In Week 2 of Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World, author Melissa Spoelstra provides insight into "Recognizing Counterfeits and the Real Deal." The issue of which she writes—idolatry—is as relevant for us today as it was for women in Jeremiah's time.
Enjoy this preview of things to come in Abingdon Women's latest Bible study!
"The Queen of Heaven"
"Then all the women present and all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense to idols—a great crowd of all the Judeans living in northern Egypt and southern Egypt—answered Jeremiah, 'We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want. We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like.'” —Jeremiah 44:15-17a, b
From the very beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry in Chapter 7 to the very end of his book, with a remnant of Judeans living in Egypt after Jerusalem has been destroyed, we see women leading the charge in the worship of the Queen of Heaven. Who is she? Did they make her up?
Judah and Israel were set apart as the only nations that worshiped just one God. All of the surrounding nations of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and the Canaanite countries had numerous gods, and none of them were exclusive. So when looking at the Queen of Heaven, the women of Judah could have taken her from the Canaanite Astarte (the evening star goddess of sex and war), the goddess daughter Astarte of the Egyptian sun god, Ra, who was a warrior god, or the Assyrian/Babylonian goddess Ishtar who ruled over love, sexuality, and war.
All of these cultures influenced the people of Judah. God often warned them not to be influenced by the pagan gods of the Canaanites. Egypt held Judah as a vassal nation during Jeremiah’s ministry. The Babylonians came in, taking people and treasures and eventually destroying Jerusalem. Women might have seen the Babylonians’ power and thought their gods to be of great power because of their military success. No matter the exact name or identity of this goddess, we find each option very similar in her appeal.
Idols of love and power also tempt us today as we fight our culture to give God first place in our lives. God loves beauty because He created a beautiful world. He also likes new things; Revelation 21:5 says that He is going to make all things new. However, we must guard against the Queen of Heaven’s lure to worship beauty, love, and sex. Everywhere we turn we hear messages declaring that we must go to great lengths to look good. The women of Judah lived during a time of financial crisis much as we do, but they baked special cakes, burned incense, and poured out wine in hopes of finding love and control.
We also use our resources to buy pricey cosmetics, expensive gym memberships, new clothes, Botox, and even plastic surgery in order to draw the attention of others. Looking good is not wrong, but we all know when we’ve crossed the line into an obsession. The women of Judah “exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols!” (Jeremiah 2:11). We would be wise to learn from them so that we are not tempted to do the same.
The Queen of Heaven was a goddess of love and also a goddess of war. The Judean women bought into the lie that she possessed the power to give them victory. We face many battles ourselves. Our desire for control leads to many fears and anxieties and becomes idolatry when things must always go our way with our husbands, children, jobs, friendships, and even ministries. Power drugs us to desire more. Though we are not baking cakes or pouring out drinks as the women of Judah did, we worship Astarte or Ishtar every time we set beauty, sex, and power above God in our hearts.