Ashtoreth was a goddess otherwise known as Astarte, and often confused with the other similar Canaanite goddesses Asherah and Anath. Some scholars differentiate these two names by saying that Ashtoreth is the right name for the goddess, while Asherah is the name of her image, that is, the tree trunk or pole (2 Kings 23:13-14; 2 Kings 21:7).
In Babylonia, Ashtoreth was called Ishtar. She was the goddess of sexual love, maternity, and fecundity. Worship of Ashtoreth was noted for its sensuality and involved, cutting and ritual prostitution. Her priests and priestesses practiced divination.
In the Ras Shamra tablets Ashtoreth is depicted also as a goddess of war and of the chase. Her devotion was widespread all over the Near Eastern world, from Moab (her name is found on the Moabite Stone) to Babylonia. The different female figurines found by archeologists in Hebrew and Canaanite sites are thought to be representations of Ashtoreth in her role of mother goddess.
In the Old Testament, the names Baal and Ashtoreth are used almost synonymously for all the false gods and goddesses of Palestine. The Hebrew language has no word for goddess. Ashtoreth was apparently used instead for this word. This goddesses is often mentioned as the partner of the Canaanite god Baal (also called Hadad), the sun-god (Judges 3:7; 6:28; 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4; 12:10).
This goddess was worshiped in Canaan in the days of Abraham (Genesis 14:5). And in the time of judges, many “forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:13). In the times of the kings, Saul’s head was put in the temple of Dagon and his armor in the house of Ashtaroth which meant victory over Israel’s God, Yahweh (1 Samuel 31:10). Solomon paid homage to her at one point (1 Kings 11:5) but repented fully in his later years (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
Despite God’s clear instructions, Queen Jezebel the wife of King Ahab, and Baal’s false prophets promoted Ashtroeth worship (1 Kings 18:19). But King Manasseh exceeded in his wickedness for “He even set a carved image of Asherah that he had made, in the house of which the Lord had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever” (2 Kings 21:7).
Reforms Against Idle Worship
The first and second commandments clearly spoke against idolatry, “You shall have no other gods before Me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:3-6).
The reforms against idolatry started in the time of judges when Gideon obeyed God’s command to “tear down the altar of Baal … and cut down the wooden image that is beside it” (Judges 6:25,26). And in the time of the kings, Asa “removed Maachah his grandmother from being queen mother, because she had made an obscene image of Asherah. And Asa cut down her obscene image and burned it by the Brook Kidron” (1 Kings 15:13).
Later on, King Josiah did great reforms and found favor in God’s eyes for he “commanded … to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the articles that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron” (2 Kings 23:1 –7). God blessed these godly leaders greatly for they helped save His children from reaping the deadly consequences of idolatry.
In His service,