biblical author. She is royalty, after all. Even her enemy, Jehu, admits as much when he sends some servants to “see to that cursed woman and bury her; for she is a king’s daughter” (2 Kings 9:34). A less prejudiced perspective might even highlight some admirable qualities. Let’s run with that for a moment.
Jezebel is deeply religious. (OK, so it’s a fertility cult, but her zeal is impressive.) She does her level best to kill off all the prophets of the LORD (1 Kings 18:4). Plus, she is a staunch patron of the prophets of her own gods, Baal and Ashera. Four hundred of the prophets of Ashera were said to eat at her table (1 Kings 18:19). That must have been some running tab.
She is politically ambitious and has the intelligence and savvy to achieve her goals. In fact, she and her husband, Ahab, are the original power couple. (Think Francis and Claire Underwood in House of Cards.) One could argue that she’s the more powerful of the two, especially in light of her “take charge” attitude in the Naboth’s vineyard incident (see 1 Kings 21). She must have clerked at a local law firm to come up with that plot to entrap Naboth and steal his coveted vineyard.
We should also acknowledge her strength, courage, and adaptability. It couldn’t have been easy coming into a foreign palace—and a foreign culture—as an outsider. Yet, she thrives on the challenge. Even the prophet Elijah—riding the wave of a spectacular victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18—turns tail and runs for the wilderness when Jezebel threatens him (1 Kings 19).
And then there is this final scene in 2 Kings 9—Jezebel’s spectacular exit. You have to admire her poise. When Jehu the usurper rides into town (fresh from killing Jezebel’s son, Joram), Jezebel must know the score. Yet, she calmly applies her make-up. After taking her own sweet time, she makes her way to the window and hurls out an insult designed to cut Jehu to the quick. “Zimri,” she calls him. Zimri was an infamous assassin whose reign didn’t outlast a head of lettuce (1 Kings 16:8-20). Say what you will about Jezebel, that insult was well-aimed.
Jehu, of course, is not amused. “Who is on my side? Who?” he shouts. Three of Jezebel’s eunuchs shoulder past her to stick their heads out the window. “Throw her down,” Jehu commands. One imagines them glancing at one another and shrugging. (Hmmm—why might three men castrated so they could serve in the queen’s bedchamber have reason for resentment?) They toss her out.
By the time anyone ambles down into the courtyard to retrieve her body, there’s not much left of it. The biblical author is quick to remind us that this poetic justice is in perfect fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy that the dogs would lick up her blood at the scene of one of her most notorious crimes—the murder of Naboth. What goes around comes around, I guess you could say.
Jezebel surely deserves her notoriety. Still, we’re drawn to her character even as we’re repelled by it. (Think Tony Soprano.) And I think it’s that mix of admiration and revulsion that makes her one of the Bible’s most memorable characters.
Say what you will about Jezebel, you’ll never forget her.
Ponder the misogynistic, racist trope that applies the term “Jezebel” to women of color. (Hint: it says more about the people who use it than the women they slander.)
Pray: Judge us all according to your steadfast love and mercy, gracious God. Shape our values and our character according to those same qualities.