🔼The name Jezreel: Summary
- God Sows
- From (1) the verb זרע (zara'), to scatter seed, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
🔼Etymology of the name Jezreel
The name Jezreel consists of two elements, the final one being אל (El), the prominent Canaanite deity, whose name became applied to the God of Israel, or the common abbreviation of Elohim, the genus God:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
The first element of our name is an active form of the verb זרע (zara'), meaning to scatter seed or sow:
The verb זרע (zara') means to scatter seed or to sow but may even describe merely extending one's arm or even a leg and ultimately signify the bearing of fruit or even children (hence referred to as one's seed).
Nouns זרע (zera') and זרוע (zerua') mean a sowing or that which is sown, and may refer to: seed, sperm, one child, offspring, posterity, family or a whole community. Nouns זרע (zeroa') and זרען (zer'on) specifically denote vegetables. And noun מזרע (mizra') literally means a place or agent of sowing.
Nouns זרוע (zeroa') or זרע (zeroa') or אזרוע ('ezroa') mean arm but are mostly used to figuratively to denote the seat of strength of a person or a nation or even of God.
Noun זרה (zara) also means to scatter but where זרע (zara') scatters seed to bear fruit, זרה (zara) scatters chaff and debris. It means to winnow. Noun מזרה (mizreh), describes place or agent of scattering, which in this case denotes a winnowing fork.
For a meaning of the name Jezreel, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads God Sows and BDB Theological Dictionary has God Soweth.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes He Will Be Sown Of God, and explains it with: "i.e. have a numerous progeny".
🔼The name Jezreel in the Bible
There are two towns and two men named Jezreel in the Bible. The men named Jezreel are:
- One of the "sons" of Etam of Judah (1 Chronicles 4:3).
- The symbolically named son of the prophet Hosea and Gomer, although he appears to be named after Jezreel of Issachar (Hosea 1:4).
The towns named Jezreel are:
- A town in a valley in the hill country of the territory originally assigned to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:56), but which later came to be situated in the territory of Ephraim (Joshua 17:16). This is possibly also the birthplace of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess (יזרעאלית), who became the wife of king David (1 Samuel 25:43) and the mother of Amnon and Tamar (2 Samuel 3:2). But she might also have come from Jezreel of Issachar. It's unclear.
- A town in the territory of Issachar, which was located in the north of Israel, close to the Sea of Galilee. (Joshua 19:18).
During the incumbency of Gideon the judge, the Eastern Coalition (consisting of Midianites, Amalekites and others) invaded Israel and camped in the Valley of Jezreel of Issachar (Judges 6:33). We know that it wasn't Jezreel of Judah because Gideon obtained military assistance from the northern tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali (6:35).
The Valley of Jezreel, apparently, remained a good place to camp an army, because when the Philistines camped at Aphek to wage war against king Saul (see 1 Samuel 28:4), the Israelite army camped at Jezreel (1 Samuel 29:1). During that battle, king Saul and Jonathan perished on mount Gilboa, and when Abner subsequently made prince Ish-bosheth king of Israel, he ceremoniously mentioned Jezreel among several places that Ish-bosheth was to hold sway over (2 Samuel 2:9). It was from there that the startling news of the demise of Saul and Jonathan reached the nurse of young Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son, who promptly dropped her young patron and crippled him for the rest of his life (2 Samuel 4:4).
During the reign of king Solomon, a man named Baana, son of Ahilud, became the official in charge of an area that also spanned the Valley of Jezreel (which included the city of Megiddo; 1 Kings 4:12).
By the time of king Ahab, the name Jezreel appears to have been applied to a military fort, a city and the larger area these stood in. After the prophet Elijah massacred the 450 Baal priests at the Kishon, he went up Mount Carmel to wait for rain. When his servant reported sights of one tiny cloud, he began to run down the hill and by the time he was outrunning king Ahab's chariot, a heavy shower was falling. Both Elijah and Ahab travelled from Mount Carmel (present day Haifa, north on the coast of Israel) to Jezreel, before swerving south to Samaria (1 Kings 18:46). That the name Jezreel now covered a larger area is demonstrated in the story of Naboth the Jezreelite (יזרעאלי), whose vineyard "was in Jezreel beside the palace of Ahab, king of Samaria" (1 Kings 21:1). King Ahab wanted to buy the vineyard but Naboth wouldn't hear of it, and that made Ahab sullen. His wife Jezebel, terribly distraught by her husband's sour mood, promptly had Naboth killed and Ahab felt a lot less gloomy as he clumped about the dead man's grapes. Unfortunately for the royal couple, Ahab's gloom returned when Elijah the Tishbite had a word with him (1 Kings 21:27).
Elijah's message included the prediction that dogs would eat Jezebel at the rampart of Jezreel, which firmly connects Jezreel (and Megiddo) to (a) the Jezreelite tradition of international battle, and (2) YHWH's revenge on evil rulers. This connection would finally culminate in John the Revelator's predictions of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).
During a battle in which kings Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah fought against king Hazael of Aram, Joram was wounded and he went to convalesce at the fort at Jezreel and Ahaziah went to help him with that (2 Kings 8:29). When general Jehu came to check on his king, the watchman wouldn't let him in, and instead Jehu drew the two absconders out to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite. There he shot Joram fatally in the chest (2 Kings 9:24). Getting king Ahaziah took some chasing, but Jehu and his men caught up with him and shot him too, and Ahaziah died in Megiddo (2 Kings 9:27). To more than fully comply with Elijah's prophecies, Jehu proceeded to kill Ahab's remaining seventy sons who lived in the city of Jezreel (2 Kings 10:7), and went on killing all his personnel, his friends and priests (2 Kings 10:11). On the road to Samaria he met forty-two relatives of king Ahaziah, so he killed them too (2 Kings 10:14). In Samaria he tracked anybody who had anything to do with Ahab, and killed them (2 Kings 10:17). Then he organized a national festival for Baal, for which every Baal-enthusiast in Israel showed up, and had them all killed (2 Kings 10:25).
A difficult theological dynamic occurs when at first the Lord seemed pleased with Jehu's bloody campaign (2 Kings 10:30), but by the time of Hosea, he firmly condemned it. He instructed Hosea to name his son Jezreel, because the Lord would "punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel" (Hosea 1:4). It appears to be a divine rule that an executioner, even one who acts by God's will, is not immune to the Law. Possibly the hardest thing a righteous killer must do is not to murder a person but to become guilty of it. The same difficult dynamic arises when Jesus confirms that the betrayal of Judas was ordained, yet it would have been better for him if he never had been born (Matthew 26:24). These things clearly show that without Jesus' "abduction of guilt" no one would have made it out of the Old Testament alive.
Hosea further predicts that Israel will be restored and gathered together, "for great will be the day of Jezreel" (Hosea 1:11, 2:22).