Who or what is “Belial?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

“Belial” is found a total of 16 times in our King James Bible—mostly the Old Testament Scriptures. If we wish to learn the definition of a Bible term, the best approach is to examine other verses that contain the same word or deal with the same subject. The Holy Bible has its own set of vocabulary and meanings. Hence, we should let Scripture interpret itself, without inserting man’s opinions or idle speculation.

We look at the first instance of “Belial” in the Bible so we can establish the Scriptural tone or definition. Go to Deuteronomy chapter 13: “[1] If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, [2] And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; [3] Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. [4] Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. [5] And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.”

Here, someone in Israel is working to deceive them, to draw them away from JEHOVAH God and His Word to them, and have them follow false gods (idols of the neighboring heathen). Furthermore, these false teachers or false prophets might even perform a miraculous demonstration to charm or seduce Israel into listening to and accept their message as true. It could concern a “healing,” a “vision from heaven,” an “angelic message,” a “dream,” or whatever. (Just like the experiences we read about in bestselling “Christian” literature and see in highly acclaimed “Christian” films!) The LORD God commanded Israel to ignore those miraculous demonstrations and follow His Word. If that false teacher or false prophet was speaking contrary to the written Word of God, he or she was to be—no questions asked—put to death (verse 5). If this penalty were in force today, no doubt there would be very few ministers alive!!! God told Israel she was to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 5:6-10). Israel was expected to obey that Mosaic Law, especially the first two of the Ten Commandments.

Continue reading from Deuteronomy chapter 13: “[6] If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; [7] Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; [8] Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: [9] But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. [10] And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. [11] And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.”

Again, if someone in Israel had a relative or a friend who encouraged fellow Jews to worship and serve gods other than JEHOVAH God, those idolaters were to be put to death by stoning too (verses 9-10). God did not tolerate such paganism in Israel. It was quite a serious matter, so much so that, to be guilty of it meant automatic capital punishment!

We keep moving through Deuteronomy chapter 13: “[12] If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the LORD thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, [13] Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; [14] Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; [15] Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. [16] And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the LORD thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again. [17] And there shall cleave nought of the cursed thing to thine hand: that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers; [18] When thou shalt hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep all his commandments which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the LORD thy God.”

If there was indisputable proof that a certain Israeli city had followed idolatrous Jews, God ordered the whole city was to be destroyed by sword (war) and fire. We need not discuss this chapter in any further detail. What we want to do is re-read verse 13: “Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known;….” As noted earlier, here we see “Belial” for the first time in the Bible. As we can see, the context is idol worship. Thus, in this context, “children of Belial” are people who “serve other gods.”

We proceed to the next occurrence of “Belial” in Scripture, Judges 19:22: “Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.” The context here is that Baal worship (idolatry) has gripped the nation Israel. Whenever Baal worship (idolatry) entered Israel, homosexuality became widespread (see the “sodomites” of Deuteronomy 23:17, 1 Kings 14:24, 1 Kings 15:12, 1 Kings 22:46, and 2 Kings 23:7). Hence, while a Levite and his prostitute servant-wife were traveling on the side of Mount Ephraim, an abnormal and extremely graphic incident occurred in Judges chapter 19. (You will be spared the most explicit details in this study, but, friend, you read that chapter on your own to learn just how degenerate Israel became once she forsook the one true God.) The men of Gibeah (near Jerusalem)—“certain sons of Belial”—wished to have sexual relations with the Levite who was staying in their town for the night. (Again, you are spared the most graphic details. Read the chapter on your own.) The point is these homosexuals in Israel were idolaters: their habitual idol worship (throughout the time of Judges) caused them to become sexually perverted. God considered them “sons of Belial.” Again, observe how “Belial” is connected to idols and false religion. In Judges 20:13, we see these individuals again: “Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel.”

Now, we move over to Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter 1: “[10] And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore. [11] And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head. [12] And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth. [13] Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. [14] And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. [15] And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. [16] Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. [17] Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. [18] And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.”

When barren Hannah went to the LORD’S house to bitterly weep and pray, she talked silently. Her husband’s other wife had tormented her because of her infertility, and she so desperately wanted a child! Eli the Priest watched Hannah’s lips move, but he did not hear anything coherent, so he assumed she must have been drunken (verses 12-13). All we want to see again is how Hannah denied being a “a daughter of Belial” (verse 16). She was not a drunkard or wicked woman, someone living contrary to the Law of Moses and the LORD God’s instructions. (By the way, Hannah went on to bear a son—the Prophet Samuel, ruler of Israel before King Saul reigned.)

Not long after Hannah’s conversation with Eli, this priest’s two sons (Hophni and Phinehas, also priests) are described in 1 Samuel 2:12: “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” Although “religious” leaders, they were evil men, not conducting themselves in an exemplary fashion as JEHOVAH God’s priests. They were presumptuous, selfish, and blasphemous (see verses 13-17). Eventually, the LORD God took their worthless lives using Philistine armies (chapter 4)!

Now, we read the account of how some Israelites responded to King Saul’s crowning. First Samuel 10:25-27: “[25] Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house. [26] And Saul also went home to Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched. [27] But the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought no presents. But he held his peace.” There are two groups of people here—those “whose hearts God had touched,” and “the children of Belial.” “Belial” is being used in contrast to “God” here. Keep that in mind, for we will come back to it later.

King Saul has been harassing and trying to kill believing David for some time. There is a man in Carmel named Nabal, “churlish [rude, cruel] and evil in his doings” (1 Samuel 25:3). David sends servants and asks for Nabal’s help, but Nabal refuses. Consequently, David seeks revenge, and Nabal’s servant goes to warn Nabal’s wife, Abigail. The young man relays this news to Abigail: “Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him” (verse 17). Abigail goes to assist David’s men, and she addresses David in verse 25: “Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.” Observe how Nabal is designated as “churlish and evil” (verse 3), a “son of Belial” (verse 17), and a “man of Belial” (verse 25). He is not loyal to JEHOVAH God in his ways.

First Samuel 30:22: “Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart.” In the final days of King Saul’s reign, the Amalekites invaded parts of southern Israel, taking prisoners of war and various goods (including livestock). In response, David had to lead Jewish men to recover their family members and goods. Some men who had traveled with David refused to give the spoils to the men who had stayed behind to guard the Jews’ possessions. The Bible calls these greedy people “wicked men and men of Belial.” They were avaricious, evil, thinking improperly and not following the God of the Bible. Material goods were their idol.

Second Samuel 16:7-8 is another reference worthy of attention: “[7] And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial: [8] The LORD hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the LORD hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man.” Shimei, a man of the house of the late King Saul (verse 5), is upset that David has now assumed the throne of Israel. David’s son Absalom has stolen David’s throne, causing Shimei to gloat over this “justice.” Shimei has a very low opinion of David, addressing the king as, “thou man of Belial.”

We read in 2 Samuel 20:1: “And there happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.” Sheba, no doubt, is a “man of Belial” because he is encouraging Israel to commit treason, turn away from David the king whom God had personally appointed over Israel (see 2 Samuel 7:8).

Second Samuel 23:6: “But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands….” This is an excerpt of King David’s farewell address in which he defines the reign of a godly king. The “sons of Belial” (evil men, people following Satan) will be forcefully removed and destroyed (see also verse 7).

When King Abijah (David’s great-grandson) ascended Judah’s throne, Abijah referred back to the days when his father (Rehoboam) lost the northern tribes to King Jeroboam: “And there are gathered unto him [Jeroboam] vain men, the children of Belial, and have strengthened themselves against Rehoboam the son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and tenderhearted, and could not withstand them” (2 Chronicles 13:7). From Abijah’s perspective, these supporters of Jeroboam’s kingdom were worthless or evil, for Abijah’s father Rehoboam and Jeroboam were bitter enemies. Yet, the division between the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Southern Kingdom (Judah) was the LORD’S doing (see 2 Chronicles 10:15): King Solomon’s pagan idolatry had resulted in Israel’s political collapse, the 10 northern tribes leaving the house of David for another dynasty (1 Kings 11:1-13; 1 Kings 12:15; cf. Leviticus 26:19)!

Queen Jezebel is perhaps the most notorious woman in Jewish history. This heathen idolater and her husband (King Ahab) made Baal (false god) worship the official religion of Israel (Northern Kingdom). Among their dastardly deeds, Jezebel conspired to murder an innocent Jewish man because Ahab wanted his property. First Kings chapter 21: “[7] And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite. [8] So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth. [9] And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people: [10] And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die.

“[11] And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them. [12] They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people. [13] And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died. [14] Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead.” While we will forgo any further commentary, suffice it to say that these two “children of Belial” and “sons of Belial” (verse 13) were false witnesses, liars, guilty of accusing an innocent man and playing a role in his wrongful execution. (An interesting parallel to this is Matthew 26:57-62 and Mark 14:53-60.)

The name “Belial” is found one solitary time in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 6:15. We examine it in its context: “[14] Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? [15] And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? [16] And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [17] Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, [18] And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

We see how “Belial” is in contradistinction (opposition) to “Christ.” This is the strongest contrast possible: “Belial” represents evil but “Christ” symbolizes good. Remember all the verses that have gone before! As it is impossible for good to agree with evil, so Christians should remain separate from unbelievers (evil world system—especially false religion, denominationalism, et cetera). For a fuller treatment of this in-depth topic, see our related studies linked at the end of this article.


If you look at how the Bible text uses this term, “Belial” is a negative word, connected to people cooperating with Satan’s policy of evil (worthlessness, destruction, lawlessness, wickedness, naughtiness, ungodliness, et cetera). (Second Samuel 16:7 and 2 Chronicles 13:7 are insults based on human viewpoint. God had not taken David’s kingdom and given it to Absalom; Shimei was mistaken. The LORD [not Satan] had caused men to rise up against King Rehoboam; Abijah was wrong.) “Belial” is the transliteration of the Hebrew “beliya`al” (“beliy” meaning “without;” “ya`al” defined as “profit”). In other words, “sons of Belial” or “children of Belial” are “without profit,” following a course that is “spiritually worthless,” originating from and perpetuating Satan’s worthless policy of evil.

Also see:
» What is “concord?”
» Did Paul quote verses out of context in 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1?
» What is “secondary separation?”
» Can you explain “reproof” and “reprove?”
» Does doctrine really matter?
» How can false teachers sleep at night?
» Should we pray with people of various denominations?
» Should we hate the denominational people who misled us?
» Must one be a “King James Bible Pauline dispensationalist” to have eternal life?