Sermon preached on 1 Kings 21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/27/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 21
Jezebel – “Because Jezebel His Wife Stirred Him Up”
We continue our sermon miniseries today on key women in the Bible. We are still in the time of the kings, though by this point the nation of Israel had been fractured into two parts: the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. This is kind of like denominations in the Old Testament, as here you have God’s people fractured and divided. Now, what we see during the time of the kings, is that the people generally did well when they had a good, godly, king. And it typically did not go well with them when they had a bad, godless, king. Surely that is what we see today with Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel. And yet as wicked as King Ahab was, what especially brought out the worst in him, was his wife Jezebel, verse 25.
And so in our miniseries on key women of the Bible, we come to a very different sort of woman. We’ve largely, though not exclusively, been tracing women in the line of the Messiah. At a bare minimum the women have either been a part of God’s people, or at least in some way have allied themselves with God’s people. But then today we come to Jezebel. Jezebel is not in the line of the Messiah, nor is she a follower of the one true God. In fact she is a wicked, ruthless, woman. And yet, don’t miss the fact that she came to become outwardly a part of God’s people by marriage. She married into the people of God, and even into the leadership of Israel. And yet Paul in Romans 9 said not all Israel are truly Israel. In other words, not all who were externally members of Israel, were truly God’s beloved and blessed people. Jezebel shows herself to be someone who really wasn’t God’s own.
A brief snapshot of the other records of Jezebel in the Bible, confirm the description of her in this chapter. Jezebel was a foreigner and a princess by birth, born to the king of the Sidonians. And what was typical among such foreigners, and was true for her, was that she was not a believer in the one true God, but rather a Baal worshiper. But Ahab nonetheless married her, and as the typical warning went, this was bad news for him. She carried her foreign religion with her, and actually was a bold promoter of idolatry and Baal worship. She got both Ahab and Israel to engage in idolatry and Baal worship. Not only that, but the Bible records that she persecuted and killed the prophets of God among Israel. She had vowed, unsuccessfully, to put the famous prophet Elijah to death too. No spirit of “tolerance” by her for other religions. Later, after Ahab’s death, she’s described as one who engaged in harlotries and sorceries, and also called an accursed woman. She ultimately died without burial, eaten by dogs, just as Elijah prophesied here in this passage for today. And so far from being in the line of the Messiah, she and Ahab here are presented here as having their line cut off.
And so Jezebel was a wicked, evil, woman. And Ahab too was a wicked person, who was only further incited to evil by this wicked wife. So, then, what we see in this chapter for today is the typical story for Jezebel and Ahab. Ahab’s general evil character is only made more evil by complicity with Jezebel. He seems to tolerate her evil, and even be incited to further evil by her. She leads him in evil, in other words. And so let’s look at both Ahab’s sins and failings here, and then at the same for Jezebel.
Beginning with Ahab then, we see at first he has a bad desire. He wants the vineyard of Naboth in Jezreel and tries to strike a deal with him for it. The problem is that as Naboth points out, God had told the Israelites to not sell their land in the Promised Land. When Israel took over the Promised Land, God had the land divided up among all the tribes and families. The plots of land were supposed to be passed down from one generation to the next, always keeping the land in the family. There was typological significance here. This land was God’s inheritance to his people — in the light of the New Testament this is clearly seen to typologically point us to a greater heavenly inheritance to come. Just like today we wouldn’t want to trade anything for our place in heaven, they too were supposed to safeguard their plot of land in the Promised Land. Naboth commendably refuses the king’s offer. For Ahab, it was the wrong desire in the first place. And then when Ahab begins to sulk about it, we see even more clearly Ahab’s covetous heart, breaking the 10th commandment.
And yet at that point, Ahab does show some measure of right restraint. In Israel, the kings were not supposed to be seen as all powerful, completely sovereign over all. Likely the kings were in Sidon, because we see Jezebel chide Ahab for his restraint here with Naboth. You see, the provision for a king in Israel was to be governed by Deuteronomy 17. There it’s clear that an Israelite king is not above the law of God. Deuteronomy says the king must make a copy of God’s law and be careful to live by it all his days. God’s law was supposed to dictate how he led the people as king. God and God’s law were completely sovereign over Israel, not the king. In fact, Deuteronomy 17 ends by saying that the king must not exalt himself over his fellow Israelites, but to see them as his brothers. And so Ahab rightly doesn’t just go over and take Naboth’s vineyard just because he’s king. That degree of restraint by Ahab was right.
But that’s where Ahab’s restraint ends. Because when Jezebel comes into the scene, she takes over, and Ahab places no restraint on her. So let’s focus now on Jezebel’s sin here. We’ve already noted how she claims more authority for Ahab as king than is biblical, verse 7. God’s king is not above the law of God. But she has no problem with disobeying God’s law as we see. So then in verse 8, she proceeds to engineer false witness against Naboth, in order that he’ll get put to death. Note that she uses Ahab’s name and seal in verse 8 to make this happen, but Ahab again shows no restraint of his wicked wife in that. And then Jezebel’s plan involves the elders of the city, to collude together in finding two scoundrels to falsely testify against Naboth, that he blasphemed God and king. Sadly, the elders seem to have no problem either in joining in this great wickedness. Not only is false witness and murder breaking of the 9th and 6th commandments, but the Torah especially comments how evil it is to maliciously conspire against someone to pervert justice through false witness (c.f. Exodus 23:1-3 and 1 Deuteronomy 19:15-21).
And notice how Jezebel made this all look. She made it all look very religious and above board. She has the elders proclaim a fast. That would lend the people to think there might be some serious moral or religious concern to be addressed. That sets them up to receive this false witness charge against Naboth. And she made sure there were two witnesses against him, which would have been required to affirm the testimony. So, this judgment against Naboth looked right from both a religious stand point, and a legal due process and justice stand point. The Israelite people of Jezreel, led astray by their wicked elders, fell right into it. They go and sin against innocent Naboth by putting him to death falsely, and they didn’t even realize it. Very crafty Jezebel succeeded in her scheming. Of course, this kind of an approach is a common tactic of Jezebels, and of Satan as well. And so after all Jezebel’s evils, she in verses 15-16, announces to Ahab that he can now go and take the land he wanted, and so he does.
And so, this is when we see God, through Elijah, deliver judgment upon Jezebel and Ahab. This is beginning at verse 17. God sees all. Nothing is hidden from him. God knew what Jezebel and Ahab had done. God has Elijah confront Ahab and ask, “Have you murdered and also taken possession?” Well, notice how Ahab addresses Elijah — as his enemy! Ahab married, embraced, and even followed the real enemy of God’s people. Elijah is actually the friend of God’s people. But not of Ahab! And so Elijah delivers to Ahab God’s verdict. Despite all Ahab’s many sins in the past, this time God chooses to particularly punish him now. The Lord tells Ahab that his fate will be like Naboth’s — his blood licked up by dogs, in the same place where Naboth was murdered. And God will cut off Ahab’s line. All his male children will be killed. His line will not carry on. Ahab is even likened to two previous apostate kings as well, whom God also cut off their lines, Jereboam and Baasha.
It’s important to see that God is blaming Ahab here first and foremost. Yes, it was Jezebel who took the initiative to put Naboth to death, but God is specifically condemning first Ahab. Though he didn’t take the lead on it, he’s guilty by his complicity in the situation. His tolerance of Jezebel’s wickedness here is tantamount to Ahab killing Naboth himself. And so God condemns Ahab for this sin of murder and also of taking possession of Naboth’s inheritance in the Promised Land. Notice too in verse 22 that he blames Ahab for also leading Israel into sin. That can be said in general with all that Ahab has done as a king. But we’ve seen it also to be true here too. Jezebel’s letter in Ahab’s name got the elders to essentially get the people to put to death Naboth. Ahab’s failure to restrain his wicked wife and his complicity with her, means that he too is guilty of leading Israel into sin in this as well. Of course, don’t think Jezebel is innocent here. No, the prophet also issues divine sentence against her as well. Verse 23, she will be eaten by dogs too also in Jezreel. Again, Jezreel is the city where Naboth lived and was killed. So, this judgment particularly has that sin in mind.
Well, this judgment does ultimately come to pass. 2 Kings 9 describes the fulfillment of this judgment. God raises up Jehu to see to this. Jezebel is killed, being pushed out the window by her own servants at Jehu’s prompting. This happened in Jezreel as prophesied, and she is eaten up by dogs as prophesied. Ahab’s son is also killed there in that same chapter, again in Jezreel, and they throw his body on the field of Naboth.
Though, you may have noticed that it was Ahab’s son in 2 Kings 9, and not Ahab himself, who tasted this. That is because of what we see at the end of this chapter. In an amazing twist, the evil Ahab is actually grieved by Elijah’s words. He actually has some degree of repentance. He mourns over his sin and humbles himself. Now, I say some degree of repentance, because I don’t want to say more or less than what this passage says. Ahab’s wickedness is so highlighted here and elsewhere in the Scripture. But there is something that strikes God about Ahab’s mourning over his sin that he will delay the judgment. Realize he doesn’t remove the judgment. But he does delay it. Surely this is a measure of God’s grace and mercy toward Ahab. But I also don’t want to overstate it either, given how badly Ahab is painted in the Bible, and how brief this account of God’s mercy toward his humility is. This doesn’t comment on Ahab’s eternal state with God. Actually, in the next chapter we see Ahab consulting with false prophets again, and God working to put an end to Ahab. In that chapter, even dogs do lick up Ahab’s blood, though in Samaria, not Jezreel, and all his children are not wiped out in his lifetime. So, there is a measure of judgment which God restrained in Ahab’s lifetime, based on a certain degree of Ahab’s repentance. But it does remind us of the grace of God to those who humble themselves, even if in Ahab’s case that was only a degree of humility.
Well, as we assess the Jezebel situation, we are helped to fast forward to the New Testament. In Revelation 2:20, the church at Thyatira is warned about something Jesus has against them. They have tolerated Jezebel in her midst. Now to be fair, some interpreters think that this is referring to a real woman named Jezebel at that church, and if so, that would then be unrelated to this Jezebel that we have studied today. But I don’t believe that’s the best interpretation. Revelation is full of symbolism, and it seems a better interpretation would be that Revelation refers to Jezebel as a way to describe some new person or group that was bringing a similar threat to the church at Thyatira, as the original Jezebel brought to Israel in the past. It’s kind of like if we had someone in our midst who really betrayed our church, and I said something like, “We need to remove Benedict Arnold from our midst,” you’d realize I’m referring to someone who has acted like Benedict Arnold among us, not actually named Benedict necessarily. Well, for the church at Thyatira, they had tolerated a Jezebel. That Jezebel figure has a similar description of leading the people in the church astray, after sexual immorality and idolatry. She’s called a prophetess there in Revelation, and we’ve talked today about the religious connections that the Old Testament Jezebel as she looked to promote false religion among the Israelites. This is the kind of person the church in Thyatira was tolerating. And this Jezebel was the woman Ahab and Israel tolerated.
Well, in the Old Testament, God rose up King Jehu to finally stop the toleration of Jezebel. Jehu told Jezebel’s son that there could be no peace in Israel as long as his mother’s whorings and sorceries continued. And so God used King Jehu to put an end to her. Her line with Ahab was cut off. She was put to death. King Jehu was a type of Christ in this, by not tolerating sinful Jezebel. But he wasn’t the Christ. 2 Kings 10 goes on to commend his faithfulness with regard to Ahab and Jezebel, but also to note how he did not fully keep God’s law as well as he should. Specifically, he didn’t get rid of the golden calves that had been setup as a form of false worship in Bethel and Dan. So, Jehu helped purged false religion among Israel, but didn’t go far enough. But in contrast, we have the Lord Jesus Christ telling the church at Thyatira that he will purify the church, even if they don’t. In Revelation 2:20 he says that he has given this Jezebel time to repent, and she has not. That reminds me back even to this chapter, where Ahab had at least some measure of repentance, but in contrast, Jezebel clearly did not. She had time her with Ahab where she too could have at least shown some measure of repentance; but she did not. But the larger point here is that if the church won’t act, Jesus himself ultimately will. He will purify his body. He will not ultimately tolerate Jezebels to be in his church.
That should encourage us, as believers. This is part of the bigger picture of the gospel. Not only do Christians find forgiveness and grace in the Messiah, through his death on the cross. We also find a leader who will lead by God’s law. A king who will not turn a blind eye to evil that rises up in his church. Throughout the history of the church, Christ has been at work to purify his body. Sometimes this has meant some serious cutting off of apostasy from the church, leaving only a small remnant. But Christ will purify his church. That should encourage every true believer. Because we have seen how destructive Jezebels are.
And yet, even though this is a work of Christ, sometimes he works through Jehus. Ahab should not have tolerated Jezebel’s wickedness. If Ahab had confronted her early on, who knows what blessing could have come to God’s people. Or think what good would have come for Israel and the people of Jezreel if the elders hadn’t tolerated Jezebel. We are called to not tolerate the Jezebels. And every age in the church, before Christ’s second coming, will have the Jezebels in their midst. We said the Jezebel was not in the line of promise. She was not carrying on the line of the Messiah. She was not part of that seed of the woman lineage to Christ. No, Jezebel shows herself as really the seed of the serpent. All through the ages Satan has those in strong, overt, allegiance to him. What is scary is when such people rise to leadership or influence in Christ’s church. But what is even more scary is when Christ’s church does nothing about it. Take heart that Christ will ultimately put all such Jezebels down. But be reminded today of how he calls his church, and especially the leaders in the church to act in such situations. We must not tolerate such Jezebels. She is literally Satan in our midst. She is the ongoing threat of sin, heresy, and apostasy, brought into the church and allowed to wreak havoc because no one will step up to stop her.
We have a mechanism given to us as the church to deal with the Jezebels that come along. In general, it’s called reformation. It very clearly happened 500 years ago or so when the church had become so corrupted that they were essentially making the gospel about something you had to earn or even buy. People like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and so many others, said we will not tolerate this apostasy in the church any more. In practice, such reformation might come in different forms. The normal form involves deposing from ministry and/or excommunicating from membership those Jezebels among us. That’s the spiritual, new covenant, equivalent of stoning someone in the old covenant for religious apostasy. Ironically, in our story the godly man Naboth is incorrectly stoned for blasphemy, when that’s exactly what should have happened to Jezebel, but no one did. But for us under the new covenant, we don’t stone the Jezebels; but we do remove them from membership and/or leadership. Let us be faithful to act with the church’s power to remove the Jezebels from our midst. Yes, we will call them to repent and give them time to repent. But if they do not, we are called to act.
And so what a fitting passage for today, on Reformation Sunday. We the church, and especially the elders in the church, must be constantly asking ourselves this question: Have we been sinfully tolerating a Jezebel? If so, let us truly repent of that. And if God would grant a degree of mercy to evil Ahab with his degree of repentance here, then know that the God will fully forgive us his church when we repent of this sin of toleration and trust in Christ for forgiveness. And as we are faithful to look to really purge the evil from our midst, he will surely bring healing for us as well.
As we consider this important call, we would be right to acknowledge that we will need wisdom in such matters. We don’t want a witch hunt or a red scare. We don’t want to falsely accuse people of being Jezebels that aren’t. Nor do we want to deal with the real Jezebels without the grace that even Jesus says he holds out to such in the letter in Revelation. If Jesus holds an offer of grace out to Jezebels, we too must preach the gospel to them as well. We too must find the right balance of love and mercy and grace, while at the same time acting decisively when needed and not in sinful toleration. And so we pray not only for courage to act in such situations, but wisdom to guide us in balancing out all these concerns.
Let us then approach that throne of grace right now, rejoicing in our Lord who purifies us his church, and seeking that wisdom to be used by him in the process. And let us ask as well, that by grace we will each stand fast, holding on to the truth of God’s Word, as we ought. Amen.
I’ll end with one final encouragement. Taking on the Jezebels and the Ahabs can be dangerous. For Naboth, it cost him his life and he lost the inheritance he wanted to protect. But be encouraged. Surely, Naboth didn’t really lose his inheritance. His real inheritance was a heavenly one, kept safe by God himself. Surely, Naboth is enjoying that inheritance even now. Even now Naboth is enjoying fellowship with his Lord as an Old Testament martyr gone to be with Christ. We too may face strong persecution if we take on the Jezebels in our midst. We might even taste of physical harm, even martyrdom. But Jezebel can’t take from us our heavenly inheritance. She doesn’t have that kind of power. Rather, God will safeguard us to that inheritance, to that final reward and rest. Praise be to God.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.