How YHWH is Unique: Differences Between Him and Mesopotamian Gods

high_priest_offering_incense_on_the_altarOver the last few months I have been studying the ancient history of the Near East to get a handle on how the surrounding nations impacted King David’s life. This is impossible to do without running into dozens and dozens and dozens of pagan deities, who went on to become the gods of Canaan, Babylon and Assyria. One thing that has struck me time and time again, is how radically different our God, YHWH, is compared to the other gods. Moses agrees with me: “For what great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on Him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” Deuteronomy 4:7-8

Studying ancient history has shown me similarities between Biblical stories (*the flood) and how YHWH was worshipped, so how do I know that YHWH is the one true god? Because He is so distinctively unique.

Firstly, how do I account for the similarities in worship between Mesopotamia and Israel, which include blood sacrifice, the system for supporting priests; incense, music used in worship, the altars having horns, and the similarities in spiritual language? Scott Aniol from Answers in Genesis sums up what I was thinking beautifully: “All nations had a common ancestry in Adam, and God’s self-revelation was part of their heritage, thus accounting for any similarities in worship practice that exist.” Worship stemmed from one God and one original system which was corrupted for man-made divinities. This form of corrupted worship in the Mesopotamian world remained in vogue for over four thousand years, and some practices (such as the fear of the number 13) still affect many world cultures today.

“When comparing the psalms of Israel with those of Ugarit people, important distinctions emerge as well. According to Walton, “the category of declarative praise is unique to Israel”. Oswalt argues that although Psalm 29 may resemble Ugarit references to Baal as god of thunderstorms, “nowhere in the psalm is Yahweh identified with the thunderstorm. . . . Yahweh sits above the flood” (Oswalt 2009, 105–06. Emphasis original). Likewise, Currid observes that even “the style of writing of the cosmological texts from the ancient Near East is best described as ‘mythic narrative,’” while the biblical record “bears all the markings of Hebrew historical narrative.” (Currid 2013, 43)… Biblical history and pagan myth have very different purposes, functions, and literary forms and therefore must not be interpreted in the same manner.

The key elements of worship that appear in most religions are instituted in the first few chapters of Genesis. God places Adam and Eve in his sanctuary as priests who serve him and commune with him. After they disobey him, God institutes the idea of substitutionary sacrifice and atonement, establishing a covenant with them. Each of these elements characterises the worship of all religions since they are part of the religious heritage of all children of Adam. As Rodríguez notes, “those religious expressions belong to the common human experience of God” (Rodríguez 2001, 47). Romans 1:19–20 testifies to this when it says that God has revealed himself to all people through “the things that have been made.” 
[Source: Worldview Bias and the Origin of Hebrew Worship by Scott Aniol]

What is also interesting, is how the Laws that God gave through Moses seem to be put in place to stop the Israelites from copying many of the pagan practices of other religions. For example, the Israelites were told: “A woman must not put on men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing. Anyone who does this is detestable in the sight of the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 22:5 In some Mesopotamian ritual processions, the participants dressed half as men, half as women to worship their god. The more I study, the more I realise how much cultural information is lost to us, which sheds an entirely new light on Biblical precepts.

foster_bible_pictures_0073-1_offering_up_a_burnt_sacrifice_to_godI could write a book on everything I have learned, but the main point I want to leave you with is how YHWH is a distinctive deity:

1. The Israelites could only have one religious relic/artefact, which was the Ark of the Covenant which had the manifest Presence of God upon it. Unlike polytheism, where there are many statues of a god made for every temple and need, there was no limit to the number. YHWH specifically banned the making of such images to represent Him. [Ref. Exodus 34:17]

2. YHWH is way above the average intelligence of other gods
Some Mesopotamians created statues of themselves praying that they could place in their temples to make theirs gods think they were being prayed to all the time, and the gods knew no difference. According to the Jewish Virtual Library: “An idol, in the pagan mind, was a living and feeling being… The god’s spirit dwelt within the idol and was identified with it. The god was not confined to a single idol or a single shape; rather his spirit dwelt within many idols of varied shapes. The god perceived and sensed whatever happened to its idol…  The argument offered by the Psalmist (Ps. 106:36; 115:9), “they have eyes but they do not see” should be taken literally… The Biblical description of idolatry as “sacrifices to the dead,” (Ps. 106:28) and of idols as “wood and stone,” (Deut. 28:36, 64), and similar descriptions, challenge the pagan claim that the images they worshiped were in fact “living idols.”” 
3. YHWH has exceptional moral character
“And Jehovah (YHWH) came down in the cloud. And he placed himself there with Him, and he called on the name of Jehovah. And Jehovah passed by before his face and called out: Jehovah! Jehovah God! Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and great in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and not leaving entirely unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on sons, and on sons of sons, to the third and to the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:5-7

God’s were prone to the human traits of bitterness, revenge, theft, deception and basically, behaviour which is “fleshly.” [Ref. Galatians 5:16-25] Pagan gods are recorded as viciously punishing their followers over hurt feelings, regardless of who was responsible. This was a way to account for the tragedies and baffling ups and downs of life.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, King Gilgamesh refuses to marry the goddess Ishtar and reminds her of how she has abused the affection of her past lovers. In vengeance, she complains to her father, who at first says, “serves you right,” but then: “Ishtar opened her mouth and said again, ‘My father, give me the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh. Fill Gilgamesh, I say, with arrogance to his destruction; but if you refuse to give me the Bull of Heaven I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts; there will be confusion of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living; and the hosts of dead will outnumber the living.’ Anusa said to great Ishtar, ‘If I do what you desire there will be seven years of drought throughout Uruk when corn will be seedless husks. Have you saved grain enough for the people and grass for the cattle? Ishtar replied. ‘I have saved grain for the people, grass for the cattle; for seven years of seedless husks, there is grain and there is grass enough.’ “ 

“She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals.” Battle itself is sometimes referred to as “the dance of Inanna.” [Source:]

YHWH is not prone to such human faults and appalling acts of retribution. As we read in Exodus 34:5-7, He is open to reconciliation rather than murder. His people have to completely turn their back on Him before they are cursed.
4. YHWH is not dependent upon us to provide any of His needs According to Mesopotamian mythology, human beings were created so the gods would have servants. “Man shall be charged with the service of the gods, that they might be at ease.” Babylonian Creation myth.

While the Hebrews (later Israel,) served YHWH, it was by obedience and through worship, they didn’t provide for His physical needs or were used and abused for His pleasure. To please Anu, you had to do the following (plus meet all the other requirements): “Several times a day in an elaborate ritual the god was served a sumptuous meal. The courses were set out before the statue of the god or goddess, music was played, and incense was sprinkled. Here is a daily menu for the god Anu at Uruk: 12 vessels of wine 2 vessels of milk, 108 vessels of beer, 243 loaves of bread, 29 bushels of dates, 21 rams, 2 bulls, 1 bullock, 8 lambs, 60 birds, 3 cranes, 7 ducks, 4 wild boars, 3 ostrich eggs, 3 duck eggs.”

Instead, He meets ours! “And He will love you, and bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your land, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your oxen and the wealth of your flock, in the land which He has sworn to your fathers, to give it to you. You shall be blessed above all people; there shall not be a barren man or a barren woman among you, nor among your livestock. And Jehovah shall turn aside every sickness from you; and He will not put on you any of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you have known, but He will put them on all who hate you.” Deuteronomy 7:13-15 Literal Translation of the Holy Bible
557px-the_ark_of_the_covenant5. YHWH is accessible to all of His followers, not just the elite or the priests. “The higher-echelon did all the preparation, and private individuals only came into contact with the gods when statues of deities were brought out of the temple and carried through the streets.” [Source:]
6. YHWH cannot be controlled by man
Since the god fully identified with its idol, whoever controlled the idol also controlled the god. When the king of Elam saw that he was about to be defeated by Sennacherib, he took his idols and fled in order that they [the idols] should not fall captive… The custom of taking captive the idols of the vanquished was ancient and widespread… Rab-Shakeh wanted to impress upon the people of Judah the fact that the gods of the neighbouring nations failed to protect them from the armies of Sennacherib .(Isa. 36:18–20; 37:10–12) [Source:]

It was believed that once you had the idol, you controlled the god who would do your bidding if you appeased them. From there, any success would be possible. YHWH is completely resistant to manipulation. This is shown in Numbers 22 with Balaam who was ordered by the Moabite King, Balak, to curse the Israelites. “But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the LORD [YHWH] my God.”
7. YHWH is not a God who has to retreat
When in enemies’ hands, the power of the idol vanished. The vanquished kings would come and beg for the return of the idols; to return an idol to his temple was considered an act of mercy. Because of his fear of the enemy, the god would leave the idol “and fly to the heavens” Jeremiah 50:1–3 makes reference to this belief). [Source:]

Our God rules over all and has no need of retreat, and no fear of man as He showed when He delivered His people from Pharaoh in Exodus, which David acknowledged when he said: “O LORD, there is no one like You. We have never even heard of another God like You! What other nation on earth is like Your people Israel? What other nation, O God, have You redeemed from slavery to be Your own people? You made a great name for Yourself when You redeemed Your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations that stood in their way. You chose Israel to be Your very own people forever, and You, O LORD, became their God.” 1 Chronicles 17:20-22

Conclusion: “For who in all of heaven can compare with the LORD? What mightiest angel is anything like the LORD?” Psalm 89:6 How blessed we are.

*Flood stories were recorded well after the event, so pagan cultures associated what occurred with their cultural beliefs at the time.


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Old Testament Idol Worship and Ritual Abuse: How It Affected People

Zeus Yahweh, Wikimedia Commons

Zeus Yahweh, Wikimedia Commons

CONTENT WARNING: this may trigger and distress some readers who have experienced abuse.

The Old Testament is a tough book. It always feels strange to write an article on King David, the hero in the children’s David and Goliath story books, then put an adult content warning on that article. The thing is, it’s a real book about the real world, and in that world, people make horrific choices. This article has such a warning. It isn’t just about David’s time, but it is relevant to anyone getting involved in occult activity today. The same emotional and spiritual damage is done to participants in the occult now, as was done to the worshippers back then, as the spiritual forces behind both the occult and these ancients gods are exactly the same.

One of the aspects of the Old Testament that makes people shy away from it, is the killing. Whole nations such as Moab are wiped out or enslaved; people are burnt in holy fire because of sin, and the justice system is kind of rough. Before grace was granted freely through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, threats to society were killed. It was the only way. There was no other form of judgement and people’s safety had to be protected.

For Isra’el to be safe, the surrounding nations had to be bought under control. This was predominantly due to their polytheistic lifestyles, which continually poisoned the spiritual lives of the people of Isra’el. The references which repeatedly advise, implore and demand that the Israelites resist and get rid of these gods are many including Deuteronomy 7:16: “You must destroy all the nations the LORDyour God hands over to you. Show them no mercy, and do not worship their gods, or they will trap you.”

and Deuteronomy 20:17-18: “You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you. This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the LORD your God.”

Throughout every culture, if you study standards of morality, there are some practices which are intolerable, regardless of nation, year, race or religious creed. These include murder, prostitution and harming others. Sadly, these neighbouring religions demanded obedience to rituals which involved all those elements.
Here are the worst offenders:

Ba’al: a fertility and war god, who demanded self-mutilation, ecstatic shamanistic like dances, ritual sex (which in cults that exist now, is often abusive and non-consentual, which may have been the case then also,) and child sacrifice.
Asherah: the poles for this goddess are frequently mentioned in the books of Kings. She was considered the consort to Yahweh as Isra’el later dived into a spiritual abyss. Prostitution was a part of her worship.
Ashtoreth or Astarte: she was an agricultural and fertility goddess who had a close association with Ba’el and again, ritual prostitution was involved in obeying and appeasing her.
Molech: he was represented as an ox or calf, and he required the sacrifice of live, young children by burning and ritual sex practices.
Chemosh: he was a war god who delighted in human sacrifice.
Realise that the people conceded to these demands, as they were terrified of the consequences of disobeying their god/goddess and so they put themselves through danger and abuse, to appease any anger and ensure an easy life.

This didn’t work. The gods weren’t real and thus, couldn’t help, plus modern psychology reflects some of the adverse consequences of Isra’el’s more dangerous worship practices.

Warrior god from Moab. Stone stele, Late Bronze Age (ca. 1200 BC) or Iron Age (ca. 800 BC), found in Redjōm el-A'abed in 1851 by Félix de Saulcy and brought back to France in 1865 by the duke of Luynes.

Warrior god from Moab. Stone stele, Late Bronze Age (ca. 1200 BC) or Iron Age (ca. 800 BC), found in Redjōm el-A’abed in 1851 by Félix de Saulcy and brought back to France in 1865 by the duke of Luynes.

Apart from taking the hearts of the people away from the One true God, Yahweh, there were serious consequences to the liberal sexual worship. Sexually transmitted diseases are an obvious one, but there were traumatic consequences of this worship on people’s self-esteem, emotions and peace of mind. Long term psychological problems such as post traumatic stress disorder could be caused by these practices.

In 1989, researchers Tennant-Clark, Fritz and Beauvis studied teenagers who had been involved in occult practices and found these common problems:
– chemical substance abuse (or in Old Testament times, alcohol abuse);
– low self-esteem and poor self-concept;
– low desire to be considered a good person;
– negative feelings about established religions, such as Christianity;
– high tolerance for deviant behaviours;
– negative feelings about their future and
– feelings of blame being directed at them.

In adults, ritual sex in an occult setting can result in mental conditions such as dissociative disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, bizarre self-abuse, unremitting anxiety and eating disorders, depression and suicide.

Once involvement in any occult/idolatrous activity involving demonic gods has begun, it becomes an overwhelming negative force and as with the Israelites, fear of angering the powers, leads to people staying trapped within that poisonous activity. Involuntary participation, coupled with fear and feeling hopeless, as you cannot escape, does the damage, even if taking part was originally a free choice.

Forced service in a temple to a god works the same way. Even if someone had been given a choice to become a temple prostitute, or had once thought it an honour, once they are entrenched in the system,those same dynamics of harm occur. From what I have read, some families held the position of temple prostitute in such high honour, their children were forced into that role. Once in that role, it’s also possible that younger people and adults, were also sexually and physically abused. The same happens in some occult circles today.

Solomon was right, there is nothing new under the sun.

There is another social and psychological issue which makes this more complex. The purpose of a ritual is to invoke a special sense of the spiritual; something that is out of the ordinary and which rises you above the daily routines and worries of life. They are also important social events which reinforce the values and standards of that society and emphasise the world view you are expected to adopt to fit in. If participation is belonging, how could the Israelites have stood apart from these practices? They would have been the odd ones out.

So when next you cringe at the violent nature of the Old Testament, keep this in mind: God says ‘no’ to protect His people from excessive harm. The way He protects them may also seem excessive, but thousands of years ago, it was the best way.

For more information, please read “How Gentle Kings Become Killers

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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

The Misunderstood Jonah

ichthus_pencGGJonah is one of the most miserable, disobedient, ungrateful, graceless people in the Bible. That is quite a series of judgements on someone I can’t be totally fair about, because my understanding of him is limited to the scarce information given; yet it appears fair. Throughout the book of Jonah, all we see is Jonah running from obeying the Lord, being forgiven and glued back together, then he responds with the kind of character that we find appalling.

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”

The LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” Jonah 4:1-4

I can’t defend Jonah, I am not even going to try to. We’re all familiar with the story and some of us, relate to it a little too well. What I do want to focus on is when you take into account the culture of the time, (which includes attitudes that last pasted Jesus’ time, and some are still in evidence among the Ultra Orthodox Jews today), the story takes on a whole new dimension. You can understand Jonah’s feelings and motivations at a greater depth. (Whale and sea puns are not intended.)

Acts 10:28a starts to explain part of Jonah’s repulsion at going to Ninevah, a godless city, outside of Isra’el’s borders. “Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.” [Cross reference: Leviticus 7:21]

Now we know Peter is one of the godly, good guys, so why would he baulk at visiting Cornelius in his home? Because Cornelius is a Gentile: a foreigner and an unbeliever. This is a really big deal. Throughout the Torah, Moses repeatedly tells the nation of Isra’el:  “Completely destroy  them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 20:17-18 [Also Numbers 33:50-56, Deuteronomy 7:6]

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

“The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

“But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you. Joshua 23:6-13

The greatest risk to Isra’el’s people was other gods, and the quickest route to them was through the company of foreigners and/or marrying foreign wives. This occurred at one stage on the way to the Promised Land, and those guilty were put to death, to save the rest of the young nation from their hazardous influence.

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”

So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.” Numbers 25:1-5

Worshipping these gods involved human sacrifice, ritual prostitution, self-mutilation and other acts, that even our permissive western society, would baulk at. Apart from taking the hearts of the people away from the One true God, Yahweh, there were serious consequences to the liberal sexual worship which seduced the Israelites. Sexually transmitted diseases are an obvious one, but there were traumatic consequences of this type of worship on people’s self-esteem, emotions and peace of mind. So when you look at that aspect, it’s clear why the Israelites stayed on their side of the border and carefully obeyed God’s command to stay away! There was no room for tolerance. The people were commanded to obey Yahweh, no other, for their protection.

Now put yourself in Jonah’s position. He is an Orthodox Jew, being asked to break that rule. He is called to go to the biggest economic centre in that part of the world, and help people he is forbidden to associate with. This goes against everything he believes and of course, he “…ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” Jonah 1:3

Within that is one of the keys as to why the Lord was so incredibly patient with Jonah. The Lord knew that He was asking the impossible. He knew that when Jonah succeeded and went back to his people in Isra’el, he would be an outcast, not allowed to worship within the community and it was possible he would have been put to death by his own people. Thus Jonah says, “Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive…” 

34469702_sJonah risked losing his family, friends and everything he ever knew, to help a people he shouldn’t help, knowing full well that God would do what Jonah personally believed that his God should never do. Enemies were to be destroyed, but God, oh that God who just couldn’t help but be merciful! He had quite a history of it! Where would that leave Jonah? It was a hard road, but God needed Jonah to walk it. Who knows what the consequences of Ninevah’s continual sin would have been, had God not stepped in? Plus to this day it teaches us to take on a greater worldview, outside our own narrow borders.

“Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.” Jude 1:23

Knowing more background makes me feel compassionate towards Jonah. He did make a massive sacrifice, no matter how much he limped, resisted and howled along the way.  However, his attitude was still way off base, no matter what the cultural circumstances were. We have a great God, “who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20

Would the Lord have taken care of Jonah? Yes, He would. God would never have asked Jonah to sacrifice all in the service of God, without the Lord having an amazing plan for him. However, we don’t see Jonah pursuing that new plan with hope, and that is the most tragic part of the story.

“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” Jude 1:24-25

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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.