The ancient Canaanites worshiped Baal. Baal was a fertility god, and their religion was a fertility cult. Baal was thought to bring the spring rains to start the growing season. He was also thought to heavily influence the birth levels of their herds and flocks. The people worshiped him to implore him to favor their animals and fields, making them fruitful. In order to appease Baal, they practiced such abominable practices as child sacrifice and sacred prostitution. A young child, placed in the idol's arms, rolled down into the hollow interior to be consumed alive by the fire within. The people believed that such activities would enlist Baal's aid on their behalf.
Baal worship was an economic based religion. The Canaanites were concerned for their personal well being. The thought of the effects of famine or pestilence was never far from their minds. They performed their religious practices in order to be prosperous and successful. Thus, economic prosperity became the driving force behind their religion. It influenced all of their religious decisions.
Throughout the Old Testament we see the children of Israel being enticed by Baal worship. Despite all the warnings from the prophets, they succumbed to the temptation to worship Baal again and again. Their trust and faith in God was not strong enough to overcome the temptation. They continually lost their belief that God was powerful enough to provide for their needs and looked elsewhere for prosperity.
It is easy for us to look down on them, wondering how they could have ever been taken in by this false religion. Yet I wonder, how many times we do the same thing? Do we fall to the same temptations as the ancient Israelites? The society in which we live focuses on success, status, prestige and economic well being. The drive to obtain these goals can become all consuming. it explains many of the problems our society faces today. This drive keeps some people so consumed with their job that they neglect and lose their families. It causes others to compromise their integrity for personal gain or to avoid loss. Some become power hungry, willing to stomp on the backs of others in order to get ahead. Others practice a modern form of child sacrifice, resorting to abortion because they view children as a barrier to their economic well being or as interfering with their lifestyle or career. In each of these cases, we are practicing Baal worship. Our obsession with material prosperity and success can cause us to worship Baal instead of God.
But God will not play second fiddle to Baal. He destroyed the Canaanites for their abominable ways. He called forth the prophets to speak out against Baal worship. He chastised Israel each time they turned away from him to follow Baal. He allowed economic hardships to afflict the Israelites until they turned and cried out to him for help. Only then would he rescue them. He called people to live an ethical and moral lifestyle based on allegiance to him.
He does the same for us today. In the midst of the economic turmoil, moral collapse and threats of terrorism in which we live, God is calling us to trust him. He continually points out that he is more trustworthy than the Baals we try to serve. He calls us to live holy lives based on righteousness and justice in devotion to him. As we live out our lives in these trying times it is worth asking "Do my priorities and the way I am living my life show that I am truly worshiping God, or do they suggest that I am really worshiping Baal?