A lesson presented for Women of Grace
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
by Martha Rusco
11 Jan 2011
George Kelly met Kathryn Shannon in 1927. Until then Kelly had been no more than an amiable, if less than competent, Oklahoma City bootlegger who spilled more than he delivered. By contrast, Kathryn was a firebrand out of the Mississippi backwoods who dreamed of riches and power and determined to make Kelly a top-flight criminal. She was well versed in underworld affairs since her parents ran a ranch where fugitives could hole up for $50 a day. Kathryn began promoting Kelly as a fearless crook who was often “away robbing banks.” She gave him a shiny machine gun as a present and made him practice shooting walnuts off fence posts. Kathryn, who understood promotion, also passed out cartridge cases in underworld dives, saying, “Have a souvenir of my husband, Machine Gun Kelly.”
Kelly eventually made it into some local gangs and took part in a few holdups of small Mississippi and Texas banks. It was as much as he had ever hoped for, but Kathryn, who married Kelly in 1931, insisted they go after the big money in kidnapping. They pulled off only one major job and were promptly caught. In 1933, they kidnapped oilman Charles Urschel, from whom the gang collected $200,000. Kathryn opted for “killing the man” once they received the ransom, but Kelly, shocked by her request, convinced the rest of the gang that Urschel had to be freed or it would “be bad for future business.” At their trial, both Kathryn and George were sentenced to life in prison. –and some say George was happy to be free of Kathryn. George was sent to the newly opened Alcatraz Prison, off the coast of San Francisco. Bothered by the Alcatraz climate, Machine Gun Kelly was transferred to Leavenworth, where he died of a heart attack three years later. After serving 25 years, Kathryn’s life sentence was commuted in 1958, and she was released.
It was at this point in my lecture that I was thinking about making a comparison between the traits of Kathryn Kelly or the Jezebel of the bible and the Proverbs 31 woman – but I just couldn’t make it work. I thought I would talk about how industrious they were, how they used their gifts to make their husbands known. How they were strong, capable women. And by the world’s definition, they were. But oh, how their lives show the futility and the destruction that come from living lives enslaved to sin and self.
Neither of these women were excellent wives. They did their husbands harm, not good. They weren’t industrious workers. They didn’t look out for the poor. They weren’t clothed with strength and dignity. They didn’t open their mouths with wisdom, and the law of kindness wasn’t on their tongues. They didn’t look well to the ways of their households. While their works are infamous, these women aren’t praised in the gates. They used their charms for deception and their beauty, while noted by others, was only skin deep – and passing.
Dear friends, we’re going to take a look at Jezebel today and see the warning her life gives us. As wives, or daughters, or mothers, or friends, we are able to do good or harm to those around us – especially for those closest to us – our husbands, our parents, our children, our friends. And it all comes down to one question: what are we worshiping? The Proverbs 31 woman feared the Lord and from that reverential worship of God, her life poured out good to those around her.
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, apart from the fear of the Lord and the work of the Holy Spirit within us, we, too, are tempted to use the people around us to fulfill our own desires, just like Kathryn Kelly did, and just like Jezebel did.
“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:9, 10)
“House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:14)
“An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.” (Proverbs 12:4)
In 1 Samuel 16:29-34, we meet Ahab, king over Israel, and learn that, “Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.” And if that wasn’t enough, Ahab marries the daughter of the pagan Sidonian king, Eth-Baal and begins to serve and worship Baal. Perhaps in order to please his wife, he built a place of worship for Baal in Samaria and had an altar erected there for Baal worship. He also made an Asherah, a place of worship for the goddess Asherah. In fact, the Bible tells us that, “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” Baal worship involved child sacrifice, and Asherah worship included gross immorality. Jezebel, as a Sidonian, had practiced this pagan religion from birth. She encouraged Ahab to follow after Baal and Asherah. Ahab, the king of God’s chosen people, began serving Baal because of her and with her. And through their influence, almost all of the people turned from the worship of Yahweh and worshiped Baal as their god.
Elijah was God’s prophet in Israel during this time. And God had mighty plans to use Elijah to turn the Israelites away from Baal worship and back to the one true God. God ordained a divine meeting between Elijah and Ahab during which Elijah chastened Ahab for abandoning the commandments of the Lord and following after the Baals. Then Elijah set up a contest between himself and the prophets of Baal for each to call upon their god and to offer sacrifices to them, stating that the God who answers by fire will show himself to be the true God.
As we read in 1Kings 19, the prophets of Baal call upon him for hours, limping around the altar they made, crying aloud and cutting themselves with swords and lances until their blood gushed, but Baal never answered. Then, Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down, dug a trench around it, laid the wood, placed the sacrifice on the altar, and then had everything doused with gallons and gallons of water until it ran down and filled the trench. Elijah prays for God to answer so that the people would know that Yahweh was the God in Israel, so that they would turn back to him. Then God’s word says, ‘The fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Samuel 19:38) It must have been a supernaturally spectacular event. It left no doubt as to whom the true God was. All the people who saw this miraculous event proclaimed, “Yahweh, He is God; Yahweh, He is God.” And the 450 prophets of Baal were then seized by the people and slaughtered.
When Ahab headed back to Jezreel and told Jezebel about all that Elijah had done and how all the prophets of Baal were killed with the sword, she was furious. She personally supported four-hundred fifty prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, allowing them to eat at her table each day.
We’ve already read that her hatred of the true God of Israel was so intense that she had many of the prophets of Yahweh slaughtered. Now we see that it is Jezebel, not king Ahab, who threatens to have Elijah killed by the next day. By this time, Ahab has condescended to her wishes and it appears that Jezebel is the one who truly rules over Israel.
Elijah, the mighty prophet of God, who was willing to stand up by himself against 450 prophets of Baal, knows that Jezebel is evil and ruthless, and he doesn’t doubt that she will carry out her threat. He loses courage and heads for the hills, asking the Lord to take away his life. I’m sure that Elijah’s hasty departure was considered a victory by Jezebel. When Elijah ran away, no one was left to challenge her authority or her desire to turn the Israelites against Yahweh and to Baal.
Jezebel must have been feeling pretty confident about herself and her control over her husband and the people. The more often King Ahab resigned himself to Jezebel’s rule, the more willing she was to take a little more control, and the more control she takes, the more willing he becomes to yield control. It’s Genesis 3 portrayed in real life. As part of the curse, God told Eve, ‘Your desire will be to rule over your husband.” Jezebel gives us a clear picture of how this curse plays out.
Ladies, is this aspect of the curse being played out in your home today? I know how easy it is to subtly take over control of certain aspects of your home or family. It’s easy to allow our husbands to not be the leader God calls them to be.
There’s a line from the movie, ‘My Big, Fat Greek Wedding’ that I’ve heard quoted many times. It goes something like, “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” While it makes us giggle, it’s very dangerous to think that is good or acceptable advice. It certainly isn’t Biblical. Here’s what Ephesians 5: 22-24, and 33 tell us, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. … and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Our marriages are supposed to be a beautiful picture of Christ as the head of the church and the church’s willing submission to her head. It’s oh, so easy, to get this wrong. And when we do, we present a flawed picture to the watching world.
If you are struggling with not respecting your husband today, or if you have wrongly assumed the role of head of your home, make it a matter of fervent prayer. Use God’s word in the power of the Spirit to battle against your sin. Ask someone to hold you accountable. If I asked for a show of hands today of those who have struggled or do struggle with desiring to rule over our husbands, I’m pretty sure most hands in the room would go up. Don’t feel like you’re alone in your struggles, you’re not. And all of us that are indwelt with the Holy Spirit are competent to use the word of God to counsel one another.
In her book, The Excellent Wife, Martha Peace gives several examples of how a woman can be not submissive to her husband (or girls – to your father). If you are taking notes, I’ll give you the example, and then the scripture reference she gave to support that example.
- She does things that are annoying or vexing to her husband. (Proverbs 21:19)
- She does not discipline the children as she should (even after her husband asks her to.) Proverbs 29:15
- She is more loyal to others than to her husband. (Proverbs 31:11)
- She argues or pouts or gives him the cold shoulder when she does not get her own way. (Proverbs 21:9)
- She does not stay within the limits of their budget. (Proverbs 19:14)
- She corrects, interrupts, talks for her husband, and is too outspoken when others are around. (Proverbs 27:15, 16)
- She manipulates him to get her own way. She may manipulate by deceit, tears, begging, nagging, complaining, anger, or intimidation. (Luke 10:40)
- She makes important decisions without consulting him. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
- She directly defies his wishes. (1 Samuel 15:23)
- She worries about the decisions he makes and takes matters into her own hands. (Philippians 4:7, 8)
- She does not pay attention to what he says. (James 1:19)
In the same book, Martha Peace also gives us several ways to show respect for our husbands:
- Never speak to your husband in a condescending manner, but rather with respect.
- Treat your husband in private as respectfully as you do your pastor, your neighbor, or your friends in public.
- Be sure that your body language expresses respect for your husband – no angry looks or looks of disgust, crossed arms, etc.
- Don’t speak for your husband or interrupt him.
- Don’t bring up his shortcomings to others.
- Don’t inappropriately contradict him in front of others.
- Don’t compare him unfavorably with other men.
- Listen carefully to his opinion, trying to understand him.
- Respect his position in the home so much that he can depend upon you to do as he asks, even when he isn’t home.
- Try to do what he asks, even if it doesn’t seem important to you.
- Develop a meek and quiet spirit.
- Obey God by being respectful to your husband.
As we get back to Jezebel, we’ll see several of those wrong characteristics in her life. Proverbs 16:18 warns us, ‘Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” 1 Kings 21 tell us of Jezebel’s actions that will lead to her destruction and fall.
Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller how much wealth was enough, and his answer was, “Just a little bit more.” That seems to sum up Ahab’s feelings also. As king, his holdings were vast, but Naboth’s little vineyard, right there by the palace, looked just perfect for a vegetable garden. He wanted it and assumed Naboth would willingly trade it for a better vineyard or a fair sum of money. But this piece of land was Naboth’s inheritance from his father, and if he parted with it, he would be disobeying God. The ESV study bible note says, “The land of Israel belonged not to the families who technically ‘owned’ it, but to God, who had brought the Israelites into the land in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise and had, through Joshua, allocated its various parts to the tribes as their inheritance. Individual Israelites could not sell land in perpetuity, and a complex set of laws kept land in the family and prevented its accumulation in the hands of a few.”
Ahab’s offer to buy the land shows us his disregard for both Yahweh and his laws. He is so used to ignoring God that he must have assumed he could convince everyone else to also. When Naboth refused Ahab’s offer, he sulks home, refuses to eat, and goes to bed with his head to the wall so he can enjoy his own pity party. His sin is already great, but this instance might have ended here, if Ahab hadn’t let his wife take control of the situation.
When Jezebel sees Ahab lying in bed and finds out why he is so sullen, she belittles him for not being able to use his kingly authority to get what he wanted. She chides, “Do you now govern Israel?’ Sort of a ‘what kind of a sorry king are you?’ inference. She admonishes him to get up and eat be cheerful. Since he just can’t seem to take care of it himself, she’ll go get that vineyard for him, just watch.
We’ve already seen that murder is no big deal for Jezebel. She’s ordered the death of hundreds of prophets. It’s a small matter to get Naboth out of the way. And once Naboth was out of the way, it would be easy for Ahab to claim the vineyard. She quickly and efficiently takes control of the process, like she’s done this a few times before. She writes letters to the elders and leaders in Naboth’s city using Ahab’s name and sealing them with Ahab’s seal. This idol worshipper uses the religion of the Israelites to get Naboth killed. She has the elders proclaim a religious fast, a time of humble self-examination before a God who does not let sin go unpunished. Then she has them call two false witnesses who assert that Naboth cursed God and the king. (Note how even the charge she conjures up elevates Ahab to the same level as God.) Of course, this was punishable by death; accordingly, Naboth was taken outside the city and stoned to death.
Jezebel then informs Ahab that Naboth is dead and he can go claim the vineyard as his own. But as soon as Ahab gets there, Elijah appears with a message from the Lord pronouncing God’s judgment upon Ahab and Jezebel and decreeing how they will die because they sold themselves to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. And again, 1 Kings 21:25, 26 tell us, “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols.”
God’s judgment surely does come to pass against Jezebel as we read in 2 Kings 9. Elisha the prophet anoints Jehu as king over Israel and the first task the Lord gives him is to strike down the house of Ahab, “so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord…. And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.” (2 Kings 9:7)
Still proud and haughty and refusing to humble herself and repent of her great sin, Jezebel greets Jehu, the instrument of God’s vengeance upon her family, with painted eyes and adorned head, looking out from a window of the palace. While this adornment might be her queenly attire, more likely she is dressed as the goddess Astarte, one of the wives of Baal. Jezebel’s life ends while she is dressed as a wife of Baal, a fitting end for the woman responsible for bringing the false religion of Baal worship into Israel from Sidon.
In the message to the church at Thyatira, Jesus uses the name Jezebel to identify a so-called prophetess who was leading the people of the church into sexual immorality and spiritual adultery – much like the real Jezebel did. Jesus said he gave her time to repent, but she wouldn’t (nor did the church discipline her). Therefore, he promises to punish her and all who follow her ways unless they repent. Revelation 2:23 says, “then all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”
As part of my studying to present a lecture, I usually Google the name of the woman we are studying to see if there are any good articles to read. When I Google’d the name “Jezebel”, I was afraid to open most of the sites that popped up. And I don’t recommend that you try that at home. Just from the few words of description that came up under the address, I could tell that most of them were vile, evil, and immoral. Even today, thousands of years after she lived, Jezebel’s name is still very much associated with the sins she promoted in Israel.
Jezebel is being punished for her sin, and those who follow in her ways will suffer the punishment due their sins. 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 are very clear when they teach us, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” And wouldn’t we be hopeless if the passage ended right there? But praise be to God, it doesn’t. In that same passage, verse 11 says, “but such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” think about that….
You were washed – clean, spotless, white as snow,
You were sanctified – made holy and blameless, set apart for God, by the truth of God’s Word, changed into the image of Christ
You were justified – redeemed, pardoned, accepted in the beloved, adopted.
How? In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ – Son of God, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, our great High Priest, the guarantor of a better covenant, our confidence to enter the presence of God, the founder and perfecter of our faith, ever living to intercede for us, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.