🔼The name Baal: Summary
- From the verb בעל (ba'al), to be lord.
🔼The name Baal in the Bible
In the Bible, the name Baal is applied to two different men, one town and one idol; Baal the male god of Canaan and the Phoenicians; counterpart of the female Asherah (Judges 2:13). In the New Testament the name Baal is mentioned only once. The apostle Paul mentions Baal (Βααλ) in his letter to the Romans, as he reviews the story of Elijah (Romans 11:4).
The town called Baal is located in the southern part of the territory of Simeon (1 Chronicles 4:33), and is probably the same as the town named Baalath-beer (Joshua 9:8).
The name Baal appears often as element in compound names, but the two men named just Baal are:
- A descendant of Reuben (1 Chronicles 5:6).
- A son of Jeiel and Maacah of Gibeon in Benjamin (1 Chronicles 8:30).
Note: this name shouldn't be pronounced as a monosyllabic "Bale" but rather as Bah-Al.
🔼Etymology of the name Baal
The word Baal is derived from the common Hebrew verb בעל (ba'al), meaning to own or possess:
The verb בעל (ba'al) means to exercise dominion over; to own, control or be lord over. The ubiquitous noun בעל (ba'al) means lord, master and even husband, and its feminine counterpart בעלה (ba'ala) means mistress or landlady.
God is obviously called 'lord' all over the Bible and the sin of the Baal priests (1 Kings 18:40) was not that they called upon some other deity but rather their incessant howling of the word 'lord' without any further responsibility or effects (see Matthew 7:21 and 11:4-5).
Our name Baal is identical to the masculine noun listed above. It means "lord" and is even applied to the relationship between God and man: "For your husband (ba'al) is your Maker..". (Isaiah 54:5). But because the God-man marriage image is so strong in the Bible, worshiping an un-god named Husband must be extra painful for the true Husband. Hence the lavish use of the adultery image where unfaithfulness to God is concerned (Judges 2:17, Ezekiel 16:15, James 4:4).
Elijah famously defeated the Baal priests on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-40) but readers who assume that Baal and Yahweh were wholly different individuals don't really understand the nature of theology. Just like psychology doesn't study the human psyche (because that can't be measured) but rather human behavior (which can be measured), so does theology not study God (who can't be measured) but rather the whole of creation (which can be measured; see Romans 1:20).
The sin of the Baal priests was not that they barked up the wrong tree but rather that their theology and religious momentum was askew. The Baal priests figured that if they would just repeatedly call out for the Lord, the Lord would do things for them that he wouldn't have on his own. But the Bible insists that the Lord can't be bossed around and instead insists that people study his natural law and become mature and wise co-rulers rather than spoiled children.
But whether one's theology is sound can be very simply checked. No matter in which cultural wrapper one's wisdoms are wrapped (as pretty much all religions are cultural expressions), if one's theology causes the blind to see, the lame to walk, the dead to rise, the disenfranchised to be restored, and one's altar to catch fire when one said it would, then one's theology is on a par with the Creator (Matthew 11:19). All other theology and religion is folly and should be avoided like the plague (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
NOBSE Study Bible Name List translates the name Baal with Lord, Possessor, Husband. BDB Theological Dictionary lists an enormous array of meanings but sticks with Possessor where translating the many specific Baal names. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names grimly states Lord.
There are many names that incorporate the word ba'al but it should be noted that Baal-names do not necessarily have to do with the idol named Baal. In this regards, possibly the most telling Baal-name is Bealiah, meaning Yahweh Is Lord.