What was the allure of Baal?
How often do we find in the Old Testament references to the infidelity of God’s chosen people by their worship of the false god called Baal? Chronologically it seems that this was an ongoing problem for the Israelites which lasted hundreds of years, starting from the time of Joshua right up to at least the Babylonian captivity, some seven hundred years later. Perhaps it would help to consider the following. During their final days in Egypt, the Hebrews were more or less slaves of the Egyptians, at least to the degree that they were heavily involved – involuntarily, mind you – in some of the major construction projects of the Pharaohs. As such their time and energies were wholly dedicated to those projects. It would appear that for the most part, the Pharaohs provided the foodstuffs which kept them going on a daily basis. Moses became their leader and led them out of Egypt, not because they had as yet personally experienced the true God/Yahweh as he had, but because he reminded them that God had promised their fathers Abraham and Isaac, their own land to the north as their inheritance. At that point they experienced Yahweh as a powerful God who could overcome the Egyptians and allow them to miraculously escape. The price was to worship Yahweh and NO OTHER. The book of Exodus tells us that all too often they longed for “the good old days” in Egypt rather than the hardships of the wilderness, and as a result God punished them by letting a whole generation pass before introducing them into the promised land under Joshua. Consider therefore, when they entered the promised land they had not been farmers for generations. They had to learn how to be successful farmers if they were to survive. Who would teach them how, but the local Canaanites? How did the Canaanites farm? Bear in mind this is the pre-scientific age. Among other things the weather in Canaan is peculiar in that for the most part it rains only in the springtime. The Canaanites planted their seeds in early spring and then prayed to the fertility gods that the rains might come and their crops be successful (It’s not that important exactly how they worshiped, which had its own enticements). To oversimplify a bit, the fact is that the rains did come and they did have successful crops and prospered. What were the Hebrews to think? Wouldn’t it be easy to think if one is going to be a farmer and therefore to eat isn’t the Canaanite tradition the way to go about it? All their contemporaries believed in multiple gods (In fact in Biblical Hebrew, the word for god has only a plural form – no singular). Their contemporaries had various gods depending on various needs. The Hebrews experience of Yahweh did not include the experience of successful farming. Yes, the commandments mediated by Moses demanded belief in only one God. The challenge to that faith seemed to be that while recognizing Yahweh as the most powerful, wouldn’t it be prudent to play it safe and included the fertility god Baal to make sure there was food on the table? The issue it would seem was the human tendency to straddle the fence, to compromise. It wasn’t so much that they were directly denying Yahweh was God as implicitly doing so by hedging their bets, as it were. As stated above at the beginning, it took a very long time to get the message that God does not tolerate fence straddling and compromise when it comes to our relationship with Him. We can’t have both God and mammon, however alluring a little mammon might be.