When it comes to dealing with God, most of us spend considerable time trying our own hands at either being or making gods.
— Eugene H. Peterson (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places)
Baal was the storm-God, the most important deity of the Canaanite religion. One ancient reference gives Baal the title: “Rider of the Clouds”. In only made sense that shrines to Baal would be built on high places in Canaan. That was where Baal came closest to earth.
When Israel conquered Canaan, they were warned not to be influenced by Baal worship. Even so, many of the hill-top Baal shrines remained, and they drew the Israelites towards them. Any move toward Baal was a move away from Yahweh.
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Even the thought of worshiping Baal should have been repulsive to the Israelites. Psalm 78 puts things in perspective. In it, Asaph recounts God’s mighty deeds in Israel’s history:
We will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
he rained down on them manna to eat,
and gave them the grain of heaven.
he rained flesh upon them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas.
(excerpts from vv. 4-27, NRSV)
Israel must have had a bad case of spiritual amnesia to exchange the worship of God for the worship of Baal. Did they not remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40)? Yahweh (the only true God) knows that Baal does not exist. Yahweh knows that the only way for humanity to find peace is through reunion with himself. Baal is a fatal detour.
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All throughout the book of Ezekiel, God tells of the horrible things he will do to the Israelites. In 6:1-7, he pledges to slay the Israelites with his sword, and cast their corpses around the altars of Baal.
There is a powerful parallel here with the story of Elijah. The prophets of Baal were all killed after God answered Elijah with fire from heaven. If the Israelites wanted to worship that god, they would wind up like the rest of the Baal prophets of old. Let the dead worship a pseudo-deity.
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So who is Baal today? In comparison to God; nothing. In our eyes; tragic distraction. All of us have our own Baals—things that compete with the true God for our attention:
- This list could be as long as the number of people in the world.
This passage screams at us to turn from our pet idols. Are we like the Israelites who flirted with the high places of Baal worship, or are we more like Ezekiel: our lives driven and captivated by a vision of the one true God?
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One True God, show me the things that are competing with you for my time. Then help my faltering will to resist the distractions by turning wholeheartedly to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.