Even those of us who have vaguely heard of the name Baal in the Bible know that it doesn’t have a good connotation. It seems we can’t go five seconds into the Old Testament without God condemning the worship of Baal.
But who is Baal? What do we know about the religion surrounding this Canaanite deity, and how did it affect those in the Old Testament?
In this article, we’ll discuss what Scripture has to say about Baal, what we know from history about Baal, and why this ultimately matters to us today.
Who Is Baal?
Before we explore what Scripture says about Baal, let’s establish a brief depiction of the Canaanite deity. We’ll dive more into this in the historicity of Baal in a few sections.
Baal is a Canaanite and Phoenician deity and the son of the chief god El. In artistic depictions and archeological finds, Baal took the shape of a bull or ram and had associations with fertility.
This god also, apparently according to Canaanite lore, defeated El and had associations with the sun and thunder. And of all the foreign gods the Israelites came into contact with, they appeared to struggle the most with worshipping this one.
From Easton's Bible Dictionary:
Baal-peor: lord of the opening, a god of the Moabites (Numbers 25:3; 31:16; Joshua 22:17), worshipped by obscene rites. So-called from Mount Peor, where this worship was celebrated, the Baal of Peor. The Israelites fell into the worship of this idol (Numbers 25:3,5,18; Deuteronomy 4:3; Psalm 106:28; Hosea 9:10).
What Does the Bible Say about Baal?
No doubt, we can’t cover the breadth of verses on Baal here, but we should make a note that Baal becomes a big player in the book of Judges and during the time of the kings when Israel appears to succumb most to the foreign pantheons.
For instance, Hezekiah’s son rebuilds the shrines to Baal and the Canaanite goddess Asherah that Hezekiah had torn down:
He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them (2 Kings 21:3).
And one of the most famous instances of Israel going head to head with the prophets of Baal comes from 1 Kings 18. In this chapter, the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal have a show-down to prove the power of their God and gods.
Baal remains silent during the exchange, whereas God showers a sopping wet altar with fire. All 450 prophets of Baal do not escape the slaughter that takes place after that.
In short, Scripture has nothing positive to say about Baal. Most often, it condemns Baal worship, and any example of Israel going after Baal leads to their loss of direction, and ultimately, scattering at the hands of the Assyrians and the Babylonians.
A Brief History of Baal
(And how it affected the Jewish people)
If anyone could get an award for “Having the Worst Neighbors” it would most likely go to the ancient Israelites. It seemed they couldn’t border a single person who didn’t try to destroy them or convince them to worship their own gods.
And that happened with the Canaanites and Baal.
Archeological excavations have dated information about Baal back as far as the second millennium BC, and the spread of Baal worship caught fire in Egypt in 1400 BC. But it could have existed long before that, when God established the law, including laws against eating pork, since pig slaughter and sacrifice was a hallmark of Baal worship.
Baal worship also included, at times, child sacrifice, which we see some Israelite kings engaging with later on.
Despite God’s efforts to dissuade them, the Israelites engaged with the Canaanite culture a little too much and adopted their practices, including Baal worship.
Even as the Canaanite religion waned, Baal took on a new role as Zeus in the Ancient Greek pantheon. Not only do the Jews have to deal with the abomination of Zeus and Antiochus Epiphanes IV (Daniel 8), but the Greek pantheon later gets repeated in the Roman pantheon, and practices from both the Greeks and Romans still exist today.
Why Does This Matter?
Evil practices never go away. They simply evolve. Baal transformed into Zeus who transformed in Jupiter, etc.
In addition to Baal still having an influence over religions and pagan practices today, we need to take note of what happened to the Israelites and vigilantly watch our churches. How many pagan ideas have we let seep in? What modern-day Baals have we worshipped in place of God?
It may seem easy to point the finger at the ancient Israelites and say, “How could you let a bull statue into Israel? How could you worship Baal?” But if we don’t exercise extreme discernment, we may find ourselves doing the same with modern-day baals.
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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.