Judgment of God Is Described: Page 4 of 6 (series: Lessons on Judges)
by John Lowe
The Pagan Gods of Egypt. The gods of Egypt were a constant threat to the Israelites, both during their years in bondage and afterwards. Their deliverance from Egypt was described by the Bible as a great spiritual victory, with the sovereign Lord of Israel defeating the gods of the Egyptians (Ex. 18:11; 2 Sam. 7:23).
Egyptian religion reflected the same pagan ideas that were popular in the ancient world, but with different figures. Horus was the god of Egypt’s western delta; he was a human figure with a falcon’s head. Hathor, the corresponding goddess, had a cow’s body and a woman’s head. The god Set had a man’s body and an animal’s head. Anubis had a man’s body and the head of an ibis. Besides gods that were composite with animal forms and human forms, some Egyptian gods were portrayed as completely human. For instance, Min symbolized fertility. The name of Amun, the famous god of Thebes, was often combined with that of Ra (see below).
In ancient Egyptian religion Osiris was the god of the lower world and judge of the dead. He was the brother and husband of Isis and father (or brother) of Horus. Osiris was killed by Set, who was jealous of his power, Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility, persuaded the gods to bring back Osiris, her dead husband. The myth is therefore an ancient vegetation cycle.
Egypt also had cosmic deities. The Egyptians envisioned the earth as in the shape of a dish with their fertile region (Egypt) in the center. The Nile River flowed from under the earth, bringing fertility to the land. These elements of nature were personified as gods. Geb, earth, was portrayed as a god lying down. Nut, heaven, was a goddess who arched her body across from mountain to mountain. Shu, the air, stood erect, holding up the sky.
The Egyptians also worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. Ra (also Re), the sun god, was the supreme deity of the ancient Egyptians. He was represented as a man with the head of a hawk or a falcon, crowned with a solar disk and the figure of the sacred asp or cobra. Ra appears in the Old Testament in the name of Joseph’s father-in-law, Poti-Pherah (Gen. 41:45, 50; 46:20), priest of On, a city called Heliopolis (“city of the sun”) by the Greeks—the principal seat of the worship of the sun. When Ra is absent, Thoth, the moon, is prominent. But the moon is definitely inferior to the sun.
The Egyptians had many other pagan gods. Notable among them was Maat, representing the abstract idea of truth, and Bes, a grotesque god who watched over childbirth. The worship of all the gods also involved magic and superstition. The purpose of these gods apparently was to explain the cycle and forces of life and to insure stability and fertility.
Amun, one of the principal gods of the Egyptians, may have been one of the false gods worshiped by the Israelites—a practice condemned by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 46:25, 26).
The great PLAGUES OF EGYPT before the EXODUS (Ex. 7:14–12:30) struck at the heart of Egypt’s religion. Their fertile land was struck with plagues; their sacred river was turned to blood; their glorious sun was darkened; and even the son of the “divine” pharaoh was killed. The wonders that God brought against Egypt clearly demonstrated that their gods were powerless before the true and living God of Israel.
The Pagan Gods of Canaan. The pagan peoples who inhabited the land of Canaan before the Israelites arrived also worshiped many gods and goddesses. The Canaanite literature discovered at RAS SHAMRA (on the site of the ancient city of Ugarit) on the Syrian coast provides abundant information about several gods mentioned in the Bible.
The Canaanite god most often referred to is Baal, which means “lord” or “master.” The word could be used as a title for any person who owned something, or any god considered to be a lord or master. But the word Baal soon became identified with various regional gods that were thought to provide fertility for crops and livestock. As a god who symbolized the productive forces of nature, Baal was worshiped with much sensuality (Num. 22:41; Judg. 2:13; 1 Kin. 16:31–32).
Baal appeared in many forms and under many different names. The Bible often makes reference to the Baalim (the plural of Baal, KJV) or to the Baals (NKJV; Judg. 2:11; 1 Kin. 18:18; Jer. 2:23).
The word Baal was often used in forming names, such as Baal of Peor (Deut. 4:3; Baal-peor, KJV). Peor was the name of a mountain in Moab. Baal of Peor was an idol of Moab (probably to be identified with Chemosh) that Israel was enticed to worship with immoral practices. In several passages the idol is simply called Peor (Num. 25:18; Josh. 22:17).
Baal-Berith, which means “lord of the covenant,” is a name under
which Baal was worshiped in the time of the judges at Shechem, where he had a temple. In Judges 9:46 he is called simply the god Berith (El-Berith, NIV).
Baal-Zebub, which means “lord of the fly,” was “the god of Ekron” (2 Kin. 1:2–3, 6, 16)—the name under which Baal was worshiped at the Philistine city of Ekron. The name is probably a deliberate and scornful scribal corruption of Baal-Zebul, “lord prince,” another name for the Canaanite god Baal (see below). In the New Testament, reference is made to Beelzebub, a heathen god considered the chief evil spirit by the Jewish people (Matt. 10:25; 12:27; Luke 11:18–19). The Pharisees called him “the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15), and Jesus identified him with Satan.
This word Baal was also used in personal names, but when the worship of Baal became a problem in Israel, Baal was replaced by Bosheth, which means “shame” (probably because it was shameful to have the name of a pagan god as part of one’s name and because Baal was a shameful god; Jer. 11:13). For instance, Merib-Baal (1 Chr. 8:34; 9:40), the name of the son of Jonathan, became Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9:6–13), and Esh-Baal (1 Chr. 9:39) became Ishbosheth (2 Sam. 2:8).
The Canaanite god Baal was known as Baal Zebul (“lord prince”) and Aliyan Baal (“strong lord”), as well as by a number of other titles. Baal was considered the god who brought rain and fertility (especially good harvests and animal reproduction). In a number of passages in Canaanite literature he is identified as Hadad, another god believed to bring the rains, storms, and fertility. Hadad is the god Adad of Assyria.
Archaeologists have discovered rock carvings of Baal holding a club in his right hand and a lightning flash with a spearhead in his left. These identify him as the god of rain and storm. Baal is also known as the “rider of the clouds,” a term showing his power over the heavens. Psalm 68:4, “Extol Him who rides on the clouds,” gives this title to the God of Israel—a declaration that the Lord, and not the false god Baal, is ruler over the heavens.
Baal and related deities are also portrayed as a mating bull, symbolizing fertility. It is no surprise that while Moses was on Mount Sinai, receiving the Ten Commandments from the Lord, the disobedient Israelites fashioned a golden calf to worship (Ex. 32). Jeroboam I, king of Israel, acted in accordance with this pagan idea by making two calves of gold, setting up one at Bethel and the other at Dan (1 Kin. 12:26–30).
During the history of the Israelites, a rivalry developed between Baalism and the true worship of the Lord (Jer. 23:27). Perhaps the best example of this rivalry was the conflict between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Elijah’s challenge to them to bring down fire from heaven was appropriate, because the Canaanites believed that Baal could shoot lightning flashes from the sky. Elijah’s mocking of Baal struck at the heart of their claims; he knew that Baal was powerless, that the prophets of Baal had misled the people, and that only the Lord God of Israel was alive and able to answer. In the struggle to the death between true religion and false religion, Elijah knew that Baalism and its prophets had to be destroyed.
In Canaanite mythological texts Baal is sometimes called the son of Dagon. Dagon (Judg. 16:23; 1 Sam. 5:2–7; 1 Chr. 10:10) was the chief god of the ancient Philistines, a grain and fertility god whose most famous temples were at Gaza and Ashdod. Dagon continued to be worshiped by the Canaanites up to the time of Christ. In the APOCRYPHA mention is made of a temple of Dagon at Azotus in 147 B.C. (1 Macc. 10:83–84). Azotus was a later name for Ashdod, one of the five chief Philistine cities.
Like the myths of so many pagan religions, Canaanite stories claim that Baal came to prominence by defeating other gods. One of Baal’s enemies was the sea monster known as Lotan. The Old Testament references to Leviathan (Job 3:8; 41:1; Ps. 104:26; Is. 27:1) correspond to this word. But in the Bible Leviathan is simply a powerful creature in the sea that people cannot control, and not like Lotan—a pagan god in the form of a twisting serpent.
Baal’s mistress or lover was Anat (or Anath), the goddess of war, love, and fertility. She was the virgin goddess who conceives and was also the victor over Baal’s enemies. With the help of Shapash, the sun god, Anat rescued Baal from Mot (the god of death). Her victories in battle were vicious; she is described as up to her hips in gore with heads and hands from the enemies stacked high. Thus, Anat was the driving force in the annual fertility cycle of Baal.