Narrative is the story through which we view reality. We all have narratives that help us interpret our lives. The Bible also is a narrative that helps us interpret reality. There is a narrative that has floated around Charismatic and Pentecostal circles whenever anxiety surfaces around women co-leading with their husbands in marriage and having leadership roles in the Church and political world. The Jezebel Spirit teaching comes from a false narrative drawn from 1Kings 16-21.
Who was Jezebel in the Bible?
Jezebel was the wife of Ahab who descended from a number of wicked kings who had each become progressively more evil in their ways. Ahab was the son of Omri who was the son of Zimri who was the son of Elan who was the son of Bassash. Each of these kings were idolaters, men of violence who did not keep the Torah, in fact this was said of each king:
“Baasha had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight.” 1Kings 16:7
Of Zimri, “ for he, too, had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight.” 1Kings 16:19
“Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him.” 1kings 16:25
“Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. 1Kings 16:30
Ahab had come from a family of wicked kings who had long practiced idolatry with each subsequent generation becoming more and more evil in the site of the Lord. The intent of the author was to show that Omri was more evil than the kings before him and Ahab even more evil that Omri and all the others before him.
Jezebel also practiced and promoted idolatry in the land of Israel after her marriage to Ahab. Together they authorized and promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah supplanting the worship of the one true God with the worship of false gods. This worship included temple sexual activities and sacrifices, some of them human. Jezebel and Ahab were evil and led Israel astray. They even murdered the prophets of God.
The false narrative commonly understood about Jezebel and Ahab is that Ahab was seduced and led astray by Jezebel who was the dominant member of the marriage. She supposedly usurped Ahab’s role. But we see from the Biblical narrative in 1Kings 16 that Ahab was already an idol worshipper who descended from a long line of evil kings and idolaters. It is clear that both Jezebel and Ahab were evil rulers steeped in idol worship. They were collaborators and manipulators each one devious in their own way. And both were destroyed equally in the end as was prophesied in the beginning of chapter 16.
Jezebel and the Patriarchal Narrative
So how did Jezebel get singled out as the leader and seducer of Ahab and how did Ahab become known as the passive “henpecked” husband who followed his wife’s evil demands?
Readers read with a patriarchal lens that recast the story as the story of a dominant wife ruling over a passive husband. And Jezebel became the stock image for any woman who might be a leader or have leadership qualities. More, any woman perceived (emphasis on perceived) as not being submissive enough to male authority is labeled as one having a Jezebel spirit. The sin of Ahab is that he did not exercise his proper authority over his wife. Jezebel’s great sin was emasculating her husband by not being submissive enough to his leadership. This narrative is used to show the dangers that occur when men and women do not abide by the “biblical” definitions of manhood and womanhood.
The entire story of Jezebel and Ahab is reinterpreted from being a narrative about idolatry to being a narrative about the relationship between husbands and wives and whether or not women should be given equal authority in the church and world. Added is a fear of feminism with the assumption that all feminists are as evil as Jezebel and infected with her spirit.
Jezebel is a reverse exemplar that no good Christian woman should emulate.
The use of the Jezebel label is often used to keep women under the authority of husbands and silent in the churches. It is sad and curious that the most evil female character in the entire Bible is superimposed on the marriage relationship and a woman with leadership gifts. It is even used to label women who speak truth to power about the disenfranchisement of women in our country.
The “sin” of not being submissive, of speaking truth to power and the sin of leading is equated with the most evil woman in the entire Bible. Let that sink in.
I have been an advocate for women in ministry and equality in marriage for many years. Sometimes because of my vocal advocacy it has been assumed that I have a Jezebel spirit. And inaccurate assumptions have also been made about my husband that go against the reality of our marriage. We believe in mutuality. We submit to one another doing the hard work of relationship. My spouse and I seek to validate and support one another’s ministries. We share household responsibilities because we both give our time to the community and the church. We are both strong leaders. Each of us has strong opinions and distinct personalities. Neither of us fears the strength of the other but values the gifts we each have. We live by the Catherine and William Booth quote, “why would God use half his army?” Our time and energy is for the maximum benefit of the Kingdom of God.
I have seen godly women spiritually abused by prayer counselors who have tagged women being abused by husbands as having a Jezebel spirit. (especially when they speak up about that abuse). In addition many strong, godly women leaders, some of them with Prophetic and Apostolic anointings have also been labeled as Jezebels. This characterization of women has to stop in the body of Christ. Talented, godly and Spirit-filled women are tired of enduring this label when they only want to serve God. Enduring the label is sort of a “rite of passage” to which only women leaders must suffer. It is shaming and humiliating and abusive.
Jezebel is often described as being controlling, seductive, self-centered, side-stepping responsibility, blaming of others and having no empathy. Her behavior has much more in common with the pathological condition of narcissism which many male leaders have as well.