False Gods of the Old Testament

Were the False Gods Really Demons in Disguise?

Golden Calf False Gods
Moses finds the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. DEA Picture Library / Getty Images

The false gods mentioned in the Old Testament were worshiped by the people of Canaan and the nations surrounding the Promised Land, but were these idols just made-up deities or did they actually possess supernatural power? 

Many Bible scholars are convinced some of these so-called divine beings could indeed do amazing acts because they were demons, or fallen angels, disguising themselves as gods.

"They sacrificed to demons, which are not God, gods they had not known...," says Deuteronomy 32:17 (NIV) about idols.

  When Moses confronted Pharaoh, the Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate some of his miracles, such as turning their staffs into snakes and turning the Nile River into blood.  Some scholars attribute those strange deeds to demonic forces.

8 Major False Gods of the Old Testament

Following are descriptions of some of the major false gods of the Old Testament: 

Ashtoreth

Also called Astarte, or Ashtoreth (plural), this goddess of the Canaanites was connected with fertility and maternity.  Worship of Ashtoreth was strong at Sidon.  She was sometimes called a consort or companion of Baal.  King Solomon, influenced by his foreign wives, fell into Ashtoreth worship, which led to his downfall.

Baal

Baal, sometimes called Bel, was the supreme god among the Canaanites, worshiped in many forms, but often as a sun god or storm god.  He was a fertility god who supposedly made the earth bear crops and women bear children.

  Rites involved with Baal worship included cult prostitution and sometimes human sacrifice.  

A famous showdown occurred between the prophets of Baal and Elijah at Mount Carmel.  Worshiping Baal was a recurring temptation for the Israelites, as noted in the book of Judges. Different regions paid homage to their own local variety of Baal, but all worship of this false god infuriated God the Father, who punished Israel for their unfaithfulness to him.

Chemosh

Chemosh, the subduer, was the national god of the Moabites and was also worshiped by the Ammonites.  Rites involving this god were said to be cruel also and may have involved human sacrifice.  Solomon erected an altar to Chemosh south of the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem, on the Hill of Corruption. (2 Kings 23:13)

Dagon

This god of the Philistines had the body of a fish and a human head and hands in its statues.  Dagon was a god of water and grain.  Samson, the Hebrew judge, met his death at the temple of Dagon. 

In 1 Samuel 5:1-5, after the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant, they placed it in their temple next to Dagon.  The next day Dagon's statue was toppled to the floor.  They set it upright, and the next morning it was again on the floor, with the head and hands broken off.  Later, the Philistines put King Saul's armor in their temple and hung his severed head in the temple of Dagon. 

Egyptian Gods

Ancient Egypt had more than 40 false gods, although none are mentioned by name in the Bible.  They included Re, creator sun god; Isis, goddess of magic; Osiris, lord of the afterlife; Thoth, god of wisdom and the moon; and Horus, god of the sun.  Oddly, the Hebrews were not tempted by these gods during their 400+ years of captivity in Egypt.

  The Ten Plagues of God against Egypt were humiliations of ten specific Egyptian gods.  

Golden Calf

Golden calves occur twice in the Bible: first at the foot of Mount Sinai, fashioned by Aaron, and second in the reign of King Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:26-30). In both instances, the idols were physical representations of Yahweh and were judged by him as sin, since he commanded that no images should be made of him.  

Marduk

This god of the Babylonians was associated with fertility and vegetation.  Confusion about Mesopotamian gods is common because Marduk had 50 names, including Bel.  He was also worshiped by the Assyrians and Persians.

Milcom

This national god of the Ammonites was associated with divination, seeking knowledge of the future through occult means, strongly forbidden by God. Child sacrifice was sometimes connected with Milcom.

He was among the false gods worshiped by Solomon at the close of his reign.  Moloch, Molech, and Molek were variations of this false god.

Bible References to False Gods:

False gods are mentioned by name in the Bible books of Leviticus, Numbers, Judges, 1 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Zephaniah, Acts, and Romans.

Sources: Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Trent C. Butler, general editor; Smith's Bible Dictionary, by William Smith; The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, R.K. Harrison, editor; The Bible Knowledge Commentary, by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Easton's Bible Dictionary, M.G. Easton; egyptianmyths.net; gotquestions.org; britannica.com.