1 Kings 19:1-14
When I say the name Jezebel, what words come to mind? Evil. Queen. Dogs. Foreign. Violent. Cruel. Idolater.
Queen Jezebel has gotten the reputation of being the most evil of all of the “bad girls” of the Bible. The term “jezebel” is culturally used to describe a woman who is untrustworthy, promiscuous, and crafty.
However, what is “good” or “evil,” commendable or despicable, is often dependent on your point of view. Whether the win of a particular soccer team is a victory or a loss depends on which team you are rooting for.
The story we read about Elijah was actually written as a sort of tragic comedy—a common genre for the time period and culture that it was written. It doesn’t seem very comical, but this isn’t three stooges humor, this is ironic, backwards humor.
Everything that the audience expects from the story of Elijah is turned on its head. Like you might encounter on opposite day. After Elijah’s great show of divine power, he runs in fear of Jezebel’s threats. Even as God continues to care for him, he wants to die. God coming to him in remarkable ways, doesn’t do anything to change his outlook on life. He doesn’t fulfill the prophetic duty he is called to. In some ways, Jezebel comes out of the story as more loyal and valiant than Elijah was.
It all depends on your perspective.
So in the spirit of opposite day, we are going to hear the story of Elijah, not only what we heard in chapter 19 today, but his whole story stretching from 1 Kings to 2nd Kings. Except we aren’t going to hear it from Elijah’s perspective, but from Jezebel’s.
This re-telling of the story is based on where my imagination meets my studies, however I won’t include anything that couldn’t have possibly been true.
Let’s hear what Jezebel has to say to us today.
Hello, my name is Jezebel.
In my native Phoenician language, my name means “where is the prince” which is the cry of my people to our god Baal.
Although you may have heard the way the people of YHWH twisted the spelling of my name, so instead of what it should mean, it means “where is the manure”. This is an unfortunate way to address not only the Queen of Israel, but the daughter of the King of Phoenicia.
My father married me off to Ahab, the king of Israel in order to form a political alliance between our two nations. This gave my home country military protection from powerful enemies as well as access to trade routes.
I went from a revered princess and a priestess of my goddess Astarte, the goddess of fertility and war, to a despised threat to the purity of the Israelite cult of YHWH. In a new, unfamiliar land, I wanted to hang on to my Phoenician identity, so I had my husband build a temple to Baal. This was seen as a direct attack on the Israelite people and culture. The prophets revolted. I was not about to sit and allow this attack go without consequence. If the prophets of YHWH were prepared to fight, I was ready to fight back. My husband was not going to do anything, so I took it upon myself to have the prophets killed.
So much for my marriage to Ahab becoming a place of alliance between our differing cultures and religions. There seems to be no room for tolerance within the Israelite faith. No matter, I simply continued with my duties as Queen.
It was Ahab who could not resist the taunts of the relentless Elijah.
Elijah challenged Ahab to assemble his prophets so Elijah could show how his God was the one true God. So, Ahab sent 450 of his prophets as well as two bulls. Our prophets were to call on Baal to light the bull on fire as a sacrifice. Elijah would then call on his god to do the same. Whichever bull went up in smoke was to be the “true” god.
Our prophets cried out to Baal but Baal would not entertain this pointless attempt to prove his existence.
In front of all who had gathered Elijah mocked our god, saying surely he must be sleeping or on the toilet. The Israelites do seem to enjoy their toilet humor.
Elijah’s bull went up in smoke and if that were not enough to humiliate my people, he hunted down all 450 of my prophets and killed them one by one. I could not turn my back on my people and ignore this devastation. I send Elijah a message, swearing that if it was the last thing I do I would make him pay for this act of war. He would feel my pain.
Yet he did not react in the way I expected. I surely thought that Elijah, filled with pride and triumph at his perceived victory over my gods, would come running at my threat ready to finish this once and for all. But instead he took off into the dessert.
No matter, I just waited for his return. In the meantime, I still had an empire to run. My husband wanted the small lot of property on the edge of our quarters, but the Israelite there claimed that this was his YHWH-granted inheritance and he refused to acquiesce to his king.
While Ahab moped, I worked to save face for my husband. Where I come from, there was no refusing the request of the King. This man would give up the land whether he liked it or not. Luckily, even YHWH’s people were easily deceived and they aided in my plan to address and snuff out this insubordination.
Apparently Elijah had quite the time in the dessert. Luckily for him an angel of his god appeared, feeding him snacks along the way, so he didn’t perish in the wilderness. Like his predecessor Moses, he retreated to Mt. Horeb and heard his god’s voice. But the voice wasn’t in the flame like it was for Moses. It didn’t manifest in the earth or the wind, like my god Baal might. But it was in the calm after the storm, in a whisper, in the thin quiet.
It was in the silence that YHWH came to Elijah.
Twice his God asked him why he was there. Maybe his god did not want to be bothered? Maybe his god was napping this time.
I guess I must have pushed this mighty prophet to his wits end, for Elijah did not want to be a prophet anymore. He felt like he was the only loyal one left. Strangely enough, YHWH didn’t provide comfort or any sort of reassurance. Instead, his god asked him a second time why he was there. Elijah just repeated the same complaint he said the first time.
This time his God told him to go and complete three tasks. Yet Elijah only completed one before his god took him up in a fiery chariot. His successor Elisha completed the last two tasks. One of which was to anoint Jehu as the new king of Israel, after my husband had died in war.
This man, Jehu, had been told to enact revenge against my family. His first act was to commit treason and shoot my son with an arrow in the back. They threw him on the plot of land I had previously acquired for my husband in order to fulfill a prophesy. Then they killed King Ahaziah of Judah.
And then they came for me.
Knowing Jehu had treachery on his heart, and my son’s blood on his hands, I prepared for battle the way women of my status do. I put on my armor of makeup and donned my helmet of carefully adorned hair. I was ready to face my death with dignity. I prepared myself for my own burial.
I stood at the window, showing that even at my deathbed I was devoted to my goddesses often depicted in stone looking out the window. When I saw Jehu approaching from my window,
I wanted him to know that I was aware of his heart of treason. I yelled out to him, “Is it peace, Zim’ri, murderer of your master?”
“Is it peace,” were words my son had asked Jehu, before Jehu had stabbed him in the back. I called him the name of my father in law, Zim’ri, for Zim’ri had killed his own King to take over the throne.
But, of course, there was no peace. I was hurled from the window and fell to my death. There I was trampled by horses and eaten by dogs.
So what will you remember of me? Will you remember my violence? My cunning mind? My devotion to my religion? Where Elijah failed in his calling and vocation, I succeeded, persevering in dignity even to the end. Where Elijah faltered in his loyalty and devotion to his God, I pressed on in brave loyalty. While Elijah ran from his problem, I stood and looked them in the eye. The truth is that neither of us were heroes. I will admit my own failings, just as I point out Elijah’s.
Yet if you insist on calling me a villain, do not forget the violence of your own prophet. My hands were not the only ones covered in blood. We both sinned. So, remember my name. Remember my violence. Remember how I refused to believe in your God. But don’t forget my hard work, my bravery, my diligent spirit, my quick thinking, and sharp tongue.
You revere women such as Esther, Debora, Jael, and Ruth for the very same qualities that I possess. The only difference between these women and me is that I do not worship the God that you believe in. And if it is not too much to ask, perhaps as an act of peace, recognize the sadness in my death.
While it may have been a win in the eyes of the Israelites who tried so hard to stay true to their one God, if they only had allowed others to follow their gods, then I might not have had to live by violence and die by violence.
Whatever God you believe in, a daughter of God died a death that no one deserves.
And at the end of the day, that is to be mourned.
May it be so.
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“Commentary on 1 Kings 19:1-4[5-7]8-15a by Terence E. Fretheim.” Accessed June 20, 2019. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2876.
“Commentary on 1 Kings 19:1-18 by Brent A. Strawn.” Accessed June 22, 2019. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1082.
“Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4-8 by Sara Koenig.” Accessed June 22, 2019. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1429.
“Commentary on 1 Kings 19:9-18 by Michael J. Chan.” Accessed June 22, 2019. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2061.
Everhart, Janet S. “Jezebel: Framed by Eunuchs?” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 72, no. 4 (October 2010): 688–98.
Biblical Archaeology Society. “How Bad Was Jezebel?,” March 19, 2018. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/how-bad-was-jezebel/.
Jackson, Melissa A. “Reading Jezebel from the ‘other’ Side: Feminist Critique, Postcolonialism, and Comedy.” Review & Expositor 112, no. 2 (May 2015): 239–55. https://doi.org/10.1177/0034637315582469.
 “How Bad Was Jezebel?,” Biblical Archaeology Society (blog), March 19, 2018, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/how-bad-was-jezebel/.
 “How Bad Was Jezebel?”
 “Astarte,” in Wikipedia, June 13, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Astarte&oldid=901740681.
 “How Bad Was Jezebel?”
 Melissa A Jackson, “Reading Jezebel from the ‘other’ Side: Feminist Critique, Postcolonialism, and Comedy,” Review & Expositor 112, no. 2 (May 2015): 239–55, https://doi.org/10.1177/0034637315582469.
 “How Bad Was Jezebel?”