Know Your Enemy
In this entry of our series on demonology we are taking detour from the natural course that we might otherwise have taken. This interruption has been caused by a (spiritual) dream that I had several weeks ago of a massive dragon in battle armor coming to my hometown from the north. The dragon circled the city once, then again, it was big enough to encircle the city twice and then it smiled. I have understood this dream to be a warning of something happening in my hometown. So in an effort to understand this warning, we are going to chase the dragon down the rabbit hole and see what we might learn about the Old Testament and one of mankind’s greatest foes.
What we will find is that the spirit we call Ba’al is not what we might have assumed him to be (a mute idol). Rather Ba’al is a mask, an assumed name and one of many for a very ancient and evil being. This spirit has been an ever present and well known figure who has been hiding in the shadows just beyond the horizon of human understanding. Our goal today is to hold Ba’al’s feet to the fire and with the light of Scripture expel the shadows he clothes himself in so that we might see him for what he truly is.
Ha’dad the Storm god
As far as my research has shown, worship of the deity Ba’al dates back to the Northwest region of the Middle East, specifically Canaan and Phoenicia (circa 2500 BC). He was originally called Ha’dad and was said to have been the son of the supreme god and creator of all named, El. El of course is also one of the names of God in the Old Testament. A collection of religious stories called the Ba’al Cycle tells us that Ha’dad and his father had a falling out and Ba’al takes leadership of all the other gods. El teams up with another of his sons named Yam, who is the god of the sea, to retaliate against Ha’dad. Yam transforms in to sea dragon but is ultimately defeated by Ha’dad. So right from the start what we see is that Ha’dad is a being who is a “son of god” who rebelled against his creator and took power for himself. Hopefully you can already see the biblical connections.
Ha’dad was worshiped as the king of gods and believed to be the god of storms. It is easy to see how groups of people who depend on farming and who live in a fairly dry area like Canaan would hold a god of rain and storm in a very high regard. Over time Ha’dad came to be called simply “lord” and the word for Lord is “Ba’al.” So just as we Christians call God by the honorary title Lord, so also Ha’dad took that same title for himself. Over time Baalism became far reaching in the Middle East, many regions and people groups had their own local version of Ba’al; they would also attribute or emphasize different aspects of Ba’al. Such variations would include “Baal the healer,” and “Baal the live giver.”
Ba’al at the Exodus
Over time Ba’al worshipers moved into Egypt and right around the time of Moses he became a prominent god in the Egyptian pantheon . When God tells Moses
I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.
He is not only talking about Set, Horus and Ra, He is also referring to Ba’al!
In fact, as Derek P. Gilbert points out in his book the Great Inception, God specifically takes steps to show his superiority over Ba’al. When Israel is about to escape Egypt, God through Moses instructs them, “Tell the Israelites that they must turn and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you are to camp by the sea before Baal Zephon opposite of it.” (Exodus 14:2). Because Ba’al worship was popular in Egypt at this time there was a city or location called Baal Zephon and dedicated to Ba’al. God tells His people to turn around and camp facing Ba’al’s sacred space. Then right when the Ba’al worshiping Egyptians, catch up to Moses and the people is the moment that God performs a stunning act of power to save them. Ba’al as we have already seen defeated the sea monster Yam and afterwards gained the title “master of the sea” and now Yahweh, the true Lord demonstrates His sovereign control over the waters by separating the Red Sea right in front of Ba’al and his followers.
After this miraculous deliverance, which was an overt challenge to Ba’al, God takes His chosen people into Ba’al’s domain and begins to take territory from him and establish His own kingdom through Israel. What we have in the Old Testament is a divine turf war!
Ba’al Around the World
Egypt was not the only country which Ba’al’s religion reached. The storm god actually made a name and gathered a following to himself all over the world. A more familiar form of Ba’al that you will likely recognize is the Greco-Roman god Zeus. Both the Greeks and Canaanites believed that Ba’al and Zeus were the same deity, they came to this conclusion for a few reasons.
Ba’al was a storm god whose weapon of choice was the thunderbolt and in his iconography he is typically shown with lightning, just like Zeus. To his followers, Ba’al was known as the king of Mount Zaphon. Side note: In Hebrew Zaphon means “North” and in the Old Testament the North has been associated with darkness (think here of the dragon in my dream and how it came from the north). Mount Zaphon was the site of Ba’al’s battle with Yam the sea monster but here is where the connections begin to get interesting. To the Greeks Mount Zaphon was known as Mount Kasios – same mountain with a different name and to the Greeks who lived in that area the god they worshiped was Zeus Kasios (Jupiter Casius in Latin). For the Greeks, Mount Kasios was famous for a completely different battle between a storm god and a dragon/serpent. The ancient poet Hesiod tells us in his Theogony (on the origin of the gods) of a great sea dragon/serpent named Typhon who was the son of the earth and hell (tartartus). After Zeus’ defeat of the race of giants called the Titans, Typhon challenged him for control of the universe. The battle was long and brutal but finally, Zeus through his most powerful weapon, the thunderbolt that was forged by Hephaestus, gained the upper hand to defeated the dragon/serpent and cast it into hell.
And this is not the only story of a storm deity defeating a dragon/serpent and becoming king of the gods. All over the Middle East we find the same story in Babylon: Marduk killed Tiamat. In the religion of the Hittites, their storm god Tarnhunt is famous for killing the dragon Illuyanka. What’s amazing is just how far this story made it. All the way in India we find the storm god Indra is said to have used a thunderbolt to have kill the dragon Vrtra. And way in northern Europe everyone’s least favorite Avenger, Thor a thunder god, is famous for defeating Jörmungandr, the world serpent. Another interesting biblical parallel: Jörmungandr was said to be the size of a normal snake but after he was kicked out of heaven, he grew to the size of a huge dragon who encircled the world. Even as far as Japan we find the story of their storm god Susanoo being expelled from heaven and afterwards he encounters and fights Yamata no Orochi, an eight headed dragon/serpent who lives in the Hii River. These are just a few that I’ve picked out to illustrate the point but there are countless examples of this motif from all around the world.
What we see here is that there is one story spread far and wide across cultures, languages and religions. And if we believe the Biblical explanation that the gods of the other world religions are disobedient angels created by the true God (See Psalm 82), then we are left with the conclusion that there is most probably a true angelic being standing behind this ubiquitous fabel. Now before we turn to the eternal scripture for the final word on Ba’al, there is one final story of a dragon and storm god worth noting that will help us shine light on Ba’al’s shadowy identity.
Shenlong the Dragon
In China we find belief in a being called Shenlong a great spirit who controls the weather and sends the rain. But what makes this particular being worth highlighting, is not that Shenlong is famous for defeating a great dragon and becoming king of the gods, rather what is unique about Shenlong is that he is a dragon. This blue colored creature is associated with the heavens (similar to Zeus) and also regarded as one of the great-spirit dragons such as the celestial dragons – like Tianlong.
Those of us who know our Bible well will see the significance of this connection right away. The serpent is a figure which first appears at the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis and the dragon appears at the end of the Bible in Revelation, and finally in two verses of Revelation we are given our clearest ray of light to shine on Ba’al.
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:1-2
Ba’al is the Devil
As I state in a previous entry in this series, whenever we are looking to establish a spiritual truth, we must show it from the Bible and if possible use the words of Jesus. By doing this, we can be sure that whatever topic we are looking at is true because we have it right from the one who created every fact. Twice in the New Testament the Lord Jesus gives us our most solid piece of evidence about the true origin of Ba’al.
In the first of these instances, Jesus heals a demonized man who is mute and blind (we are left to assume that his demons were causing his illness and when Jesus removed them, the man was healed). After the public saw this healing they began to wonder if Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. The Jewish authorities respond by trying to discredit the source of Jesus miracles with this:
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Matthew 12:24
Jesus responds to their bold claims with this bit of wisdom:
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Matthew 12:25-28
From this exchange we see a few things. Firstly, the Jews believed in something named Beelzebub who was considered to be the prince of the demons and rather than correcting them about Beelzebub, Jesus instead brings Satan into the picture. Clearly Jesus is assuming that Beelzebub and Satan are the same figure. The question then is where do we get the name Beelzebub? The Philistine city Ekron worshipped a god named Beelzebub, dating back to Old Testament times and is mentioned 2 Kings 1:2-3. Beelzebub is the Greek translation but in the Hebrew of the Old Testament it is spelled as Ba’al Zebub and either means “Lord of the Flies” or “Lord of the High Places.” Apparently Ba’al Zebub was another of the regional manifestations of Ba’al worship as we saw at the opening of this article. Through deeper revelation and better understanding the Jews of Jesus’ time came to understand Ba’al for who he truly is: the devil. His Philistine name eventually became a title for Satan. With Jesus confirming the association, we have a solid link between Helel ben Shahar and Ba’al.
The second of the clues from the Lord Jesus is more obscure than the one in Matthew 12 but with a little background knowledge (some of which we already learned earlier) the implications are still clear. In the Book of Revelation Jesus, through the Apostle John, sends a letter to the Christian community living in the city of Pergamon. Here are some of his words
I know where you live–where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives. Revelation 2:13
The phrase we are most interested in here is “Satan’s throne.” And what we must know about the city of Pergamon is that it was a center of cultish pagan worship. Chief among the city’s features was a temple dedicated to the king of Greek gods, Zeus. The masterpiece of this great temple was an altar featuring a statue of Zeus up on his throne. This monument is what Jesus was referencing when he calls Pergamon the place of “Satan’s throne.” Here the Lord is identifying the Greek deity Zeus with the devil. As as we have already seen, Zeus is the Greek counterpart of Ba’al and was considered by their respective followers to be the same being in different cultures. So here we have a second instance of Jesus connecting Ba’al and the devil together.
To conclude this article, I’d like to offer a narrative that ties together everything we’ve seen. Please note some of this is just my personal speculation but I think I’m tracking along very Biblical lines. After his fall, the angel called Helel ben Shahar (usually mistranslated as Lucifer but in original Hebrew “Shinning one, son of the dawn”) came to earth in the form of a shinning serpent-like being and tempted the first humans to sin. At this time God condemned Helel and put forth a prophecy about a man God would send who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). In hindsight we know this is the first messianic prophecy ever given and that Jesus is the champion who put Satan under his feet. God banished Helel ben Shahar from heaven and so he came to earth looking to establish his own kingdom. Helel wanted to make himself into a god. After all, he is the one who said “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isa 14:14). Throughout history he has gone around the world claiming that he was the great god who destroyed the serpent back at creation. Seemingly has never forgotten God’s promise to crush the serpent and so his first move was to take credit as being the one who defeated the serpent/dragon. In reality and from God’s true Word, we know that Helel was the serpent and that he was thrown down and will ultimately crushed by Yahweh, the one true King and Creator of all.
Something that I will need into look into more is the association between Satan and controlling rain and storms. It could just be something that he is arbitrarily lying about having power over, or maybe there is more to Paul calling Satan the “prince of the power of the air.” We are typically told that by this Paul just means that Satan is in control of the spiritual realm that exists above our own world (on a “separate layer” if you’ve read the last article in this series), but I’ve also heard that the word which means “air” might also mean “atmosphere” and not just “spiritual world.” This may be a biblical hint about Satan being in control of the weather however, I don’t speak Greek and I’m going to need to do a little more research into this connection before I can claim anything solid. I’ll continue reading up on this and write an update if anything substantial turns up.
What we have seen here is that the devil is a crafty and old enemy. He has been around and deceiving humanity for a very long time. His role in the Old Testament story is much deeper than just tempting Adam, Eve and Job. In fact, he is the main adversary of God in many scenes like the Red Sea crossing, we just haven’t recognized him because he was going by his alias Ba’al. But beyond just Scripture, the devil’s role in human history runs deep. For thousands of years he has been using the other religions of the world to trick our fellow humans into serving him.
My sincere hope here as we close is that I have done a service to the believers who find this. The only thing that Satan has ever created is falsehoods, the only language he knows how to speak is lies (John 8:44). When we shine God’s truth on the shadows that the devil has created for himself and begin to strip away the masks we can see him for what he truly is, a pretender, a trader, a rebel who has already been defeated. This is the reason I tend to call him by his name Helel ben Shahar rather than some lofty and exalted title he’s invented for himself though manipulation our tradition. We hurt him and take away his power when we speak truth to his lies. Be emboldened my brother/sister he is a liar and cannot control you if God’s truth is with you.