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Effects of Idolatry in Israel


After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into two countries. The southern kingdom called Judah ruled by King Rehoboam and the Northern kingdom called Israel led by King Jeroboam. Other kings who ruled these two nations were King Abijah, King Asa of Judah, and king Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab of Israel. During the time of Elijah King Ahab ruled – Israel.

Factors that Led to Spread of Idolatry in Israel

When Israelites intermarried with other communities, they worshipped their gods. The Bible makes it clear that:

  1. There was a lot of influence by Canaanite religion
  2. There was division /schism of Israel into 2 kingdoms
  3. Ahab’s married the Phoenician princess
  4. Israelites did not destroy all gods after settling in Canaan.

Influence of the local Canaanite religion

Idolatry is the worship of idols. An idol is an image representing a god made using precious materials such as gold, bronze, stone, and hardwood images kept in the places of worship. God had forbidden Israelites from bowing down to images and worshipping idols, intermarrying with non-Israelites, and making treaties. When Israelites settled in Canaan, they forgot God’s commandments. They intermarried and were greatly influ-enced by the local religion.

Israelites changed from being pastoralist to farmers. They therefore worshipped Baal the god of rain, agricultural fertility, and storms. Israelites worshipped Baal, for rain for their crops. The Israelites were also attracted to the visible gods of Canaan as opposed to the invisible Yahweh. This is how idolatry spread in Israel. However some Israelites maintained worship of Yahweh only (monotheistic) while others worshipped Yahweh and Baal (syncretism).

Characteristics of the Canaanite religion

Canaanite religion was:

  1. Polytheistic. They worshipped many gods. The Israelites religion was monotheistic. They worshipped Yahweh and no other God. They abandoned their religion and worshipped many gods like Canaanite. This influenced the Israelites.
  2. A nature religion. The gods were related with the forces of nature such as rain, sun, storms, drought, famine, wind, water and death.
  3. Ensured continued fertility of land, people, animals
  4. Based on many families of gods. There was
  5. EL – Chief god – who was their father, king, creator
  6. Asherah – wife of El – the goddess of motherhood and fertility
  7. Baal – also referred to as Baal Hadad, son of El and Asherah – the god of rain, agricultural fertility, storms
  8. Astarte – wife of Baal -the goddess of war
  9. Anat – sister of Baal – the goddess of war and love
  10. Maat – the goddess of love
  11. Mot – most feared. The god of drought, famine and death
  12. Free and temple of prostitution. Israelites turned to temple prostitution. Women who wanted to increase vitality of their husbands had sexual relations with the male priests in the Baal temples.
  13. Had many places of worship. One could pray in the temple, under sacred trees, and on top of the hills among others.
  14. Based on offerings and sacrifices of human beings.

Religious Schism between Judah and Israel

Schism occurred among the Israelites because there were sharp differences within them. These differences were religious, political and social. After the death of Solomon, the nation of Israel was split. Re-hoboam ruled one group while the other was ruled by Jeroboam. Because of this split, Jeroboam could not go to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. He thus set up other places of worship one at Bethel, and another at Dan. Jeroboam also set up images to represent Yahweh. Though he had no intention of Idol worship, it turned out to be so because he made his sub-jects to offer sacrifices to these golden calves, which he had designed as images representing Yahweh. He also built places of worship on hilltops like the Canaanites. He chose priests from other families in addition to the Levite Family.

Furthermore, he organized religious festivals and feasts in the month of his choice. As it were, they coincided with the Canaanites calendars. He then burnt incense at the altar of idols. Jeroboam therefore started idol worship and gave room for idolatry. Kings who succeeded him followed this idol worship.

King Ahab’s marriage to the Phoenician/Tyre Princess

Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the King Ethbaal of Sidon (Tyre) to strengthen ties with Tyre/Phoenicia. Queen Jezebel was ambitious, and a strong follower of Baal religion. Ahab allowed her to bring her gods to Israel. She forced Israelites to worship Baal and not Yahweh. She impo-rted 450 prophets of Baal and supported them using public treasury. Ahab built a temple to Baal in Samaria. He also put up an image of goddess – Asherah.

  1. When Israelites settled in Canaan, they did not destroy temples, places of worship, idols, images that they found there. As a result Canaanite’s religious practices influenced Israelites’ worship of Yahweh leading to idolatry.

The Effects of idolatry Harmed Israelites as:

  1. Syncretism developed. This was a process of mixing beliefs and practices from different religions. Israelites worshipped Yahweh and the gods of Canaan.
  2. Former places of worship for the Canaanite gods were used as places of worship for Yahweh
  3. The Canaanite agricultural calendar was adopted by Israelites
  4. Names of the Canaanite gods were used for Yahweh. For example, EL was referred to as Yahweh
  5. Parents began naming their children after Baal.
  6. Feasts and celebrations were changed to correspond with those of Canaanites when they celebrated their feasts.
  7. King Ahab declared worship of Baal as the state religion
  8. Queen Jezebel ordered the destruction of the altars of Yahweh
  9. Prophets of Yahweh were killed. Elijah went into hiding.
  10. The 450 prophets of Baal were made the officials of the royal court in order to promote and protect Baal religion
  11. Israel started to experience long droughts because Yahweh withdrew his blessings. This made Israel worshippers of El

Elijah's Fight against Corruption and False Religion in Israel

The contest at Mount Carmel (1 King 18:17 – 46). Carmel refers to the vineyard of the Lord. King Ahab brought trouble to Israel because of worshipping the idols of Baal. Elijah told Ahab that the problems

Israel was facing were due to worship of Baal. Elijah requested King Ahab to call a meeting at Mt Carmel. In attendance would be all Israelites, 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah who were supported by Queen Jezebel and Elijah. Elijah told Israelites it was decision time. They had to choose their God. Would it be Yahweh, the God of Israel or Baal the god of Jezebel of Phoenician/Tyre. If it was to be Baal, then they were told to follow him, if they select Yahweh as their God then they were to follow him (1 kings 18 vs. 21).

The Choice

Elijah proposed a contest between him and Baal prophets. He asked for two bulls one for him, the other for 450 prophets of Baal. The contest was who can light fire? Yahweh or Baal? He proposed that Baal prophets and himself be given each a bullock. Both shall cut the bull into pieces and put them on wood without lighting fire. The Baal prophets shall pray to their god and Elijah shall pray to the Lord. The one who sends fire to consume the sacrifices… He is God. The people of Israel accepted

Elijah’s proposal


The prophets of Baal prayed first because they were many. They took the bull, prepared it and prayed to Baal until noon (vs. 26). They prayed louder, and cut themselves with knives and daggers; but there were no answer. The prophets of Baal kept on ranting and raving until evening but there was no answer (vs. 29).

Elijah asked people to gather near him. He prepared the altar of the Lord to repair work. He took 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel (who were named after the 12 sons of Jacob or Israel) and used them to rebuild the altar. He then dug a trench around the altar. This trench could hold 14 litres of water. He placed the wood on the altar; cut the bull into pieces and laid them on the wood. He asked for four barrels of water and poured it on the offering and wood. He poured water on the altar three times until the water overflowed, run around the altar and filled the trenches. Elijah then called on the Lord, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, …prove now that you are the God of Israel and that am your servant and have done all this at your command” (vs. 29).

The Lord sent fire down and it burnt up the sacrifice, wood, stones, and dust and licked up the water that was in the trench. When people saw this, they proclaimed ‘The Lord, is God; the Lord alone is God”.

Elijah asked people to arrest the prophets of Baal, led them down to the river Kishon and killed them. And after this there was rain in Israel (vs.40).

Lessons Learnt from Mt. Carmel

Israelites acknowledged that Yahweh is:

  1. Is their only God and that Baal was not God
  2. Is powerful
  3. Is a merciful God
  4. Is a jealous God as He will have no other gods but him
  5. Is a God of justice who punishes idolaters and sinners
  6. Answers prayer
  7. Is a forgiving true God
  8. Protects his servants

Elijah’s Fight against Corruption (1 Kings 21: 1 – 29)

Corruption is defined as dishonesty. It’s a form of injustice when dealing with either an individual or the community for selfish gain and benefit. In a corrupt society people in leadership or with wealth take advantage of the weak, and the poor. The powerful exploit the poor and the powerless by denying them their rights. An example of corruption in Israel is the story of the Naboth’s Vineyard.

Naboth’s Vineyard

Ahab wanted Naboth to either sell to him his vineyard or exchange it with another vineyard. Naboth refused to sell his inheritance. Jezebel, on seeing that Ahab was sorrowful told him that she will get him Naboth’s vineyard. Jezebel sent out letters in Ahab’s name to the elders of the city.

She found two witnesses who could bear witness that Naboth had blasp-hemed God and King Ahab.

Witnesses testified that Naboth had blasphemed God. He was stoned to death. God then sent Elijah to meet with Ahab as he went to possess the vineyard of Naboth.

God’s Sentence to Ahab

God pronounced to Ahab through Elijah that (1) dogs shall lick his own blood from the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth (2) His sons shall be killed (3) Dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel (4) Evil shall be brought upon Ahab’s house.

This was because Ahab had broken these commandments:

  • The 6th commandment – which forbids murder
  • The 9th commandment which forbids bearing of false witness. Ahab allowed his wife to bear false witness against Naboth
  • 10th Commandments – you shall not covet your neighbor’s property.

Elijah’s encounter with Yahweh at Mt. Horeb (Mr. Sinai) 1 Kings 19

After killing the prophets of Baal, Elijah was threatened by Jezebel. She vowed to kill him. Elijah ran away to the wilderness. The angel of God fed him with a loaf of bread and a jar of water. After eating and drinking Elijah walked to Mt. Sinai – the holy mountain of God. He stayed there for 40 days and 40 nights. In the mountain God appeared to him.

There was a strong wind, an earthquake, a fire but the Lord was not in them. Then the lord spoke to Elijah in a still small voice. God told Elijah, “Return and anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha as a prophet and your successor.”

Reasons why Elijah Faced Danger and Hostility as a Prophet of God

It’s not easy for a person to oppose the government and its policies. The person normally faces danger and hatred. Elijah faced hostility from King Ahab, his wife Jezebel and the 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah faced hostility because:

  1. He pronounced a three years drought in Israel, which brought suffe-ring.
  2. He put to death 450 prophets of Baal
  3. He boldly condemned King Ahab for taking away Naboth’s vineyard
  4. He preached at a time when there was idolatry, and Baal was the official religion in Israel
  5. He identified himself with Yahweh in the midst of prosecution of God’s prophets by Jezebel.

Relevance of Elijah’s Prophetic Mission to Christians Today

Lessons Christians learnt from the life of Elijah

  1. Elijah was courageous. Church leaders should remain courageous and condemn any form of social injustice
  2. Modern Christians learn to remain faithful to God through word and deed even if it would cost them their lives
  3. As God helped Elijah in difficult times he will also help the Christians hence they should not despair.
  4. Elijah was a man of prayer Christians should pray to God always.
  5. Christians should advocate for the rights of the poor and speak out against any form of oppression.
  6. Christians should not give false evidence against their neighbours
  7. Christians should be persistent like Elijah was in their struggle against injustice

God communicated with Elijah in a still small voice indicating his intimacy with the prophet. This means that God is able to establish an intimate relationship with his faithful.

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