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1 Kings 19:2 recounts how Queen Jezebel threatened the life of the prophet Elijah. Rather than dispatching soldiers immediately, she chose to sent a messenger, granting Elijah a 24 hours advance warning. It seems her intention was to scare Elijah into fleeing instead of killing him.

Why did Jezebel opt for a messenger instead of soldiers to revenge for her humiliation, considering her penchant for cruelty? Could it be that Jezebel actually fear of Elijah, considering that his God had demonstrated greater power than her own gods during the events on Mount Carmel? Or there are other motivations behind her action?

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The text implies quite strongly that Jezebel did not respond fearfully, but "doubled down" in her determination to defeat Elijah. Moreover, it portrays Elijah as the one who fears Jezebel, not the other way around:

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done—that he had murdered all the prophets by the sword. 2 Jezebel then sent a messenger to Elijah and said, “May the gods do thus to me and more, if by this time tomorrow I have not done with your life what was done to each of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there 4 and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

This is a befuddling passage. We are left to wonder why Elijah was afraid and why he despaired to such a degree that he prayed for death.

It seems that Ahab did not tell Jezebel the whole story after all. The specific report is simply: "he murdered all the prophets," with no mention that Ba'al had been defeated. Thus Jezebel may not even have known that Elijah's slaughter of her prophets followed a miraculous sign that Yahweh was the true God. Instead of fearing Elijah's God, she swears by her own gods to take revenge on Elijah for the mass slaughter of the prophets - and he promptly runs away in fear and despair.

In any case, it is clear that it was not Jezebel who was afraid. It was Elijah.


Addendum: The OP mentions Jezebel's sending a message to Elijah, giving him an opportunity to flee. That is true, but there is no direct indication that she feared him. In the biblical account, her fatal flaw was not cowardice, but her ruthless opposition to the God of Israel. The reason for her not acting directly against Elijah may lie in her husband's influence. Ahab was not nearly as opposed to Elijah as Jezebel was. He facilitated the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Ba'al on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). After killing the false prophets, Elijah protected Ahab by warning him of the coming rainstorm. He then accompanied Ahab back to Samaria, "running before him" (this has been interpreted in various ways). Because Elijah protected Ahab, I think the king would not support Jezebel's acting against the prophet. This is the likely reason she sent him a warning message rather than acting directly against him.

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  • Thank you for your answer. It is possible that both are afraid of each other to various degree. But I prefer to focus on the analysis: why did Jezebel opt for a messenger instead of soldiers to revenge for her humiliation, considering her penchant for cruelty. Commented Feb 15 at 4:32
  • @VincentWong that wasn't clear from your question. I'll think about it and maybe add something. Commented Feb 15 at 12:28
  • You are correct. I have revised the title to narrow down my question. Commented Feb 15 at 14:38
  • Thank you for the addendum. The co-relationship between Ahab-Elijah and Ahab-Jezebel is indeed a subject worth to be examined. +1 Commented Feb 15 at 19:18
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I want to say that it's possible that Jezebel felt some degree of fear or maybe apprehension toward Elijah, especially considering the display of God's power on Mount Carmel, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal.

However. I would argue that it wasn't fear.

Based on 5 things we know from scripture, this is why I think that:

  1. Jezebel influenced Ahab to worship Baal. (1 Kings 16:30-33)
  2. Jezebel and her people were fiercely devoted to the worship of Baal. (1 Kings 18:19-40)
  3. Jezebel massacred the prophets of the Lord. (1 Kings 18:4, 13)
  4. She had Naboth stoned to death. (1 Kings 21:1-16)

Jezebel orchestrated the false accusation against Naboth. These verses demonstrate Jezebel's ruthlessness and abuse of power to achieve her own ends. It also displays her dedication to Baal worship.

For these reasons, I think Jezebel's actions were likely driven more out of anger, pride, and perhaps a desire to maintain her image than outright fear of Elijah.

Since she was known for her ruthless tactics in promoting Baal worship and suppressing the worship of the God of Israel, I don't feel like one stray prophet would give her much fear. Especially since she killed a bunch before.

Her threat against Elijah seems likely to be a response to his challenge to the prophets of Baal as well as a desire to silence him as a threat to her "religious and political influence."

1 Kings 19:1-2 New King James Version

19 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”

  1. She got her information second hand.

Ahab had to tell her what happened. If Jezebel herself had seen what Elijah had done, it would have made a lot more sense that she feared him. As we know, second-hand information just doesn't hold as much weight. So based on this, I conclude that Jezebel's actions are more about her maintaining her power, influence, and image than a genuine fear of Elijah.


Now, why did she choose a warning to Elijah rather than dispatching soldiers immediately? I don't see any explicit answer to this in scripture, however, I think there are some possibilities. I'll give my thoughts and leave it at that.

Elijah engages in pretty high-profile confrontations and interactions with kings, rulers, and other prophets. These include with King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). This suggest (only an inference) that he held significant influence and authority, as he openly challenged the religious and political establishment of his day.

He also performed miracles, such as calling down fire from heaven and raising the dead (1 Kings 17-18). It's possible that this would have garnered attention and awe from those who witnessed them. (May not include only those of Israel)

1 Kings 18:38-39 New King James Version

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”.

Based on this reasoning here are some possible reasons she may have sent the letter:

  1. Avoid potential backlash. I can imagine provoking a direct confrontation could risk further unrest or even opposition that Jezebel may have wanted to avoid. This includes possible resistance from those who revered Elijah as a prophet of Yahweh.
  2. Maintain her image. Ordering a direct attack on a prophet of God could have a negative affect for her public image and political alliances.
  3. She may have been using psychological warfare aimed at intimidating him and destroying his confidence.

I can imagine that if Elijah had a large following, that Jezebel would have had at least some restraint in attacking Elijah. These are just my thoughts so I ask that you treat them as such.

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  • Thank you for your answer. Your conclusion of her obsession to power is accurate. However, her cruelty to her adversaries remains undeniable. Therefore, it needs a more profound examination to understand why she chose a warning to Elijah rather than dispatching soldiers immediately. Would you further elaborate about it? Commented Feb 14 at 14:49
  • My answer suggests Ahab did not tell Jezebel the whole story; only that Elijah had murdered the prophets of Ba'al. The text is specific about that but not about the Ba'al's defeat. Commented Feb 15 at 4:14
  • @DanFefferman I have updated my answer with a follow up to Vincent.
    – Jason_
    Commented Feb 15 at 17:58
  • Your reasoning is sounded +1 Commented Feb 15 at 19:13

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