What was Baal worship and why was it so popular? It is a mistake to think of Baal worship as some kind of otherworldly practice that never happens today. On the contrary, it happens all the time in the form of cultural variations of the same general patterns that we see in 2 Kings 21:1-9 and 2 Kings 17:7-23.
We know that there were usually lots of people gathered, often on a high hill (like a theatre or stadium) to observe public sex, just like we see in movies and television and on the internet (Numbers 22:41, I Kings 12:25-33). We think that our watching these things is different than the idolatry of old, but this is not so.
The whole community came out and all of the best pagan ideas for success in crops and fertility were promoted, just like a business seminar that promotes unbiblical ideas that justify the worldliness of its origin.
The wicked personalities (promoters and performers) were respected and given the platform (like rock stars and Hollywood’s “People’.) Some of them were great dancers (like Brittany Spears and Madonna) while others were great musicians (like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney) (I Kings 15:12-14). In our day, people who go to our churches celebrate celebrities when they should be doing the opposite. Psalm 101:1, 3 says “I will walk in my house… I will set no wicked thing before my eyes…”
People danced around the Asherah pole, which was nothing more than a phallic symbol. It is quite possible that these poles functioned somewhat like the poles in what are called, “gentlemen’s clubs.” The people also acted out lustful, licentious, bawdy scenes for the enjoyment of all who came (Isaiah 57:5-8; Deuteronomy 23:17). They had all the different kinds of sexual experiences on display including men with women, men with men and all of the combinations that are popular today in sit-coms, movies, and news reports. On top of that, they invited the crowd to participate (I Kings 14:24).
The children were the real losers, though, as some of them were actually sacrificed on the altar of the sex and the success (2 Kings 16:3-4). To participate, you had to reject your children. Does this remind anyone of the 48 million babies in the US who have been aborted on the altar of convenience and immorality?
Baal worship, in reality, corresponds exactly to activities that most people freely participate in today. They do so without really understanding the nature of idolatry, for idolatry is simply the enjoyment of things raised up against Christ.
The people were involved because they liked the excitement and the liberty and the business it facilitated. Plus, the music was great and the entertainment was exciting.
Believers in Yhwh were conflicted. They did not agree with everything that was happening at the parties but had a really hard time giving them up because they really liked the social aspect and did not want to be thought to be weird by their neighbors (2 Kings 23:7-20).
Furthermore, personal success and networking were dependent on attendance. If you quit going to the parties, you would not be able to do business like before. Your network would dry up. The guilds which promoted the high places demanded “support.” Therefore, to support the high places was to support the guild. Support was both based on participation and financial contribution. It was all tied up with the rules of doing business (like the modern HR policies regarding “diversity”).
Anyone who questioned the activity ended up on the wrong side of public opinion, like Elijah. Ahab summarized the attitude people had toward Elijah:
"Is that you, O troubler of Israel?"
And he answered,
"I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord..." I Kings 18:17