Narcissists in the Bible: God’s Preemptive Strikes


God doesn’t always kill His enemies individually in the Old Testament, but when He does, they tend to be narcissists. What Onan, Jezebel, and Nabal each have in common  with narcissists is an utter lack of empathy for others, overweening greed, and the suspicion that the world is out to cheat them of what should be theirs. Like the personality disorder that each displays, they are self-absorbed and dedicated to taking what they want no matter the cost to others.

I have always been a little fascinated by the fact that God occasionally called out a few people and pulled them into permanent time-out. When I started looking at them, I began to realize that they all had some things in common, mainly that of being narcissists. Believing God to be patient, it is a scary thought that He would come to the end of His rope and decide it’s time for a killing. So let’s take a look.

Onan: Every Man for Himself

Onan is, of course, is known for his sexual issues to the extent that his name has been turned into a word for masturbation (onanism). But this is a misnomer.  He didn’t actually do that (well, at least not in the story). Instead he committed coitus interruptus. This is not the real issue. After all, no other mention is made prohibiting withdrawing during sex. The issue before God was a bit more complicated. Some things to consider is that God took out Er, Onan’s brother for his evil, and Onan was commanded to marry Tamar and give her a son. If he doesn’t, then Er’s property goes to him. In marrying Tamar, he feels cheated because his first son will bear his brother’s name, not his. His brother’s property, which would otherwise go to him, will go to his son, who will not legally be his son.

The other issue here is the treatment of Tamar. Children back then were your only 401k program. Widows without children had nowhere to go, no one to provide. This was an agrarian society. There weren’t jobs available. You worked your land. Primogeniture meant that property went generally from male to male. Foreign concepts now (although recently foreign if you get my drift), women relied on men for provision as a general rule. Onan’s refusal to care for Tamar was stealing her inheritance and financial support.  Additionally, Judah was king. Onan was diverting the kingly lineage from Er to himself.narcissists

If you doubt Onan’s criminal intent, think of the scene itself. He has sex with Tamar and then while she watches, “spills his seed onto the ground”.

He used her sexually, and in a way that was meant to both humiliate her and let her know his intention was to take what was due her.

Narcissistic, indeed.

Jezebel: A Humiliating Fate

Jezebel, too, has no qualms about using the law to take what she wanted. I am not sure if she was a narcissist or a sociopath. After all, she committed murder with ease, and over issues of greed, killing one man for his vineyard to spare herself the cost. She is a user of people around her and her obsession with Elijah stems from his repudiation of her worship of Baal. His only crime, if you could call it that, was to call her out on her issues. But in the eyes of a narcissist, public humiliation or even just embarrassment, is a major trespass. She is murdered, according to Elijah’s word from God, and as the prophet indicates, is eaten by dogs.

I heard a missionary tell a story that always makes me laugh. She ministered to a cannibalistic tribe, though whether in South America or Papua New Guinea I can no longer remember. She lived there for several years, learning their language and translating it into a written language, all the while translating the Bible into the native tongue. The elders met with her almost every night as she translated. They did not respond much until the story of Jezebel. When they heard that the dogs did not eat the soles of Jezebel’s feet, all of a sudden everything became clear to them. They told her they decided that the Bible told the truth. Confused, she asked them why. narcissistsBecause, they explained, they didn’t eat the soles either. The soles are too bitter.  Who knew?

Only God could use such a detail to bring about the redemption of a whole tribe of people.

Jezebel’s death was an intentional humiliation and apparently, arranged by a God no longer willing to hand out second chances.


Nabal: What’s Mine is Mine

I sometimes fantasize writing a book and calling it “Life with Nabal” about my time with my ex-husband. Nabal, the husband of Abigail, refused to offer hospitality to David and his men. Abigail, recognizing this as the insult it was due to the protection from enemies that David and his men provided, runs interference and feed them well. She is caught in a classic narcissistic abuse dilemma. If she obeys her husband, they will be killed. If she disobeys her husband, she may well be killed any way. Nabal, a coward at heart, keels over from the fear of what could have happened and the “Lord smote him until he died.” He died because he resented any intrusion into his wealth and pleasure, failing to understand that he only had them because of the protection of others.

These three narcissists were self-absorbed and did not suffer from any pangs of the conscience. Instead, they hated anyone who stood in their way. Their pride made them incapable of empathy, and their greed blinded them to the rights of others.

In the mind of a narcissist, no one else really exists except as an extension of themselves.

This is why people often describe being in a relationship with narcissists as being slaves.

I had a friend who, having left her husband for these reasons, found herself bewildered by his reaction.  He wanted her back very badly though he did not seem in the least heart broken.  Instead, when she asked him why henarcissists wanted her back, her husband said he felt as though he had lost his arm.  Interesting.  He felt like he lost a part of himself that did things for him. That was all she was to him, a body part and extension of himself.

I believe that God is a merciful God, even in the Old Testament. When people ask me about the issues of genocide in the Bible, I ask them to research the people groups that God wanted erased and compare them to the Nazis. Just as the Nazis committed genocide, so did many of these peoples.  But beyond those philosophical arguments, what frightens me is the notion that some are too far gone for redemption. That narcissists figure prominently in those numbers is  enlightening and a warning. That God would simply remove a player from the stage is an indication that eventually, for each person, there comes a time when decisions end. I cannot imagine a Heaven with a Jezebel or an Onan or a Hitler in it. The question remains, however, can I imagine myself there? All I can say is praise the Lord for His grace.

But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. Hebrews 10:39

13 Replies to “Narcissists in the Bible: God’s Preemptive Strikes”

  1. Alice, this was a very informative post. I never really thought about these people being narcissists. It is interesting how God dealt with each of them and how the Bible details the ramifications of their choices. We can easily become self-absorbed and while this may not be narcissism, it certainly does not glorify God. Thanks for your wisdom and for sharing it with us. – Amy

  2. Tough stuff, to make us think…….as always! Well done Alice (hugs in Christ)

  3. I never thought about this at all. It makes us think, great post as always

  4. Every choice we make, good or bad, is a choice that God is well aware of

  5. I had never thought about these people being narcissists, either…but I can definitely see the resemblance! Thanks for a thought-provoking post, and for the work you are doing!

  6. I love the detail provided in this post…one other character that would be interesting to analyze is lucifer himself. Thanks for the great post.

  7. Wow! I had always been intrigued by these stories. I love how you brought them together and the detail of explaining them like you have.

    The point of the canna aka believeming God’s word because the dogs didn’t eat Jazabel’s feet is amazing.

  8. Warren Baldwin says: Reply

    Interesting. Like Amy above, I have never thought of these guys as narcissists. In fact, I rarely tend to think of biblical characters in contemporary psychological terms, though I think it can be helpful to do so sometimes.

    Have you read McIntosh and Rima’s book, “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership”? They discuss biblical characters from the vantage point of modern understanding of character defects: co-dependent, narcissistic, compulsive, paranoid and passive-aggressive. Very insightful, as is your article.

    I’ll think on this some more.

    1. I haven’t read it but I will now. My husband and I like to read several leadership books a year together. Thank you for the comment!

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  12. I am so glad I ran across this site….I have been married to an abuser, first verbally and emotionally, four years ago he became physical. I left, after he was using body intimidation, blocking me from getting away from his abuse…when he attacked me , and raised his fist to hit me in my face, I left and filed for a divorce..i went to Project Woman because he had control of all money, I had no place to go….because I have lived in abuse for over 44 yrs. when I lost weight from the abuse, he accused me of affairs, when he was the adultery. Because of financial and needing insurance for on going health issues (cancer) the court magistrate advice was, (GOD” TRUTH) “you have a three bedroom home, move back home and hold your ground” I was physically ill , devastated…I did come back ….only now, three years later…he is worse…because I have found my strength, in God..I now stand toe to toe with his verbal, body intimidation , hate and resentment. I really do not fear him, anymore…I don’t hate him…I have asked him to move out, find someone else and move out…of course that really set him off. He has always used sex, money, no friends , no job without it being approved by him…His insanity has almost killed me…when my body was ravaged with humiliating devastating scars from cancer, he even used this….no one will ever want disgust me…. this week we will be together for 49 yrs and I have been abused as recently as three days ago, when he suggested , he go pick our new wedding rings…when I looked at him ….no way in hell, was my set him in full blown rage…only he doesn’t intimidate me…he still tries bribes..insults…next he will increase his silent , pathetic for weeks…..I am I afraid….no….I just don’t care anymore…at least the court ordered I get $ in my own account now….I have had Christian clergy, more than one. tell me to forgive…I am done with this, forgiveness….I don’t believe a loving God would ever want a woman who loves Him live like this… , I pray God gives me righteous vindication ….and over my abuser’s dead body…I will not grieve.

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