We are more pagan than we realise!
The second "deity" in our hall of horrors is Asherah, the goddess, also referred to as the "queen of heaven", as in this verse from Jeremiah, where the prophet, speaking for God, shows extreme displeasure:
Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me to anger. (Jeremiah 7:17-18)
Moses made it very clear where he stood with this pagan goddess:
Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. (Deuteronomy 12:3)
Who was Asherah? Actually it's not clear, but these poles of hers were a constant problem. Apparently these were wooden poles connected to worship of the goddess (a practice, I have heard, that still continues in some sleazy city nightclubs). Suffice to say, they were centres for pagan worship and we even read that King Manasseh had not only carved one out himself but had it installed in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This was a dangerous and provocative act. God was not to be mocked and this must have sealed His decision to exile the people of Judah from the land.
The third "deity" was Ashtoreth (Astarte), the goddess of the Sidonians. Solomon was quite partial to this one, the moon-goddess and companion of Baal, introduced to him by a good number of his one thousand wives and concubines.
As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians ... (1 Kings 11:4-5)
The fourth and final "deity" was the very nasty Molech (Moloch), the detestable god of the Ammonites, according to the Bible.
Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 18:21)
Nasty, nasty, nasty. Can you imagine anything worse than child sacrifice? King Manasseh obviously had no problem with this.
He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom ... (2 Chronicles 33:6)
What on earth could the people have received in return for this detestable act? Is anything worth this kind of sacrifice?
Moloch's post-Bible career took him to the pages of John Milton's Paradise Lost, as one of Satan's chief angels and also to Fritz Lang's ground-breaking film Metropolis, as a term of horror.
So, on the one hand we had the people of God, the Children of Israel, a people sealed by covenant and protected by a wall of love called the Torah. On the other hand we had everyone else, outside God's covenant and prey to the machinations of the devil, through his four proxy rulers and other minor "deities".
Never the "twain shall mix?" Not so; this is where it gets ugly.
The seeds of the downfall of God's people had already been planted back in the days of Judges, the days of Joshua and Caleb. The Children of Israel, as instructed and helped in every way by the Lord God, took the land of Canaan and made it theirs, dividing the land up among themselves after conquering the nations who preceded them.
But not all were totally destroyed, some of the Canaanites were to be allowed to live, usually as slaves. This was going to be a challenge for God's people ...
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth)