Lord of the Gates of Hell

Here’s another connection between the Jordan River valley and the realm of the dead: Remember the prophecy of Balaam? After the king of Moab tried to buy a curse from the pagan prophet, Israel began drifting away from Yahweh again.

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

Numbers 25:1–3

Who was Baal of Peor? Remember, baal in Hebrew simply means “lord.” So, the Lord of Peor was a local deity linked to a mountain near Shittim in Moab, northeast of the Dead Sea. The clue to the character of Baal-Peor is in the name.

Peor is related to the Hebrew root p’r, which means “cleft” or “gap,”[1] or “open wide.”[2] In this context, that definition is consistent with Isaiah’s description of the entrance to the netherworld:

Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened [pa’ar] its mouth beyond measure.

Isaiah 5:14

Since we’re looking at a place associated with the dead, it’s worth noting that the Canaanite god of death, Mot, was described in the Ugaritic texts as a ravenous entity with a truly monstrous mouth:

He extends a lip to the earth,
a lip to the heavens,
he extends a tongue to the stars.[3]

Yeesh. But that’s what’s in view here: Baal-Peor was apparently lord of the entrance to the underworld.

Yes, the Canaanites believed the entrance to the underworld was at Bashan. But both Molech (or Milcom) and Chemosh, the national gods of Ammon and Moab, which controlled most of the land east of the Jordan from the Dead Sea to Mount Hermon, demanded child sacrifice. Veneration of the dead and appeasing the gods of the dead through human sacrifice appear to have been the norm in this region east of the Dead Sea.

This was also the general location of Sodom and Gomorrah. Now, we try not to put too much stock in the influence of territorial spirits. After all, God created us with free will. But you have to admit this is an awful lot of evil concentrated in a small area.

Anyway, perhaps because of the association with death and the dead, there was, shall we say, a fertility aspect to the cult of Baal-Peor.

And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. 

Numbers 25:6–8

How to put this delicately? There are only a couple of physical positions in which Phinehas could have speared both the Israelite man and Midianite woman with one thrust. If you’re an adult, we don’t need to draw you a picture. Emphasizing the point, the Hebrew word translated “belly,” qevah, can refer to a woman’s womb.[4] In other words, the sin here wasn’t that an Israelite man brought a foreign woman home for dinner, it’s that the couple performed a lewd ritual act in full view of Moses and the assembly of Israel!

Well, it’s no wonder the men of Israel were tempted to follow Baal-Peor. Roughly sixty percent of the Christian pastors in America today struggle with addiction to pornography.[5] Just imagine the temptation of being surrounded by people whose god decreed that extramarital sex was a form of worship. We don’t mean to be flippant, but it might have taken the real threat of death to keep men away from the temples! Indeed, twenty-four thousand people died in the plague that God sent as punishment for that apostasy because it wasn’t just the one couple involved.

And there was even more to it than that. Not surprisingly, given the Amorite/Rephaim culture in that time and place, one of the pagan rites the Israelites adopted during their time in Moab was veneration of the dead:

Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor, 
and ate sacrifices offered to the dead; 
they provoked the LORD to anger with their deeds, 
and a plague broke out among them.

Psalm 106:28–29

The psalmist remembered the sacrifices to the dead, which is a basic description of the Amorite kispum ritual. The sexual sin of the young couple, and Phinehas’ violent reaction, is shocking to us today, but apparently the psalmist didn’t find that worth mentioning. The real sin that provoked God’s anger was venerating the dead, one of the “abominable practices” of the pagan nations He’d promised to drive out of the land before them.

That brings us back to the point: We’ve identified the area that Ezekiel called the Valley of the Travelers as the east side of the Jordan Rift Valley, specifically ancient Moab east and just northeast of the Dead Sea. And by now you’re asking, “Why are we spending all of this time identifying the area and unraveling the meaning behind the word Travelers?”

Here’s why: It’s the link that connects the Rephaim, and thus the Titans, to Ezekiel’s prophecy of Gog and Magog. How? The Rephaim texts from Ugarit specifically refer to the spirits of the Rephaim as “travelers.”

[El is speaking:]

“I shall summon the [elohim] into the midst of my palace.”
To his sanctuary the [Rephaim] hurried indeed,
to his sanctuary hurried indeed the [elohim].

They harnessed the chariots;
the horses they hitched.

They mounted their chariots,
they came on their mounts.

 They journeyed a day
and a second.

After sunrise on the third
the [Rephaim] arrived at the threshing-floors,
the [elohim] at the plantations.…

Like silver to vagabonds [travelers] were the olives,
(like) gold to vagabonds were the dates.[6] (Emphasis added)

In the preceding text, (Ugaritic text KTU 1.22), the word chosen by the translator for the Ugaritic ʿbrm, “vagabonds,” is simply another word for “travelers.” Klaas Spronk, whose paper, “Conceptions of Beatific Afterlife in the Ancient Near East,” was an important resource for this book, renders lʿbrm, the equivalent of the Hebrew ʿbr mentioned above, as “those who came over.”[7] This has the same meaning. The Rephaim traveled, came over, or crossed over from one plane of existence to another; thus, the Rephaim are the Travelers.

Remember, this area east of the Jordan River is exactly where Chedorlaomer and his coalition of kings from the east defeated the Rephaim in the time of Abraham. It is exactly where the cousins of Israel, the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites, drove out the Rephaim between the time of Abraham and the Exodus. The last of the remnant of the Rephaim, Og of Bashan, was sent to the underworld to join his ăbōṯ, his fathers, by Moses and the host of Israel.

But the spirits of the Rephaim were believed to travel to the land of the living in that valley where Israel camped before launching its attack on Jericho. Two hundred years after the conquest of Canaan by Israel, the Amorites of Ugarit still performed rituals to summon those Travelers to banquets at the palace of El on the summit of Mount Hermon.

This is key to understanding Ezekiel’s prophecy: He was shown that the hordes of Magog would be slaughtered and buried in the wilderness near Moab, east of the Dead Sea. This area is connected to the dead—and not just the dead, but dead spirits who “traveled,” or “crossed over,” to the land of the living. Why? Because it that’s where the Travelers—i.e., the spirits of the Rephaim/Nephilim—and those who venerated them in the days of Abraham and Moses, lived when they walked the earth.

Suddenly, the location of Gog’s defeat is very interesting. And we promise, it’s going to get positively fascinating.

[1] Strong’s Concordance #H6465, http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/6465.html, retrieved 3/27/18.

[2] Spronk, K. (1999). “Baal of Peor.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans), p. 147.

[3] KTU 1.5, ii, 1. In Wyatt, N. (2002). Religious Texts from Ugarit (2nd ed.)  (London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press), p. 120.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Nu 25:8), (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).

[5] Torres, H. (2016). “57% Percent of Pastors, 64% of Youth Pastors in U.S. Struggle with Porn Addiction, Survey Shows.” Christian Today, January 30, 2016. https://www.christiantoday.com/article/57-percent-of-pastors-and-64-of-youth-pastors-in-u-s-struggle-with-porn-addiction-survey-shows/78178.htm, retrieved 3/27/18.

[6] KTU 1.22 ii, 20-27; I, 15. In Wyatt, N. (2002). Religious Texts from Ugarit (2nd ed.), (London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press), p. 322.

[7] Spronk, K. (1986), op. cit., p. 172.

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