Baal, Asherah, and the God of Everything

Warm-Up: Read 1 Kings 16:29-17:7

It’s impossible to fully understand the Old Testament unless you recognize the prominence of polytheism. It’s easy for us to read stories about God doing great things, and then question why Israel would ever consider worshipping other gods.

I imagine, however, that for many Israelites their goal was never to abandon God (Yahweh). They saw Him do incredible things as they left Egypt and travelled through the desert. But when they reached the Promised Land, known as Canaan, they discovered that people worshipped many gods, and the chief god was named Baal.

Baal was the god of rain, wind, and fertility. Because Canaan depended on rain to grow crops and survive, he was numero uno. Asherah, another popular deity in Canaan, was the goddess of motherhood and fertility. Depending on the tradition, she was either Baal’s mother, lover, or both. The two of them would mate, and this act would bring rain for the people and end the dry season.

This explains why one of the most common religious rituals was to have sex with temple prostitutes. After all, people wanted to inspire Baal and Asherah to sleep together and provide rain. But Baal worship did not end there, it sometimes involved magic and even child sacrifice. God hated these practices, and you can understand why he wanted to end the religion.

Now, the Israelites knew that God was a god, but what if he was only the god of the desert? What if they should start worshiping Baal in Canaan, since he was responsible for rain? After all, the desert didn’t get much rain. Maybe the god who rescued them from Egypt wouldn’t be as powerful in Canaan.

In 1 Kings 17, we see God’s clear response to this idea. In the story, Elijah approached Ahab, who did more to popularize Baal worship than any other Israelite king before or after him. Elijah said, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.

It is no coincidence that God would use a drought to make a statement to Ahab and the people of Israel. This is His way of saying, “You people worship Baal as the storm god, but he has no power over rain or wind or fertility. That power belongs to Me alone.”

Interestingly, this isn’t the only instance where the Bible attacks a particular god’s ability. Have you ever wondered why, in Genesis 1, God creates light on the first day, but He doesn’t create the sun until the 4th day?

Genesis was written to a group of people who had just left the land of Egypt. Thanks to the Nile, Egyptians didn’t depend on rain to water their crops and so Baal wasn’t very important. Instead, the most important god was Ra, the sun god.

Creating the sun after light in the Genesis account was God’s way of saying, “you think the sun is the most important thing in the universe, but I don’t need a sun god to provide light. I am the true source of light and life.

The story of the entire Bible is clear: there is only one true God and He reigns over all. This was true in the days of Elijah and Ahab, and it is still true today. Although we may not worship idols like Baal or Asherah, we still tend to worship things other than God.

For instance, we often think something like this: “God reigns when I am at church, but I’m in charge at work or on Saturday night.” Or, “God can satisfy me when I sing praise songs, but alcohol or money will satisfy me throughout the rest of the week.”

But God is not just the God of Sunday mornings. He is God over our entire life. He reigns when we’re at work, when we’re with family, when we’re with friends and in the community. It is He, and He alone who satisfies us. This means that everything we do can and should be an act of worship. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 puts it, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Application Questions

  1. Are there areas of your life where you refuse to let God reign? What keeps you from giving Him control?
  2. Where do you seek satisfaction and contentment? Is it from God, or from a modern day idol?
  3. How does the fact that God reigns over everything change the way you work, treat others, and live?
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