The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.
Judges 3:7 (NIV)
In today’s chapter, the author of Judges makes it clear that the Hebrew people committed idolatry with the gods Baal and Asherah. Because these popular regional gods would compete for the attention of the Hebrew people for centuries, it’s important to understand a little bit of the context of who these deities were. Part of the difficulty is that one diety might have different names in different cities or regions as well as differences and nuances in the myths and worship practices.
The Mesopotamian region had an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses that prefigures the Greek and Roman gods with which we’re more familiar in Western culture. In the mythology of the era, Baal was the big dog, like Zeus. Asherah was Baal’s wife and the mother of 70+ other gods. Survival in the ancient world was hard. Death rates among infants and children were staggering. Famine was common and severe. It was a violent world in with local warlords constantly making themselves rich and powerful by conquering and pillaging neighbors. Survival was highly dependent on fertility. Families needed children to be born and survive to help with the daily necessities of survival. People needed crops to grow, survive, and be harvested so they would have enough food to survive.
Baal and Asherah were both gods of fertility, and as we all know, human fertility depends on people having sex. Thus, the worship of these fertility gods commonly involved sex. Having sex with the sacred prostitutes was a common form of worship. In some cases, children were ritually sacrificed. If life is the most precious thing, what is the most sacrificial gift one could give the gods? I can begin to appreciate that God wanted His people to avoid these things for their own spiritual, mental, and societal health.
The systemic cycle of Judges I wrote about yesterday always begins with the Hebrew people breaking the numero uno command and worshipping Baal, Asherah, et al. So what does this have to do with me sitting in my home office on this early Thursday morning in the 21st century?
A couple of thoughts I’m pondering in the quiet:
It’s easy, perhaps too easy, to think about Baal and Asherah and think that idolatry isn’t relevant in my life today. At its heart, idolatry is the worship of something else rather than God. Jesus said that the greatest command was to love the Lord God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. To what do I give my heart, soul, mind, and strength? It may not be Baal and Asherah, but it might be the accumulation of wealth, a life stuffed with the latest gadgets, a social media profile with lots of followers and influence, a closet full of the latest fashions, a life of being high and having no responsibility, the endless pursuit of more pleasure or a stronger adrenaline rush, or any number of distractions to which I channel my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Idolatry is about the fidelity of spirit. Where do my time, energy, money, strength, and mind share get spent each day?
Some things never change. Over 3,000 years have passed since the events in today’s chapter but we’re still dealing with the core issues of life and death, fertility, survival, and power struggles between groups of people. In a few minutes, I will go down to read the news and I know what it will be. Conflict over terminating the life of infants in the womb. The desire to have sex without restriction and free of the consequences of human fertility. The struggle for power over culture, thought, and speech. There will be stories of people killing other people because they disagree. There will be stories of zealous warlords and emperors of business. There’s a likelihood of there being stories of people killing, burning, looting, and raping as crime rates soar in American cities.
So, what has changed exactly?
Once again, I find myself back at the point of thinking about the human condition…my human condition. As a follower of Jesus, I’m told to start by asking myself what it is I treasure. Where do spend my heart, soul, mindshare, time, and resources? What do I do with what I control? I am the “I” in “idolatry.” I am the “I” in “idolatry.” It’s not if I will have my personal idols, but in what or whom will I invest my heart, soul, mindshare, and resources. I’m going to spend them somewhere. Where am I spending mine?
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.