The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

The Spirit of Jezebel: The Futility of Classifying Demons

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Because we Christians are so bent on competing with demon worshiping sorcerers, we put a whole lot of time and effort into trying to identify individual demons. It’s a very unrealistic goal, considering how much we don’t know about demons. For example, we have no idea how many of them there are compared to us. We have no idea how they travel around, how they communicate with each other, or how they interact with matter in our world. We’ve never seen them as they actually are—we don’t even know if their real selves are visible to our human eyes. The only time we see them is when they appear to us in costume—intentionally donning some form that they feel would be most effective in luring us in. A pretty looking humanoid with long feathery wings, a creepy looking troll, a black slinking shadow, the ghost of a human child—the costumes are endless. Clearly demons are very skilled at putting on a theatrical show, but how does this help us? If we can’t even identify other humans in costumes, how can we possibly identify demons who are flitting about in creative disguises? Well, maybe form is the wrong focus. Maybe we can start tracking the little rats by the way they behave.

There’s a large crop of Christians in the Church who will tell you that they’ve cracked the code on demon behavior. According to these morons, individual demons always act the same way, therefore it is possible to identify a particular spirit by the way it attacks humans. This paves the way for us to start preceding all of our problems with the words “the demon of.” Are you depressed? The demon of depression is attacking you—he’s that pesky spirit who goes around making everyone feel blue because that’s all he knows how to do. Feeling jealous? It’s the demon of jealousy. Feeling bored? It’s the demon of boredom. Many who use this kind of terminology really believe they’ve found a valid way to distinguish one demon from another. Of course their whole theory rests on the ludicrous assumption that an individual demon only has one mode of operation.

Given their vast theatrical skills, why do we assume demons are one-mode simpletons when it comes to how they behave? If they can show up in such a wide variety of forms, why can’t they also act in a wide variety of ways? Even humans aren’t stuck with only one choice in how we behave. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. Sometimes we’re kind, sometimes we’re cruel. But according to the “experts” on demon behavior, individual demons have far fewer choices than we do. These folks claim that the same demon always attacks the same way. In other words, though demons clearly outmatch us in power, traveling ability, cleverness, and unity, we are far more complex in behavior than they are. It’s a very egotistical theory on our part. Clearly we’re so desperate to find some way that we can trump demons, that we’ve invented some weakness in them so that we can give ourselves the illusion of superiority.

Now certainly there is great value in understanding some of the common ways that demons try to interfere with us. For example, understanding that they can hear your thoughts, discern your current standing with God, and do a great imitation of God’s Voice in your mind helps you make important progress in the area of spiritual discernment. But we only spend time focusing on demon behavior as a means of getting more in tune with God—the demons themselves are not our end goal and we certainly don’t want to go down the idiotic road of thinking we can take them on by ourselves or outsmart them with our nonexistent wisdom.

THE SPIRIT OF JEZEBEL

As easy as it is to talk about “the spirit of despair” and “the spirit of greed”, Christian sorcerer wannabes like to zest things up a bit, so they look for fancier names for certain demons. After all, the Satan worshipers have their databases of mystical sounding names, so why can’t we have some of that? But of course if we want to be really cool, we won’t just use any random name for our demons. We’ll use Bible names. This is how “the demon of Jezebel” was born. By naming a spirit after some shady character in the Bible, we think we sound extra smart and biblical all at the same time. Of course if we read through the account of Jezebel, no spirit is ever mentioned. What we do know is that Queen Jezebel of Israel was obsessed with the god Baal and all the nasty rituals that came with the Baal religion. Well, this was hardly a unique trait. Baal was enormously popular in the geographical region that the Bible focuses on. Both Jews and non-Jews worshiped and sacrificed to Baal. So why pick on Jezebel?

According to the ones who are supposed to know, when the spirit of Jezebel gets on someone, that person starts acting manipulative, deceptive, and domineering. What’s the logic here? Well, it seems Jezebel wore the pants in her relationship with Ahab (figuratively speaking, of course, since pants hadn’t been invented yet). We’re told:

There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of Yahweh, urged on by Jezebel his wife. (1 Kings 21:25)

Well, so what? A lot of men are influenced by their wives, but the glowing coals of corruption must first exist in a man before someone else can help fan them into flame. Interestingly, Jezebel was not an Israelite. Ahab had to go out of his way to marry her, for she lived way to the north in a coastal city called Sidon.

Ahab not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. (1 Ki. 16:31)

Now clearly Ahab knew Jezebel and her people were not Yahweh worshipers when he reached beyond Israel’s borders to get her, so we can hardly make Ahab out to be a victim in this story. He was already a demon worshiping little yuck long before he ever got with Jezebel, and he had plenty of ambition when it came to doing evil.

Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of Yahweh than any of those before him. (1 Ki. 16:30)

The truth is that we know very little about the relationship between Jezebel and Ahab. We know that he chose to marry her, and we know that he didn’t intervene while she began systematically slaughtering all of Yahweh’s prophets in Israel. But why would he intervene? We’re told that Ahab himself was worshiping Baal, so why would he be opposed to forcing his personal beliefs on everyone else? It’s only when we try to paint Ahab as some innocent minded simpleton that Jezebel appears super evil. But when we read through the few details we have, we find evidence that both individuals were making intentional choices to pursue evil. And of course Yahweh’s disgusted attitude towards both of them proves that both were guilty of intentional rebellion, for we know that God responds to our hearts.

Flip over to the book of Revelation, and we find one last mention of Jezebel as Jesus criticizes the church in Thyatira.

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.’ (Rev. 2:20-25)

So what is Jesus saying here?  Is He giving us a rundown on some particular demon?  No, He’s not talking about a demon at all, but some woman who is intentionally leading Christians astray with false teaching.  Whoever this woman is, she is claiming to have supernatural wisdom while she encourages Christians to commit idolatry.

Now to properly interpret this passage, you have to understand how metaphorical Jesus is being here. First of all, the whole book of Revelation is speaking primarily to Jewish Christians.  We know this because it’s loaded with references to significant events in the history of one nation: Israel.  If you’re preaching to Americans, you might reference George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  You might refer to the Civil War and the Confederate army.  But if you’re preaching to a crowd of Eskimos in Siberia and you start using these kinds of references, you’re going to get a bunch of blank stares.  Each nation has its own biased view of history.  Each culture has its own idioms and symbolic personalities.  Revelation is speaking to Jews and it’s loaded with references that would only mean something to Jews who are familiar with the Old Testament.

By the time we reach Revelation, the reign of Queen Jezebel is long over, as is the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem.  Yet we find references to Jezebel and Babylon in this book, because these names have been turned into strong cultural symbols.  Just as we all know that it’s not a compliment to refer to someone as a “Hitler” or a “Nazi”, Jesus knew His Jewish audience associated the name “Jezebel” with demonic influences.  This was not because “Jezebel” is a spirit, but because the real Queen Jezebel tried to ram the worship of Baal down everyone’s throats.  Whenever our leaders try to force religion on us, it leaves a lasting impact.  Our “Protestant” denomination gained their name by “protesting” certain doctrines that the Roman Catholic Church was trying to shove on everyone.  The “Protestant Reformation” is a big event in the history of the Christian Church, but you wouldn’t bring it up if you were trying to discuss the history of Buddhism.  What you’re talking about and who you’re talking to has a lot to do with which terms you’re going to use.  We need to be guarded against playing mystical games with the book of Revelation.  In this passage, Jesus is using an iconic figure from Jewish history–Queen Jezebel–to emphasize how much He disapproves of the shenanigans that are going on in one particular Christian church.  He wants these Christians to knock it off with the worship of other gods.  If they don’t, He says He’s going to start killing people, and He also says He’s going to punish this prophet poser who has grown so popular with these people.  But now let’s notice how Jesus describes the guys who aren’t following this Jezebel woman down the road of demon worship:

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… (Rev. 2:24)

Yahweh has condemned all forms of sorcery from the beginning.  Here Jesus describes obedient Christians as ones who aren’t messing around in the dark arts and trying to figure out Satan’s secrets.  Well, what do we think we’re doing as we spend countless hours trying to identify individual demons?  Is this not an attempt to learn Satan’s secrets–to figure out exactly how his army operates?  This is what our Gods tell us not to do, yet here we are doing it.  By the time we start naming individual demons and writing essays on specific demon personalities, we have spent way too much time obsessing over the wrong supernatural beings.  It is our Creators who we’re supposed to be focusing on, not created things.

Now the biggest problem with the Jezebel spirit theory and the whole “let’s identify demons by their behavior” package is that we end up completely discounting our own depravity. No human has to be taught how to manipulate people. We are born with those skills wired in. When we don’t get our way, we start screaming, and we keep on screaming until we make our adult servants so miserable that they come running to our crib and give us what we want. As for deception—we’re great at that as well. Lies of all sizes and shapes are constantly rolling off our tongues. When we’re caught in some sin, our first instinct is to say “I didn’t do it.” Is this because some demon has leapt upon us? No, it’s because we’re depraved by nature and our souls are going around in flesh that craves everything that God hates.

Now when it comes to domineering characteristics, this is a simple matter of temperament. Some of us are shy, some of us are born to be military generals. God loves variety. There’s nothing righteous about being some soft spoken wallflower and there’s nothing evil about being an alpha tank. Are there times when we intentionally step on other people’s necks and coerce them into giving us our way? Of course. But there are many ways to try and control people, and the soft-spoken among us are just as good at coercion as the loudmouths, so let’s not go around promoting useless stereotypes.

The “spirit of Jezebel” label is nothing more than an attempt to demonize our own depravity. Naturally we want to pass the buck to demons when we make intentional wrong choices, but our shady little games don’t work with God. “The devil made me do it” isn’t an excuse that we’ll be able to use on Judgment Day, so there’s no point in using it now. While demons certainly play an active role in our lives, the reality is that we’re quite capable of wallowing in evil without any help from them. Instead of trying to whitewash ourselves by blaming demons for our choices, we need to remember that God judges us by our soul’s response to Him. Maybe that irritating person in your life is being influenced by a demon, or maybe they’re just getting caught up in their own depraved instincts. Is it really so important that you evaluate the root causes of everyone else’s behavior? No. You need to stay focused on your own walk with God, because that’s the only one you’re going to be answering for in eternity.

FURTHER READING:
Identifying Demonic Strongholds
Rebuking Demons
Satan: Q&A

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