The God who stays the course.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 February

James 1.16-18.

In verse 15, James used a pregnancy metaphor to describe how one’s own desires conceives and gives birth to sin. In these verses, he kept up the metaphors. God’s like the planets and moon, only unlike them, he doesn’t go through phases and retrogrades. And we’re like the firstfruits, the crops the Hebrews took their tithes from.

James 1.16-18 KWL
16 Don’t be led astray, my beloved fellow Christians: 17 Every good gift,
every perfect present from above, came down from the Father of heavenly lights.
There’s no phase, no seasonal shadows, with him.
18 His will birthed us by his truthful word, for us to be one of the firstfruits of his creation.

“Don’t be led astray” connects with the previous idea: God isn’t the source of temptation and sin. We are. Determinists regularly make that mistake, figuring if they were almighty like God, they’d let nothing out of their control, and project that view upon God. Even though God clearly, regularly objects to sin throughout the bible, and states he had nothing to do with it. Jr 7.31, 19.5, 32.35 But determinists insist he does so have something to do with it, for not even birds fall out of trees without God’s knowledge. Mt 10.29

Since a lot of determinists profess they’re only following John Calvin’s lead, just for fun let’s have Calvin correct ’em.

Do not err. This is an argument from what is opposite; for as God is the author of all good, it is absurd to suppose him to be the author of evil. To do good is what properly belongs to him, and according to his nature; and from him all good things come to us. Then, whatever evil he does, is not agreeable to his nature. But as it sometimes happens, that he who quits himself well through life, yet in some things fails, he meets this doubt by denying that God is mutable like men. But if God is in all things and always like himself, it hence follows that well-doing is his perpetual work. Calvin at James 1.16-18 

By “whatever evil he does,” Calvin explained in his next paragraph: Sometimes God’s gotta punish sinners with acts we might prima facie call “evil,” but aren’t really. It’s not at all in God’s nature to do evil. Not accidentally, not passively, not intentionally, not ever. There’s no dark side to him. 1Jn 1.5 No secret evil plan. What he revealed of himself to us, is who he legitimately is.

And if we wanna compare God with the heavenly lights he created… well, for this interpretation we need to learn a little ancient astronomy.

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 February

2 Corinthians 12.9.

One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.

And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.

Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.

Great is your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart
So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me
—Matt Maher, “Your Grace Is Enough,” 2008

Is this what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient”? Not even close. While the idea we’re entirely saved by God’s grace is entirely true, the basis for this idea isn’t at all the verse where we find the words “grace is sufficient.” It comes from other verses, like “By grace you have been saved,” Ep 2.4, 8 NIV —not good works. There’s more to say about that, but I’ll do that later.

The rest of the time, “grace is sufficient” is used to say God will provide all our needs. ’Cause he’s gracious, generous, watches over us, answers prayers, cures our illnesses, guides our steps: We figure when we have God, we don’t need anything else. A self-sufficient person doesn’t need help, and neither does a God-sufficient person, ’cause God has us covered. Different worship song:

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me
My God shall supply all my needs
According to his riches in glory
He will give his angels charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me
—Don Moen, “Jehovah Jireh,” 1986

Horrible pronunciation of YHWH-yiréh aside, which I remind you isn’t one of God’s names but a name of an altar, Ge 22.14 the problem is this also has nothing to do with what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient.”

But you know how songs are. Once a catchy one gets in your head, it’s hard to shake the song away… much less the inaccurate bible interpretations which come along with it.

“Whenever you pray, pray this.”

by K.W. Leslie, 21 February

Jesus expected us to pray it more often than we do.

Luke 11.1-4

The Lord’s Prayer comes up twice in the gospels: Once in Matthew 6, and here in Luke 11. Today I’m gonna zero in on something Jesus taught about it in Luke. You’ll notice the Luke version is a bit shorter than the Matthew and Didache versions.

Luke 11.1-4 KWL
1 It happened while Jesus was praying in a certain place:
Once he finished, one of his students told him, “Master, teach us to pray,
like John the baptist taught his students.”
2 Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father!
Sanctify your name. Bring your kingdom. 3 Give us bread for the day, daily.
4 Forgive us of our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who owes us.
Don’t bring us into tribulation!’”

You’ll also notice when Jesus taught it, he prefaced it with, “When you pray, say…” Lk 11.2 Which brings up the rather important question: Does he expect us to say these words every single time we pray? Or is it optional?

Are we to take Jesus literally, as many a literalistic Christian will insist upon? Or are we gonna follow their example?

’Cause maybe you just realized a whole lot of the very same folks who claim, “We need to believe and follow everything in the bible literally, or we’re not truly bible-believing Christians” in fact don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer every single time they pray. They tend to be much bigger fans of extemporaneous prayer. Rote prayers, even rote prayers from the bible, tend to get treated as dead religion. Even this prayer, which Jesus taught his students personally.

Weren’t they supposed to begin every single one of their off-the-cuff prayers with the Lord’s Prayer? Aren’t we all?

Think about that for a few minutes. I’ll wait.

No, seriously. I’ll be back in the next section.

Christians in private, but reprobate in public.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 February

Whenever people claim to be Christian, but it’s kinda obvious they’re following the Christian crowd instead of Jesus—or at least sucking up to the Christian crowd heavily in order to get votes—I call ’em “Christianist.”

It’s a word I learned from Andrew Sullivan, and it’s a godsend. ’Cause too many people don’t know what to call such people. Fake Christians? Cultural Christians? Christians-in-name-only? I don’t wanna call them false Christians, ’cause they may very well have an actual saving relationship with Jesus. Maybe they just suck at religion. Maybe they’re hiding their light. A lot of partisans claim our current president is a “baby Christian,” and the reason his behavior is as filled with bad fruit as a moldy mock apple pie, is because he hasn’t learned any better… but he does know Jesus. Well, “Christianist” gives him the benefit of the doubt.

But people of course assume by “Christianist” I mean you’re not Christian. So I get rebuked from time to time for using the term. How dare I state certain people aren’t Christian… just because I see no evidence of the Spirit’s fruit in these people’s lives: You don’t know what’s in their heart.”

Well, Jesus said it’ll be obvious in their fruit, so I think we all know; it’s just when you’re partisan or biased, you don’t wanna see it.

But let’s give ’em the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know how they are in private. I only know what they do in public. In public they’re just awful.

They’re promiscuous, and sometimes proud of it. They’re unethical. They blatantly worship Mammon, and prioritize it over the needy. They’re filled with fear, hatred, and anger. They get envious, jealous, and partisan. Try to pick fights; try to cause division; try to create enemies. Y’know, stuff which indicates they’re not gonna inherit God’s kingdom. Ga 5.19-21 Yet I’m expected to ignore all the bright red flags because I’m “not supposed to judge.” Or I’m not supposed to forget God’s grace can save any a--hole, ’cause hey, God saved me.

Let’s not forget the “fruit” these miscreants regularly point to. Some claim they read the bible; problem is we’ve no evidence they live by what they read from the scriptures. (Being able to quote bible doesn’t count.) Or they claim they pray; problem is we’ve no evidence they ever heard God talking back. Which is a vital part of prayer, y’know. Granted, they might be cessationists who believe God doesn’t respond, or only speaks to prophets—even when their churches teach otherwise.

Or they go to church! Fr’instance many politicians claim to be Catholic. Problem is, we all know they’re hardly in lockstep with their church’s teachings. The Roman Catholic Church’s views on abortion and the death penalty are widely known: They’re prolife, and consider both acts murder. Yet political conservatives ignore their church on the death penalty, and progressives ignore their church on abortion. Politicians claim it’s ’cause they heed the public will, and won’t foist their church’s teachings upon the public. Problem is, their every action proves their church’s views aren’t theirs: They publicly, loudly, and vigorously defend the contrary view with legislation, speeches, marches, and rallies. If you claim to be a church’s member, yet publicly stand against your church’s interpretation of the fifth commandment, stands to reason you likewise ignore their other teachings.

In sum, their public actions declare for all the world to see, “I don’t give a sloppy wet crap what Jesus teaches.” It’s the passive (in some cases passive-aggressive) form of denying Christ before others. Something Jesus kinda sees as important:

Matthew 10.32-33 KWL
32 “Everyone who’ll agree with me before the people: I’ll agree with them before my heavenly Father.
33 Those who’ll refuse me before the people: I’ll refuse them before my heavenly Father.”

I can’t say with absolute certainty they belong to Jesus or not. But they really haven’t given me a lot of evidence in favor of such a relationship.

Quit the excuses and resist temptation.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 February

James 1.12-15.

The letter of James moves from suffering to the related subject of temptation—’cause when we’re suffering, or even threatened with it, it’s easy to fall into temptation.

But when presented with quick ’n dirty ways out, a bothersome number of Christians shrug, and take the immoral and sinful option. Because it’s easier, and because of cheap grace: They figure God forgives all, so God’ll forgive that too. Sin some more, and there’ll be more grace, which’ll take care of it. Ro 6.1 Resisting temptation is just too hard.

Worse: Some of us will get downright fatalistic about it: “I couldn’t see any other way out.” Never mind the apostles telling us God always provides one; 1Co 10.13 they figured our fallen world is so twisted, they’ll find themselves in no-win scenarios, trapped with a tragic moral choice where there’s nothing but sinful decisions. (Pry a little and you’ll find there were moral options, but they just didn’t care for them.) Blame society. Blame biological urges beyond their control. They might even blame God.

Rubbish, James taught:

James 1.12-15 KWL
12 A man who survives temptation is awesome:
Being tested, he’ll get life’s crown, which God promised those who love him.
13 You who are tempted: Never say, “I’m tempted by God.”
God’s not tempted to do evil: He tempts nobody.
14 Each person is tempted, lured away, baited, by their own desires.
15 Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin; the full-grown sin produces death.

Lots to unpack here.

Starting with the reminder God rewards people who do resist temptation. Some of ’em come in this life; some in the next. 2Ti 4.8, Rv 3.5, 12, 21 His kingdom, fully inaugurated once Jesus returns, is one of those rewards. It’s what we Christians are busy preparing ourselves, and our world, to exist in. Should be, anyway. Crowns, in the first century, meant you won, whether you won a footrace or a battle. If you haven’t personally defeated temptation… well, you may still inherit the kingdom, but you don’t merit any crown.

And possibly won’t inherit the kingdom. Jesus expects those who love him are gonna do as he tells us. Jn 14.15 Those who don’t, who figure Jesus’s instructions are merely nice hypothetical ideals, who deem God’s commands obsolete in the current dispensation, have no evidence, no fruit, of our love for Jesus. We’ve got bad fruit at best; we may not even know Jesus, nor have ever really trusted him to save us. If anything, we inherit outer darkness.

No, I’m not saying fruitlessness sends people to hell. Other way round: People on their way to hell are invariably gonna have rotten fruit, or no fruit. People who never resist temptation, who figure God’s unlimited forgiveness applies even to those who don’t love him at all, are setting themselves up for the worst surprise ever: They won’t receive the kingdom. Ga 5.21 Their whole lifestyle demonstrates otherwise.

As do their usual excuses for this lifestyle:

  • “I can’t be good like that. Nobody can. Total depravity has screwed humanity over. ‘All have sinned,’ and everybody’s just gonna keep right on sinning till Jesus returns and fixes us.”
  • “If God didn’t want me to sin, he should’ve kept that temptation away from me. He knew I’d fall right into it. I can’t help myself.”
  • “We’re not saved by good works anyway!”
  • “I’m not really to blame. The devil is. Society is. Or God—who permitted the devil to run amok, and for society to go astray—is.”

At their core, all these excuses have one thing in common: Determinism, the belief our circumstances are beyond our control, ’cause someone else has rigged the universe so we’ll follow a pre-planned path.

Sometimes prophecy encourages. Sometimes not.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 February

Too often, wannabe prophets insist prophecy and encouragement are one and the same. They’re not.

When Christians teach about prophecy, one of the more popular verses we throw around is this one:

1 Corinthians 14.3 NIV
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

’Cause if prophets are looking for a mission statement, Paul and Sosthenes provided us a convenient one-line description. Prophecy is for the purpose of strengthening, encouraging, and comfort.

Sometimes they tighten it up just a little bit: Which of those three words can encapsulate the other two? So these prophets will see it as their particular mission to strengthen… and less so to encourage or comfort. Others, to comfort… and not so much strengthen and encourage. What I encounter most often are the prophets who wanna encourage. Wanna get Christians all confident and excited about our role in God’s kingdom, and wanna give us nothing but encouraging messages which’ll shove us forward.

Trouble is, there are certain self-proclaimed prophets who claim anyone who encourages Christians—regardless of whether they directly heard from God—is a prophet. It’s ’cause of the cessationists. They don’t believe God talks to anyone anymore; at most he “talks” to them through the words of the bible, and makes us feel really good about what we just read. To them any preacher who teaches on God’s word, who disciples Christians, and who persuades people to give up sin and repent, counts as a prophet. Of course once you redefine “prophet” to mean someone who doesn’t have to hear God, it’s kind of a problem. Not to them, but certainly to everyone else on the planet—who might incorrectly believe prophets only predict the future, but are at least pretty sure prophets gotta hear God.

Anyway, this idea that encouragers are the same as prophets, has trickled into way too many continuationist churches. I’ve visited charismatic churches which no-fooling teach every time we encourage another person, we’re “activating the prophetic.” Supposedly every time we encourage one another, we’ve opened a door for the Holy Spirit to step through, and start giving us revelation and directing our words.

Since God has free will, he’s under no obligation to do any such thing. If he doesn’t care to speak through me—’cause the only reason I’m trying to “activate the prophetic” is so I can show off a little, and God prefers his prophets to be humble—he’s not gonna. Hence all I’ll say are bunch of encouraging-sounding things. They’ll sound nice, but won’t be God. They’ll feel nice, but feelings aren’t God either. At best they’ll be harmless, benign. At worst, they’ll lead people astray, just like they got King Ahab ben Omri killed. 1Ki 22.6, 23

Whereas actual prophecy? Never harmless. Always powerful and mighty and effective, ’cause it’s the word of God. He 4.12 “Benign” is never a word we ought to hear describing God’s prophets. They—we—had better do way more than merely encourage.

God, Job, and the cost of unexamined theodicy.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

Job 1–2.10, 42.10-17

Since we’re gonna talk theodicy, it’d be all kinds of stupid to not begin with Job. Worse, to ignore it… as so often happens.

The entire book, and entire point of the book, is why bad things happen to good people. The problem? Your average person only reads the beginning and ending, and skips all the discussion in the middle. And the middle is the meat of the book.

I intend to bring up Job a lot in the theodicy articles, so brace yourself. I’m gonna dig into it a bit.

Job is part of the ketuvím/“Writings,” the third section of the Old Testament, collected round the 400s BC. Job was written at some point in the 500s, as we can easily deduce from the Late Biblical Hebrew vocabulary (with lots of Aramaic loanwords) and historical context.

The book’s about iyóv/“Job” of Utz, a land located in Edom. Lm 4.21 Job’s friend Eliphaz of Teman Jb 2.1 had a really obvious Edomite name: The same name as Edom/Esau’s oldest son, 1Ch 1.36 and his city had the same name as Eliphaz ben Esau’s oldest son. 1Ch 1.36

Job was a famous guy in Ezekiel’s time, Ek 14.14, 20 so he must’ve existed before, if not around, the early 500s BC, when Ezekiel was written. Clearly Job was known for his morality, so the author of Job borrowed Job’s story to begin the discussion about theodicy: Here’s a moral man, who nonetheless lost all his kids and property. So what does that say about morality, God, the way God governs the universe, and evil?

Your average Christian hasn’t read Job. Well, they read the beginning two chapters, where Job lost all his stuff; and they read the last chapter, wherein God gives him 10 more kids and all his stuff back, and let him live a really long time. Jb 42.10-17 In skipping the middle part, we also mistakenly skip all the discussions between Job and his friends about theodicy… and figure we needn’t bother, ’cause Job was right and they were wrong, like the LORD said. Jb 42.7 Besides we already know why Job was suffering: The first two chapters were a great big spoiler!

In so doing we also miss the point: What Job’s friends said is exactly what people still say about theodicy. Same bad advice. Same platitudes. Same cold comfort. Read Job, and you’ll quickly begin to notice how many other Christians have never read Job.

(I should also point out: In the churches I grew up in, a number of ’em assumed Job is the oldest book in the bible… because they were young-earth creationists. Because Job lived so tremendously long, and because Job refers to creatures with names we can’t translate precisely—like vehemót/“ox” (KJV “behemoth” Jb 40.15), liweyatán/“crocodile” (KJV “leviathan” Jb 41.1), or reym/“antelope” (KJV “unicorn” Jb 39.9) —various YEC enthusiasts have embraced the idea these creatures are dinosaurs, and that Job took place shortly after Noah’s flood, back when humans were still long-lived. Ge 11.10-32 Edomites notwithstanding.)

How to pray the Lord’s Prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 February

Don’t know why you’re not practicing prayer with it.

When Jesus’s students wanted to learn to pray, he taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Wanna know how to pray? Here ya go: Practice with that.

Weirdly enough, in most of the Evangelical churches I’ve been to, when new Christians wanna learn to pray, we don’t always point ’em to the Lord’s Prayer. We point them to our prayer groups.

Why’s this? Well, there’s a weird Evangelical stigma about rote prayer. It’s because a lot of Evangelicals grew up in churches which prayed a lot of pre-written, canned material, and it felt like dead religion to them, and they prefer living religion. So, out went the rote prayers. Their only prayers are spontaneous. Sometimes they won’t even pray biblical rote prayers, like the psalms or Lord’s Prayer.

The down side? The only prayer examples they see aren’t from the bible, but from their fellow Christians. Some of whom don’t even read the bible. All their prayer behavior comes from mimicking other Christians, and after enough decades in an echo chamber of babbling pagan hypocrisy… well, you remember Jesus’s wisecrack about tying a millstone round children’s necks and tossing them in the Mediterranean. Mk 9.42 Better they not pray at all, than pray like some of us hypocrites.

What to do? Well, if our bible studies and prayer groups don’t spend any time talking about how to pray more effectively (meaning like God wants), it’s time to fix those groups. Drop the showing off, ditch the mini-sermons in disguise, quit padding and overcomplicating, and get bold. Talk about what really works, and what really doesn’t. Get honest.

And keep pointing back to the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus taught this rote prayer. He wants us to recite it. Education in Jesus’s day—same as ours—meant memorization. He wanted his students to put this prayer in their brains. (Since the gospels weren’t written down for another three decades after Jesus taught this, obviously his students did as he wanted!) The Lord’s Prayer is the model for how Jesus wants us to pray, and base our own prayers upon. So if we’re gonna learn to pray properly and effectively, we gotta practice with the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s like training wheels. When people first learn to ride a bicycle, and haven’t yet learned to balance the bike upright all the time, a lot of us use training wheels which always hold the bike upright. The Lord’s Prayer isn’t only training wheels. But it definitely does the job of keeping our prayers upright. When in doubt, return to Jesus’s words.

Point to your humility. Not your wealth.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 February

James 1.9-11.

Americans like to believe we’re all equal; that we don’t have classes. We do so. Wealthy people don’t associate with poor people. It makes them uncomfortable.

I’ve been poor; I speak from experience. The wealthy honestly don’t know what to do with the poor. If the wealthy wanna do something, like go out to dinner, go see a movie, go to Paris over the weekend… well, the poor can’t afford to participate, and regretfully decline. Whereupon the wealthy think, “Well, that was rude of me, inviting them to something they can’t afford. Maybe I should foot the bill. …But maybe I shouldn’t, ’cause they’ll feel I’m treating them like a charity case.” (Not if you don’t make a big deal about it.) “They’ll resent my offering to pay for everything.” (Not unless they’re ungrateful jerks.) “I really shouldn’t have to foot the bill for our entire relationship.” (Clearly you’re unfamiliar with dating.) “Maybe it’d be easier all around if I just gradually ease my poor friends out of my life.” (Maybe you’d really just rather hold onto your money, and you’re trying to disguise your guilt as charitability.)

It’s often because of karma. If you’re hospitable to others, you kinda expect to receive something back in return. But if you know you’re getting little in return, ’cause the poor can’t afford much, lots of people figure it’s not worth their time. Even though Jesus taught us to make a point of giving to people who can’t pay us back, Lk 14.12-14 because the Father appreciates and rewards such behavior. But the wealthy often prefer to put their bets on their money, and less so on their Lord.

Wealth’s a constant snare. It’s why the scriptures so often have to warn people to stop fixating on their possessions and focus on God. Like James did so here.

James 1.9-11 KWL
9 Emphasize humility, fellow Christians, when you’re up;
10 wealthy Christians, when you’re down.
11 For wealth will pass away like grassflowers: The sun rose in its heat and dried up the grass.
Its flower fell, its appearance destroyed—likewise the wealthy shrivel up on their life journey.

The wealthy may bellyache and suspect these instructions are some sort class warfare; bash the rich because you envy them and wanna take their property. It’s not that at all. There’s nothing wrong with wealthy people who follow Jesus instead of Mammon. It’s just so many of ’em unwittingly or hypocritically are following Mammon, and the “class warfare” bits of the bible are actually Mammon-warfare. Stop enslaving yourself to money!

Rich American Christians in particular. We’re way more enslaved to money than we’d like to believe. It influences our actions far more than it should. In this bit of James, the focus is on the fact we Christians oughta be humble at all times. For wealthy Christians—who don’t always remember to be humble, ’cause they think their wealth makes them great, or is a gauge of how much God loves them—this is something to remember when they’re down. ’Cause they’re gonna be down. Wealth isn’t dependable. God is.

Baalism: The icky religions we find in ancient Israel.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 February

Why’d the Hebrews keep falling into Baalism? They did it for the nooky.

Baal /bɑ'ʕɑl, commonly mispronounced 'beɪ.(ə)l/ n. The title of various middle eastern gods.
2. Lord, master, sir, husband.
[Baalim /bɑ.ʕɑ, Baalism /ba'al.iz.əm/ n.]

The main competitors to the ancient Hebrew worship of the LORD were various middle eastern gods which tended to be called by their word for “master.” In Hebrew and Aramaic that’d be bahál; in Arabic and Ugaritic bahl, Amharic bal, Akkadian Belu, and in English it takes the form “Baal.”

Most people assume “Baal,” like “God,” is a proper name instead of a title. It’s not. Every major god was called “Baal.” There were multiple Baals in the middle east and ancient Canaan, which is why the bible refers to them as bahalím/“Baals” (KJV “Baalim”). Jg 2.11, 1Sa 7.4, 1Ki 18.18, 2Ch 17.3, Jr 2.23, Ho 2.13 Rather than refer to these gods by their proper names, middle easterners respectfully called them “lord,” much as we do with YHWH. They used the word bahál—and the Hebrews used its synonym adón, arguably because everybody else was using Baal.

In fact it may startle you to discover even the LORD was sometimes called Baal. Seriously. After David ben Jesse became king over all the Israeli tribes, he fought Philistia at Baal Perachím, and the reason the place was called that name was ’cause… well, I’ll just quote the bible.

2 Samuel 5.18-21 KWL
18 Philistines came, and occupied the valley of Refahím/“Shadows.”
19 Asking the LORD, David said, “Do I go out against the Philistines? Do you put them in my hand?”
The LORD told David, “Go out: I put, put the Philistines in your hand.”
20 David went to Baal Perachím. There, David struck them down. He said:
“The LORD broke through my enemies before my face, like water breaks through a levee.”
Hence this place’s name is Baal Perachím/“Lord of Breakthrough.”
21 The Philistines left their carved idols there,
and David and his men took them away.

We all know David was no Baalist. He didn’t name the site for any of the Canaanite or Philistine gods; he meant his God, YHWH. But he used the title Baal to refer to him. I know; it’s weird.

It’s why we find Hebrew place names, even people, whose names have some form of “Baal” in them. They didn’t necessarily mean Canaanite gods; they often meant the One God. Like David’s warrior Behalyáh of Benjamin, 1Ch 12.5 whose name literally means “YHWH is Baal.” Like Saul’s son Ešbahál 1Ch 8.33, 9.39, and Jonathan’s son Meriv-bahál. 1Ch 8.34, 9.40 You might know these men better as King Ishbosheth 2Sa 2.8 and Mephibosheth. 2Sa 4.4 It’s believed the bible’s editors pulled the “Baal” from their names and replaced it with bošet/“shame[ful]”—sorta their mini-commentary about that word.

’Cause after a point, God got really tired of people calling him “Baal.”

Hosea 2.16-17 KWL
16 The LORD reveals: “That day will come when you call me ‘my husband’
and not call me ‘my Baal’ anymore.
17 I pluck the Baals’ names from your mother’s mouth.
Don’t recognize me by that name anymore.”

God wanted the very word removed. And for good reason. If the LORD is simply Baal-YHWH to you, just another one of the interchangeable Baals in the world, it’s way too easy to mix up our good, benevolent, patient, loving LORD with some other god who isn’t always good, is kinda selfish, impatient, unloving, and otherwise unlike the One God. Like that horny reprobate Zeus in Greek mythology, a god whom the ancient Greeks called “good” only because they were sucking up to him.

Which brings up the reason the Baals were so popular. When people read the bible and don’t know its history, they often wonder why on earth the Hebrews kept falling into Baalism. What was it about these gods? The LORD can speak; why’d they regularly keep falling for gods which can’t?

Two words: Ritual sex.

Oh that got your attention, didn’t it? But yep, that’s what hooked the Hebrews. Nu 25.1-3 Ancient pagans quickly discovered if they made sexual activity part of their worship practices, they’d hook dedicated followers. It’s precisely why the LORD and his prophets regularly compared Baalism to adultery and prostitution: Jg 8.33, Ho 2.13 That’s literally what it was.