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).


Rock Badgers/Hyraxes at En-Gedi, Israel

November 27, 2019

Proverbs 30:26 states, “hyraxes are not a mighty people, yet they make their homes in the cliffs” (CSB). The NASB retains the Hebrew term, “The shephanim are not mighty people, Yet they make their houses in the rocks.” ESV renders, “the rock badgers.” KJV has “conies.”

It is not unusual to see these animals in En-Gedi.

Rock badgers at En-gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Ferrell Jenkins and I photographed these as we were walking up the trail to see the falls at En-gedi, while doing a personal study trip in Israel in 2009.

Rock badger at En-gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The NET Bible has this note:

This is the Syrian Hyrax, also known as the rock badger. KJV, ASV has “conies” (alternately spelled “coneys” by NIV), a term usually associated with the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) but which can also refer to the pika or the hyrax. Scholars today generally agree that the Hebrew term used here refers to a type of hyrax, a small ungulate mammal of the family Procaviidae native to Africa and the Middle East which has a thick body, short legs and ears and a rudimentary tail. The simple “badger” (so NASB, NRSV, CEV) could lead to confusion with the badger, an entirely unrelated species of burrowing mammal related to weasels.

Further, “Modern scholars identify this creature with the rock badger (the Syrian hyrax), a small mammal that lives in the crevices of the rock. Its wisdom consists in its ingenuity to find a place of security” (NET Bible note).

En-gedi is known for its beautiful falls.

Waterfalls at En-gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

En-gedi was an area where David and his men fled from King Saul.

Waterfall at En-gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I previously posted on the rock badger on our blog here.

In our home congregation we are completing a study of the Proverbs, with ch. 30 scheduled for Sunday. I find that visuals such as these can be very helpful in our understanding of the biblical text.

Click on images for larger view.


The Step Pyramid, Saqqara, Egypt

October 24, 2019

The emphasis of the book of Exodus is that of God’s covenant faithfulness. ‘El Shaddai, God Almighty, who promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He would make of them a great nation, and give unto them the land of Canaan, now more fully reveals Himself as YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah. He would redeem His covenant people. This He did “with outstretched hand,” demonstrating to all the Egyptians, as well as to Israel that He was indeed the LORD.

Israel was a numerous people when the book of Exodus opens, and through His great power God brought them to Mt. Sinai, where they would be for about eleven months. During that time God gave the 10 Commandments as well as the accompanying laws and ordinances, the tabernacle was built, and the Aaronic priesthood was consecrated.

The events of Scripture do not happen in a vacuum; we always do well to consider the historical and geographical setting.  The setting for Exodus 1-13 is Egypt.

When you think of Egypt, you likely think of the pyramids. Sometimes people erroneously believe that the Israelites were used as forced labor to construct the pyramids. Actually the pyramids were built before Abraham! The Israelites built storage cities (Ex. 1:11, NASB).

The Step Pyramid, Egypt. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our photo shows the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built during the 3rd Dynasty by Pharaoh Djoser. This pyramid is actually a mastaba (Arabic for “bench”), meaning a structure in the “form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with outward sloping sides.” The Step Pyramid consists of six distinct steps. This is the oldest of the pyramids.

The burial chambers were underground. Excavation was done by Jean-Phillipe Lauer. (Note: most of the above appeared in my post of May 13, 2011).

This photo with my daughter at the base of the pyramid helps give some perspective to the size of the pyramid. She and I spent eight days touring Egypt in 2003.

Author’s daughter, Alysha Mauldin Montgomery, at base of Step Pyramid. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I was noticing this morning some of the ancient history material some of my grandchildren are studying (homeschoolers). The information included on the Step Pyramid read, “It was copied after the Ziggurat of Sumer. The small temple rooms around it have become buried in the desert sand” (Streams of Civilization, p. 46). It occurred to me that I don’t think I knew that at their age!

Click images for larger view.


The Hearing Ear

May 16, 2019

Solomon said, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The LORD has made them both” (Pro. 20:12). The NLT reads, “Ears to hear and eyes to see–both are gifts from the LORD.” Much is said in the Bible about using one’s ears to hear, to truly listen, and in particular to hear God’s word; to hear words of wisdom.

Here are some selected texts, for example, from the Proverbs:

2:1 My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you,

3:3 My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands;

4:1 Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, And give attention to know understanding;

7:24 Now therefore, listen to me, my children; Pay attention to the words of my mouth:

8:6 Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips will come right things;

8:32 ” Now therefore, listen to me, my children, For blessed are those who keep my ways.

13:1 A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

18:1 A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.

19:20 Listen to counsel and receive instruction, That you may be wise in your latter days.

23:22 Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old.

At Corinth, Greece, there is a museum on site with artifacts from the area. Included are some “offerings” to the healing god Asclepius (spelling varies) which were left at the god’s temple there at Corinth. The idea was that if one had been healed of his/her affliction they would then bring an offering in the form of that body part which had been restored.

Votive offering, an ear. On site museum at Corinth Greece. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Sign explaining the display. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

A fragment on display contains the name of the god. Greek letters transliterate, ASKL.

Sherd with Greek spelling of Asclepius. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

But it wasn’t Asclepius who made the ear, neither could he heal it. I’m put in mind of Paul’s referencing the former lives of the Galatians in their idolatry before they came to know the true God: “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods” (Gal. 4:8).

Click on image for larger view.


Touring Israel, up the coast and on to Tiberias

March 15, 2019

My Israel/Jordan tour got off to a great start Wednesday, making stops at Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, Megiddo, Nain and Tiberias. We have some young folks on this tour. That is a good thing; good for them and good for the rest of us to have them along. For tonight I’ll briefly post a couple of photos.

Theater at Caesarea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This monument stands at Mt. Carmel as testimony of Elijah’s victory over the Baal prophets during the days of Ahab and Jezebel.

Elijah’s monument at Mt. Carmel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Click on photos for larger view. More later.


In Moab Land

March 5, 2019

In March 2018 Ferrell Jenkins & I spent several days in Jordan on a personal study tour, including several sites in what historically was biblical Moab. As was the origin of Ammon, the sad story of the Moab’s descent from Lot’s incestuous union with his daughter (oldest) is narrated in Genesis 19:30-38. The territory of Moab was located east of the Dead Sea between the wadis Arnon and Zered.

Physical features of the land. Note the Arnon and Zered, and the land of Moab. Map by Scott Richardson.

One of the sites we visited was Madaba, which today is best known for its large Byzantine-era mosaic map of the Holy Land, located in the St. George Church. A short distance away we found a spot for lunch.

Dining in Moab. Note sign in upper left: “Moab Land Hotel.” Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Madaba is mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:6 (biblical spelling is Medeba).

The Moabites “normally inhabited the area on the Transjordan plateau between Wadi Arnon on the north and Wadi Zered on the south, though they often pushed north of Wadi Arnon.” (Alexander, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ezekiel, 6:866).

I wanted to share a few photos of the Wadi Arnon mentioned above. The Arnon was a natural boundary. In the days of the Conquest, when the land was allotted to the tribes of Israel, the southern border of the tribe of Reuben was the Arnon.

The Arnon Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Arnon Valley as we look west.

Arnon Valley looking westward. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Arnon Valley looking east. I think you will agree that a flat map does not do it justice!

Arnon Valley looking East. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Click on photos for larger view.


Insect Industry (Proverbs 6:6-9)

February 22, 2019

Homer Hailey, one of my former professors of biblical studies, often said that “Solomon didn’t have much use for the sluggard.”

Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, 8 Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest. 9 How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10 “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest “– 11 Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man (Proverbs 6:6-9). 

What is being addressed here is the “theme of self-inflicted economic impoverishment” Waltke, B. K. (2004) The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15, p. 335). Sloth has its consequences. The sluggard neglects his opportunities, refuses to face reality; his life is characterized by disorder and chaos. To show the industry and work ethic that a man should have, Solomon uses the illustration of the ant. “The activity expected of leaders over a workforce is now detailed and applied to the ant” (Ibid.). As the KJV says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”

I thought of this text some years ago when Ferrell Jenkins and I had the opportunity to visit Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I happened to notice some ants busy at work.

Ants at Neot Kedumim in Israel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This 625 acre park had much more to offer than ants — flora and fauna of the biblical world, as well as mill stones, oil presses, etc.