Gods of Canaan
Who Was Baal?
Baal was the primary god of the Canaanite fertility cults. He was often depicted as a man with the head and horns of a bull, who carried a lightening bolt symbolizing destruction and fertility.
Baal supposedly won his dominance by defeating other deities such as the god of the sea and the god of storms. The Canaanites believed that his victory over death was repeated each year when he returned from the underworld and brought rain to renew the earth’s fertility.
Because Hebrew culture believed the sea was evil and destructive, Baal’s promise to prevent storms and control the sea, as well as his apparent ability to produce plentiful harvests, made him attractive to the Israelites.
The Fertility Goddess Asherah
In various forms and with varying names, Asherah was honored as the primary fertility goddess (Judg. 3:7). The Bible does not actually describe her, but archaeologists have discovered figurines representing her.
Asherah, Baal’s mistress, was portrayed as a nude female, sometimes pregnant, with exaggerated breasts that she held out as a symbol of her fertility. The Bible indicates that she was worshiped near trees and poles, called Asherah poles.
Worship Practices of the Canaanites
The Canaanite religions can generally be categorized as fertility cults. They sometimes sought to appease their gods through sacrifices, and they also practiced sexual perversions as a part of their worship of Baal and Asherah.
Baal worshipers tried to satisfy him by offering sacrifices, usually sheep and bulls. During times of crisis, however, Baal’s followers sacrificed their children “usually the firstborn of the community” in order to gain personal prosperity (Isa. 57:5-7).
Believing that the sexual union of Baal and Asherah produced fertility, pagan worshippers engaged in immoral sex to entice the gods to join together and ensure good harvests. God’s incredible gift of sexuality within the context of marriage was perverted by the sexual acts between priests and Baal worshipers (1 Kings 14:24; 22:46; Hosea 4:10-14).
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