Lord of the Flies: When Religion Becomes a Cult

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, September 20, 2016 0 comments

by Bill Seng

“No sooner had Gideon died that the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the Lord their God.” ~Judges 8:33-34a

I used to enjoy scary movies quite a bit and, to me, there is nothing scarier than movies involving demonic activity, possession, and other weird paranormal things. A common sign in such movies that demonic activity is occurring is that unusual amounts of flies swarm in areas around the home of the main characters. I used to wonder, “Why do these movies often include flies?” There is a very practical answer to that, which is related to the false god the Israelites worshiped after Gideon died.

As this blog post unfolds you will see that the Israelites made a common mistake that still happens today. It says that they forgot the Lord their God, not that they forsook him. Of course, they departed from him by forgetting him, but it seems like there was some remnant of a thought about God even when they engaged in their idolatry. The Lord is the One who established a covenant, which is a personal and intimate vow, with Israel. When they had forgotten the Lord, they began worshipping Baal-Berith, whose name means Lord of the Covenant.

It is important to take note of the last actions of Gideon before they began to worship this false god. Gideon had created an ephod, presumably to honor God, but instead everyone started to worship the ephod. The band Casting Crowns wrote a song titled Slow Fade, and its message is that once you start to sin a little, your willingness and boldness in sin will grow until the sin has grown out of control and the consequences become dire. This is what happened with Israel under Gideon. Ironically, Gideon was also known as Jerub-Baal for having previously destroyed the idols of Baal and the people in response said “Let Baal contend with him,” assuming that if Baal was a god, he would deal with Gideon. Baal did nothing, exposing him as a false god, and the people chose to follow Gideon and the Lord God.

Anybody familiar with the title of this blog post will recall that the Lord of the Flies was a story about a group of children that became stranded on an island and had to set up their own civilization without the aid of adults. Their attempt quickly crumbled and the boys became savagely violent and contentious against one another. After the death of Gideon, the people lost godly direction (which had already been tainted by Gideon’s worship of the ephod) and they sought to worship a god to whom they could make an idol. They were without direction, which is why they chose to follow Baal-Berith.

Not much is known about Baal-Berith, aside from the meaning of his name. Some have speculated that the name may have derived from the Hebrew word “berit,” which means circumcision, a sign of the covenant. But according to Jewish Rabbinic tradition, Baal-Berith is associated with Beelzebub, who is mentioned in the New Testament. The Pharisees accused Jesus of driving out demons through the prince of demons, Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24). Beelzebub was often times portrayed in the shape of a fly. Hence, the portrayal of demonic activity in movies through swarms of flies. It is meant to show the viewer that Beelzebub, the prince of demons, is in their midst. Some speculate that the covenant referenced in the name Baal-Berith may have been in connection with an idol made in the form of a fly that his worshipers may have carried as a good luck charm of sorts. What can we learn from all of this?

1)      The Bible is our authority on God. When people start trying to find God on their own, but refuse to consult God’s written revelation, they will be unable to learn who he is or what he requires. The people of Israel chose to ignore God’s revelation and to pursue their own interests.

2)      Just because our leaders might engage in ungodly activity does not mean it is okay for us to partake as well. It is all too easy to believe that a leader of any sort knows better than his or her followers. Truth be told, leaders are just as susceptible to evil as anyone else. The only way to know is to hold to a solid set of principles that hold even the leaders accountable.

3)      Avoid being encapsulated by narrow dogmatic teachings. There are core teachings to Christianity that we must be dogmatic about, but there are so many peripheral issues that it is easy to make an idol out of any one of them. For example, I think the topics of predestination, free will, baptism, communion, and speaking in tongues are often times issues in Christianity that we become too dogmatic about. When we overemphasize doctrines like these, it is easy to forget the one who granted us the right to become children of God.

The Israelites knew better, and Gideon knew better, than to worship anyone but the Lord God. The problem is that their faith had been so corrupted by the time Gideon died that they couldn’t remember anything about the Lord other than he was the Lord of their covenant. It became a Lord of the Flies scenario where they ended up worshipping the Lord of the Flies.

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