Over the years, as you have studied the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, you have certainly come across the many passages where references were made to Baal. You, no doubt, know that Baal was a fertility god worshiped by the nations which surrounded Israel. You know that Israel went through periods of time when they allowed Baal worship to infiltrate their own society. And you know that this Baal worship was one of the main reason God became angry at Israel and imposed judgement on various occasions.
Why an Understanding of Baal Worship Is Relevant to Understanding the Bible
If you have studied the Bible for any significant length of time, you have probably done at least a little bit of background research on this religion. But you have probably never looked at it from a worldview perspective. Today, we want to remedy that situation. By gaining this more in-depth knowledge of Baal worship, two things should happen for you. First, you will be able to understand more fully the implications of what is being taught in the Bible when you come across references to this religion. Secondly, it should give you more insight into certain modern religions that are becoming more prominent in our day. Not that Baal worship, per se, is once again practiced. But as a religion based on an Animistic worldview, it has much in common with other forms of Animistic belief.
History of Baal Worship
Baal worship was the most prominent religious system of the Canaanite people groups which surrounded Israelite culture during the time when Israel occupied the promised land after they fled Egypt. This Animistic belief system had its roots in ancient Babylon and northern Syria.
Baal worship centered around a god named Baal who was the leader of the gods. The Semitic word Baal literally means “lord” or “master.” He was understood to be the storm god who was responsible for bringing rain, and thus fertility, to the land. There is a mythological story that tells the background of Baal worship.
It seems that at some point in the history of the gods, there came a rivalry between Baal and Yamm, the sea god. Ultimately Baal defeated Yamm with the help of his sister Anat, the goddess of war, and Astarte/Asherah, the goddess of earth and fertility. Asherah became Baal’s consort.
Because of his victory, other gods began to build a great house for Baal so he could be at rest and provide plenty of rain for the earth. But the god of death and the underworld, Mot, challenged Baal and temporarily defeated him. For a period of time, Baal disappeared into the underworld. But Anat and the sun god Shapash, brought him back to life and restored him to his house. It was believed that as a part of this process, Baal went to live in the underworld during the dry winter season. Then when spring came, he would return to earth to sleep with his consort, Asherah, so that the rains would return to the land.
Basic Beliefs and Practices of Baal Worship
The purpose of the Baal myth was to give human beings an explanation of the workings of nature, particularly as it related to the production of rain for the crops of the agrarian people who lived in that region of the world. Baal temporarily going to the underworld represented the dry season or periods of drought when not much rain fell. The rainy season represented the resuscitation of Baal which allowed him to return to the land of the living and provide rain.
There is also a contrast between Baal, the god of rain (fresh water), and Yamm, the god of the sea (salt water). It is only the fresh water of rain that is able to provide for the fertility of the ground, so Baal must win out.
The practice of Baal worship by humans, though, was focused on the element of fertility. It was believed by those who worshiped Baal that human beings were able to help strengthen Baal in his struggle with Mot by taking certain actions. These actions specifically involved performing magic, engaging in certain rituals (which included child sacrifice), and sexual interaction with sacred prostitutes. The magic, rituals and sexual activity were all designed to encourage Baal’s return to mate with Asherah so that he could bring the rains.
The worship of Baal was generally performed in “high places.” These were typically temples or clearings up on mountains.
Essential Beliefs of Baal Worship
As a somewhat traditional Animistic religion, Baal worship believes in many gods which are primarily associated with elements of nature. It is believed that these gods live in the spirit world but are symbiotically connected to the material world. What happens in the spirit world affects what goes on in the material world and vice versa.
Baal, in particular, is the storm god. By providing rain, he is responsible for the earth’s fertility.
Mankind, in the Baal religion, is understood to be a physical being who lives in the material world, but has a spiritual core. It is believed that human beings will enter the spirit world at physical death and will then have influence over what happens in the material world. In the meantime, human beings affect what goes on in the spirit world by means of rituals, prayers and offerings.
Salvation for human beings, in Baal worship, relates to doing all one can to make life as comfortable as possible. This involves helping and encouraging the gods to fulfill their obligations toward the material world, as well as appeasing the gods to make personal life more comfortable.
How Baal Belief Answers the 7 Worldview Questions
1. What is the most fundamental reality? (Ultimate reality) and 2. What is the nature of our material reality? (Material reality)
As is common with most forms of Animistic thought, the Baal religion believes that the spiritual and physical worlds are both part of a single existence. Spirits exist in a separate dimension from physical beings, but they interact with each other in a symbiotic relationship.
3. What is a human being? (Humanity)
According to Baal beliefs, human beings are material creatures who inhabit the physical world. They are understood to have a spiritual core which connects them to the spirit world.
4. What happens to a person at death? (Death)
Baal belief asserts that at death, an individual’s spirit enters the spiritual dimension.
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? (Knowledge)
Knowledge, in Baal belief, is simply assumed to exist and is known by observation.
6. How do we know what is right and wrong? (Morality)
Morality, in the Baal religion, was learned by observation and experience. As people observed what caused good and bad things to happen in the material world, they associated that with the pleasure and displeasure of the gods. Over time (generations), a moral code was developed based on these observations.
7. What is the meaning of human history? (History)
History, in the Baal religion, is understood to be a linear progression of events without special meaning.
Why This is Relevant Today
Obviously, Baal worship, as such, does not exist today. However, there are numerous other modern belief systems which are similar in many ways. We don’t normally tend to see the particulars of ritual prostitution or infant sacrifice in current Animistic worship forms (though there may be instances of one or the other). But the underlying Animistic belief structure is certainly around. This foundation is found in such belief systems as Wicca, paganism, Voodoo, Santeria, Japanese Shinto, Native American religions and the like.
There are two reasons understanding Baal worship is relevant for today.
First, it helps us understand Biblical teachings more clearly. God does not want us worshiping false gods, and the better we understand the range of false gods in existence, the more clearly we are able to contrast that with the nature of the one true God. This will definitely help us order our lives in ways which strengthen our own faith and our personal relationship with God.
The second reason it is important is that by understanding the basis of Baal worship, we gain insights as to how we can share a witness with modern Animists. The basic foundation will be the same.
An understanding of worldview is not merely an academic exercise. It has practical implications for every part of life. Everyone believes something! By understanding the belief possibilities, we put ourselves in a position to be used ever more effectively by God.
© 2011 Freddy Davis