Eight Little Words

Judges 6:25 – “Take the bull that belongs to your father and a second bull seven years old, and use them to pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to Yahweh on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.”

Israel had once again sinned against Yahweh and had been handed over to the Midianites for seven years.  An angel of Yahweh came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.  Gideon prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour and brought them out to the angel.  Fire came down from heaven and consumed the offering, and Gideon realized that he had seen the “Angel Of The Lord”  That night, Yahweh appeared to Gideon and told him to destroy both the altar and the Asherah.  We will now concentrate of this portion of the text.

The Various Translations
KJV, WEB (Noah Webster) – Throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it
YLT  – Thrown down the altar of Baal which is to thy father, and cut down the shrine which is by it.
NKJV – Tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it
TMSG – Tear down your father’s Baal altar and chop down the Asherah fertility pole beside it
NRSV – Pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred pole that is beside it
CJB, CEV – Pull down the altar where your father worships Baal and cut down the sacred pole next to the altar
NCV – Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah idol beside it
RVR (Spanish Reina-Valera) – Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah image beside it
NLT, NIV – Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it

And the most accurate translations:
New American Standard Bible (NASB), American Standard Version (ASV), English Standard Version (ESV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), J.N.Darby Translation (DBY), and Hebrew Names Version (HNB) – “Pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it.”

The Eight Little Words in Hebrew
Let us now take a closer look at Judges 6:25, in particular, the eight little words that constitute the command Yahweh gives to Gideon:

Haras mizbeach Baal asher ab karath Asherah al

[הָרַס H2040. . מִזְבֵּחַ H4196 . . בַּעַל H1168a . . אֲשֶׁר H834 . אָב H1 . . כָּרַת H3772 . . אֲשֵׁרָה H842 . . עַל H5921].

The breakdown:
Haras        mizbeach     Baal         asher                         ab
Pull down     the altar     of Baal     which belongs to   your father
הָרַס                  מִזְבֵּחַ                 בַּעַל               אֲשֶׁר                     אָב
H2040            H4196           H1168a           H834                  H1

Karath             Asherah                   al
and cut down   the Asherah   that is beside it
כָּרַת                     אֲשֵׁרָה                     על
H3772                  H842                  H5921

The surface level of meaning is pretty straight forward: tear down the altar and cut down the pole2 Kings 23:4 tells us that King Josiah took similar actions when he “burned all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel.”  This is confirmed in 2 Chronicles 34:4-7.

The Next Level
But what about other levels of meaning?  What do they tell us?  There are several reasons why God would tell Gideon and others to remove or utterly destroy these two items as both of these items would have been abominations in His eyes.

The Altar To Baal
The altar to Baal would have been formed in the shape of a manlike or owl like figure, with an open belly and a fire pit below the opening.  It was into this fire that the Canaanites and Israelites would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as a sacrifice or offering to Baal, also known as Molech (Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3, 17:7, 21:6, 23:10; Ezekiel 16:21, 20:26-31; etc.).  Kings Manassaeh and Amon were well known for making such sacrifices to Baal (2 Chronicles 33:3-6, 21-23).  This god, whether called Baal or Molech, was thought to be a god of fire, one who would consume anyone in opposition to him.  Children were sacrificed to him to ameliorate his anger.

We know from scripture that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our God, Yahweh, is a “consuming or a devouring fire” (Exodus 24:17, Deuteronomy 4:24 and 9:3, Isaiah 29:6, Hebrews 12:29), and any altar to a false god portraying that god as a consuming fire would be a focus for Yahweh’s wrath.

The owl-like Baal/Molech altar form had two serpents emanating from the top of the owl.  In cultures throughout the world we see the serpent used to denote wisdom.  This hails back to the Garden where we read in Genesis 3:1 – “Now the serpent was more crafty [wise / cunning] than any of the wild animals Yahweh had made.”  It also hails back to Ezekiel 28:12 which tells of the wisdom of the King of Tyre, an allegory for Satan.

Wisdom, scripture tells us, is only found in Yahweh.  It is Yahweh who “gave Solomon great wisdom so he could understand many things” (1 Kings 4:29).  King David declared it is Yahweh who will “give you wisdom and understanding so you will be able to obey the teachings of Yahweh your God” (1 Chronicles 22:12).  Ecclesiastes 2:26 puts it this way: “If people please Yahweh, He will give them wisdom, knowledge, and joy.”  Any altar to a false god portraying that god as a source of wisdom would also be a focus for Yahweh’s wrath.

The Asherah Idol
The Bible suggests the idol beside the altar most likely would have been a wooden pole carved in the shape of a phallus (penis), what today we would call an obelisk or a dildo.  It could also have alternately been a living tree.  Asherim are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, the Books of Kings, the second Book of Chronicles, and the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah.

The Asherim were generally wooden symbols of the female deity related to the worship of the fertility Goddess Asherah, the consort of Baal.  It was with these Asherim that the female prostitutes of the cult would perform sexual acts in order to provoke the gods into increasing the fertility of the land.  When torn down, the wood was to be used for a burnt offering.

That Asherim were not always living trees is shown in Jeremiah 17:2: “their asherim, beside [or beneath] every green tree.” The record indicates that King Manasseh, for example, is said to have placed a carved image of Asherah in the Holy Temple. (2 Kings 21:7) King Josiah’s reforms in the late 7th century BC included the destruction of many Asherim in almost every town in Judah and around Jerusalem. (2 Kings 23:1-14 – a quote of 2 Chronicles 34:3-7).

Exodus 34:13 states: “Break down their altars, smash their phallic pillars, and cut down their Asherim.” (KJV again mistranslates Asherim as “groves” [See Note below]). We know from Deuteronomy 16:21-22 that Yahweh hated Asherim whether rendered as living trees or as poles — “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of Yahweh your God, which you shall make for yourself. You shall not set up for yourself a sacred pillar which Yahweh your God hates”.

Genesis 3:22-24, Proverbs 3;18, 11:30, 13:12, and 15:4, and Revelation 2:7, 22:2, and 22:24 all reference the “tree of life”.  Truth, wisdom, righteousness, hope, wholesome speaking are all called the tree of life.  These words also describe Jesus, who is the root or shoot of David, who is the vine, who can therefore, be called our tree of life.  Any living tree or wooden object dedicated to a false god would also be a focus for God’s wrath!.

It would not have been a grove, as the KJV indicates, and neither is it to be confused with Ashteroth, the Greek name of a goddess, Astarte, whose symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus.  The insertion of “pole” into the scripture translations “begs the question by setting up unwarranted expectations for such a wooden object. The term often appears as merely אשרה, (Asherah) referred to as “groves” in the King James Version, which follows the Septuagint rendering as ἄλσος, pl. ἄλσοη, and the Vulgate lucus, and “poles” in the New Revised Standard Version; no word that may be translated as “poles” appears in the text,” observes John Day.

Going Even Deeper
But are these the only reasons Yahweh told Gideon to remove these two items?  It goes much deeper than this:

1. The burnt offerings made upon this altar were often infants, placed alive on the burning coals in the open belly, and burned to death. This is a direct violation of Yahweh’s commandment: “You shall not commit murder”.

2. The Asherah was an idol, a direct violation of Yahweh’s commandment: “You shall not make for yourself an idol”.

3. The Asherah was often used in fertility rituals – perverted sexual acts. This is a direct violation of Yahweh’s commandment: “You shall not commit adultery”.

4. The fertility rituals were performed to get the gods to have sex, and thus give fertility to the land. The people desired crops, herds, fruit, milk, etc. This is a direct violation of Yahweh’s commandment: “You shall not covet”.

5. The people called themselves “the children of the Yahweh of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”, yet worshipped and gave offerings to other gods. This is a direct violation of Yahweh’s commandments: “You shall not give false testimony, you shall not steal, you shall not use my name in vain, and you shall not have any other gods before me”.

The real reason behind the surface reasons for Yahweh telling Gideon to utterly destroy, tear down, remove, or obliterate the altar and idol to other gods, was to say: “Return to Me! You and your people are grossly violating my commandments, and I will not tolerate this behavior.”

Those eight little words are far more meaningful than just the surface level meaning initially understood by a surface level reading of Judges 6:25.  Just reading this passage in Hebrew tells us that this was not a casual demand from Yahweh to Gideon.  He doesn’t just say “Hey, Gideon.  I have a favor to ask.  When you’ve got the time, will you please get around to tearing down your dad’s altar to Baal and the Asherah.” Oh, no.  The double “haras, haras” and “karath, karath”, clearly indicate an intense, right now, immediate demand.  When Yahweh says something once, take note and attend to what he asks.  When he repeats a command twice in a row – pay strict attention and get moving without hesitation!

Indeed, those eight little words encompass the entire Ten Commandments!  I will leave it up to you to determine why Yahweh’s commandment to “Honor you parents” seems to be missing, both from the scriptures and from this sermon.  It really isn’t, but this will take you deeper still if you are willing to take time to ponder and study further.

How many altars to Baal have we erected in our lives?  Is it not time to tear them down?  How many Asherim have we placed beside our altars?  Is it not time to cut them down and burn them to ash?  Should we not do so immediately?  What behaviors should we remove and which should we be practicing as the day of Yeshua’s return approaches?