Fourth in a series
In the Ten Commandments, God (who identified Himself as Yahweh or “I am”) commanded the Israelites not to worship any gods but Him. Yet the Israelites were tempted to worship the gods of the peoples around them.
Several times before they entered the Promised Land, God warned the Israelites to get rid of the Asherah poles that the Canaanites were worshiping (Exodus 34:13, Deuteronomy 7:5, 12:3, 16:21). But, of course, the Israelites did precisely the opposite, setting up their own Asherah poles. An evil king of Judah named Manasseh even erected an Asherah pole in the temple of the true God, Yahweh, in Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:7).
We are not given much information about what this worship entailed. Two words are used. “Asherah” seems to be related to a word meaning “straight,” and “Ashtoreth” seems to be related to a word meaning “increase.” The first is often translated “Asherah pole” and the second just “Asherah.” Most of the biblical references are commands to destroy these. Interestingly, the Israelites were almost always told to tear down pagan altars and to “burn” the Asherah poles. This suggests that they were poles or statues/idols made of wood. The King James Version translates the word as “groves.” The worship seems to have had something to do with the natural world or fertility. Asherah worship was often carried out outdoors “on every high hill and under every spreading tree” (2 Kings 17:10 NIV). 2 Kings 23:7 suggests women wove something for use in this worship and suggests Asherah worship might possibly involve male shrine prostitutes.
From other sources, we know that Ashtoreth was the goddess of love and increase worshiped by Phoenicians and other Middle Eastern peoples. She was a fertility goddess like the Greeks’ Aphrodite and the Romans’ Venus. Ashtoreth worship was intended to bring the worshipers fertility (both sexual and agricultural), prosperity, and pleasure (including sex) and was thus connected to Baal worship.
Modern people do not erect Asherah poles or worship a goddess named Asherah. Yet, there are many in our society who pursue fertility, prosperity, pleasure, and sex as their highest good. The apostle Paul warned in Ephesians 5:5: “No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
There are also an increasing number of people in the Western world who turn Nature into a god, worshipping (valuing above all else) the natural world, God’s creation.