Throughout the Old Testament, we see the words “Asherah pole” often in conjunction with the practices of foreign religions. God appears to hate these objects, but what exactly are they?
Borne out of Canaanite religions, these objects tempted the Israelites throughout their history to stray after foreign gods instead of the one true God.
In this article, we’ll dive into the origin of Asherah poles, where they play a role in Israelite history, and why this matters for us today.
What Are They?
These poles, or sometimes stylized trees, stood as a sacred monument and tribute to the Canaanite goddess, Asherah.
According to Canaanite myth, this mother goddess created several gods in the Canaanite pantheon with the other creator god, El. The Canaanites often worshipped her via trees (Asherah poles) because of her association with the tree of life. She gives life to 70 other gods in the Canaanite pantheon.
She’s most famously the mother of Baal, another god who shows up throughout the Old Testament when the Israelites stray after other idols. She also has ties to fertility, hence 70 gods emerging from her union with El.
In their mythology, the Canaanites (or Israelites of a certain Canaanite cult) sometimes paired Asherah with Yahweh, as though she was Yahweh’s wife. Especially since El and Elohim have similar roots in name, it is suggested that maybe the Israelites formed a separate religion from a Canaanite one.
Some archeologists say that when the Israelites cut Asherah out of the picture, they moved from a polytheistic religion to a monotheistic one, but Scripture clearly indicates the opposite.
God condemned the worship of Asherah poles (Exodus 34:13 makes it clear that he is one and not one of a pantheon of gods, Deuteronomy 6:4) and condemned the Israelites engaging in pagan worship. The Canaanite religion fell under the umbrella of “pagan worship.” Any connection between God and Asherah is a perversion of the truth. God does not have a wife.
How Do They Play a Role in Israel’s History?
Nevertheless, they managed to find their way into Israel’s history as the nation rebelled against God.
We see that they made an appearance in Exodus 34:13, which means the Israelites engaged with pagan religions back during the time of Moses. We can see how their time spent in Egypt might have influenced them. When they were constantly bombarded by images of Egyptian polytheism, they might have let these elements seep into their own religion.
By the time of Gideon (Judges 6), we see that his father had a statue to Baal and an Asherah pole. This must mean that other Israelites also had such objects and regularly paid tribute to them.
Throughout the Old Testament, God had prophets and his people tear down these objects.
Why Does This Matter?
Does it matter that the Israelites kept these objects if they worshipped the one true God?
Yes, it matters.
First, God alone deserves our worship. If the Israelites placed their faith and hope in anything other than the Almighty, they would surely end up disappointed.
Not to mention the Canaanite religion had quite a few immoral myths and practices. Asherah, for instance, likely married her son after he supplanted El, reminiscent of an Oedipus Rex plot.
Second, it matters that we don’t mix paganism with Christianity.
We have to cut down our own Asherah poles.
Third, we have to be careful what influences us, and always balance our opinions against what Scripture truly says.
The Israelites spent a great deal of time in Egypt, 400 plus years. No doubt, during that time, pagan religions influenced their thinking. So, by the time we reach Exodus 34, God commands them to tear down Asherah poles.
In the same way, we don’t live in a Christian bubble. Through our media, our workplace, and our day-to-day activities, we absorb non-biblical ideas of the culture around us.
Whenever that happens, we have to remind ourselves about the truth of Scripture and God. The true God, not Asherah.
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Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.