Judges and Kings of Ancient Israel: Learning From History Book Review
The books of Judges and Kings in the Bible are distinguished by their progressive view on women. In Judges and Kings, female characters undergo much more complex storylines, often antagonizing and outwitting the men in their life. Two examples of these characters are Jezebel, in Kings, and Delilah, in Judges. However, this added complexity and importance to the story comes at a cost. Jezebel and Delilah are portrayed as capable of competing with the men in their stories, and often outdoing them in a battle of wits, but while empowering, this is often in a negative light. Jezebel and Delilah are portrayed as manipulative and deceitful, often abusing their power and taking advantage of the situation they are in to get what they want.
Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, is seen in an especially negative light by the Israelites. In Kings, Jezebel represents a common theme that plagued royalty: the misuse of power. Ahab, who is portrayed as greedy and childish, often benefited from Jezebel’s behavior. For example, in Kings 21, Jezebel conspires a plot to kill Naboth. According to Israelite law, two witnesses were required to convict someone of a capital offense. Jezebel’s plan was to have two men accuse Naboth of speaking against God or Ahab, which would be enough to sentence Naboth to death and seize his property (1 Kings 21:9-13).
What was her motive behind this plot? Naboth owned a vineyard that Ahab wanted and asked to buy from him (1 Kings 21:2). Naboth refused the offer, which prompted Jezebel to promise Ahab that he would get the vineyard. Ahab wasn’t aware that Jezebel intended to get the vineyard by any means necessary (1 Kings 21:7-8). From her perspective, the simplest way to get the vineyard was to get rid of Naboth, which inspired her plan.
Naboth’s murder represents a central lack of integrity and greed on Ahab and Jezebel’s part. The two weren’t satisfied with the wealth associated with royalty. If Naboth lived, they would have to face that even with immense wealth, they couldn’t have everything they wanted. Ahab attempted to reason with Naboth by offering to purchase the land, but once this failed, Jezebel immediately resorted to an immoral approach to obtain the land. For this reason, Jezebel’s conniving behavior to get Ahab what he wanted is representative of her deceitful nature.
In addition, in Kings, the Israelites dislike Jezebel as she stands for a god other than Yahweh. Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, attempted to force her deities, Baal and Asherah, onto the Israelites by compelling Ahab to outlaw the worship of Yahweh. For this reason, Jezebel was an enemy of the Israelites due to her influence on Ahab, converting him to her religion. According to Kings 16, “Ahab did more to provide the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than any of the kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:33). Jezebel attempted to eradicate Yahweh from Israel by ordering the death of Yahweh’s prophets (1 Kings 18:13). By doing this, Jezebel attempted to cut off communication with Yahweh by slaughtering those that communicated the word of God.
Even after the death of Ahab, Jezebel continued to rule in Israel. However, the Israelites eventually got revenge on Jezebel, through Jehu’s murder of her. Jezebel wasn’t buried and her body left to be eaten by animals (2 Kings 9:30-37).
On the other hand, in Judges, Delilah represents the ability of a female character to manipulate a hero into giving up his strength. Delilah was one of three women in Samson’s life, and the woman that he loved (Judges 16:4). However, while Samson felt love and companionship for Delilah, Delilah saw Samson as an opportunity. One of Samson’s major flaws is his poor judgment, represented by his choice of Delilah. At the time, the Philistines were considered enemies to the Israelites. It was inconceivable that Samson would love and trust Delilah, a Philistine.
Delilah is bribed to discover the secret of Samson’s strength. Samson reveals this secret to Delilah; his long hair is the source of his strength (Judges 16:17). Delilah takes advantage of this opportunity and cuts Samson’s hair, depriving him of his strength and ultimately leading to his capture by the Philistines (Judges 16:19). In this story, Delilah reveals her comfort in manipulating and betraying someone she knows cares deeply for her, taking advantage of Samson’s compassion and trust. For this reason, Delilah and Jezebel are similar in their trait of engaging in deceptive, traitorous behavior to accomplish their goals.
One difference in their behavior is who their actions benefit. In Jezebel’s case, given the incident with Naboth, her behavior benefitted Ahab. Jezebel used her conniving nature and lack of conscience to get the vineyard from Ahab. In addition, Ahab’s reason for wanting the vineyard wasn’t important; he just wanted a vegetable garden near his home (1 Kings 21:2). Ahab and Jezebel were partners in crime. Ahab was easily manipulated by Jezebel, which granted her wishes. In addition, Jezebel would go to any length to get Ahab what he wanted, despite the cost. In Delilah’s situation, her deceptive behavior went against Samson. While Jezebel represents the abuse of power, Delilah represents deception.
Delilah saw an opportunity in Samson. She recognized that he had a lot of power, but very poor judgment, and exploited this flaw. Delilah’s betrayal of Samson was for her benefit and had unfortunate consequences for Samson.
In terms of influence, Jezebel’s actions can be seen as far more catastrophic in terms of potential long-term effects. Jezebel attempted to eradicate Yahweh from Israel and wanted to make her deities, Baal and Asherah, the national gods of Israel. She attempted this by sentencing many of Yahweh’s prophets to death, cutting off communication between theIsraelites and Yahweh (1 Kings 18:13). Delilah’s betrayal of Samson led to an advantage for the Philistines, but Jezebel attempted to change Israel from the inside by promoting the interests of her native country and outlawing the worship of Yahweh.
To conclude, Jezebel and Delilah represent a progressive view on female characters in the Bible. The actions of both represent how female characters can go toe-to-toe with the male characters in these passages, often coming up with crafty plans to outwit them, giving Jezebel and Delilah an advantage. The two are similar in their use of deception to accomplish their goals, but different in who their plans benefit. Jezebel’s goals were primarily designed for her interests, but in the case of Naboth’s murder, would also benefit Ahab. Delilah took advantage of a situation to benefit her and her native country of Philistine.