Jezebel’s Deadly Deceit and the Pilgrim’s Progress

I love John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim Progress. It’s a beautiful allegory of the Christian journey. Indeed, through many dangers, toils and snares, the LORD guards His pilgrim’s safely home (2 Timothy 4:18). [1]

There is a scene in the book that captures a particular danger of the Christian life. I speak here of Christian—Bunyan’s main character—and Faithful’s—Christian’s companion—journey through Vanity Fair. The merchants of Vanity Fair, a market town representing worldliness, immediately despise Christian and Faithful for their disinterest in their “goods.” The pilgrims are not long in the town before they are falsely accused of inciting a riot. The inhabitants of the place forcibly seize and beat the men. They call deceitful witnesses to testify against them; and in the end, the consuming hatred of Vanity Fair will receive nothing but the blood of a martyr and Faithful is ruthlessly killed. [2]

The spirit of Vanity Fair is the same spirit that reigned in Jezebel, wife of King Ahab. Ahab rules as the seventh king of Israel’s Northern Kingdom (please read 1 Kings 12-14 to see how Israel separates from one nation into two). He follows the kings of the north in their idolatry and disobedience of God. Yet his chief guide in this regard is none other than his wife, Jezebel.

Jezebel was a foreign woman, the daughter the Ethbaal, the king of the Sidonians. Ethbaal, whose name means “Baal is alive,” was the priest of the gods Melqart and Astarte. [3] He must have been a diligent teacher of his daughter for she was well-catechized.

Jezebel was a devotee of her father’s gods. At her encouragement, Ahab erects an altar to Baal and Asherah in Samaria (1 Kings 16:32-33). She shelters and feeds at least 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah while pursuing and murdering the prophets of the LORD (1 Kings 18:4; 18:19; 1 Kings 19:10). Even the great prophet Elijah flees in fear of Jezebel—this despite God’s glorious defeat of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 19:1-3).

No doubt, Jezebel was a vicious woman! Just consider the gripping tale of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21:1-16. Naboth was an Israelite with a lush vineyard adjoining Ahab’s palace in Samaria. Like David on his roof, there comes a day when Ahab sets longing eyes on his neighbor’s possession (2 Samuel 11:1-27). He decides to convert the vineyard into a vegetable garden and offers Naboth a purchase price.

Unfortunately for Ahab, faithful Naboth rejects the deal on the basis of God’s Law. Leviticus 25:23 states: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine.” God, the ultimate landowner, had allotted certain plots to specific families as His divine inheritance (Joshua 13-21). He forbid the selling of the land, for to sell was to disinherit oneself and descendants from your God-given ancestral home. Knowing this, Naboth refuses with these words: “God forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (1 Kings 21:3).

When told, Jezebel is moved, not to respect God’s Law but, to murder Naboth. She constructs a cunning plan and sends it in Ahab’s name to the elders of the city. The scheme called for an assembly at which Naboth would be accused of cursing God and the king. The elders were to attain “two worthless men” as witnesses of the charge. Once sentenced, they were to stone Naboth and his sons outside the city gate (1 Kings 21:8-14; 2 Kings 9:26). Naboth would die a seemingly “justified” death. The elders obey and as soon as Jezebel is informed of Naboth’s end, she says to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of which Naboth…refused to give you…for Naboth is not alive, but dead”’ (1 Kings 21:15).

We have seen this crafty spirit before. It is he who deceives our first mother into sin (Genesis 3:1-6). This spirit is seen crouching at the door just before the martyrdom of faithful Abel (Genesis 4:6-8). He sweeps the sons of Israel into the Nile River through the decree of Pharaoh in Exodus 1:22 and rises again to execute the descendants of King David through murderous Athaliah, Jezebel’s well-discipled daughter (2 Kings 11:1-3).

Worse yet, one dark night in Jerusalem, this spirit enters the man Judas who betrays the Son of God into the hands of sinful men (Luke 22:3-4). Worthless fellows step forward to falsely accuse the God-Man Jesus and He is striped, beaten, sentenced to death and killed outside the city gate (Mark 14:55-61; 15:1-37; Hebrews 13:12).  Yet all those who put their trust in the Lord will not ultimately be abandoned (Psalm 16:9-10).  Three days later, Jesus's words in John 11:25 are proved true: “I am the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

Apollyon, Beelzebub, the Great Dragon, that Ancient Serpent, Satan, his names are many but his purpose remains, to wage war against the Holy One (Revelation 12:7-8). Deceit is among his weapons and—because they are beloved of the LORD—he makes the church his target (John 15:18). In Revelation 2:20, Satan employs yet another “Jezebel.” This one, a supposed prophetess of the church in Thyatira. Her demonic words lull and seduce the saints into sexual immorality.

Sisters, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). There are various “Jezebels” in our day. We dwell among skillfully crafted deceits that lead many astray, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).

Yet Queen Jezebel’s strength is proved weak when she is tossed out of a window and eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:30-37). In the same way, our risen Christ will seize and hurl that Great Dragon into a pit, “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Revelation 20:3). Until then, let us grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our LORD, rooted in faith and not easily turned (Ephesians 4:11-14; 2 Peter 3:18). For indeed, through many dangers, toils and snares, God’s Spirit will guard His children safely home (2 Timothy 4:18).

*Thanks for reading! This post is part of my Mothers in the Bible Series; we are looking for glimpses of the gospel in the lives of biblical women--from Eve to Mary, the mother of Christ. Click here to see other writings. And please let me know your thoughts!


[1] Newton, John, Amazing Grace, 1779.

[2] Bunyan, John, edited by Mike Wimmer, The Pilgrim’s Progress (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 123-140

[3] The MacArthur Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) 498-9.