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The gods of Canaan

Most of us would not even consider worshiping a statue or idol of Buddha. But millions do - even some Occidentals. Most of us would not even consider sacrificing human beings to a pagan god. Our God is a God of love. But millions do TODAY. Who is the god of abortions? Certainly not the Eternal Creator God. But the Old Testament is full of examples where Israel worshiped and sacrificed to foreign gods. Why did ancient Israel and why do the remnant tribes of today's Israel worship these gods?

Today I want to talk to you about Israel's worship of foreign, pagan gods.

It's often difficult to know something or make a wise judgment until you have walked in someone else's shoes. We have a problem with the same principles as Israel did thousands of years ago. We, like they, live in a society of gentiles. What is a gentile? Webster describes a gentile in several ways: To a Jew, a gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. To a Christian, a gentile is anyone who is heathen or pagan. To a Mormon, a gentile is anyone who is not a Mormon. Essentially, a gentile is anyone who has religious beliefs sufficiently different, in our own eyes, than the religious group with whom we associate. We, like Israel, live in a society of gentiles.

So how can I say that we live in a society of gentiles? Because the society outside these doors believes and lives totally different than the doctrines of this church. Would we like to see everyone believe as we do? We are too realistic to believe that could ever be possible - at least in this age. But eventually everyone will have the same beliefs.

(Psa 110:1-2 NKJV) The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." {2} The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!

In this verse, the "LORD" spelled with all upper case letters is God the Father. The "Lord" spelled with only the first letter in upper case is our Messiah.

What did ancient Israel do? They removed unconverted gentiles from Canaan as quickly as they could. I say "unconverted" because eventually, if gentiles wished to live in harmony with the Jewish law, they were allowed to stay. So for many centuries Israel removed or lived with gentiles. Remember the association between Samson and the Philistine women? They all lived in the same town. That situation existed until the time of David; then the Philistines moved to the north coast. But originally, every gentile in Canaan was removed forcefully.

Josh 10:40 (NIV) So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded.
Josh 11:16-18 (NIV) So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, {17} from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. [Today, the Valley of Lebanon is called the Bakaa Valley.] He captured all their kings and struck them down, putting them to death. {18} Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time.

Let me give you a few words of geographic explanation: The region of Goshen is about ten miles south of Hebron. The Arabah is the region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Mount Halak is about twenty miles south of Beersheba. Seir is southeast of Jerusalem. The valley of Lebanon is west of Mount Hermon.

So Joshua took all the land from the area south of Beersheba to the valley of Lebanon. That land included Hebron and Jericho which are currently in Palestinian hands. I wish the liberal leaders of America, Europe, and modern Israel would be guided by Joshua's successes while they are so busy wanting to give Israel's God-given land away.

But before the days of Joshua, during the days of Moses, Israel had actually participated with the Canaanites' religious practices.

Num 25 (NIV) While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, {2} who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. {3} So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord's anger burned against them. {4} The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight [hang them naked] before the LORD, so that the Lord's fierce anger may turn away from Israel." {5} So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor." {6} Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. {7} When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand {8} and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them--through the Israelite and into the woman's body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; {9} but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000. [Now that would get your attention. I wonder how many protested for more plague research like people today protest for more AIDS research.] {10} The LORD said to Moses, {11} "Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. {12} Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. {13} He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites." {14} The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. {15} And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Cozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family. {16} The LORD said to Moses, {17} "Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, {18} because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor."
Num 31:16 (NIV) "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord's people.

Israel was seduced by Balaam by alluring them through adultery and other weaknesses. Today it is secular pluralism (do what you want) that pervades our society. We must keep up to date but get our standards from God, not society.

One of the most common beliefs in the world at that time was that gods were most powerful in their local area. This concept was evidenced by the story of Naaman who came to Israel to be healed of leprosy.

2 Ki 5:1-19 (NIV) Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. {2} Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. {3} She said to her mistress, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." {4} Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. {5} "By all means, go," the king of Aram replied. "I will send a letter to the king of Israel." So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. {6} The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: "With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy." {7} As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, "Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!" {8} When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: "Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel." {9} So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. {10} Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed." {11} But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. {12} Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? [The rivers of Abana and Pharper are east of Mt. Hermon, near Damascus and are larger than the Jordan.] Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage. {13} Naaman's servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!" {14} So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. {15} Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant." {16} The prophet answered, "As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing." And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. {17} "If you will not," said Naaman, "please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. {18} But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also--when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this." {19} "Go in peace," Elisha said.

How many people have you known who will go to the surgeons to remove cancer but, even though they know of God's promise to heal, will not be anointed?

Two religious acts are most loathsome to God: Child sacrifice and ritual prostitution. They were both parts of the religion of the Canaanites.

What was the religion of the Canaanites? Let me give you a brief description of the gods you read about in the Bible:

Baal was their principal god. He was associated with soil productivity. The Canaanites were addicted to Baal worship. Baalim, the plural of Baal, were multiple images of Baal. Ashtoreth, Baal's wife, was their principal goddess. She was usually represented as a nude woman. She was the personification of the reproductive principle in nature. Ashtoreth was essentially a divine prostitute. Ashtaroth, is the plural of Ashtoreth. Ishtar was her Babylonian name [from which we have obtained the name Easter - another festival filled with emphasis on eggs, rabbits and other reproductive symbols]. Astarte was her Greek and Roman name. Temples of Baal and Ashtoreth were usually located together. Ashera was a sacred pole, cone of stone, or a tree trunk, representing the goddess. Priestesses were temple prostitutes. Sodomites performed as male temple prostitutes with both women and men. The worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and other Canaanite gods consisted of very extravagant orgies; their temples were centers of vice.

We've already read how God's express command to Israel was to destroy or drive out the Canaanites. Here's another scripture commanding that:

Deu 7:2-3 (NIV) and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. {3} Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons,

And Joshua went at the task in dead earnest, with God himself helping with mighty miracles. In reality, GOD DID IT.

Now let me give you some archaeological notes recorded during an investigation of the Canaanite religion:

In excavations at Gezer between 1904 and 1909, Macalister, who was supported by the Palestine Exploration Fund, found, in the Canaanite stratum, which had preceded Israelite occupation, of about 1500 B.C., the ruins of a "high place", which had been a temple in which they worshiped their god Baal and their goddess Ashtoreth (better known as Astarte).

The "high place" was an enclosure 150 by 120 feet, surrounded by a wall, open to the sky, where the inhabitants held their religious festivals. Within the walls were 10 rude stone pillars, 5 to 11 feet high, before which the sacrifices were offered.

Under the debris, in this "High Place", Macalister found great numbers of jars containing the remains of children who had been sacrificed to Baal. The whole area proved to be a cemetery for new-born babes. [Kind of like the dumpster behind an abortion clinic.]

Another horrible practice was what they called "foundation sacrifices." When a house was to be built, a child would be sacrificed, and its body built into the wall, to bring good luck to the rest of the family. Many of these were found in Gezer. They have also been found at Megiddo, Jericho and other places.

Also, in this "High Place", under the rubbish, Macalister found enormous quantities of images and plaques of Ashtoreth with rudely exaggerated sex organs, designed to foster sensual feelings.

So, Canaanites worshiped, by immoral indulgence, as a religious rite, in the presence of their gods; and then, by murdering their first-born children, as a sacrifice to these same gods.

It seems that, in large measure, the land of Canaan had become a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah on a national scale. A little like the world today.

Do we wonder any longer why God commanded Israel to exterminate the Canaanites? Did a civilization of such abominable filth and brutality have any right to exist any longer? It is one of history's examples of the wrath of God against the wickedness of nations.

Archaeologists who dig in the ruins of Canaanite cities wonder that God did not destroy them sooner than He did.

God's object, in the command to exterminate the Canaanites, besides being a judgment on the Canaanites, was to keep Israel from IDOLATRY and its shameful practices. Joshua gave Israel a good start toward cleaning the land of idolatrous worship. If only Israel had kept it up, what a different story there would have been to tell! In Deut 23 God warns Israel to avoid such practices:

Deu 23:17-18 (NIV) No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. {18} You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both.

But in the book of Kings, we see that the Israelites ignored God's warning:

1 Ki 14:22-24 (NIV) Judah did evil in the eyes of the LORD. By the sins they committed they stirred up his jealous anger more than their fathers had done. {23} They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. {24} There were even male shrine prostitutes [the KJV calls them sodomites] in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.

But there is yet another Canaanite god mentioned in the Bible. It is Molech, the deity for the sacrifice of children. Molech actually means "king" and was the chief deity of the Ammonites. His statue was of brass and rested on a pedestal or throne of the same material. His head, resembling that of a calf, was adorned with a crow, and his arms were extended in the attitude of embracing those who approached him. His devotees dedicated their children to him; and when this was to be done, they heated the statue to a high temperature by a fire within, and then the infants were either shaken over the flames, or passed through the ignited arms, as a lustration or purification ceremony to ensure the favor of the pretended deity.

Lev 18:21 (NIV) "'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
Lev 20:1-5 (NIV) The LORD said to Moses, {2} "Say to the Israelites: 'Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. {3} I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. {4} If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, {5} I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech.

Why were these things practiced? Our society today has the same principles. It is a kind of sympathetic madness. A concept of man's need for godly assistance (magic). Not the magic of slight of hand or trickery but a sympathetic magic by demons. That point is evidenced in a story in 2 Kings 3:

2 Ki 3 (NIV) Joram son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned twelve years. {2} He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, but not as his father and mother had done. He got rid of the sacred stone of Baal that his father had made. {3} Nevertheless he clung to the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit; he did not turn away from them. {4} Now Mesha king of Moab raised sheep, and he had to supply the king of Israel with a hundred thousand lambs and with the wool of a hundred thousand rams. {5} But after Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. {6} So at that time King Joram set out from Samaria and mobilized all Israel. {7} He also sent this message to Jehoshaphat king of Judah: "The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to fight against Moab?" "I will go with you," he replied. "I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses." {8} "By what route shall we attack?" he asked. "Through the Desert of Edom," he answered. {9} So the king of Israel set out with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. After a roundabout march of seven days, the army had no more water for themselves or for the animals with them. {10} "What!" exclaimed the king of Israel. "Has the LORD called us three kings together only to hand us over to Moab?" {11} But Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD through him?" An officer of the king of Israel answered, "Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah. " {12} Jehoshaphat said, "The word of the LORD is with him." So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. {13} Elisha said to the king of Israel, "What do we have to do with each other? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother." "No," the king of Israel answered, "because it was the LORD who called us three kings together to hand us over to Moab." {14} Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you or even notice you. {15} But now bring me a harpist." While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha {16} and he said, "This is what the LORD says: Make this valley full of ditches. {17} For this is what the LORD says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. {18} This is an easy thing in the eyes of the LORD; he will also hand Moab over to you. {19} You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town. You will cut down every good tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones." {20} The next morning, about the time for offering the sacrifice, there it was--water flowing from the direction of Edom! And the land was filled with water. {21} Now all the Moabites had heard that the kings had come to fight against them; so every man, young and old, who could bear arms was called up and stationed on the border. {22} When they got up early in the morning, the sun was shining on the water. To the Moabites across the way, the water looked red--like blood. {23} "That's blood!" they said. "Those kings must have fought and slaughtered each other. Now to the plunder, Moab!" {24} But when the Moabites came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and fought them until they fled. And the Israelites invaded the land and slaughtered the Moabites. {25} They destroyed the towns, and each man threw a stone on every good field until it was covered. They stopped up all the springs and cut down every good tree. Only Kir Hareseth was left with its stones in place, but men armed with slings surrounded it and attacked it as well. {26} When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. {27} Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall.....

In verse 27 the king of Moab sacrificed his oldest son to try to gain a military victory. We can be guilty of such things too. We can't say "You have to do this and that because I have done such and such a good thing and it's lucky." We can't buy off God. Superstitions are nothing more than trying to buy off God.

Don't we sacrifice our unborn because we don't want them? Is this the result of placing another god, a god which we could name "Pleasure," ahead of the true God, like the Ammonites god who was named Molech? Don't we sacrifice our unborn babies to the pleasure god via abortions? Like the Moab king, President Obama has supported a woman's right to choose. What is the difference between sacrificing babies to Molech and sacrificing babies to the god of pleasure? God's punishments will be the same.

2 Tim 3:1-5 (NIV) But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. {2} People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, {3} without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, {4} treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- {5} having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

Doesn't this describe our society to a tee? Does our society have its own gods, headed by the god of "pleasure?" Whatever we put in first place on our list of priorities becomes our god. Many say (including the Pope) that America's god is materialism. I think America's god is pleasure. Materialism is just a means of increasing our pleasure. Am I saying that we should not enjoy pleasurable activities? Not at all. God wants us to live an enjoyable life.

3 John 2 (NASB) Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.

"Soul," G5590, describes all powers of one's being. "Prosper" refers to business.

I am just saying that pleasure must be way down on our list of priorities, with reverence, adoration and obedience to God at the top.

Today I have described the Canaanite religion and tried to draw parallels to today's social practices. As you meditate over this sermon, consider how different our society is from that of the Canaanites. Will our society, which worships the god of Pleasure, tolerates immorality, and therefore sacrifices children in the form of abortion, suffer the same fate as the Canaanites? Could we suddenly lose 24 million instead of 24 thousand as the initial punishment for our sexual immorality and infanticide as we worship the god of pleasure? Thank God Jesus Christ will soon come to straighten out this world's society in the manner of a resurrected Joshua.

Sermon given by Wayne Bedwell
January 15, 2011
Copyright 2011, Wayne Bedwell

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