What Was Baal Doing?

 
     Who is Baal? Baal [Heb. ba'al] was a Canaanite storm and fertility god. The
Ugaritic texts give strong attestation to this deity. He is first attested in the Ebla
texts from the second half of the 2nd millennium B.C. He is the most active and
prominent of all the Canaanite deities. From the Canaanite perspective, the fertility
of the land depends on the rain this god supplies. According to the Ugaritic texts,
Baal's dwelling was on Mount spn. The mountain in Hittite is called Hazzi.

     It is clear from reading the Old Testament that Baal worship provided the
greatest and most enduring threat to the exclusive worship of Yahweh within
ancient Israel. The Israelites settled among the Canaanites, for whom the worship
of Baal was very important, and this is what accounts in part for the temptation of
Baal worship and the strong OT warnings against it. There was a great chasm
of ideological disparity between the prophets of Yahweh and the prophets of Baal.
It was inevitable that Elijah and Baal's prophets would clash.

   1 Kings 18 contains one of the greatest contests recorded in the sacred scriptures.
The confrontation was between the prophet Elijah, and "the four hundred and
fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's
table." (1 Kings18:19) All Israel was summoned to Mount Carmel in an effort to
create solidarity within the nation and to bring them back to the true worship of
Yahweh.

     In 1 Kings 18:27 we find one of the sharpest satires on paganism ever penned.
Several English versions (RSV, ESV, HCSB, NRSV and TANAKH) say, Elijah
"mocked" them. The (NIV and TNIV) say he "began to taunt them."  The Hebrew
text uses the word wayhattel which can mean deceive. In this context, the
connotative meaning is to mock, deride, or taunt.  Elijah mockingly said to Baal's
prophets, "Shout louder for he is a god." They thought he was a god, but Elijah
and all believers know better. (Ex. 20:4-5; Isa. 44:6; 1 Cor. 8:4-6) With
penetrating sarcasm he suggests that this "god" is perhaps "deep in thought, or
busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." (TNIV)
Notice how Elijah attributes very human characteristics to their deity.

     One of the words Elijah uses is particularly interesting. The Hebrew word
is sig. When used literally it means to wander, go aside, go away. Many
translations reflect this idea. (KJV "pursuing," ASV "gone aside," RSV "gone
aside," NRSV "wandered away," HCSB "wandered away," and TANAKH
"detained.") Other versions offer interpretations of sig that are quite striking.
(NLT "relieving himself," ESV "relieving himself," Living Bible "sitting on the
toilet." The TNIV chose "busy" for the translation.)

     I think there is little doubt that Elijah uses the word sig euphemistically
rather than literally. I believe the NLT, ESV, and Living Bible are accurate in
their translation choices in this verse. Many of the older and contemporary
Hebrew lexicons provide evidence that their translation choices are correct.
Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon
of the Old Testament, volume 3, E.J. Brill Publishers, 1996, indicates that
"expulsion, defecation" are within the range of meaning. Georg Fohrer, Hebrew
and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, page 270, gives "bowel 
movement" as the meaning. Benjamin Davies and Edward C. Mitchell, Student's
Hebrew Lexicon, Zondervan Publishing, 1960 printing, page 634, says "he has a
turning aside or privacy, i.e. he has withdrawn to ease nature."  Ludwig Koehler
and Walter Baumgartner, A Bilingual Dictionary of the Hebrew and Aramaic
Old Testament, English and German, E. J. Brill Publishers, 1998, page 919,
reads "excrement, motion...he has to go to the privy." William L. Holladay,
Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Eerdman's-
E.J. Brill, 1971, 1988, page 350, says "bowel movement." William A.
VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology 
and Exegesis, Zondervan Publishers, 1997, volume 3, page 1233, indicates the
meaning of sig is "excrement...relieving himself." It was all out war against the
prophets of Baal and Baal himself! There was no ground of compromise, nor were
any terms sought.

      What lessons do we learn from this historic contest of epic proportions?
First, the true spiritual troublemakers are always  those who forsake Yahweh's
commandments. (v.18) Second, truth never has anything to fear. (v. 19)
Third, God's people need to be reminded of their duty to take a stand and not
be "wishy-washy." (v. 21) Fourth, a person should be kind to religious opponents,
but never compromise any detail of truth. (verses 22-25) Fifth, God's people
should not be alarmed by the desperate antics of false teachers. (verses 26,
28) Sixth, false gods do not impose any inherent threat to the people of the true
God, unless God's people delude themselves by thinking Yahweh is inadequate.
(verses 26b, 29b) Seventh, all departures from true worship must be corrected.
(v. 30) Eighth, nothing is too hard for Yahweh. He alone is God (verses 31-39)
Ninth, God's victory is always decisive. With God we cannot lose; without God
we cannot win. (v. 40) Tenth, we should never apologize to those who espouse
error for what we perceive to be the hardness, plainness, and direct approach
of men who risk their very lives in serving God in order to uphold the purity of
God's will!

     In conclusion we ask, what was Baal doing that was so important that he
offered no help to his prophets? Elijah sarcastically suggested that he might
have been "on the toilet." There is no better place for any false god to be. At
least there he can feel at home. Ron Daly