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TitleFalse Gods of the Times
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1978
Secondary AuthorsEnsign Staff
Issue Number1
Date PublishedJanuary 1978
KeywordsAsherah; Ashtoreth; Baal; Chemosh; Idol Worship; Molech

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False Gods of the Times

The following are some of the most common false gods worshipped by the peoples of the Old Testament:

Asherah—is often translated in the King James Version as “groves.” It refers to fertility idols made from trees. (See Deut. 16:21a; 1 Kgs. 15:13; Topical Guide, s.v., grove. It may also indicate “probably an idol or image of some kind. … It is also probable that there was a connection between this symbol or image, whatever it was, and the sacred symbolic tree.” (F. N. Peloubet, ed., Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary, Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1947, p. 229.) The symbol of the tree of life may be at the root of this usage, with the worship of the sacred tree a corruption of the true symbol.

Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba (see Gen. 21:33), but in this instance the word grove is translated from the Hebrew word meaning “tamarisk,” Not from asherah. Most other references to groves (see Deut. 16:21; 1 Kgs. 15:13; 2 Kgs. 17:16; and 2 Chr. 15:16—there are more than forty such references in the Old Testament) refer to places of idolatrous worship. In many instances the form of worship at the groves included prostitution, both male and female. (See Lev. 20:5–6.)

Ashtoreth—meaning “a wife,” refers to the Canaanite and Phoenician goddess of fertility corresponding to Astarte, who was worshipped in connection with Baal worship. Her cult was prevalent at the time of the judges, when Israel “forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.” (Judg. 2:13; Ashtaroth is the plural form of Ashtoreth.) Baal was the male fertility symbol, Ashtoreth the female. She is associated with the moon and with Venus. Solomon built “high places”—places of worship—for Ashtoreth in Jerusalem. (See 2 Kgs. 23:13.) She was the goddess of the Zidonians, as mentioned in 1 Kings 11:33. [1 Kgs. 11:33] (See also Judg. 10:6; 1 Sam. 7:3–4; 1 Sam. 12:10.)

Baal—a term meaning “Lord” or “master”, appears fifty-one times in the Old Testament. It sometimes refers to a certain god—a rival of Jehovah. But ba’al may also mean “possessor,” “inhabitant,” or “controller.” (See James Hastings, ed., et al., Dictionary of the Bible, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952, p. 78.) Most commonly, it means “lord.” (See Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, New York: American Book Exchange, 1881, p. 65; see also Bible Dictionary, s.v., Baal.) It can be used as part of a name, such as Baal-peor (“lord of Peor”—see Num. 25:3a) or Baal-zebub (“lord of the fly”—see 2 Kgs. 1:2). The Amorite god Hadad was known specifically as Baal, and the Canaanites had a myth of Baal’s victory over the unruly waters and his assumption of kingship. (See Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, p. 78.) Saul named one of his sons Eshbaal (“man of Baal”; see 1 Chr. 9:39). This son is later referred to as Ishbosheth (“man of shame”). Israel later changed many names containing the word baal to contain bosh or bosheth instead—replacing the term “Baal” with the term for “shame.” In most instances, Baal is a fertility deity representing the male element, strength, and the sun—the same role Zeus plays in Greek mythology. The Babylonians’ chief deity, Bel, may be the same as Baal. (See Bible Dictionary, s.v., Bel; Isa. 46:1; Jer. 50:2; Jer. 51:44.)

Chemosh—meaning “subduer,” was a god in the tradition of the Roman god Mars. Chemosh is mentioned as a lower god of the Moabites, the Amorites, and the Edomites.” (See Judg. 11:24; 1 Kgs. 11:33.) Solomon built a temple of worship to Chemosh in Jerusalem. (See 1 Kgs. 11:7.)

Molech—meaning “king,” the term comes from the same Hebrew root as Melchizedek, “king of Salem” and “king of righteousness,” and Mulek, “son of King Zedekiah.” Molech was the fire god of the Ammonites. The Baal of Elijah’s contest may have been Molech; we know that he was the same as the Moabite god Chemish, and that his priests were called chemarims. (See Zeph. 1:4b.) The worship of Molech was particularly heinous; it required human sacrifice—usually of a small child, often the firstborn son. The brass statue of Molech was hollow, and it was used to burn victims alive. (See Peloubet, Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary, p. 416.) References to giving one’s seed to Molech (see Lev. 20:2–5) or to passing a child through fire (see 2 Kgs. 16:3; 2 Kgs. 21:6; 2 Kgs. 23:10) refer to human sacrifice by fire.