Elijah means “Yahweh is my God”
Factors that led to spread of idolatry in Israel
- Idolatry refers to worship of idols.
- An idol is an image representing a god usually made using materials such as bronze, stone or hard wood.
- The images of these gods would be kept in the places of worship where the worshipers went to ask for whatever needs they had.
- The 2nd commandment Ex. 20:4 forbids making of images of anything “In the heavens above or the earth below…”
- The Israelites were forbidden from bowing down to /worshipping these images. (Deut 5:8 – 10 and Lev 26:1)
- To guard against the temptations to turn to the worship of the Canaanite gods, Yahweh through Moses had forewarned the Israelites that when they enter Canaan, they were supposed to destroy all the worshipping places e.g. temples/shrines and cultic objects (Ex .34:13).
The Israelites were not supposed to:
- Make any agreement/treaties with the foreigners.
- Not to intermarry with the foreigners.
- Practice polytheism /worship of many gods.
- Copy the way other nations were ruled and governed.
- Compromise the worship of Yahweh with that of Canaanites.
- However, when the Israelites settled in Canaan the Canaanite influence on them was great and they started to fall away from the worship of Yahweh.
The following contributed to this:
A. The local Canaanite religion
The Canaanite religion had the following features/ qualities;
It was polytheistic/ comprised of many gods and goddesses’ e.g.
- El – The high god, the king and father
- Asherah – the “wife” of El, a goddess of fertility.-Baal – the storm god also referred to as the god of rain and fertility. He was sometimes called Baal Hadad which means god of storm. He was represented in the form of a bull, a symbol of strength and fertility.
- Baalath – female partner of Baal. Baalath means lady, her personal name was
- Mot – was the god of drought, famine and death.
- Anat – “sister” of Baal, a goddess of war and love.
- Baal was represented in the form of a bull and stone pillar.
- Asherah by a sacred pole.
- -The man identified himself with Baal while the woman identified herself with Astarte the wife of Baal. It was believed that if a barren couple imitated Baal and Astarte when having sex, they would be able to bear children.
-Festivals and feasts were celebrated in honour of the gods and goddesses e.g.
- Feast of unleavened Bread which was carried out at the beginning of the barely harvest. -----Feast of weeks celebrated during the wheat harvest.
- Feast of in-gathering celebrated at the beginning of the agricultural year.
-There were prophets and prophetess for each god and goddess.
Each god and goddess played a specific role in the community e.g.
- Anat-Female deity rep. love
- Asherah-Female deity rep. motherhood
- Astarte- female deity represented war.
-There were temples/shrines/high places of worship of the god and goddess.
-Agricultural activities were linked to appeasing Baal, the rain god.
Influence of the local Canaanite Religion
- the new situation in Canaan made the Israel compromise the worship of Yahweh with that of Canaanite duties leading to Syncretism e.g. one time the Israelites recognized Yahweh as their sole God in the time of need/crisis at other times worshipped him as a Canaanite deity at Canaanite sanctuaries and making their own at Gilgal, Bethel, Dan, Gibeon, and Shiloh
- The Israelites used the items of Canaanites, sanctuaries e.g. Altar, the stone pillar and the wooden pole belonging to the Canaanite religion in worship.
- The sacrifices and offerings of the Canaanites were taken over by the Israelites e.g.
-The burnt offering – given wholly for the deity.
-Cereal offering of the fruits.
-Israel adopted great festivals which belonged to the structure of agriculture life in Canaan e.g.
- Transition from pastoral life to agricultural life, they were attracted by the agricultural successes of the Canaanites and thought this was due to their religion and thus began copying their worship activities.
- The Israelites were attracted to the visible gods of the Canaanites as opposed to the invisible Yahweh.
- The Israelites failure to effect God’s commands to destroy all the cultic objects and temple used in the worship of Canaanite gods.
- The Israelites failed to understand the nature of their God: They broke God’s commandments which prevented them from worshipping their gods e.g. made and worshipped the golden bull calf.
- The change of environment from nomadic to settled and agricultural environment. The nature gods proved more relevant than Yahweh (The God of the desert.)
B. The religious schism between Judah and Israel
- Schism: refers to a division within or separation from an established church/Religion.
- The other factor that led to the spread of idolatry in Israel dates back to around 922 B.C. when Jeroboam became the King of Israel. He made sure that the people of his kingdom did not have any links with the people of Judah.
Ways in which King Jeroboam contributed to religious schism between Judah and Israel. 1Kings 12:25 – 33
- He made two golden calves and placed one at Bethel and another at Dan to represent Yahweh Vs 29.
- He set up two rival places/ centers of worship and ignored Jerusalem. V.s31.
- He made the Israelites to offer sacrifices to the golden calves. V.s.32.
- He chose priests from ordinary families to serve at worship centers. Priests were supposed to come from the house of Levi. Vs. 31
- He built other places of worship/shrines on hill tops vs. 32.
- He burnt incense at altars of the idols/ made sacrifices to idols himself, thus breaking the first commandment.
- He instituted religious festivals in the months of his choice.
C. King Ahab’s marriage with a Phoenician princess (I Kings 16:29 – 34)
The third factor that led to idolatry in Israel was Ahab’s marriage to Queen Jezebel who promoted idolatry in the following ways:
- She imported her Baal religion to Israel.
- She asked her husband, Ahab to build high places for the idols.
- She influenced the king to make Baalism the state religion.
- She persecuted the prophets of Yahweh.
- She influenced King Ahab to worship Baal.