Who was the goddess Asherah/Ashtoreth?

Asherah (also Ashtoreth or Astarte, though there may have been a distinction) was the primary goddess worshiped by the ancient Canaanites and neighboring peoples, including the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:10). The Israelites also worshiped Asherah from as early as the time immediately following the death of Joshua (Judges 2:13).

Asherah was often associated with carved trees. Therefore, Asherah worship often took place in forested areas, under a tree, or in an area marked by a carved "Asherah pole," such as the one made by the evil King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:7).

Asherah was also identified as the moon goddess who belonged to the family of gods associated with Baal the sun god (Judges 3:7; 6:28). Worship to her included sexual immorality, prostitution, divination, and fortune telling. As a result, the Mosaic Law spoke specifically against Asherah worship (Deuteronomy 16:21).

Despite warnings from the Lord, many Israelite leaders worshiped Asherah. Several of Solomon's wives drew the king from the true God to "Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians" (1 Kings 11:5)—most likely the same as Asherah. Queen Jezebel also worshiped Asherah and supported 400 Asherah prophets (1 Kings 18:19).

In contrast, some of God's followers stood strong against Asherah worship. One important example was Gideon. In Judges 6:25-26 God commanded him, "Take your father's bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down." Gideon obeyed, and was nearly put to death by his own people for his actions.

King Asa also fought against Asherah worship. First Kings 15:13 says, "He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. And Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron." Later King Josiah would likewise end Asherah worship as part of his desire to follow God's laws. Second Kings 23:4 says, "the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel." Josiah's efforts to end pagan worship reveal a serious commitment to worship the Lord only. His noble desire is reflected in the Christian faith in which Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

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