Idolatry

baal, worship, house, israel, kingdom, bethel, king, image, amos and ahab

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Ahab, making a worldly-wise marriage with Je zebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians, introduced the worship of Baal, the god of Zidon, as the national religion. Jeroboam's sin naturally paved the way for this worse apostasy, as the worship of the golden calf was followed by that of Baal-Peor, and the corruptions that were practised after the death of those who outlived Joshua immediately led to the adroption of the paganism of Canaan. But never had there been such a national apostasy. A temple of Baal was raised, apparently near Samaria, and an image and a grove there set up ; there were four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and four hundred of the groves, all of whom, it seems, sat at Jezebel's table. For the fiist time we read that a persecution of true religion was raised, and Jezebel attempted to slay all the pro phets of the Lord. Although Baal-worship re ceived a signal check when, at Carmel, before Ahab and all Israel, the false prophets were•miracu lously shown to be impostors, and were slain by Elijah, yet that only remaining true prophet who had dared to show himself in the Israelite kingdom fled for his life from Jezebel, and lament ing the forsaken covenant, overthrown altars, and slain prophets of the Lord, complained that he alone was left. But God made known to him that there were still left in Israel seven thousand that had neither bowed to Baal nor kissed his image. The miracle at Carmel had no lasting effect on Ahab's mind. Not only did he allow his wife to seek the life of Elijah, but a staff of four hundred false prophets was formed, by whose prediction he was led to the fatal battle of Ramoth-gilead. Ahab's son Ahaziah followed his parents' iniqui ties, and sent to inquire of Baal-zebub ; but bis brother and successor, Jchoram, put away the image of Baal, and was contented with Jeroboam's sin, though the image was afterwards restored, no doubt through Jezebel's influence.

Jehu aimed at the destruction of the house of Ahab and the overthrow of the worship of Baal : both objects he thoroughly accomplished, so far as the northern kingdom was concerned, perhaps with some selfish ambition, and probably with some needless bloodshed, but certainly with a vigour that marks him as one of the most resolute of the Israelite kings. The worshippers of Baal were col lected and slain, the house of Baal overthrow:), his image and other images broken and burnt, and the house permanently polluted. It is to be observed that a city of the house of Baal is mentioned, as though a, city, probably a suburb of Samaria, had grown up around the idol temple. Yet Jehu, with a foolish policy, was afraid to abandon the corrup tions of Jeroboam, and thenceforward the golden calves at Bethel and Dan were worshipped by the ten tribes until the overthrow of the kingdom.

Baal-worship, though destroyed in Israel, was untouched in Judah. The good king Jehoshapbat had allied himself with the powerful house of Ahab, and this piece of political wisdom nearly exting-uished the line of David. Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, had become the wife of Jehoram, the son of Jehoshapbat. Jehoram, and Ahaziah his son, under the strong influence of Athaliah, had walked in the way of tbe house of Ahab. When Abaziah had been slain by Jehu, Athaliah outdid Jezebel, and slew all the male seed royal, but one child, Jeboash, being saved. During the six years' reign of Athaliah, he remained hidden in the temple, until a priestly revolution overthrew at once the usurper and her religion. The wicked queen was slain, the house of Baal broken down, the altars and images broken in pieces thoroughly, and Mat tan the priest slain before the altars. We thus learn in this history of its overthrow how com pletely Baal-worship had been set up in Jerusalem.

From the time of the second Jeroboam, the prophets furnish us with most interesting details of idol-worship in both kingdoms. The use of the word Israel is not in every case to be un doubtedly restricted to the northern kingdom, but there is no difficulty in the most imnortant pas sages. In the time of Amos, Jeroboam, not withstanding his prosperity, gave the same support as his namesake to the calf-worship. Amaziah,

the priest of Bethel, complained to the king of the prophesying of Amos, and told him not to pro phesy again at that place, it [is] the king's sanc tuary, and it [is] the house of the kingdom' (vii. to-13). It must be noticed that Amos was accused by Amaziah of predicting the king's death by the sword, but it does not follow that he did so, and his prediction against the Israelite line as pre served is, I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword' (vet. 9), a passage immediately followed by the account of Amaziah's complaint : Then Amaziah,' etc. (ver. ro). We are, there fore, surprised that Canon Stanley should say, The prediction of Amos was not fulfilled as re garded the king himself' (Smith's Bible Dictionary, p. 9S1, a). Amos speaks of oaths by the gods of Samaria, Dan, and Beersheba (viii. 14), and of worship or sacrifice at Bethel, Gilgal, and Beer sheba (iv. 4 ; v. 5). Hosea warns Judah against the Israelite sin in these remarkable words : Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, [yet] let not Judah offend ; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-aven, nor swear, the LoRD liveth' (iv.-r5) : whence it seems, if the Masoretic text be correct, that the Israelites dared to apply God's most sacred revealed name to their idols. This prophet speaks of worship not only at Bethel, but also at Gilgal, and Gilead, the latter probably Tacob's stone at Mizpah (xii. ; ix. 15 ; vi. S ; v. 1). Amos spealcs of the high places of Isaac,' and the sanctuaries of Israel' (vii. 9), no doubt in tending Beersheba and Bethel. From these pas sages it is evident that the Israelites sought to fortify their spurious worship by paying especial honour to the early high places. Hosea mentions the calf of Samaria' (viii. 5, 6), but the reference is probably to the calf-worship of the kingdom gene rally. It seems to have been customary for sacri ficers to kiss the calves' (xiii. 2). The mention of the calves of Beth-aven' (x. 5), a name of re proach for Bethel, probably shows that there vvere small images there besides the chief one set up by Jeroboam, for the high places" of Aven' (ver. S) are similarly spoken of, and we know there was one principal high place there. The abundance of high places is shown by the remarkable expression, after mention of Gilead and Gilgal, yea, their altars [are] as heaps in the furrows of the field' (xii. I I, Heb. 12). The Danite worship in the north seems meant in the prediction—` the chil dren of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacri fice, and without an image, and without an ephod and teraphim : aftenvard shall the children of Israel return, and seek the LORD their God, and David their king' (iii. 4, 5). The spurious wor ship and separate royal line were alike to be taken from the Israelites, and aftenvards they vvere to repent, a prophecy perhaps fulfilled after the cap ture of Samaria. A modern writer has most un critically suggested that the meaning is, that the people were to be deprived even of their mild household superstitions.' How does he know that these corruptions were either mild or household ? The worship of Baal and Baalim seems to be spoken of as a thing of the past (ii. S, 16, 17 ; xi. 2 ; esp. xiii. t, 2), at last exceeded by thc calf worship (see last citation 1 ; but sacrificing. and burning incense upon the tops of the mountains,' upon the hills,' under shadowing trees, was still prevalent (iv. 13). With the overthrow of the northern kingdom the calf-worship evidently ended : the costly golden calves were no doubt carried away, according to the custom of the Assyrians, as had been predicted, but the idolatrous high places were not yet destroyed. The priesthood of Dan came to an end at this time (Judg. xviii. 3o) : that of Bethel seems to have been overthrown by Josiah (2 Kings xxiii. 15-2o). There is no evi dence of any subsequent practice of calf-worship : it may have been adopted by the people trans ported to the Israelite cities by the king of Assyria, but it had no attraction for the people of Judah, whose idolatry was the adoption of wholly foreign systems, not thc corruption of true religion.

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