Baal Worship, a Perpetual Problem in Ancient Israel

February 7, 2020

A primary distinction between Israel and all the other nations was embodied in the first two commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:3,4). Idolatry in its varied forms, with many gods, permeated the ancient world. Even though a nation or region might have its own “special” deity, the belief that there were many other gods was universal. The premise that there is but one true God, and all others are false, surely made Israel unique as a nation.

But unfortunately, the nation of Israel often looked to the nations round about them, and were thereby influenced in many ways instead of holding fast to their relationship with YHWH.

The god Baal. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

In the biblical period of the Judges we read, “and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:12-13). Our photo of Baal seen here was taken at the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa, Israel (as well as the other photos included in this post).

You will notice that our biblical text also includes the “Ashtoreths” which would essentially be the female counterpart to Baal. The New Revised Standard renders, “They abandoned the LORD, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes.” This deity, Astarte, was also displayed at the Hecht Museum.

Astarte, Phoenician Fertility Goddess. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Baal worship that was seen in the period of Judges repeated itself throughout the period known as the Divided Kingdom. In the chapter that tells of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, the Bible says, “They abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God. They made for themselves molded images– even two calves– and an Asherah pole. They worshiped the whole heavenly host and served Baal” (2 Kings 17:16, CSB).

H. F. Vos has the following basic information about Baal:

Name of the most prominent Canaanite deity. As the god of fertility in the Canaanite pantheon (roster of gods), Baal’s sphere of influence included agriculture, animal husbandry, and human sexuality. The word Baal occurs in the OT in combination with other terms, such as place-names (Baal-peor, Hos 9:10; Baal-hermon, Jgs 3:3), or with other adjuncts as in Baal-berith (Baal of the covenant, Jgs 8:33). Use of the name in connection with a local place-name may indicate a local cult of Baal worship.

Baal worship became prominent in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the days of King Ahab (9th century BC) when he married Jezebel of Tyre, a city in Phoenicia (1 Kgs 16:29–33; 18:19–40). It later infiltrated the Kingdom of Judah when Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, married King Jehoram of Judah (2 Kgs 8:17, 18, 24–26). Places for worship of Baal were often high places in the hills consisting of an altar and a sacred tree, stone, or pillar (2 Kgs 23:5). The predominantly urban Phoenicians built temples to Baal; while Athaliah was queen of Judah, even Jerusalem had one (2 Chr 23:12–17) . . .

the Canaanites engaged in orgiastic worship that included human sacrifice as well as sexual rites (Jer 7:31; 19:4–6). Sacred prostitutes evidently participated in the autumnal religious ritual.  Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 239).

I mentioned the fall of northern kingdom of Israel above in our 2 Kings text. Jeremiah was a prophet in the days of the next biblical period, Judah Alone. From his writings we see that unfortunately, many in Judah did not learn from the example of God’s displeasure of Israel’s worship of Baal. This false system was also perpetuated in Judah, even including the sacrifice of their children (as noted above by Vos): “They have built places here for worship of the god Baal so that they could sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to him in the fire. Such sacrifices are something I never commanded them to make! They are something I never told them to do! Indeed, such a thing never even entered my mind!” (Jer. 19:5, NET).

Not only were there the larger images that would be housed in temples or otherwise displayed for public worship, but smaller, “household” gods and goddesses were common.

Astarte, Household Fertility Goddess, 8th century BC. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We have previously posted on Baal worship here and here.

We close with the words of Jesus, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Mt. 4:10).

(Click images for larger view).


Hadad, Name of a god and Syrian Kings

January 24, 2020

In the study of the Divided Kingdom there are many references to “Ben-hadad”, king of Syria. For example, I was just reading 2 Kings 6:24: “Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria.”

Biblical references to Ben-hadad. ESV Bible, slide by Leon Mauldin.

The name “Ben-hadad” means “son of Hadad.” This is in reference to the god Hadad, god of Syria. In this mythology, he was the storm god, the god that provided rain.

There is a bust of Hadad housed in the Jordan Museum in Amman.

The god Hadad. Jordan Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

“Ben-hadad” is a dynastic name. There are three kings in the Bible record (in the numerous passages above) called “Ben-hadad.” A. H. Sayce wrote:

BEN-HADAD (בֶּן־הֲדַד, υἱὸς Ἁδερ, Benadad).—Three kings of Damascus of this name are mentioned in the OT.

Ben-hadad I., the son of Tab-rimmon, the son of Hezion (? Rezon), was bribed by Asa of Judah, with the treasures of the temple and palace, to attack Baasha of Israel while the latter was building the fortress of Ramah, and thereby blocking the Jewish high-road to the north. Asa urged that there had been alliance between his father and Tab-rimmon; but his gold was doubtless more efficacious in inducing Ben-hadad to invade the northern part of Israel, and so oblige Baasha to desert Ramah. Thereupon Asa carried away the stone and timber of Ramah, and built with them Geba and Mizpah (1 K 15:18–22).

Ben-hadad II. was the son and successor of Ben-hadad I. We have an account of his war with Ahab, and unsuccessful siege of Samaria, in 1 K 20. Thirty-two kings are said to have been his vassals or allies. He was, however, signally defeated at Aphek, and compelled to restore the cities taken by his father (1 K 20:34), as well as to grant the Israelites a bazaar in Damascus. At a later period Ben-hadad again besieged Samaria; but a panic fell upon his army, and they fled, believing that the king of Israel had hired against them ‘the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians’ (2 K 7:6, 7). Having fallen ill, Ben-hadad afterwards sent Hazael to the prophet Elisha, who had come to Damascus, to ask whether he should recover; but the result of the mission was, that on the following day Hazael smothered his master and seized the crown (2 K 8:7–15).

Ben-hadad III. was the son of Hazael, and lost the Israelitish conquests that his father had made. Thrice did Joash of Israel ‘smite him, and recovered the cities of Israel’ (2 K 13:25). Sayce, A. H. A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology (Vol. 1, p. 271).

The Lexham Bible Dictionary gives the following helpful information on the god Hadad regarding the significance of the land of Syria:

Although Hadad was worshiped in Mesopotamia, Hadad likely originated in Syria. In a late Assyrian deity-list, Hadad (dAd-du) is called dIM.MARki, the “storm-god of the west” (Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names, 156; Conn. 25, 16:16). In Syria, Hadad was probably an important deity from earliest times. Here Hadad was the son of Dagon, the Mesopotamian and West Semitic storm deity, and the equivalent of the great Sumerian storm-god Enlil (Green, Storm-God, 63–72, 167–68). Tablets discovered at ancient Mari associate the storm-god dIM with Hadad, who was revered in Syria more as a warrior than as a beneficent bringer of fertility. In the second millennium BC Hadad’s cult was centralized in ancient Yamhad (modern Aleppo), in Syria (Abou-Assaf, “Die Ikonographie”). Kelley, J. L. (2016). The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

I hope this information will be helpful to any who are undertaking a study of that complex biblical period known as the Divided Kingdom. Click images for larger view.


Joash Repairs the Temple, 2 Chronicles 24

September 28, 2018

When Judah’s King Ahaziah was killed (841 BC, Theile), his mother, described as “the wicked Athaliah” (2 Chron. 24:7) usurped the throne and reigned 6 years. She did the unthinkable: she killed all of Ahaziah’s sons–her own grandchildren! Of course, she was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, and she certainly and consistently played the part.

Little known to her, the High Priest Jehoiada and his wife Jehoshabeath (Ahaziah’s sister) saved the one-year-old baby Joash, and kept him hidden for six years (2 Chron 22:10-12).

2 Chronicles 23 tells how Jehoiada led the priests, Levites, and people of Judah in crowning Joash as the rightful heir to the throne of David. At the same time, Athaliah was executed.

Joash reigned 40 years (835-796 BC). The historian says, “And Joash did what was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chron. 24:1-2). The Priest Jehoiada was no doubt a great mentor to the young Joash. Faithfulness on the part of Joash was seen during the rest of Jehoiada the Priest’s life.

Great emphasis is given on the work of restoring the temple in Jerusalem (v.4), the house of God, “to repair the house of the LORD” (v.12).

Painting of Solomon’s Temple. Semitic Museum, Boston. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The text goes on to say, “So the workmen labored, and the repair work progressed in their hands, and they restored the house of God according to its specifications and strengthened it” (v.13, NASB). The NIV translates, “The men in charge of the work were diligent, and the repairs progressed under them. They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design and reinforced it.” All of this sounds so encouraging.

But as Martin Selman states,

Joash’s story is one of the saddest in Chronicles. It describes a king who deliberately turned his back on God after he had received personal experience of God’s mercy and had initiated a religious reformation. (2 Chronicles, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Kindle Locations 3609-3610).

Here is what happened as soon as Jehoiada died:

But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. 18 They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols; so wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt. 19 Yet He sent prophets to them to bring them back to the LORD; though they testified against them, they would not listen. 20 Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.'” 21 So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son. And as he died he said, “May the LORD see and avenge! (2 Chron. 24:17-22).

What becomes apparent is that whereas King Joash did so much good, and seemed to be so strong, that when his real source of strength, Jehoiada, was removed, then what appeared to be faith and strength crumbled, showing his goodness to be only outward and superficial. Lesson: each one has to make the faith his own! (2 Tim. 1:5). 


Libnah and Edom Revolted against Judah’s King Jehoram

September 11, 2018

2 Chronicles tells the story of Judah’s King Jehoram, who did “evil in the sight of the LORD” (unlike his father, good King Jehoshaphat). Things began to fall apart politically, as Edom to Judah’s south, and Libnah, to the west revolted:

In his days Edom revolted against the rule of Judah and set up a king over themselves. Then Jehoram crossed over with his commanders and all his chariots with him. And he arose by night and struck down the Edomites who were surrounding him and the commanders of the chariots. So Edom revolted against Judah to this day. Then Libnah revolted at the same time against his rule, because he had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers (21:8-10).

Note the reason for the revolt: “because he [Jehoram] had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers.”

Excavations have been conducted for many years at Tel Burna, believed by many to be the site of Libnah.

Tel Burna, proposed site of Libnah. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Tel Burna Excavation Project has a website here.

Another nearby site which has also been proposed is that of Tel Zayit, the excavated under the direction of Ron Tappy of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Tel-Zayit, another proposed site for Libnah. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Both of these sites, located in the Judean Shephelah, are Iron Age Israelite cities and are good candidates for biblical Libnah; further excavation and research hopefully will be more definitive. See map here below which indicates the proposed location of Libnah (Tel Burna). Libnah was located on the western edge of Judah, just southeast of the Philistine city of Gath (Tel es-Safi), placing it near the Judean/Philistine border.

Google map shows Tel Burna, proposed site of Libnah, SE of Gath (Tel es-Safi).

The well-known city of Petra (of the Nabateans) was within the territory of Old Testament Edom.

Edom also rebelled against Judah’s King Jehoram. This view is in the vicinity of Petra. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Territory of Edom, south of Judah. Map by Scott Richardson.

Among the interesting things said about King Jehoram:

  • Judah increasingly follows the apostate lead of Israel, with its Baal worship introduced by Jezebel (2 Kings 8:18; cf. 1 Kings 16:31).
  • Jehoram of Judah is the brother-in-law of King Jehoram (or Joram) of Israel. The king of Israel was Ahab’s son; Jehoram of Judah is Ahab’s son-in-law, having married Athaliah the daughter of Ahab.
  • Once Jehoram was established as king, he killed all his brothers with the sword (2 Chron. 21:4). He had six brothers.
  • Though Judah’s leaders might be unfaithful, YAHWEH would be faithful to the covenant that He had made with David (2 Chron. 21:7). During this time, the Messianic lineage/hope would be hanging by the thread of one life for three successive generations, but God intervened to make sure there was a “lamp” burning.
  • In contrast to his good father Jehoshaphat, Jehoram constructed “high places” for the worship of pagan gods in the mountains of Judah by which he “led Judah astray” (2 Chron. 21:10).
  • Jehoram received a letter from the prophet Elijah (2 Chron. 21:12-15); Elijah was alive for at least part of Jehoram’s reign (cf. 2 Kings 1:17). The letter took the form of a prophetic judgment, inditing him for the sins of idolatry and fratricide. Great calamity as well as a painful death by an incurable intestinal disease was to come.
  • Philistine and Arabian raiders invaded Judah and took all of Jehoram’s sons, except Ahaziah (2 Chron. 21:17). We learn subsequently that all of these sons were killed (2 Chron. 22:1). Also they took away Jehoram’s wives, except for Athaliah.
  • In 2 Chronicles 21 Jehoram’s story concludes with three negatives: At his death the people did not make the customary funeral fire to honor him (v.19); when he died no one regretted his passing (v.20); he was not buried in the tombs of the kings (v.20). How sad!

Click images for larger view.