“Other gods” in the Bible

By Mark Morgan | Jeremiah

Sep 29

Foreign gods

We often read of the worship of “other gods” in the Bible – in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, we read of different nations worshipping their own individual gods, but the nation of Israel seemed to want to worship all of the available gods!

As history progressed and the end of the nation of Judah approached, the prophets of the time frequently referred to the nation’s habit of worshipping various gods.

Prophets before the captivity

Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zephaniah were the prophets of the time, and they refer to the names of many different gods. The table below shows the names of the different gods and the number of times each is mentioned by the different prophets:

Name of deity Jeremiah Ezekiel Daniel Habakkuk Zephaniah
Baal (pl. Baals) 12 1 0 0 1
Canaanite and Phoenician god, adopted by Israel and Judah.
Chemosh 3 0 0 0 0
In reference to Moab only.
Asherah (pl. Asherim) 1 (pl.) 0 0 0 0
Canaanite god, said to be the consort of Baal and also known as Ishtar, Astarte, Aphrodite and Venus. Not to be confused with Ashtoreth, which is mentioned in the books of Kings but not in these prophets.
Molech 1 0 0 0 0
Ammonite god also adopted by Judah.
Milcom 2 0 0 0 1
Ammonite god. Only linked with Ammonites in Jeremiah, but with Judah in Zephaniah.
The Queen of heaven 5 0 0 0 0
Not mentioned anywhere else in the whole Bible.
Tammuz 0 1 0 0 0
Babylonian god.
Bel 2 0 0 0 0
Babylonian god.
Merodach 1 0 0 0 0
Babylonian god.
Amon 1 0 0 0 0
Egyptian god.

 

The table shows clearly that Jeremiah used the names of the other gods most often in his writings. Daniel and Habakkuk do not use their names at all, while Ezekiel and Zephaniah only named other gods twice each.

Unnamed gods

As well as using a specific name for each god, other “catch-all” words are also used for “other gods” in the Bible:

  • “Gods” is mentioned in Jeremiah (31), Ezekiel (1), Daniel (16) and Zephaniah (1).
  • “Idols” is mentioned in Jeremiah (8), Habakkuk (1) and Ezekiel (35). “Idol” (singular) is mentioned in Habakkuk (1) only.
  • “Images” is mentioned in Jeremiah (7), Ezekiel (4), Daniel (1). “Image” (singular) is mentioned in Jeremiah (1), Habakkuk (1), Ezekiel (2), Daniel (10).
  • “Teraphim” is mentioned in Ezekiel (1).

The number of times the words occur are shown above by the numbers in brackets.

Many other words are used to refer to the worship of other gods, including “altars”, “green tree”, “high hill”, “high place”, “offerings”, “drink offerings”, “kneading dough to make cakes”, “gathering wood”, “kindling fire” and probably many others.

There is even a reference by Habakkuk to people whose own strength is their god (Habakkuk 1:11). This seems to be the most common form of false worship in the western world today along with the covetousness criticised by Paul as idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5).

Yahweh – the Lord

There is a lot of concentration on other gods by these prophets, but vastly more on the use of “Yahweh” (“Lord”) or “God” to make it clear that the only real god is Yahweh, the God of Israel. If you are interested in the numbers, “Lord God” occurs 113 times in Jeremiah, 219 times in Ezekiel, 13 times in Daniel and 5 times in Zephaniah. The frequency is striking – well more than once per chapter on average.

As usual, these quantities and translations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV). There will be some variation between versions.

See also

Deities in the Hebrew Bible (Wikipedia)

High places (Bible Tales article)

Was it really so bad? (Bible Tales article)

 

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