Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Jezebel by John Byam Liston Shaw, 1896. Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money. And Naboth said to Ahab, The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
1 Kings 21:2-3

This is the story of David and Uriah all over again, with Ahab being the self-centered, petulant king, Naboth being the innocent Uriah and his beautiful garden adjoining the place being Bathsheba. Just as Bathsheba's beauty had attracted David, so Naboth's garden attracts Ahab, and he must have it at all costs. In this case though it is not Ahab himself, but his wife Jezebel who schemes to make this happen, setting up a situation where Naboth is stoned to death, allowing her husband to take possession of his garden. This again is the story of the sins of kings, but with the twist that this particular king is ruled by his wife. Jezebel is painted throughout these stories as an evil influence on the monarchy, from drawing the whole nation away from God and towards Baal, to manipulating individuals to meet her own and her husband's selfish desires.

Women feature strongly in the stories of the Old Testament, mostly appearing in very positive and influential roles, both punctuating and guiding the story of Israel. 1 The character of Jezebel is an exception to this, appearing as the personification of faithlessness and debauchery. It's sad how it is Jezebel's name and character that is remembered and called forth more than so many other women of scripture—called forth as an insult, of course. So frequent is our usage of her name in recent years that it has become a common noun in its own right, meaning "an impudent, shameless, or morally unrestrained woman".2

It is perhaps Jezebel, the evil one, and Bathsheba the beautiful but characterless one that are the two best known women from the Old Testament. The women of the Old Testament are nuanced and complex, but today it seems we are unable to see such complexity, with only those women who fit our modern day bifurcated stereotypes of virgin and whore guaranteed a place in our memories.3 Characters like Ruth—who even has a book in her name—don't fit these patterns so are dismissed, forgotten.

1 Read all KJV365 reflections featuring women of the bible
2 Second definition for the term Jezebel from the Miriam-Webster dictionary
3 The Madonna-whore complex is still alive in straight men, denying women basic humanity by Megan Nolan, New Statesman, February 2021