Idolatry is alive and well in the world today. We can too easily scoff at our alleged 21st century sophistication when we consider the claims of idolatry in the Bible, but idolatry is around us everywhere and in us all the time. I recently described idolatry as anything that de-centres God from the place only God should be. It is the thing that keeps us from a true worship of the Father.
Baal, as mentioned in a previous post, was a constant rival to YHWH, to God’s own covenant people. It is quite astonishing that after four hundred years of Egyptian slavery, which, it must be said, was a total immersion into Egypt’s idolatrous culture, idolatry was the very thing that would plague the Israelites, even as they had been rescued by plagues from Egypt.
In Numbers 25:1-3 we read of the old generation making one final catastrophic mistake in the newly formed Yahwistic community: “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to the Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” The very next chapter deals with the new census and the new generation that would go in to the new land.
Baal worship is a horrendous sexualisation of the human being. 2 Kings regularly refers to the ‘High Places’ of Baal worship, where sexual orgies, cultic dances, intoxicating binge drinking and debauchery, almost as if on an industrial scale. The High Places were a massive problem. “I look to the hills, where does my help come from…” as Psalm 121 begins. He looks to the hills because they are so debauched and idolatrous, but thank God his[our] help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
The simple point in this post that I want to make is this: Idolatry as it was alive and well in Biblical times, is certainly alive and well today. 1 Peter refers to the devil as one prowling around looking for someone to devour. And just as idolatry is a state of human affairs that leaves nothing but devastation in its wake, we can say that idolatry, will, like the devil, stop at nothing until you are raviged – not merely in the sating of sexual desire by debauchery, but in the de-humanising of your very humanity, so that in your consumption, you are consumed. This is what idolatry does, it consumes, like the locust, only the human heart is far more rapacious than any mere locust plague.
It is therefore a natural connection to make, that Bible idolatry seen in crass statues of little men, the symbol of the god and rival to the true God, are simply symbols denoting the human problem, they are the obvious outcomes of the human condition: sin.
Sin twists and distorts, it makes good bad, and beautiful ugly. And thus, in the sexualisation of culture, from Baals to porn, we see that Baal has a new face, it is seen in the porn industry, the advertising industry, the film industry, the pop music industry, and is a way that Baal of Peor is seen around the globe and that this reach is but a metaphor of his reach into every human heart. Baal is brand, he is multi-named, he is black and white, he is your next door neighbour and your best friend. Baal might have found a home in you. The devil truly does prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). It’s not so much as Hello Boys but Hello Baals!
It is no accident that when Adam and Eve sinned they turned a paradise into a wilderness. When Israel sinned at Shittim (perfectly named for the topic in-hand), they were literally in the wilderness when they sinned in their whoring after Baal. The point is simple. If you are in a paradise when you chase after Baal, you’ll end up cursed in the wilderness. If you are in a wilderness and you chase after Baal, you will not inherit your promised land. Either way, you yourself will become a waste land because waste is what Baal does best. Only Jesus can save you from that state.
Thank God Jesus resisted the devil; that he did not attempt to force God’s hand through the idolatrous worship of the great deceiver. Thank God, that in Jesus, it is he in the wilderness who, by his victory, will complete salvation history and turn heaven and earth into that great Paradise of God, and Baal, or whatever he’s called, will be banished forever.