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As the entire host of Israelites remained on the east side or Trans-Jordan area, preparations were being made for a military move across the Jordan to occupy the land in the Cis-Jordan, the land of Canaan west of the Jordan river. Almost seven hundred years before, this entire area had been promised to Abraham and his descendants and, in his day, the cup of "the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete." (Genesis 15:161). But now the period of grace had come to an end and the children of Israel were ready to occupy the land. This occupation was necessary in order to fulfill the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:21).:
2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;
The people who left the land of Egypt were a people, but they were not yet a nation. It takes three things to be a nation and one of these three is that there must be a people. Then, there must be a constitution. On Mount Sinai, when God gave the ten commandments and the ordinances for worship, government, and daily life, the constitution was provided. So, for forty years in the wilderness, they were a people with a constitution. All that remained for national identity was the land. Once they had crossed over the Jordan and began to occupy the territory, they were a nation. Gloriously we see this principle repeated again in our time when the Jews occupied the land in 1948 A.D., to once again become a nation miraculously preserved by God despite the still powerful nations encircling her.
There was a second purpose for this first occupation in Moses' day. It was to serve as God's holy war against the inhabitants of Canaan. We read in Deuteronomy 9:41:
"Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you."
Until the discovery of the Ugarit tablets in the early part of this century, we had no idea of the extent to which the religious system in the land of Canaan had corrupted itself. But because of the tablets, we can see the demonic, licentious worship system which had evolved. It was this worship system that the Israelites were repeatedly warned to guard themselves against throughout the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. It was because of the prevalence of this worship system in the land that the Israelites were commanded to kill every single inhabitant. If even one remained alive that one person could corrupt the nation of Israel, and the program that they were to use to promote the true religion of Jehovah would also be corrupted. We had a brief example of what was involved in the worship of Baal in the Baal-peor encounter related in the book of Numbers (Chapter 25) when the tribe of Simeon played a leading part in uniting with the women of Moab in rebellion against the God of Israel.
Baal worship was a combination of sexual activity and human sacrifice. The inhabitants of that area of the world were agrarian and, as farmers and herdsmen, their income and livelihood were tied to the land and the most important thing to them was fertility. They needed the land to be fertile, for their cattle and sheep to be fertile, and, of course, for their wives to be fertile so that their sons and daughters would help work the land and continue the family lineage. To the Canaanites, fertility was the key issue in life and their entire worship system revolved around it. As we examine the artefacts from that era, we can see that the human figures used in their idolatrous worship were designed to suggest fertility. The word Baal means ‛lord' and Baalim means ‛lords.' Baal was the god of storm and the god of fertility. One of the primary Baals was Hadad, the storm god who was often depicted riding on a bull, one of the Canaanite symbols of fertility. One way in which the Canaanites sought to pacify Baal, was to offer their children as sacrifices. The children were to be offered without any display of emotion. Should such a display be made, then the sacrifice was worthless. In the Baal temples there were both male and female cult prostitutes. These were the priests and priestesses of Baal. If a man wanted to worship Baal, he would go into the temple and join himself to a priestess. If a woman wanted to worship, she would go in and join herself to a priest. Later, in reading our Old Testament, we find these male prostitutes were called dogs. Through sexual relations with the priest or priestess, the worshipper was saying: "Just as fertility is taking place during this act, may Baal make my crops fertile; may Baal make my cattle fertile; may Baal make my spouse fertile." In this way, all the outward physical manifestations of fertility were worshipped. Rain, storm, fire, and famine and drought - and good harvests and poor harvests - were to be seen as the result of Baal's blessing or judgement on the earth. It was for this reason that we find, throughout the balance of the Old Testament, whenever God encounters this false worship system He responds through His prophets by using these physical phenomena to demonstrate to the inhabitants of the land that the God of Israel alone is the provider of fertility and the resultant good crops and herds of animals enjoyed by the tribes and other nations. Fire falling from heaven and unceasing abundances of oil, the raising of the dead, and famines and droughts are polemics against the false worship of Baal. Thus the inhabitants of the land are forced to recognise that God is the one responsible for the state of the land and the bringing of both blessings and curses, and not Baal.
In regard to the religion of the land, we see that God clearly (Deuteronomy 11:16-171) gave the Israelites advance warning of what would happen. Moses said:
16 "Beware, lest your hearts be deceived and you turn away and serve other gods and worship them. 17 "Or the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you.
Thus, Chapter 11 reaffirms the fact that it is God, the Lord Jehovah, and not Baal, who is responsible for fertility in all of creation.
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