Saturday, September 15, 2012

“Let Baal Contend”

The odd title for this post needs an explanation.  It is a somewhat obscure quote from the otherwise familiar Old Testament account of Gideon.  Most Sunday school children know Gideon as the guy with the fleece.  The Israelites had been overrun and ruled by the Midianites, who ravaged their crops and held them in servitude.  When an angel of God appeared to Gideon, a humble wheat farmer, and instructed him to lead a rebellion against the Midianites, he was naturally incredulous and wanted to see a sign that would convince him it was really God speaking to him, so he “laid out a fleece” (Sunday school kids know the rest of the story; if you are not familiar with it, you can read it in the Book of Judges, Chapter 6.)

The first thing Gideon did after the divine visitation was to smash down the altar of Baal, the deity of the idol worshiping Midianites.  As expected, this caused no small amount of commotion, and when the Midianites learned that Gideon was the culprit, they surrounded the house of his father (Joash) and demanded that Gideon pay for the deed with his life. 
But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? … If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar…. Let Baal contend with him.”
I often think of this story whenever  I hear of yet another episode of Muslim’s rising up in anger whenever they feel their religion or their prophet Mohammed has been insulted.  This happens all too often, with the most recent episode playing out at U.S. embassies across the Middle East, as angry mobs have been stirred up into violent and homicidal protests over some amateur YouTube video that allegedly insults the prophet Mohammed.  The reaction is typical and predictable, as demonstrated by countless similar episodes, from the death threats against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses to the frenzied mobs rising up over some Danish cartoons that supposedly insulted Mohammed.