The Jezebel Spirit
Someone once told me that heels, specifically stilettos, where part of “the Jezebel Spirit.” If you grew up in the church, especially if you're a woman, you've probably heard of the Jezebel Spirit. Usually it is applied to women who seem "loose" or promiscuous. It is a spirit of haughtiness and sexual immorality, said to be derived from the evil queen who ruled the Northern Kingdom of Israel for a time.
Although sexual immorality is a sin, thus making the spirit of sexual immorality a legitimate concern, the Jezebel Spirit is often used by members of the church to attack anything that they perceive as representing female sexuality. Not only have I seen heels associated with the spirit, but jewelry and makeup, as well. While adornment and the concept of modesty are whole topics in and of themselves, they are entangled with the concept of the Jezebel Spirit. Anything that people perceive as a woman doing to seduce a man is often lumped in with the Jezebel Spirit. And while many (probably even most) woman are not thinking about men when they put on their jewelry or do their makeup, those who consider it part of the Jezebel Spirit see it as being done to beautify oneself for the purpose of seduction.
The Jezebel Trope and Racism
We know that Jezebel is often used as a slur or derogatory to refer to women, but as a black woman I also associate Jezebel with a trope that has been used to exploit black women. In media, black people are usually pigeon holed in to a handful of roles. For black women you typically have the Mamie figure (e.g., all the women in The Help), the magical Negro (e.g., Bonnie Bennett in The CW's The Vampire Diaries), the strong black woman (e.g. almost any role played by Janet Jackson or Gabrielle Union), and the Jezebel (e.g. any hip hop music video), just to name a few. In modern society, the Jezebel role is quite popular. When attributed strictly to prostitution or loose behavior, Halle Berry's role in Monster's Ball comes to mind first (she even won an Academy Award for the role). LisaRaye in The Player's Club also comes to mind. Usually, however, it's not outright prostitution but a hyper sexualization of the actress and character. Here, I think of many of Megan Good's roles, such as in Think Like A Man. The movie Cuties, though supposedly a commentary on hyper-sexuality, not only sexualizes young girls, but puts a young black girl at the forefront of this 'sexual discovery.' Nicki Minaj, in general, but specifically in the movie Barbershop: The Next Cut. This topic is too large to cover here, but I did want to point out that the Jezebel Spirit is often pointed toward black women disproportionately.
Modern Arguments Against The Jezebel Spirit
Naturally, today's society pushes back on this concept. Many people seek to redefine Jezebel and repair her damaged reputation. Some compare the smearing of Jezebel's character by associating her with prostitution to modern sexism. They argue that because she was powerful, those who opposed her countered by attacking her sexuality. Others argue that it's a case of Biblical authors being taken too literally, as sexual immorality is often used as a descriptor when talking about Israel's idolatry. So, I asked myself, "Who was Jezebel, really?"
Who Was Jezebel
The first thing I did was look up the origin and meaning of "Jezebel." In Hebrew the name is actually Izevel and it is linked to Ba'al worship. Likely it means "unexalted" or "where is the prince?"—the latter being a reference to Ba'al worship.
The second thing I did was use the search feature in a digital Bible to find all the references pertaining to Jezebel in the Bible. To my surprise, there are actually two Jezebels mentioned in the Bible: one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament.
Old Testament Jezebel
Jezebel of the Old Testament is introduced in 1 Kings 16:31 as the daughter of a king who marries Israel's king. She and her husband worship the Canaanite god Ba'al and lead Israel to do the same. The most significant things attributed to Jezebel during her life are the following:
- Turning the people away from YHWH and toward Ba'al
- Murder of the prophets of God (1 Kings 18:4)
- Antagonizing Elijah the Prophet (1 Kings 19)
- Having Naboth killed so her husband can take Naboth's property (1 Kings 21)
None of these seem related to sexual immorality, which is why people have started to question the concept of the Jezebel Spirit.
There are, however, a few verses in 2 Kings 9 that seem to explain the link. Jehu says Jezebel has a cult of prostitution (and witchcraft). Also, when Jezebel sees Jehu approaching, she puts on makeup and adorns her head—eye makeup is only ever referenced in the Bible in conjunction with rebellion. This would explain why some pastors denounce makeup and jewelry as part of the Jezebel spirit, and is the only link between Queen Jezebel and sexual immorality.
While a case could be made that this is in fact the origin and root of the Jezebel Spirit, I have to point out two important things before you build a case for this as doctrine. Number one: prostitution, harlotry, and adultery are often used to describe Israel when the nation turns away from God (Hosea is the perfect example of this). Knowing that Jezebel did in fact lead Israel astray and that she is being associated with witchcraft, prostitution may not be a reference to literal prostitution and physical sex, but a statement of her treachery toward The Most High God. Number two: although Jezebel puts on makeup and adorns her head, there is no indication that she does this to seduce anyone or for sexually immoral reasons. Remember she is the queen of a nation and sees a dignitary approaching. This isn't much different than if you were to see someone approaching you door and you brushed your hair or changed into more appropriate clothes. As queen, it's likely that there was an expected look that she felt the need to convey when Jehu arrived.
New Testament Jezebel
Arguably, the Jezebel mentioned in the New Testament (Revelation 2:20-23) could actually be a reference back to Queen Jezebel of the Old Testament. The NIV, CSB, ESV, KJV, NKJV, NASB all read as though the author is speaking of a woman named Jezebel. However, the CJB and NLT read as though the woman in question is being called a Jezebel.
If the woman is actually being called a Jezebel, this would be evidence that the concept of the Jezebel Spirit was present during the early church and is not a modern invention. It would also solidify the notion that it references the infamous queen of Israel. However, it is also possible that this is a woman named Jezebel who has no relation to the aforementioned Jezebel.
Either way, it is this Jezebel that is explicitly said to have committed acts of sexual immorality and led the people to commit sexual immorality. It seems to me this is where the concept of the Jezebel Spirit, specifically relating to "looseness" and "sexual immorality" gets its origin.
That being said, it is possible that yet still this isn't about literal sex. As mentioned above, the Bible intertwines the concept of idolatry and adultery (sexual immorality). Not only is the Jezebel of Revelation linked with false doctrine and idolatry by way of consuming meat sacrificed to idols, she is being discussed in Revelation, a book full of symbolism. If you step back just one chapter you will see a brilliant description followed by an explanation of symbols. Sometimes in Revelation the symbol definitions are in the book (as in Revelation 1), but other times the symbols are given in other books (such as Daniel). Throughout the Bible a woman represents a church. In Revelation we already see two women contrasted to represent the true Church and remnant (Revelation 12) versus the apostate church and antichrist powers (the Whore of Babylon). The woman spoken of in Revelation 2 could reference a splinter church or sect within the church that was teaching false doctrine. In this case, sexual immorality might not be literal but a reference to idolatry.
As a believer in the Most High God and a servant of the Messiah, my duty is to seek truth, not to follow the trends or what I desire to be true. My goal is to please the Father, not society and not myself. As a millennial and US citizen, my upbringing naturally biases me against the concept of The Jezebel Spirit. This is something I have to be aware of as I read the text and must constantly pray over to ensure I hear God's voice clearly. When I studied this topic, I tried to study from both points of view and in the end, I do believe there is a seductive spirit in our world. Whether this spirit should be attributed to Queen Jezebel or the false prophetess Jezebel, I'm not sure. I do not think all aspects of female sexuality should be lumped in with this spirit, either. God created both male and female as sexual beings to enjoy each other sexually (in marriage); therefore, female sexuality is natural. That being said, I do believe there are things best left for intimacy (re: strictly between a woman and her husband). My conclusion would be that each person should search themselves for motive. Do I behave this way or dress this way because it's who I am and it's comfortable, or because I seek attention or validation or because I'm mimicking the people I see on TV? If the Holy Spirit is convicting me, then I'm probably wrestling with a sexual spirit. However, if I pray and the Spirit does not convict me, it is not a sexual spirit (or I've grieved the Holy Spirit away and all hope is lost...but let's assume none of us are doing that!).
References & Footnotes
- "Strong's H348. ". Blue Letter Bible; visited March 12, 2022
- Mike Campbell. "Jezebel". Behind the Name; visited March 12, 2022
- "What is the Jezebel spirit?". GotQuestions.org; visited March 12, 2022
- Hope Bolinger. "What is the Jezebel Spirit". Christianity.com. February 7, 2022
- Aysha Winstanley Musa. "Don’t believe The Handmaid’s Tale: the original Jezebel has been much maligned". The Conversation. July 18, 2017
- Wednesday Martin. "Who Exactly Was the Original Jezebel?". Lit Hub. September 20, 2018
- Nyasha Junior. "Jezebel Isn’t Who You Think She Is". Dame Magazine. November 5, 2019
- Heather Donckels. "Book asserts Jezebel was anything but a prostitute". The Spokesman-Review. November 10, 2007
- Janet Howe Gaines . "How Bad Was Jezebel?". Biblical Archaeology Society. March 24, 2021
- "The Jezebel Stereotype" Ferris State University; visited March 12 ,2022
- "Mammy, Jezebel and Sapphire: Stereotyping Black women in media". Al Jazeera. July 26, 2020