Jezebel as a Picture of Abuse
Recently, Barbara was presented with a question about the “Jezebel Spirit”, specifically whether it applies only to women. In the ensuing internal discussion, we bandied back and forth about how to handle this subject as the original question raised a lot more questions. What exactly is the “Jezebel Spirit”? Is it an issue for women only? The topic intrigued me, so I offered to take it on. Note that I will not address some of the denominational baggage that is often attached to the subject (is it demonic or not), as this is outside our purpose for this blog.
What I hope to do is to take from Scripture who Jezebel was, and what her specific sins were. My goal is to show that the most common uses of this phrase by church people are unscriptural and are improperly used as a battering ram against women who refuse to submit to an abusive husband, or anyone who raises tough questions to church leadership. It is a form of spiritual abuse.
Let’s start with an overview of who Jezebel was and the relevant passages that talk about her. We see her mentioned first in 1 Kings 16 as becoming the wife of Ahab. Now Ahab was one in a long line of wicked kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. Like his predecessors, Ahab led the people into idolatry and embraced Baal worship. Scripture makes no bones about the fact that he was more wicked than even the kings before him (v. 33). As part of this process of leading the Israelites further into idolatry, he married Jezebel, the daughter of the Sidonian king. This was a direct violation of God’s commands not to intermarry with outsiders, and probably accelerated Israel’s demise. Thus married to a foreign idolatress, they became partners in all manner of evil. As such, his marriage to Jezebel was an extension of the evil in his heart and his rebellion towards God.
Note that Scripture does not say anything about Jezebel usurping the role of her husband, though she is portrayed as the evil antagonist in her dealings with God. It is more likely that the two of them plotted together and she is simply portrayed in Scripture as the face of the evil they practiced. In any case, it is clear that she was complicit in leading people into the worship of idols.
With that background, let’s look at the specific sins of Jezebel as listed in Scripture. I will give chapter references rather than quoting the verses to save space.
- Murder and threats of murder of God’s prophets (1 Kings 18:4; 19:2).
- Seeking revenge (1 Kings 19:2)
- Conspiracy, theft, murder and suborning perjury in the incident concerning Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21)
- Sexual immorality and witchcraft (2 Kings 9:21)
All through the passages in Kings, there is an undercurrent of rebellion, but it is a rebellion against God and His prophets. Further, we see signs of extreme narcissism, something that should seem very familiar to anyone who is a victim of abuse! Additionally, Jezebel was a consummate liar. She refused to be wrong. Do you see a familiar pattern here?
The New Testament only mentions Jezebel in Revelation 2:18-29 (letter to Church in Thyatira). Here, it is clear that the literal Jezebel was not in the church, but probably one or more persons who led people into idolatry and sexual immorality. In other words, God’s complaint with Thyatira was that they were tolerating false teachers who led them into immorality and idolatry. He mentioned nothing of abuse here, nor someone rebelling against their husband.
Now, when an accusation of having a “Jezebel Spirit” is leveled against someone, it is usually by an abusive husband or church leadership, and it is almost always made against women! The intent is to disarm the woman, to put her in absolute and total submission to either the authority of the abusive man, or an abusive church. Simply, it is meant to shut the person up!
There are several problems with this. First, it is saying what Scripture does not say. In other words, it is a misunderstanding of who Jezebel was and what God said against her. Examine list of sins above. If you really get down to it, it is clear that Jezebel was an abuser, not an innocent victim of abuse from her husband. She was clearly one who abused and used others for her own selfish gain. She enabled and encouraged her husband to commit grievous sins. She lusted for power and control in both the Old and New Testament references. Again, do you see the pattern? It is the classic pattern of the abuser, not the victim!
Second, none of the sins listed are exclusive to women. Men can and do engage in the same sins and have the same attitudes and motivations she displayed. People who accuse only women of this, or teach that this is a woman’s issue, are engaging in a logical fallacy. You cannot say that because Jezebel was a woman, and committed these sins, that only women can do so.
Third, by flippantly telling a woman that she is a Jezebel, without fully understanding what Scripture says about her, abusers and churches are not only making a false comparison, but are engaging in spiritual abuse. Most of these types, like all abusers, have a sense of entitlement to power. They are taking Scripture out of context, mixing in worldly assumptions and desires, and ignoring truth to empower themselves and shut down dissent. If that is not spiritual abuse, then I don’t know what is!
I want to encourage all victims of domestic abuse who have been called Jezebel, or told you have that spirit, not to believe it. It is clear from Scripture that there is no comparison between a victim of abuse and Jezebel. Your standing up to an abuser or even church leadership when they are abusing you is nothing like the Jezebel of either the Old or New Testaments. God’s word is intended to bring you freedom, not bondage. I pray that knowing the truth will free you to reject the slavery this phrase brings!
UPDATE about the origin of the term ‘Jezebel Spirit’. Update added 11 Jan 2017.
According to Mike Phillips (link)
The man who coined the”Jezebel Spirit” phrase, Francis Frangipane, told me it is one of his big regrets for it is most often used to denigrate strong, confident women in churches. He was describing an attitude that just wants to destroy people in authority. Men do that just as often.
He spoke this at the Pastor’s luncheon at the Montana School of Prayer in 1998 in Helena Montana. I was sitting on the dais beside him and he got up and answered questions. Someone asked about the Jezebel Spirit. He rolled his eyes and then said what I reported above.
In the book … “The Three Battlegrounds”, he clearly delineates the Jezebel spirit as an attitude which opposes spiritual leadership and seeks to destroy it for the sheer pleasure of destroying the work of God. It applies to men or women.