In the video (above) I covered off on the Biblical characteristics of Jezebel. If you haven’t watched that, then get on it (just doing my bit to cut down your reading time. You’re welcome). Now we need to talk about the modern use of the term. Across Christendom, there is a wide spectrum of approaches to the Jezebel issue. Some choose to ignore it, and keep their focus on the good guy (i.e. Jesus). For others, Jezebel is a major focus and foe. There is a combination of good and bad doctrine about this, and some of it is downright harmful.
They say the most dangerous type of a lie is the one with a bit of truth mixed in. Yes, Jezebel was a strong woman. Yes, she was a bad woman. But that does not mean that strong women in churches are bad women. Oh Heck no! Its time to put this back in context and stop using the term “Jezebel” as an excuse for misogyny.
Interestingly, when you read about the Jezebel spirit, you’ll read over and over again from different preachers and scholars that “spirits don’t have genders,” but in my experience I’ve noticed that it’s quite rare for men to be branded this, while women have this label cast on them much more easily.
It can be used to describe a person who needs to be in control, or a person who is manipulative. But concerningly, the term “Jezebel” can also be used to describe women who have strong opinions, obvious talent, or leadership capabilities. It has even been used to describe women who volunteer excessively. But that, my friends, is unbiblical and no individual characteristic should lead a person to be labelled as a carrying a Jezebel spirit, when the Biblical picture of Jezebel was a lot more complex.
I’ve taken the liberty of going on a quick tour of the internet to find the top things listed as “characteristics of Jezebel.” You’re about to see where truth, myth and superstition interact and leave us with a bit of a problem.
Up first, are the things we can see in scripture. The Jezebel Spirit is said to be:
- Controlling, manipulative, domineering and pushy.
- Vengeful and prone to oneupmanship
- Refusing to admit guilt or wrongdoing
- Clairvoyant (or a false prophet)
- Prone to use false accusations
- Tending to isolation as a control tool, both publicly and privately
- Cursing those that oppose them or engaging in witchcraft
We do see these things in the Bible. These, to me, would be a valid explanation of the Jezebel spirit.
Next up comes the ones that are a bit of a stretch, but may be connected to the pop-psychology understanding of control dynamics. They aren’t seen clearly in scripture, but may have been present in the character of Jezebel – Possibly. Maybe. If we use our imaginations. In this imagining of the Jezebel spirit, it is said to:
- Take credit for everything good and never show gratitude.
- Use people to accomplish its agenda.
- Ignore people in order to establish fear and control
- Be heavily critical of people
- Sequester or withhold information and use it for manipulation and power
- Command attention and dislike like it when others are the centre of attention
- Sow seeds of discord
- Be insubordinate, independent and disliking of authority
- Frequently attempt to make it look like other people are the problem (accusing others of being the Jezebel)
- Insinuate disapproval to those under their control, thus inciting fear
- Be a know it all
- Be ambitious
- Target the leadership, head or prophet. (The latter is clear in scripture, so the former is imaginable)
- Play the victim.
- Use false humility and have a sense of entitlement.
- Whine until they get their way
I do have to say that there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, if it doesn’t involve victimising others. I also have to point out that it wasn’t Jezebel who was prone to whining. It was Ahab. The rest sounds a little like the description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in my opinion. It’s a valid thing, it’s just not the Jezebel Spirit.
Next up are things you can file under bizarre, with no real Biblical basis. The Jezebel spirit has been said to;
- Talk in circles or in a confused manner
- Volunteer for anything (supposedly a control measure)
- Talk incessantly
- Spiritualize everything, often to avoid taking responsibility for their actions
- Give gifts to gain control
- Be insecure
- Seek to infiltrate undermine
- Hate prayer and spiritual warfare
I can see how, to those who major on spiritual warfare, some of these things would make sense (I’ll talk about spiritual warfare another day). But my caution here is that you can’t just lump undesirable characteristics together and call it a demon. Nor can you decide that being ambitious or talkative is a fault, that volunteering a lot is bad (???) or that being unclear in communication is a demonic issue.
Misunderstanding the Jezebel spirit (if indeed it can be called a spirit, when it is a complex cluster of characteristics that may be occurring for a number of reasons) and using it as a label can cause extraordinary harm. Imagine a good hearted person offering to volunteer at a church and not getting any good reason why they are being kept from giving their time and talents to a good cause? Imagine what this would do to their self esteem? Now imagine being told someone is carrying a Jezebel spirit. How might that affect your relationship with them? Would you trust them to the same degree? Or distance them and treat them with distrust? It is possible for a good person to be ostracised for no good reason other than being a strong, smart woman who wants to help her local church.
Let’s not do that. Let’s not damage people and label them unfairly.
But believe it or not, that isn’t the most harmful part of the list.
I have read articles saying that a Jezebel spirit:
- Will operate in a person with charisma, intelligence, or wit
- Will have problems with fear and rejection, and need control because of it
We need to stop and take heed here. I understand that people who have a history of trauma may have a fear of being out of control. So let’s not re-traumatise them by socially rejecting them through labelling and restriction of duties inside churches. Let’s love them. Love is what heals rejection. Just because they need some element of control in order to cope with trauma doesn’t mean they are a Jezebel. That is harmful. That is doing more harm where God intended the church to be a place where people could heal.
Let’s also scrutinise our tendency to use this label. Why is it needed? Is it used by insecure leadership to stop talented, smart people from having input into church life, or from reaching their potential? Or is it used as some supposedly Biblically-sanctioned misogyny? Is it used to re-traumatise or control women and victims of trauma? Is it used to distract from one’s own bad behaviour or lack of skill?
Hey people – labels kill. They kill self-esteem. They kill social connectedness. They may even drive people into sad states of mental illness.
I understand that there are those who will read/watch this and say “but the Jezebel spirit is a real thing.” And yes, it is. I have no arguments against that. It is seen in the Bible, rates a mention in both Old and New Testaments, and represents a worthy caution. But it is a cluster of characteristics that we need to watch for. We can’t just spot one thing and then throw the baby out with the bathwater.
There are two points I want to raise on this: The first is that the tale of Jezebel was not to teach us that strong women are bad women. It was to teach us what happens when we passively tolerate evil. Many a Christian writer has aptly point out that Ahab was the problem. If he had of stood in his place, she wouldn’t have gone down in history like she did.
The second point is this: the antedote to Jezebel is when we stand for what is right – when we do what Ahab didn’t. Yes, we might cop it a bit. But that’s okay. If our God is for us, who can be against us? I’ve seen Jezebel conflated with rejection and trauma. This is dangerous, because these people are traumatised, not demonised. Let’s meet them with love not isolation.
For all you women out there who have been called a Jezebel – I’ve got a message for you: Be strong. Be smart. Be talented. Be generous. Be you. And if you have a fear of rejection, or if you need to be in control – then find a good therapist and heal. Not because you are a problem, but because you deserve a healthy, happy life. Some of you got branded this when you shouldn’t have. I hope you find your voice and your self-worth again. I think God would want you to as well