The book of Jeremiah is a very difficult book to interpret so we are going to spend some time doing a proper back-ground on it that gives us some needed information on the type of idolatry Jeremiah was dealing with and bring out many concepts that we need to know when studying the prophets, like the history of the Babylonian period and their conquest and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. These concepts will also apply to Biblical Eschatology.
In Jewish tradition, the “Former Prophets” include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The “Latter Prophets” include Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Then we have the twelve “Minor Prophets” of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
Jeremiah was born around 650 B.C. in Anatoth, and his father was Hilkiah, a priest. He is commissioned to prophesy around 625 B.C. by Yehovah to proclaim that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed by people from the north, although he was called even before he was born. His ministry would last 40 years. Israel and Judah have forsaken Yehovah and the Torah and were worshiping Baal and Moloch, just to name a few of the false gods. They had gone so far away from God that he withdrew his blessings. The nation would suffer famine, foreign invaders, be plundered and taken into captivity to a foreign land.
The prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22.13-20; 2 Chr 34.22-28) was a relative and lived at the same time as Jeremiah, and he was possibly mentored by Zephaniah the prophe. He was reluctant at first be a prophet, but Yehovah gave Jeremiah the words to say (Jer 1.6-9). He spoke against idolatry, the false priests and prophets and was severely persecuted. Jeremiah was taken to Egypt by Johanan, the successor of the governor Gedaliah (Jer 43.1-13) and he refused to listen to Jeremiah. There Jeremiah probably spent the rest of his life, still trying to turn the people back to Yehovah. There is no biblical account of his death so anything else is just speculation.
The message of Jeremiah is against idolatry and the most powerful nation at that time (Babylon) was coming to destroy the nation. The word of Yehovah was “surrender and live.” If not, and you try to hide behind your defenses and your weapons, you might hold on for awhile, but in the end you will perish.
To understand Jeremiah, we need to know several things. Assyria was declining and Babylon was on the rise. Egypt sides with Assyria against Babylon because Babylon was more powerful and feared the most. Jeremiah will use the term “day of the Lord” over and over again (Jer 30.4-8 for example). This has an eschatological meaning and it will apply to all the Scriptures.
We also will be translating the ancient into the modern as far as prophecy is concerned. Jeremiah has much to say about the birth-pains of the Messiah, the United States, the Kings of the East, the False Messiah and the coming of Yeshua, just to name a few of the concepts we will be looking at.
Since this is the second book of the latter prophets we will be bringing out a massive amount of background information that will help us understand the type of idolatry Jeremiah was dealing with, but other concepts that will help us interpret prophecy in line with Jewish eschatological concepts. We will look at the historical record and then tie that into how it relates to prophecy and eschatology in the birth-pains, or “tribulation.” So, with that said, we will begin our background study of Jeremiah which will also apply to other prophetical books.
Jeremiah is a seventh century prophet who was active under the kings from Josiah to Zedekiah, so he is dealing with the Babylonian period under Nebuchadnezzar, and this teaches the last three and a half years of the birth-pains. Babylon will be a picture of the “Kings of the East. We cannot look at Scripture on just one level, but four. We must see the literal meaning (Peshat), the allegorical level (Remez), the parabolic level (Drash) and the secret and hidden level (Sowd). The eighth century prophets will teach us about the first three and a half years of the birth-pains, where the primary enemy is the Assyrians under Tiglat-pilesar, Sargon II and Sennacherib.
Jeremiah begins to prophesy in 625 B.C. Nabopolasser of Babylon defeats the Assyrians at Ninevah in 612 B.C. Pharaoh Necho of Egypt moved to their aid and Josiah tried to stop him and is killed at Megiddo. The retreating Egyptians took his son Yehoahaz captive and put Josiah’s second son Yehoikim on the throne. He was an evil king and persecuted Jeremiah. He is succeeded by his brother Yehoichin. Nebuchadnezar begins to reign about 605 B.C. and captured Yehoichin at the same time Ezekiel and thousands of others are taken into captivity. He will be declared by Jeremiah as “the servant of Yehovah” just as Cyrus was in Isaiah.
Zedekiah is placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar but he will also rebel against Babylon by siding with Egypt, who was stirring the pot in the Middle East. They felt that they could revolt and throw off the Babylonian “yoke” due to the prophecies of the false prophets who assured them in the name of Yehovah that victory was assured. Jeremiah appears in the streets with a wooden yoke around his neck telling the people that captivity was coming and Babylon would continue to dominate.
There is a particular false prophet called Hananiah who breaks the yoke off of Jeremiah and says this is what the Lord will do to the Babylonians. Jeremiah counters with an iron yoke, an iron yoke that can’t be broken. He sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon telling them to settle in the land of exile, and pray for the cities in which they live. His counsel to Judea and for the most part in Babylon was rejected.
Zedekiah was not only fighting Babylon, but he joins with the Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, Tyre and Sidon against them. An anti-Babylonian coalition was considered “pro-Egyptian” by Babylon. So, Nebuchadnezzar had no choice but to put down this coalition. A letter was found in the Judean stronghold of Lachish about an officer who was following the words of the prophet to “surrender” to the King of Babylon. He is being tried for treason and for weakening the hands of the men on the wall. Although the prophet is not mentioned, many believe it was Jeremiah.
Now we are going to move into a study of the idolatry present that Jeremiah and the other prophets were having to deal with with the people. This will involve the Baalim, the Asherim and the Asherot. After Hezekiah dies, the nation plunges into idolatry, which was worse than the surrounding nations. The Temple was converted into a shrine for pagan rituals, with Asherim (a picture of the coming Abomination of Desolation) being placed in the Temple by Manasseh. He will later repent of his idolatry, but the nation does not and he started something that he could not stop.
Idolatry continues till Josiah, who turns the people back to Yehovah, but Yehovah has already decreed their fall, but not during the life of Josiah. Once he dies at Megiddo, it is downhill from there. In the prophecies of Jeremiah it is a constant battle with idolatry, but it is also a picture of the conditions in the Day of the Lord when pagan idols and idolatry will be everywhere.
So, in the book Jeremiah, what idols are we going to be dealing with? The word “Baal” is singular and “Baalim” is plural. The word “Asherah” is feminine singular and it is used forty times. This would be a statue of the goddess. Manasseh put one in the Temple (2 Kings 21; 2 Chr 33). The word “Asherim” is masculine plural and it is used sixteen times. This would be a tree that had masculine and feminine qualities. A crucifix would be a modern example of this. The word “Asherot” is feminine plural and it is used three times, and this would be feminine statues, etc. Prophetically, this is significant because an Asherim and Asherot could be placed in the holy place by the False Prophet (a crucifix and a statue of “Mary”). There a three good sources for idols that you can study. They are the Encyclopedia Judaica, The Jewish Encyclopedia and Tyndales Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible.
The word “Baal” means owner, master, husband and possessor. This became the name of the great “weather god” of the western Semites which included Israel, the Canaanites, Aram, Ammon, Edom, Moab and the Arabs. The “Baalim” refers to local gods (Judges 2.11, 3.7, 8.33). Baal-berit, Baal-Hermon, Baal-Hazor or in feminine form “Baalot” refers to the great weather god rather than a local deity, as in wind, storms and whirlwinds. A Ugaritic text has much information on this and gives some background for the Scriptures, using terms like “mighty Baal”, “prince”, “lord of the earth” and used in 2 KIngs 1.2 as “Baal-zebub.” Baal-zebub or Baal-zebul is used in Matt 10.25, 12.24; Mark 3.22 and Luke 11.5-8. This god is also called the “cloud rider” and is close to a messianic term “bar nephale” or “son of the clouds” in rabbinical literature and in Dan 7.13; Rev 1.7; Jude 14; 1 Thes 4.13-17; Heb 12.1. Psa 68.4 and Ezek 1.26 describes Yehovah in this way, so what is being applied to Yehovah is also being applied to Baal. We will see a constant battle between Yehovah and the counterfeits in the Scriptures, and Yehovah is presented as the God of nature, but Baal will be presented that way, too.
Baal is also presented as the “son of Dagon” which was the god of the Philistines, and is also considered the “son of El” which was the original god of the pagans. The Greeks called him “Kronos” or “Bul” who fathered him. Now, Zeus equals Baal, Hadad equals Baal, as in “Ben-Hadad” of Syria. Baal lived at Mount Sapan (Hebrew “tzaphon”) in Lebanon. Baal-sapan is the storm god of the Akkadians, and “lord of Mount Hazi” which is Hurrian (northern Mesopotamia) for Mount Sapan. Tzaphon is referred to in Isa 14.13 and it literally means “the height of the fatness of Tzaphon” or “north” where Yehovah’s throne is. The word “tzaphon” in Hebrew should not translate as “north” literally. It is an idiom due to the fact Mount Tzaphon lies to the north of Israel. In paganism, the abode of Baal is Mount Sapan, and in the Bible the abode of Yehovah is in the north (tzaphon). Baal is a counterfeit for what the Scriptures tell us about the true God Yehovah.
The biblical allusions to the Lord’s exploits over the sea reflect older exploits of Baal. Isa 26.1 through 27.13 takes us through the birth-pains. Isa 27.1 deals with Leviathan who is killed in the “sea”, and Leviathan is Baal, and Leviathan is the False Messiah, so the False Messiah is Baal (Encyclopedia Judaica). In Isa 30.7, Egypt is seen in Jewish Eschatology as the domain of the False Messiah, and Rahab equals Europe. The False Messiah is called “Mashiach Shekar” or the lying Messiah, and “Mashiach Nagid” or the anti-Messiah. Yehovah is in battle with the elements, which in paganism Baal represents (Isa 51.9-11; Job 9.13, 26.2, 41.1,34; Psa 89.9-10; Ezek 32,12; Psa 74.13. In Ezek 29.3 the monster or serpent is “tannin” meaning a dragon. In Ezek 32.1-6 Pharaoh is the False Messiah. In Job 38.8-11 Yehovah sets the confines of the sea and Ha Satan.
Mowt is the god of the sea, defeated by Baal and now “Mowt” is under him. In Hebrew, Mowt means “death.” God’s victory over the sea is connected with the Exodus and it is eschatological. The Canaanites and their myths were “borrowed” from these eschatological truths. The triumph of Baal reassured the people through ritual drama of help in the present and the future. The following sentence is the “crux” of the battle between God and Baal, so it is the crux of the battle between God and Satan, “The prize of the victory was kingship over the gods, and the enthronement ritual guaranteed the natural order of life and the welfare of the society, and these motifs are found in Jewish and Christian eschatology.”
The worship of Baal in Israel and Syria is linked to the economy of the land which depends of regular rains and its adequacy. Egypt and Mesopotamia depended on irrigation. The “promised land” drinks rain from heaven. We are instructed to pray for rain “in its due season.” Droughts were a catastrophe so the people who did not believe in Yehovah turned to Baal for rain. Its the same today. People who do not believe in Yehovah turn to other gods.
The basis for the Baal cult was the dependence on rain for life, which were regarded as “Baal’s bounty.” The allure of Baal worship seduced the Israelites even before they reached the promised land. In Num 25.1-3 and Psa 106.28 they made sacrifices to the dead and had sexual orgies. Settlements depended on rain and enhanced this cult and its persuasive influence persisted for centuries as the unrelenting voice of the prophets attest, and their sporadic efforts to reform. That is why this information is needed as we move into Jeremiah and the other prophets.
There was a repulsive aspect to this type of worship. Sexual excesses and perversions are seen in Isa 57.3-10, with references to sexual worship. Hos 13.2 is based on this aspect of Baal worship where it refers to copulation with animals. Nearly all references to Baal’s consort refer to a “violent virgin” Anath with whom Baal copulates, but Scripture does not mention her. However, it does mention Astarte in Judges 2.13, Asherah in Judges 6.25-30, and “under” denotes intercourse. The “mazavot” are sacred pillars or obelisks and a phallic symbol, and related to church steeples as time would go by.
The conflict between Yehovah and Baal reached a climax with Elijah to settle the question of who really supplied rain in 1 Kings 18.1-46. Jehu’s eradication of Baal worshipers did not wipe out bull worship (2 Kings 10.18-31). In Judah, the death of Athaliah and Joash’s coronation did not wipe out the cult. Ahaz fostered it in 2 Chr 28.2 and his son Hezekiah attempted to eliminate it, only to come up short again with his son Manasseh (2 Kings 21.1-3). Then Josiah tried again to eliminate it in 2 Kings 23.4. The people are very much immersed in idolatry even before Jeremiah comes along. If the rains failed it was not because “Mowt” had defeated Baal, it was because Yehovah has given out a punishment because of a faithless and sinful people.
Syncronism is the merging of Baal worship with the true worship of Yehovah. This is what Jeremiah and the prophets spoke about. The “Baalim” were made the symbol of the reproductive power of nature. This worship involved sexual activity. Placed next to the Baalim were corresponding female sexual symbols called Asherah. Their relationship was unbridled sexual sensuality. Eventually, Yehovah was regarded as a Baalim and the chief of them (Hos 2.16-17). In the north this worship was more prevalent due to its agricultural basis, it was green and needed more rain. The south had more wilderness, so Baal worship was more intense in the north. The south had the influence of the Temple, the king and the priests.
Eventually worship was given to Yehovah with rites of the Baalim. They said it was to Yehovah, but they really worshiped the pagan gods (Zeph 1.5). A “high place” was called a “bamah” and next to it was a tree, a pole or an image (or all three) of Asherah (Jer 17.2). Sacred pillars were often nearby and this is where tombstones come from, called a “mazavot.” When we study the Asherah, just how silly, ludicrous and evil all this is will be brought out.
As we move into the Asherah, we must warn you that this material is highly explicit, sensitive and presented to give us an idea of what this worship was like. It is highly sexual in nature. This will help us identify this type of worship today. We are not meaning to be offensive here, but it will give us a better understanding of the book of Jeremiah and the other prophets who dealt with this.
What is an Asherah? She was called Ashtoreth and was a Semitic mother goddess . In Phoenicia she was called Astarte, in Babylon Ishtar, in Arabia Athter, in Rome Venus, the Greeks called her Diana and in Egypt Qudshu or Hathor. She was the consort to Baal. Jeremiah describes a 40 day “weeping for Tammuz” and the modern day “Lent” is tied in with this (Ezek 8.4). She is also called the “Queen of Heaven” in Jer 44, which is a term for the Catholic “Mary” by the way. A ritual associated with her required women to give their hair or chastity in a temple with an Asherah at least one time in their life (Herodotus). It all depended on how “blessed” you wanted to be. In our modern culture there is an annual “day of love” that is connected to “Cupid” the god of lust, or as the Greeks called him, Eros.
Babylon conquered Israel and they were made to participate in this (if they were a province). Judah was a vassal state. From there it went to Cyprus and then found its way to Greece, which corrupted the simple purity of “old” Greek family life. From Sicily it moved into Italy and the Roman Empire, then eventually France, Spain, Europe and Scandinavia. As Rome eventually gave way to Christianity, these customs found their way into the worship of the people, and called it “Christian” (this is what Israel did and was judged for it).
In Babylonia and Assyria there were several shrines to her, and in Iraq there was a shrine to her (called “Nana”). At Ninevah, she was the spouse of Asshur and differed slightly in each culture. Her “birthday” was December 24th and Baal’s was December 25th. Eventually Rome with Mithraism, and Christianity, adopted these same concepts.
The Asherah were wooden poles or an image, sometimes translated as “groves.” An Asherah was any kind of wood or tree, and set up under a living tree sometimes. They were large and could be used for fuel and they were near altars to Baal and Yehovah because they mixed pagan concepts into the worship of God. We will not get into all the sexual connotations to all of this, but a good study of the Asherah and Baal cult will get into some graphic detail.
Qudshu and Hathor are equivalent to Asherah and were also sexual and there are hundreds of examples of all of these. Today, there is nothing new under the sun. People have taken aspects of Baal and Asherah worship into their lives. December 24th and 25th are linked to them, sacred trees are linked to them and many other practices. There are three types of Asherah. First you will have a tree (Deut 16.21), or a tree chopped and trimmed with decorations for idolatry (2 Kings 23.7), or an idol or graven image (Exo 20.4). We are not to have a tree connected to any worship of Yehovah, or even plant them, get one or make one, etc. We are also not to derive any benefit from them (Deut 7.5, 7.26, 12.2). The goddess Artemis is derived from the Asherah and Astarte, the goddess of fertility. Diana combined the breasts with multiple male organs. Jer 10.1-5 describes an Asherah and its decorations.
The “Hathor” wig was omega shaped with a curl on a headset or headrest (seventh century B.C.) It gave the appearance of horns as the head was laid into it. She is called the “cow goddess” like a water buffalo that lived near the Nile River. The tombs found were probably for kings. But, they were found among Judean kings! Why? Because sexuality and fertility were associated with creation and rebirth in the next life. The shape was related to the calf that was made in Exo 32.1-8, and they called it Yehovah (1 Kings 12.25-33). The bull was also the symbol of Pharaoh and Baal. The Egyptians did not like shepherds, they worshiped the bull kings and bulls and cows did not mix with sheep. Yehovah does not mix with Baal either.
Israelite bull worship related to power and fertility. At other times it appears as an attribute of the storm god Baal or as the storm god himself. Israel mixed the pagan worship of Baal and Yehovah which is forbidden (Exo 32.1-5; Zeph 1.12; Rev 3.15-16; 1 Kings 18.1; Josh 24.14-15). Idolatry will be the main problem form the start with Israel (Mic 1.13), and it will be the main message of Jeremiah. Ancient paganism was grotesque, lewd and centered on agriculture, war and life and death.
The belief was that deity was present in the image, so they did not worship the image that represented the god or goddess. Many people say the same thing today, “We don’t worship the image, but the God it represents.” The “spirit” of the god dwelt in the image and transubstantiated into the god it represented.
The “Mazavot” were sacred pillars (mazavah is singular). It means “to stand or setup” and used to describe upright stones to commemorate events or covenants. Yehovah forbids mazavot in idolatry or paganism. The Canaanites revered standing stones The Israelites were commanded to tear them down (Exo 23.24, 34.13).
Getting back to the “bamah” (singular) or “bamot” (plural), they were a site for worship either to Yehovah or Baal, and translated “high place.” Israel worshiped Yehovah at these places and they were allowed to for awhile, but there were also pagan bamot. They could be in an open field, in forests, on mountain tops, a man-made platform or an altar. Beside them there would be an Asherah and a mazavot (obelisk). For example, the Washington Monument is a mazavot. As pagan cities converted to Christianity they turned their temples into churches and they would keep the idols and mazavot, rename them after saints, and “christianize” them. The architecture was copied and this is where a church steeple comes from, which is a mazavah (if singular).
In Jer 44.1-30 we have the “queen of heaven” which is related to Asherah, Astarte, Ishtar, Venus, Diana, Artemis and Europa. The first one was the wife of Nimrod, Semerimus. Tammuz was their son who was killed in winter by a boar (pig). There was a 40 day fast to “weep for him” (Ezek 8.14) to the spring equinox. At the end you would have the “feast of Semerimus” called “Ishtar”. Tammuz is “resurrected” as evidenced by the spring growth. Once the captives returned from Babylon and taught by Ezra, this type of idolatry was never a problem again. Today, these same concepts can be seen in Christianity, with the queen of heaven as Mary. Besides the crucifix, her statue is the second most common one seen.
The Tophet (meaning fireplace or burning) was a high place in the Valley of Hinnom. Child sacrifices were done there and were offered to Baal or Moloch. These were destroyed by Josiah and Jeremiah will say this place will be a place of slaughter. We know exactly where this place is. The Tophet was south of Jerusalem in the Hinnom Valley and it stood for Sheol, the place for the dead. It is mentioned in Isa 66.24; Jer 7.22-34, 19.6-14; Matt 25.31-46; Isa 30.33 and 2 Kings 23.10. Children were made to “pass through the fire” in Jer 7.31-34.
We have not even scratched the surface on the idolatry Jeremiah and the other prophets were dealing with in actuality, but hopefully this will give you an idea of just how evil all of this was and why Yehovah finally put an end to it all with the coming of the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, and sending the people into captivity. He was saying, “You want idols, well then alright, I am going to send you to a land that is covered with idols.” This was the message of Jeremiah.