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Who was Baal?

While God was building up His people with a set of instructions to keep them healthy in body and soul and protecting them with a hedge of stern warnings, the enemy, the devil, was also building up his own people.

We read of his endeavours from the earliest times, with the Nephilim, the "heroes" of old, men of renown, who ensured that the wickedness of mankind had risen to such a level that a flood was needed to filter it out. But the craziness continued and, within a few generations, men were building a tower as a symbol of their pride and ambition, stopped only by a bout of babbling, followed by a good old scattering.

While God was building up His people from the clans of Abraham, the enemy was doing the same with the folk that surrounded them. He sent out his minions to spread confusion and wickedness to these people, black hearted demons masquerading as "deities".

And who were these "deities"? We will focus on just four of them, the ones that appear most frequently in the Old Testament, all of Babylonian origin. The most familiar is Baal, or Ba'al. What does the Bible think of this pagan god?

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. The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel." (Numbers 15:1-4)

This Baal had influenced many Israelites while they were still wandering around, not quite ready to enter the Promised Land - you can see why and you can judge the severity of the sin by looking at the severity of the punishment.

Once the Israelites had been exposed to Baal, they frequently erected altars to this god, from the times of the Judges, until the prophet Samuel put a stop to it. Then came the Kings, and Ahab was the first to restart this loathsome practice. By that time, Baal worship was rife in Israel - you'll remember Elijah's challenge to King Ahab.

Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal ... (1 Kings 18:19)

A cult that could boast 450 prophets was serious business, although, of course, no match at all for Elijah, the only prophet of God left at that time. The demonstration on Mount Carmel proved to Israel exactly which God was in charge!

Yet Ahab's own son, Ahaziah, turned to Baal worship and was to die painfully in his bed for his troubles. Baal worship was to be eliminated again in the land a few years later by King Jehu, only to be sanctioned a few years later in the southern kingdom of Judah, by King Manasseh.

So what did Baal have to offer that the Lord God, King of the Universe, couldn't? The God who covenanted with Israel as His special people and who rescued them from slavery in Egypt, sustained them in the wilderness and provided them both victory over their enemies and a land of milk and honey to settle in.

Well, for a start, there were a lot of them. There was the Baal of Peor, Baal-Berith and Baal-Zebub for instance, and the Bible often refers to them in the plural, as localised tribal gods. But sometimes the Bible just referred to the single Baal, one deity that lorded it over the others as the head of a hierarchy, with a whole mythological back-story, which I won't delve into here. But let's be honest and just call them demons, for that's what they were, with Satan himself at the top of the infernal tree.

But the real attraction to a people living out there in the elements, who thirsted when it didn't rain and starved when the crops failed, was that the Baal was promoted as the rain god, responsible for the rainy and dry seasons. You can imagine the secret repressed thoughts of those Israelites. Look, the Lord God does give us all we need, but it doesn't harm us having a bit of insurance on the side. And we have to eat, don't we?

As Baal worship involved the sex act, through sacred prostitution, this may have been an attraction for some, though this would have opened them to the dangers of the magic rituals, punishable by death according to the Laws of God. Also many of the "holy days" for Baal worship seemed to coincide with those designated for worship of God Himself. So Satan was clever indeed in the way he enticed folk away from the true God, using confusion and counterfeit.

Steve Maltz
May 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth)

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