There are multiple “Baals” in the Bible (Old Testament). Is that a generic term, like “god” in Hindu? Do we know anything about each of them?

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There are multiple “Baals” in the Bible (Old Testament). Is that a generic term, like “god” in Hindu? Do we know anything about each of them?

Post by Admin on Fri Jul 01, 2016 9:29 pm

The term “Baal” refers to both a specific major Canaanite deity as well as to generic minor local deities throughout the area of Canaan. In the latter sense, the deities were not much more than the perceived “owner” of the local district. But regarding the major deity, references to Baal are found in Canaanite literature from as long ago as 1400 BC and refer to a series of mythical stories about gods that have come to be known as the Baal Cycle. As the stories go, Baal is the god of the sky and of rain, and he is in perpetual struggle with another god named Mot, who represents drought. At the same time, Baal is also in struggle with another god called Yamm; their struggle is between fertility (Baal) and infertility. This reflected the annual meteorological patterns of early and late rains in ancient Palestine contrasting with hot and dry summers. This was explained through the filter of these mythological stories as the victory of one god over another. As god of rain and fertility, Baal would have been seen as of huge importance in an agricultural environment. Of course, in ancient times, such beliefs were incredibly powerful; all the forces of nature that could not be controlled or understood were considered supernatural powers to be both worshiped and feared. However, there were additional aspects of the personalities of these ancient deities, one of the most frequent being their sexuality. Most cultures had both male and female deities (Baal’s female consort was named “Asherah”), and most of how they were presented was in terms of super-powered human beings, with a full-range of typical human emotions and responses, both good and bad. In terms of Baal worship, some of the Hebrew attraction to this god may have been because of his supposed control of the rain, upon which so much of an ancient agricultural society depended. But the sexual sides of Baal worship, which was in such stark contrast to the Law’s strict regulations, also appealed to many as they came into the Promised Land and began to intermingle with the native peoples they came upon. As Baal worship had developed and become more complex, cult prostitution became a staple of worship. It became assumed that the sex acts of their gods and goddesses were responsible for the fertility of their fields and herds. When male or female cult prostitutes engaged in sex, it was thought that this human interaction likewise stimulated the deities. In fact, the first mention of Baal in the Old Testament actually occurs in this context, and happens prior to their final arrival in Canaan; as Moses relates, While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them—Numbers 25:1-3. This showed an abhorrent disregard for God and His given Word. First of all, it was a complete disobedience to the first commandment God had given them at Mount Sinai: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me—God speaking, Exodus 20:2-3. Secondly, it showed a blatant neglecting of God’s Word later given through Moses when He had said, Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same—God speaking, Exodus 34:12-16. But, as a nation, Israel continued to be seduced by Baal worship to the point that, in the ninth century BC, Ahab and Jezebel, king and queen of Israel, aggressively promoted the national worship of Baal. This was the context in which the prophet Elijah proposed the “contest of the gods” on Mount Carmel between himself and the 450 “prophets” of Baal which occurred on Mount Carmel. While God’s victory that day temporarily turned the people from Baal to the worship of the one true God, eventually Israel fell back into the worship of Baal—among many other gods. It was this incredible lack of faithfulness, which God likened to marital infidelity, which prompted the ministry of the prophet Hosea to the nation of Israel, and the eventual conquest and exile of those 10 northern tribes to Assyria in 722 BC. Hosea used the symbol of prostitution throughout his ministry as a metaphor for Israel’s national rejection of the Lord; as God said through him, A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God—Hosea 4:12b. Of course, less than 120 years later, the conquest of the southern kingdom (Judah) by Babylonian forces under King Nebuchadnezzar occurred, pretty much for precisely the same reason. Amazingly, even as Babylonian soldiers advanced through the towns of Judah, and even through Jerusalem itself, the prophet Jeremiah sadly records God’s words as he writes: From the time I brought your forefathers up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’” . . . They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers. Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes. You have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.’ Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress—God speaking, Jeremiah 11:7-8, 10-14. There is historical evidence that Babylonian soldiers found the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem, even in the midst of attack, burning incense to Baal in the streets and on their rooftops. No wonder God said to Jeremiah, I am about to hand this city over to the Babylonians and to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who will capture it. The Babylonians who are attacking this city will come in and set it on fire; they will burn it down, along with the houses where the people provoked me to anger by burning incense on the roofs to Baal and pouring out drink offerings to other gods. The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but provoke me with what their hands have made, declares the Lord. From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight—God speaking, Jeremiah 32:28-31.
As a last point, one of the other foreign gods that the Bible mentions is a god named Molech; he was the national god of the Ammonites (one of the ancient peoples of the Middle East who frequently opposed Israel), a particularly detestable god in view of the fact that his worship included the horrors of child sacrifice. However, relatively recent inscriptions discovered around the area of ancient Carthage (northern Africa) suggest that ancient Hebrew writings referring to Molech may sometimes be referring to a so-called “molk” sacrifice. This involved burning young children alive in order to receive some benefit from a god. Jeremiah associated this horrific kind of worship with Baal; as he wrote God as saying, They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin—Jeremiah 32:35. Regardless of whether Baal or Molech, such incredible sinfulness did occur within both the nations of Judah and Israel, and God’s judgment was complete and sure.

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