Hello Baals

Idolatry is alive and well in the world today.  We can too easily scoff at our alleged 21st century sophistication when we consider the claims of idolatry in the Bible, but idolatry is around us everywhere and in us all the time.  I recently described idolatry as anything that de-centres God from the place only God should be.  It is the thing that keeps us from a true worship of the Father.

Baal, as mentioned in a previous post, was a constant rival to YHWH, to God’s own covenant people.  It is quite astonishing that after four hundred years of Egyptian slavery, which, it must be said, was a total immersion into Egypt’s idolatrous culture, idolatry was the very thing that would plague the Israelites, even as they had been rescued by plagues from Egypt.

In Numbers 25:1-3 we read of the old generation making one final catastrophic mistake in the newly formed Yahwistic community:  “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab.  These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.  So Israel yoked himself to the Baal of Peor.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.”  The very next chapter deals with the new census and the new generation that would go in to the new land.

Baal worship is a horrendous sexualisation of the human being.  2 Kings regularly refers to the ‘High Places’ of Baal worship, where sexual orgies, cultic dances, intoxicating binge drinking and debauchery, almost as if on an industrial scale.  The High Places were a massive problem.  “I look to the hills, where does my help come from…” as Psalm 121 begins.  He looks to the hills because they are so debauched and idolatrous, but thank God his[our] help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

lionThe simple point in this post that I want to make is this:  Idolatry as it was alive and well in Biblical times, is certainly alive and well today.  1 Peter refers to the devil as one prowling around looking for someone to devour.  And just as idolatry is a state of human affairs that leaves nothing but devastation in its wake, we can say that idolatry, will, like the devil, stop at nothing until you are raviged – not merely in the sating of sexual desire by debauchery, but in the de-humanising of your very humanity, so that in your consumption, you are consumed.  This is what idolatry does, it consumes, like the locust, only the human heart is far more rapacious than any mere locust plague.

It is therefore a natural connection to make, that Bible idolatry seen in crass statues of little men, the symbol of the god and rival to the true God, are simply symbols denoting the human problem, they are the obvious outcomes of the human condition: sin.

'HELLO BOYS' WONDERBRA ADVERTISING HOARDING.. POSTER. BILLBOARDSSin twists and distorts, it makes good bad, and beautiful ugly.  And thus, in the sexualisation of culture, from Baals to porn, we see that Baal has a new face, it is seen in the porn industry, the advertising industry, the film industry, the pop music industry, and is a way that Baal of Peor is seen around the globe and that this reach is but a metaphor of his reach into every human heart.  Baal is brand, he is multi-named, he is black and white, he is your next door neighbour and your best friend.  Baal might have found a home in you.  The devil truly does prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  It’s not so much as Hello Boys but Hello Baals!

It is no accident that when Adam and Eve sinned they turned a paradise into a wilderness.  When Israel sinned at Shittim (perfectly named for the topic in-hand), they were literally in the wilderness when they sinned in their whoring after Baal.  The point is simple.  If you are in a paradise when you chase after Baal, you’ll end up cursed in the wilderness.  If you are in a wilderness and you chase after Baal, you will not inherit your promised land.  Either way, you yourself will become a waste land because waste is what Baal does best.  Only Jesus can save you from that state.

jesus feetThank God Jesus resisted the devil; that he did not attempt to force God’s hand through the idolatrous worship of the great deceiver.  Thank God, that in Jesus, it is he in the wilderness who, by his victory, will complete salvation history and turn heaven and earth into that great Paradise of God, and Baal, or whatever he’s called, will be banished forever.

Demanding Baal Stewards

British_Museum_from_NE_2After taking a group of budding Bible enthusiasts around the British Museum to look at the Assyrian and Babylonian displays, it becomes apparent that what one is faced with at every turn, is the prevalence, nay, dominance of gods. Dominance in the sense of world-view, and their necessity at every level of society, social, civic, legal and religious.

Ancient Israel never completely purged the idolatry of Egypt from her heart! In this regard she was not uniquely idolatrous in the world, just typical of all. Even during the Exodus, in the wilderness, the intoxication with idolatry is told plainly, “…the people…yoked themselves to Baal of Peor” (Numbers 25:1-3). Baal is a truly demanding god, a god of which the nations seemed to be in an insane love-affair with.

BaalBaal, whose name means ‘master’ was one of the major gods of the Canaanite religions. Often he will be anthropomorphised as a small, thin man, slightly larger than a figure made of pipe cleaners; one hand raised in a gesture of victory (as figure above at the British Museum shows). The bull is also a symbol of Baal, and there have been discoveries of this on a hilltop in what was Samaria, dating to the period of the Judges. It must be said, that there is very strong archaeological evidence to suggest that Baal worship was syncretised with YHWH worship, and any cursory reading of Judges will leave the reader unsurprised by this! This syncretism never really left the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and was totally dominant in the Northern Kingdom.

Worshiping_the_golden_calfThe bull as a symbol is fairly significant in the Biblical text. From the Golden Calf during the Exodus, as Israel were encamped at the foot of Sinai, with Moses actually receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites forged an idol because Moses was taking too long. The pathetic and familiar story is found in Exodus 32.

This clearly left an impression because after the division of the United Monarchy following the death of Solomon (931 BC), Jeroboam, a self-proclaimed King, a self-proclaimed appointer of priests and a self-locator of worship, installed two Golden Calves – in the south at Bethel, and in the north, at Dan (1 Kings 12:1-33). This set a monstrous pattern of idolatry, one that the Northern Kings never shook off; with the Southern Kings barely much better!

 

So as one reads through Scripture, it is clear that idolatry is the plague upon the human heart, and one that Yahweh insists must be healed, by Exile (722 & 587 BC) if necessary (2 Kings 17 and 25). This is what drives the prophets. It is seen clearly that idolatry is the outcome of covenantal unfaithfulness, and the call to repent and turn back to a patient and forgiving YHWH becomes ever urgent. It is noteworthy that Amos refers to the “Cows of Bashan” (4:1), the wealthy woman of Samaria, feeding and gorging themselves at the expense of the poor and needy.

This is what idolatry does, it is a self-feeding at the expense of everyone else, and everything else. It is the exact opposite of the Temptations of Jesus , who refuses to be a self-feeder, and a self-glorifier, and a self-promoter (Luke 4:113). He is the only One in history who has resisted the very things that everyone else has failed to resist.

Baal was a demanding monster and a liar. He consumed nations with a lust for wealth and fertility and war. He is the arch-enemy of mankind, and the destroyer of all that is good. He truly is demanding of those who look to him, of those who are stewards of him in any and every capacity.

In another post we will see how Baal as consort to Asherah and/or Astarte, is linked through the fertility rituals that would in Jeremiah’s time (if not before), promote enforced ritual temple prostitution of men and women, boys and girls, including homosexuality and bestiality – and this just the covenantal people of God!! At the British Museum, you can see this in the figures of large breasted women, holding them out as though tempting desire. The Apostle Paul faced the almost comical if it weren’t so sad scenario of this when he faced a mob at Ephesus, mad with religious fury and patriotism for their multi-breasted goddess, Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28-41). Artemis

This link to sexualised idolatry is, I think, seen in the present day obsession with sexuality being used as a perversion of relationships seen in the breakdown of marriage, the sexualisation of culture, meaning everything we see is often brought down to two lowest common denominators: If not money (a subject for another time), then sexuality, seen most obviously in pornography and paedophilia, not to mention advertising and film – nothing but locust like consumption, grabbing and taking, self-feeding and self-satisfying. It is this very thing, the self-feeding and self-satisfying, that the Israelites became good at when they hoarded the daily provision of manna (Exodus 16) – revealing a twisted view of their Redeeming and Providing God. They were rightly judged for this and their ‘additional Manna’ was fast-tracked to grow mouldy. Baal’s demands are as insatiable as death itself, even if, in the end, as Isaiah says, he is but wind.

By contrast, it is the One True God who is good, and he alone saves. Martin Luther called the human heart a factory of idols, and this is precisely why we need saving by a faithful Saviour, the true God, not some fictitious invention from our idolatrous heart! Freud said that God is a mere projection of our own desires. That may well be in part a truth, but God as He is God revealed in Trinity is no projection of any human heart. What is a projection of the human heart, is the vile thing that can often find a home in the heart – Baal. And we not only house him, we steward him.

If Christ is not our Saviour, the only One who can purge the human heart, remake it in fact, then we truly will become Baal-stewards, every last one of us. But, as Isaiah says,

“I the LORD speak truth, I declare what is right. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep praying to a god that cannot save….there is no god beside me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other!”

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