What Is the Jezebel Spirit and What Are It's Characteristics?

Borrowed Light
What Is the Jezebel Spirit and What Are It's Characteristics?

A seasoned pastor took me, a new pastor, out to lunch. At one point the conversation turned to some of the more difficult things he had experienced in his years of ministry. He told me about one lady who was incredibly difficult for his ministry. As he shared of all the trouble she caused within the church he summed it up by saying, “She had a Jezebel spirit. Right or wrong, I just started calling her Jezebel…at least under my breath.” 

I’ll be honest. I’d heard of Jezebel from the Bible, but I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by Jezebel spirit. It had been about ten years or so that I’d heard that phrase. But it seems I’m hearing this phrase frequently these days.

What is a Jezebel spirit? Is that phrase even in the Bible? And is it something we should be concerned with?   

Is a Jezebel Spirit Mentioned in the Bible?

The first appearance of Jezebel is in 1 Kings 16. The wicked king Ahab married her in order to assist in leading Israel into Baal worship. She was cunning and spiritually controlling. We see this in play in 1 Kings 18, when she orders the death of all the prophets of the Lord. She wanted to silence their voices and replace them with altars to Baal. She kept pursuing Elijah the prophet and later had battles with Elisha. 

Her wickedness is also on display in 1 Kings 21 in the death of Naboth. Ahab wanted to buy a vineyard form Naboth, but Naboth refused to sell it to him. He believed doing so would be going against the Lord. Ahab sulked to his queen, but seemed confined to his position of not having this vineyard. Jezebel wouldn’t take no for an answer. She plotted and schemed and had Naboth killed, and they took his vineyard. 

She died when taunting Elisha. She was thrown from a window and trampled by a horse. They wanted to recover her body — to give her a queen’s burial — but most of her body had been eaten by dogs. Not a very pleasant end. But her death was a fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy against her:

“In the territory of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel, and the corpse of Jezebel shall be as dung on the face of the field in the territory of Jezreel, so that no one can say, This is Jezebel’” (2 Kings 9:37).

Yet, this doesn’t appear to be the end of Jezebel. Not entirely. That name makes another appearance in Revelation:

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come’” (Revelation 2:19-25).

There is nothing in this text which mentions a Jezebel spirit. Yet, there does appear to be someone who is like Jezebel. There is one within the church who is exemplifying the same character traits as the Jezebel of the Old Testament and leading them astray. This demands further exploration. 

To What Does the Jezebel in Revelation 2:18-25 refer? 

First, is this a real person named Jezebel? It’s unlikely that anyone in Jewish circles would have named their daughter Jezebel, though, it’s plausible. Yet, the phrasing here would indicate that it is more symbolic. The text literally says, “your woman (or wife) Jezebel.” This has caused some to speculate that the offending Jezebel is the pastor/bishop/elder’s wife. Again, this is semantically plausible but not likely. The most likely reading is that there is an influential prophetess in Thyatira who is leading others astray — much as Jezebel led both Ahab and others astray in 1 Kings. Though it may also be an entire group of people who exemplify this evil woman in the Old Testament.  

Second, we must look at how she gained influence. The text tells us that she “calls herself a prophetess” and she is “teaching and seducing my servants.” I appreciate the work of Sam Storms here. He has argued rather effectively that it is through parroting real prophecy that she has gained a foothold within the local church. But rather than being energized by the Holy Spirit, she is energized by a demonic spirit. This is how Storms says it, 

“Let me be brief and simply say that the word ‘spirit’ is used here in one of two ways: either (a) of the human spirit, perhaps an attitude, disposition, habit, or set of characteristics displayed by a particular individual, or (b) of those whose supernatural ‘prophetic’ ability is energized by a demonic spirit. In either case, regardless of the animating force, a person with a ‘Jezebel spirit’ is one who displays the insidious, manipulative, and evil tendencies manifest in this woman of Thyatira.”

Next, we should consider the core of her teaching and its fruit. The text tells us that Jezebel is encouraging others to “practice sexual immorality” and to “eat food sacrificed to idols.” What does this mean? It’s helpful to think about the first Jezebel. She encouraged the Israelites to compromise and prostitute themselves spiritually by worshipping Baal. It seems that something similar is happening here. The “eating food sacrificed to idols” is participation in the idolatrous aspects of the world in which they live.

Lastly, we see that she refused to repent. This stubborn refusal of repentance is also characteristic of the Jezebel from the Old Testament. Because of her refusal to repent, her end – and that of all those who follow her – is death and destruction. 

Clearly, we don’t want to follow after this Jezebel. What, then, are characteristics of a Jezebel spirit? 

What Are the Characteristics of a Jezebel Spirit?

Personally, I believe we should be cautious in jumping to the conclusion that this is a specific demonic spirit. Some have concluded that this Jezebel spirit is one of the most dangerous within the church today. Others consider the demonic spirit of Jezebel to be one of the archangels of the demonic realm. 

None of these conclusions can be derived explicitly from the text of Scripture. Ironically, by making too fine of points on this, one might be guilty of claiming “prophetic speech” and special knowledge, thus embodying the “spirit” of Jezebel. In my estimation, it is far better to view this “spirit of Jezebel” as a sketch of specific character traits which can be deadly to a local body. Can this be energized by a demonic spirit? Certainly. But we’re on far safer grounds to speak as the Scriptures speak and use the tools which are given to us in God’s Word. 

Having said that, what is the picture which Scripture paints of this Jezebel? I see five defining characteristics of a "Jezebel Spirit": 

  1. Using spiritual influence to manipulate or control others
  2. Sexual immorality (though that could be symbolic of spiritual apostasy) 
  3. Idolatrous — leading others away from authentic faith in Christ
  4. Inciting fear and discouragement in others (we see this with Elijah in 1 Kings)
  5. False teaching

When someone acts as Jezebel did, exemplifying these characteristics, we might say that they have a Jezebel spirit. Those who mirror spiritual gifts but are energized by un-Christlike aims will always be deadly to individuals and communities. Likewise, the false teaching which they were tolerating at Thyatira would have devastating consequences. We do well to reject Jezebel. 

It should also be noted that the concept of having a “Jezebel spirit” has been used to bring harm to others. 

How Has This Jezebel Language Been Wrongly Used?

For one, this phrase has been disproportionately used against potentially powerful women. When women rise into positions of power or prominence, this term seems to be at ready disposal. Yes, Jezebel was a historic woman. But her damaging characteristics are not distinctively feminine. 

Secondly, this phrase has become a racial slur. Jezebel became a sexualized name and in the eighteenth century it was attached to women of color. As Bible Odyssey notes, “White slaveowners regularly justified their sexual abuse of enslaved women by insisting that black women were jezebels, that is, naturally more promiscuous and tempting than white women.”

This is why I counsel caution when it comes to quickly assessing someone as having the “jezebel spirit.” If they are energized by the demonic, or even demon possessed, it’s easy to dehumanize them. It can even be used to justify abuse as one attempts to “cast out” or “exorcise” the demon out of this person. 

If a woman has a type A personality and strong propensity for leadership, this very well could be a God-given spiritual gift. But if I’m inclined to view such women as a Jezebel in waiting, then I’ll dehumanize her and squelch the way in which God has made her. Or perhaps worse, she could be accused of demonic possession and dehumanized. 

In what is a sad irony, fear of a “Jezebel spirit” can create a fear-based environment within religious communities. In an effort to root out the “Jezebel spirit” we ourselves can become controlling, manipulative, and abusive in exercise of spiritual authority. An undue focus on this can foster a sense of suspicion and distrust among members, leading to divisions and conflicts. 

Be Slow to Pass Judgement

Yes, there are those within our individual lives and communities which exhibit a spirit akin to the Jezebel of the Old Testament and further demonstrated in Revelation 2. Yet, we should also have caution and avoid undue speculation. The Scriptures do not explicitly speak of a “Jezebel spirit.” There is no mention of a hierarchy of the demonic with Jezebel spirit one of the chief rulers.

Yes, there is still demonic possession and influence in our world. But we do well to treat people as humans and to be very slow with declarations that someone might be possessed or influenced by a demonic spirit seeking to gain control or power. At the end of the day, we can rest assured that Christ is victorious. The same gospel that will drive out the demonic is also the same powerful word which will transform broken and rebellious people with personalities and characteristics which are reflective of Jezebel. 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/master1305

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is http://mikeleake.net and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.