“What is so great about Ba’al?!”
After years of studying the Old Testament and recapping Israel’s continual replacement of their LORD God (YHWH) for the gods of Canaan, I finally blurted out this frustrated question. Having some grasp on why the God of Abraham rocks, I, by contrast, didn’t know anything about this Ba’al guy who always won the hearts of the people in the end. What was his deal? And, while we’re at it, who is Asherah?
Ba’al was the king of all other local deities. He was thought to control the weather, seasons, storms, the sea, agricultural fertility and ancestral spirits. Since the Israelites were primarily farmers, living in the fertile crescent, defaulting to the god of rain when “everyone else is doin’ it” makes sense.
Asherah was the mother goddess of fertility. Most every ancient civilization, leading up to modern times, has a female goddess representing sex, life, fertility and all things powerfully feminine.
Sometimes the Israelites were abandoning YHWH for Ba’al and Asherah, and other times, they were marrying YHWH with Asherah. Oh, the glorious best of both worlds! In all cases, YHWH would respond through His prophets:
“I am God and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)
This isn’t to say there are no super natural powers in this world besides YHWH. There are angels, who glorify Him, and demons who seek glory for themselves. Many times this means setting themselves up as local deities somewhere. The world is full of ancient writings of local deities. Hinduism, Greek Mythology, the Occult, Norse Mythology, Celtic, tribal, etc. Meanwhile Muslims, Jews and Christians believe in the supremacy of One Creator God, who has no equal and shares no glory.
Israel was governed by various prophets, judges and kings throughout their early history, and although they often corporately agreed to following YHWH, they didn’t all personally know Him. This began with Moses at the foot of Mt. Sinai, when YHWH intended to meet with all the people, but He freaked them out.
“All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance.Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.”So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.”(Exodus 20:18-21)
Not everyone is going to accept this God when only Moses talks directly to Him. Local deities seemed more approachable, which is why, when Moses went up the Mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the people were down the hill making a golden calf (in the image of the local deity Molech). This is why the heart cry of Moses was:
“Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29)
Follow me into the first couple hundred years of Christianity. It started with a resurrected Jesus who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, God Himself becoming a man to be the New Moses, and as a movement of God’s power, giving His Holy Spirit to mankind–Jews and Gentiles alike, just as He promised He would.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
This was to be a display of God’s power in creation, the continuing partnership between God and man, putting them in a right relationship together, through the atoning blood of Jesus. He would make a new people to be as Abraham’s descendants were intended to be: Blessed to be a Blessing to others.
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, aholy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Then, in the early A.D.’s, something happened. Christianity became the official state religion of several countries and suddenly everyone was being baptized into giant churches controlled by the government. It is what we now know as Catholic, Coptic and Orthodox churches. It was no longer about who had received a heart transplant, entering into the divine family. Now it was mandatory for everyone.
What followed was centuries of people doing horrible things in the name of God. Crusades to the East, Conquistadors to the West. Soon the word “Christian” became tarnished with offense, genocide and oppression. A far cry from the words of Jesus:
‘By this all men will know that youareMydisciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Fast forward to today. I have spent a decent amount of time in several “Christian/Catholic Nations”: The United States, Armenia, Greece, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica and Mexico. Each one is vastly different along with it’s practice of Christianity. This comes from years of Syncretism; marrying the local to the divine.
Why do both Catholic and Orthodox churches over-emphasize the Virgin Mary? Could it be she reminds them of their dear, previous fertility goddess? When did people start praying to saints and making them “patrons” of something? Was it when they had to give up the familiar practice of asking specific deities for specific blessings? Like, “Please let it rain!” or “Please help me get pregnant!”?
Still, I can testify to finding the Same, true, Holy Spirit of God in people everywhere I go. The heart-of-stone-to-flesh transplant still happens every day around the globe. Our Creator God, who created us, binds us together through His divine nature, is continuing to build His Holy Nation. The Priesthood of God can be identified as people from every tribe, tongue and nation giving Glory to their Creator, by His Spirit, proclaiming His excellencies as ones called from darkness into His marvelous light. Please note the humility involved.
Observing the various manifestation of “Christianity” around the world made me take a long hard look at how much of my Christianity is American. Am I shaped by the God of the Bible or the expectations and ideologies of American values? Who is the Ba’al I default to when I take my eyes of the LORD? Who is the Asherah I combine with Him? What attributes do I ascribe to Him based on my own provincial context? Do I depend on my pastor to be my Moses, talking to God for me and telling me what the Bible says? Can I read it for myself, with the power of the Holy Spirit helping me to understand?
These are questions we must grapple with together. This is why I support separation of Church and State, although I wish Biblical concepts like the eternal value of humanity could be presented in school. Not everyone has to buy in to the teachings of the Bible, but I wish everyone could have access and the chance to know they are deeply and powerfully loved by their Creator God.
This is also why I strongly advocate for people to read the Bible for themselves. There are a lot of great pastors and religious teachers out there (the current Pope is pretty legit), but God’s Word is for all of us, and too much of human history is people of power manipulating His word to sell something or keep the people in fear. Go to your Creator, yourself, and ask Him who He is and what He expects.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)