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. 

The reaction is so predictable, that many in the west prefer to curtail our rights to free speech lest we offend the sensibilities of the Muslim world.  Yet no one seems to be as concerned about offending the sensibilities of Jews or Christians.  Why not?  Are they hostile to Judaism and Christianity and therefore consider them fair game?  Perhaps, but it is more likely a tacit admission that the Judeo-Christian ethic is generally more level headed and civilized, and is not expected to react violently when insulted.

Christians in particular expect to be insulted, because their Lord was reviled, insulted and persecuted to the point of death.  Jesus himself warned us:  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”    When Christianity in general or Jesus in particular are insulted, Christians may be grieved--even outraged--but there is no need to demand justice or retribution.  For example, when a sick minded “artist” named Andres Serrrano plunged a crucifix into a jar of urine and displayed it as “art”, Christians were understandably angry, particularly because their tax dollars were subsidizing such trash through the National Endowment for the Arts, but there were no angry mobs or threats of violence.  Again, Christians expect to be insulted.  It is par for the course.

More importantly, Christians understand that if their Lord and God is who He claims to be, He has no need to be defended.  The all powerful, sovereign Lord of heaven and earth can defend himself, and His Name and Cause will be vindicated.  This is something that insecure Muslims don’t seem to get.  To paraphrase what Joash said to the Midianites about  Baal:  “If it is indeed true that there is only one god Allah, and  Mohammed is his only prophet, let Allah contend.  Let Mohammed contend.”


Tetamay said...

You're such a good Christian. It's interesting to note that the two mobs were similar.

The Maryland Crustacean said...

Thank you.

Actually, the mob of Midianites was a little more civilized because (1) they had more of a legitimate grievance, because their place of worship was actually desecrated and (2) theirs was not a violent indiscriminate frenzy that took it out on everybody. They only wanted Gideon's head for the offense. Still, the point remains and the comparison is valid.