Bread – Distortion

September 27, 2010


Readings for Monday, September 27, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Hosea 2:14-23; Acts 20:17-38; Luke 5:1-11; Psalms 89

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In our reading today from the prophet Hosea, God says “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’” Hos. 2:16 (ESV; in the NIV, “my Baal” is translated “my master” with a footnote that the word is actually “Baal”).

When I read this, my thought was “Why would the people of God call God (YHWH) ‘Baal’?”

‘Baal’ is an often-used word in the Old Testament and is loosely translated “God;” therefore, on a surface level one might say that the word “Baal” may be substituted for the word “God” without any loss of meaning. However, God rails against the Baals throughout the Bible, and so we know instinctively that the word ‘Baal’ stands for lesser ‘gods,’ gods (or idols) which we understand. Zondervan’s Compact Bible Dictionary says that the word ‘Baal’ in the Old Testament “usually refers to the farm god of the Phoenicians and Canaanites…each locality had its own Baal. The Baalim were worshiped on high places with lascivious rites, self-torture, and human sacrifice.” Therefore, Baal is not the God revealed to us in creation, in Scripture, in His promises to Israel, and, most importantly, in Jesus Christ.

So how did the people of Israel come to view God (YHWH) as Baal? They distorted His name, His character, and His truth to the point that the person they called “God” was really “Baal.” They did it the same way that we do.

To which you respond, “Whoa, hold on a minute, I don’t think of God as Baal. That is blasphemy!” Yes, it is blasphemy because by calling God “Baal” we fail to recognize His holiness, His transcendence, His godliness. However, we do it anyway. We distort the image of God into Baal all the time.

How? When we ask God for the blessing of a business deal, how is that any different than asking Baal for a good harvest? When we say to God that He cannot love us because of what we have done, have we not ascribed to God limited powers, powers which a Baal would have? Is not the popular “prosperity gospel” a demotion of God to the status of a God who brings, again, good harvest? When we believe that we can tell God that He is not doing a very good job, have we not distorted God into Baal, a farm idol which can be criticized for failure to bring a good harvest? When we take God’s Word, His holy revelation of Himself, and subject it to our judgment, rather than subject ourselves to its (and His) judgment, have we not distorted who God is?

Distortions are dangerous, because the main picture is generally not lost, it is just changed a little. And additional distortions can gradually occur and the existing distortions can gradually change until we have lost track of what the original picture looked like. And we never realize what has happened to us until the real image, the undistorted image, reappears.

Why consider the Bible inerrant and authoritative? Because by doing so we have established a baseline of who God is; we have established a standard which cannot be weakened; we have established an image which cannot be distorted (although we try) through “cultural relevancy,” “interpretive lenses,” “gender neutral language,” and the such like. We have left as little room as possible for distortion to creep in. And we have labored against the transmutation of “God” into “Baal.”

The question of the day is this – Do you treat God as Baal, a convenient farm idol to place on an altar of your making to do your bidding, only to be thrown out when the harvest is not plentiful? Or do you treat God as God, as the One who is holy, as the One who creates, as the One who saves, as the One who judges, as the One who sets the standard for us (rather than us setting the standard for Him)?

The beautiful thing about the Hosea passage is that God knows that we have distorted Him into a Baal, and He still comes for us. “In that day you will call me ‘My Husband.’” He came for us on the cross, and He will come again to take His bride to the place of glory. We cannot distort that.

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