Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Baal is Dead!"--Meditations on the Clouds

In the midst of my preparations for preaching on Habakkuk chapter three I read an essay by David Toshio Tsumura entitled "Ugaritic Poetry in Habakkuk 3" (Tyndale Bulletin 40.1, 1989, pp. 24-48).  Amongst many biblical scholars it is common place to hold that Habakkuk chapter three was influenced by Ugaritic poetry.  For example, F. F. Bruce in his commentary on Habakkuk 3.8 states the following:
Yahweh's campaign against the enemies of his people is depicted in terms reminiscent of the conflict with chaos in Semitic mythology--Marduk's victory over Ti'amat (the subterranean deep) in the Babylonian Genesis, for example, or Baal's victory over Yam (the unruly sea) in Ugaritic lore.  The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary edited by Thomas E. McComiskey (Baker, 2009), p. 886
Tsumura's article challenges this consensus of literary connection Habakkuk 3 and Ugaritic mythology.  In his article Tsumura discusses and quotes various Ugaritic myths including discussion of Baal as "rider of the clouds"--a common designation for Baal in Ugaritic texts.  Along with reading this article I also read some of the Enuma elish--sometimes called The Chaldean Account of Genesis.  This depicts the god Marduk slaying Tiamat and then slicing  her up to create heaven and earth.  I read all this to get a handle on something of the Babylonian mindset as well as to see if this would help me understand Habakkuk chapter three better.

So with all these thoughts floating in mind I stopped studying to go for lunch at my favorite pizza place down the street.  The sky was full of majestic clouds creating a somewhat overcast day.  As I turned into the parking lot and while looking at the clouds (yet still managing to drive in a safe manner!) I thought of Baal's epithet--"rider of the clouds."  My very next thought was, "Baal is dead and you, O God have killed him."  This brought a smile to my face.  Baal is dead.  He is a spent force.  There are no devotees to this ancient Babylonian god.  He is studied for historical interest only.  The true and living God--the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ--he is alive and active today.  It is he who of whom Nahum speaks when he says:
In whirlwind and storm is his way, and the clouds are the dust beneath his feet.  (1.3)
This living God has made war against the false gods in the past (Exodus 12.12; Numbers 33.4; 2 Samuel 7.23) and these gods are no more.  He will continue to make war against the false gods of our time.  He will not give his glory to another!
I am Yahweh, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven images...The LORD will go forth like a warrior, he will arouse his zeal like a man of war.  He will utter a shout, yes, he will raise a war cry.  He will prevail against his enemies.   Isaiah 42. 8, 13