Who was the god Baal?

Baal was the name of the main god of the Canaanites in Old Testament times. Baal worship was a problem for Israel throughout the period of the judges (Judges 3:7) and was prevalent in the reign of King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 16:31-33).

Judah, the southern kingdom, also struggled with Baal worship. In 2 Chronicles 28:1-4 we read, "Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made metal images for the Baals, and he made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree." The Lord judged Judah by allowing the king of Syria and the king of Israel to defeat Judah in battle and enslave hundreds of thousands of captives (2 Chronicles 28:5-7).

The name Baal was used of gods all over the area. For example, in Numbers 25:3 there is a Baal of Peor. In Judges 8:33 Baal-berith was worshiped by the Israelites after the death of Gideon. In Canaanite belief, Baal was the son of El and the goddess Asherah. Baal became more powerful than even El, defeating various other gods in battles. Baal was often worshiped as a sun god or storm god.

Tragically, Jeremiah 19:3-5 notes child sacrifice to Baal: "Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind."

The best-known account regarding Baal in Scripture is the showdown between his priests and the God-fearing prophet Elijah. Elijah challenged 450 of Baal's priests—whichever god answered the call to send fire down from the sky would be declared the true God. When the Lord answered Elijah, sending enough fire to consume offering, altar, and the surrounding water, the people worshiped the Lord and put the prophets of Baal to death (1 Kings 18).

Scripture frequently mentioned Baal as a pagan god that the true God's people were to avoid. Still today, the practices associated with Baal worship tempt God's people in ways Scripture condemns. Instead, God is the only one to be worshiped, and only His ways are to be followed (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

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