“Jezebel: Making Baal” by Rosanna McFadden
My name is Jezebel, Queen of Israel. I suppose I’m a jerk, but that’s such puny word. I prefer something that commands more respect, like sorceress. Some people prefer to call me a witch and other prefer to pronounce it differently; that doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t care if I’m popular; I didn’t have to be elected queen. I married Ahab, King of Israel, but I was a princess in my own right before I married him: my father is Ethbaal, King of Tyre. I was born to power, and I’m not afraid to use it. I am the most powerful woman the northern kingdom has ever seen. History has called me a whore or a harlot — like I care. Those are names used by men who are intimidated by a powerful woman. I didn’t have to be a harlot to scandalize the people of Israel. I just had to be myself.
The book of 1 Kings will tell you that my husband Ahab did more evil than all the kings who came before him. That’s not fair. Ahab was bad, but he really didn’t know how to be evil until he married me. The Israelites are so hung up on their One God — you know, the one with the name you’re not allowed to say, that you write with an unpronounceable set of letters: who does their God think He is? A rock star? The God formerly known as Prince? They’re all so in awe of this God — even my husband Ahab. Sometimes I think he believes all the One God chatter. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get him to worship my Canaanite god, Baal: you’d think I was committing some kind of sacrilege when I had Ahab build a temple and make an altar and set up the sacred pole for Baal’s worship. After all, Baal is the storm god: you can’t grow crops without storms to water them. It pays to keep Baal happy. Ahab could worship the God of Israel on his own time–like I care–I worship plenty of other gods besides Baal, I think it’s smart to keep all my options open, and keep priests of many gods at court. It’s always good to have a deity in your back pocket; you never know when you might have to summon one to do your bidding.
Then this prophet of Israel, Elijah the Tishbite, gets his robes all in a twist and comes to Ahab to tell him the word of the Lord. Like we care. And here’s the word: it isn’t going to rain for three years. Honestly, what a dirty trick: crops die, animals die, people die, but mostly, it’s a challenge to Baal’s power, which is a challenge to my power. I do not like this prophet. He slipped away before I could have him killed, went out to live in the wilderness. Like I care. There were plenty of other prophets of Israel to be killed — and I ordered it done. It’s a bit like squishing cockroaches: messy, but satisfying, too.
And after three years of drought — three years of human suffering that made Baal look like a weakling, Elijah pops up again. I thought we could just kill him, but Ahab agreed to meet with him and accused him of being a troublemaker,–OOO, a troublemaker, like Elijah was tipping cows. Sometimes Ahab lacks a strong hand. So instead of being afraid for his life, Elijah challenged the prophets Asherah and the baals to a kind of prophet duel. And yes, there are many baals, all kinds of gods who take care of all kinds of things. I communed with as many of them as I could, with the help of my priests. These priests sat at my table, worshipped my Canaanite gods, and participated in sorcery with me. Hundreds of them. They were my people. And they were going to bury that one prophet and his One God.
I don’t know why it didn’t go as we planned; I wasn’t there on Mt. Carmel. My prophets made a pile of wood and cut a bull into pieces and laid it on the wood and called down the fire of Baal. To be fair, Baal may have been at a disadvantage — he isn’t the fire god, he’s the storm god. But still. The priests walked around for hours and nothing happened. Perhaps, as that insolent commoner Elijah said, Baal had gone on a trip or wandered away or was — you know — doing his business. Gods can’t be everywhere and see everything; everybody knows that. My prophets made their best effort, but gods are fickle: you can pray, they don’t have to listen. There is no god who is all-powerful. Elijah, though, he made an altar, dug a trench around it, and piled on wood. And laid his bull on top of it. Then he had four jars of water filled and poured it over the wood: he had the people do it three times. 12 jars of water in the middle of drought — what a dramatic gesture. You’d think Elijah was a gift from the gods when he prayed and the altar caught on fire immediately. Some trick to impress the peasants. Like I care. Now what Elijah did next, I do care about. He told the people to seize the prophets of Baal. My prophets my people. And Elijah herded them into a ravine and killed them. All of them. Ahab saw it all. Ahab watched it happen didn’t try to stop it, and wasn’t going to leave Mt. Carmel until Elijah told him, “Harness your chariot and get off the mountain before the road is impassable. It’s going to rain.” And Ahab ran home to me. And when Ahab came home soaking wet and a little in awe of the One God, I vowed I would kill Elijah. If Ahab was too weak to kill him in front of the people, I would. What do I care? Am I the queen, or am I the queen?
I did not kill Elijah, nor did Ahab — more’s the pity. Elijah came back to curse us. I hated that man. It happened like this: Ahab was moping around the palace, unable to eat, spending half the day in bed staring at the wall, pathetic. I said to him, “Why are you so depressed?” He told me about our neighbor Naboth, who had a nice little plot of land next to the palace. Ahab wanted it for a royal vegetable garden, and so Ahab had offered Naboth a better vineyard out of town, or a fair price for Naboth’s property, whichever he wanted. Naboth said No, it was his ancestral heritage, and he wasn’t going to part with it. Ahab was moping around about a piece of property he wanted. Ahab was the king and he had no idea how to get this simple thing. Are you the king or are you the king? He didn’t need baals, he needed something else. I told him Get up! Be cheerful. I’ll take care of this.
I didn’t need to summon the gods, I just had to pay off the right people. I had false charges brought against Naboth: ‘witnesses’ who testified that Naboth cursed the king and cursed the One God — I thought that was a nice little touch. Naboth was found guilty and stoned to death, and his body was left for the dogs to eat. I told Ahab he could take possession of Naboth’s vineyard, and now Ahab putters around out there with his vegetables. Problem solved. So Naboth died a painful death. Like I care. But Elijah, he pops up again with the word of the Lord. I am so done with hearing the word of the Lord, and I just want Elijah dead. But my husband, he never could get over his fear of the One God. Elijah accused Ahab of killing Naboth–actually, it was my idea, but OK — and taking possession of his vineyard. So? Elijah said disaster would come to Ahab’s house: his line would be cut off, and that Ahab would die and the dogs would lick up his blood, just like they licked up Naboth’s blood. Oh for Asherah’s sake. How dramatic did that prophet have to be. Oh yes, and by the way, since I had introduced Baal worship to Israel — my priests helped a little, but yes, it was me — I was going to be eaten by dogs, too. Please. The queen, eaten by dogs? My guards are around all the time. I don’t think so.
And Ahab, that man didn’t have a spine, was so frightened that he repented. Can you believe it? After all my efforts to widen his horizons and introduce him to gods who were more flexible, Ahab couldn’t keep from being an Israelite: he tore his clothes, wore sackcloth, put ashes on his head. Just like all the worshippers of the One God. It makes me sick. What a sorry excuse for a king. Thank the gods that I am still the queen. I have my own power, and I’m not afraid to use it. I am not afraid of the One God, I am not afraid that flea-bitten prophet Elijah; I am not afraid of his curses, and I am sure not afraid of dogs. Like I care.
Jezebel is our jerk of the week, based on Margaret Brouilette’s book Famous Jerks of the Bible. As Jezebel told you, she isn’t merely a jerk, she is evil. Somebody told me last week that’s it’s hard to listen to his pastor say some of the things these characters do. Believe me — I get that. Some of the things which came out of Jeezebel’s mouth are some of the worst things anyone can say. If you’re watching on the livestream, please keep watching, because Pastor Rosanna has some thngs to say, too. The character trait I wanted to convey of Jezebel’s is contempt — disregard and disdain for anyone and anything holy. Proverbs 18:3 says, “When wickedness comes, contempt comes also; and with dishonor comes disgrace.” If you have contempt for things which are holy, and disdain the sovereignty of God, you are punching your ticket to a terrible ending. Jezebel is not disgraced — she doesn’t have enough conscience for that — she is killed. She is pushed out of a fourth floor window by her own palace guards and she falls to her death in the courtyard below. Her blood splatters on the ground and her body is trampled by the horses of a challenger to the throne. By the time officials go to retrieve her body, all that is left is her skull and the palms of her hands. The rest has been eaten by dogs. I could not have made that up; that is Game of Thrones stuff. Death is bad enough, but having your body desecrated — as the innocent body of Naboth was desecrated — is the worst disgrace imaginable.
Jezebel does plenty of bad things — killing prophets, arranging for false witness against her neighbor Naboth — but what makes her a jerk of a whole different category is her worship of Baal, the Canaanite storm god. Not only does she worship Baal, she convinces her husband Ahab to promote worship of Baal in the kingdom of Israel, among the chosen people of the One God. Jezebel is not merely bad, she is playing for the wrong team, and that makes her evil. The One God is pretty particular about being the One and Only God. Listen to Deuteronomy chapter 12 verses 29-32 “When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.’ You must not do the same for the Lord Your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods.” The adjective which the Old Testament consistently uses to describe the Lord is that the Lord is a jealous God. God did not choose the Israelites and make them his people and clear the way for them into the promised land so that they could play around with other gods. The One God will not tolerate that. King Ahab wasn’t a great follower of God to begin with, but marrying a Canaanite worshipper of Baal and allowing her to bring her witchcraft and her priests to Israel was blasphemy to God.
Last week I talked about grace, and how every person has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jezebel sinned in spectacular fashion. She lived before Jesus’ ministry on earth, so she could not have accepted Christ’s grace, even if she had wanted it. We might think that idolatry, or the worship of other gods was a particularly Old Testament problem, and a sin which is now covered by the grace of Christ, so is no longer a concern. While it is true that Baal worship ended long ago, and nobody I know is setting up sacred poles or carving figures which they worship; idolatry is, unfortunately, alive and well. Idolatry is placing your faith and trust in someone or something other than the One God — and that includes covering your bets by giving lip service to the God of Israel while your allegiance is somewhere else. And here is why it is such a problem: because when you get into trouble — and you will, because we all do, or when you are in need of forgiveness, and you will be — you’re on the wrong team. You can’t ask for help from a God you disdain, or do not believe in. You’ll be calling on some other god or putting your faith in something which does not have the power to save you. Here’s what Jesus said after the Pharisees accused him of casting out demons because he was serving the king of demons. This is Matthew 12: 30-31 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. “
This is not a reversal of grace: Christ’s grace is for everyone who believes in him, repents of their sin, and accepts that grace. Even someone as craven as Ahab repented. But Jezebel put her trust in the wrong gods. She may have been sorry that she was pushed out of a window; but if you have put your faith in the wrong god, or believe there is no god, the One God cannot forgive you, and Jesus Christ cannot redeem you.
Jezebel is a spectacular cautionary tale of what happens to jerks who take it to the next level. Haman plotted against God’s people, Jezebel tried to undermine the authority of God by worshipping other gods. That will never work. God, and God alone is holy. Our next jerk is Pharoah, king of Egypt. You can read his story in Exodus chapters 7-14. Get ready for a frogs, flies, locusts, a lot of blood, and a guy named Moses. God alone can save us. Don’t be a jerk.