Have you ever read the Old Testament and wondered what the references to “Asherah poles” meant? Why were they so popular? To answer these questions, we have the IVP Bible Background Commentary. Let’s see what it has to say about Asherah and her poles.

The Short Answer

Asherah poles were a representation of a Asherah, a Canaanite fertility goddess and consort of the gods.

Who is Asherah?

The goddess Asherah and Asherah poles are in the Bible from Exodus to Micah, which shows that this form of idolatry was a constant thorn in Israel’s side.

Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.

Exodus 34:13

The goddess appears to be the divine consort of the principal male deity in a number of Mesopotamian and Syro-Palestinian pantheons: the Babylonian storm god Amurru; the Ugartic god El; and perhaps even the Canaanite god Baal. Asherah was clearly a popular goddess (2 Kings 18:19). Her prominent appearance in the biblical narrative also indicates her cult was a major rival to Yahweh worship (Ex 34:13; Deut 16:21). As a result, this explains the number of examples in which Asherah poles are erected and venerated, the strong condemnations of this practice and the depictions of these poles being cut down and burned (Judg 6:25-30; 2 Kings 23:4-7).

She was often represented in the Bible by sacred poles erected near an altar. Her popularity among Israelites still tainted by a polytheistic worldview may be suggested by the inscription found in the northwest part of Sinai, “Yahweh and his Asherah”. Asherah can either be the name of the fertility goddess or the name of a cult object. The goddess was popular in pagan deviations in Israel and was also sometimes considered a mediator of Yahweh’s blessings.

Asherah worship

One common feature of Canaanite worship and of syncretized Israelite worship on “high places” and in city shrines is the erection of Asherah poles (Judg 3:7; 1 Kings 14:15; 15:13; 2 Kings 13:6). However, we have little information on the function of these poles in ritual practice.

The writer of Kings points to the veneration of Asherah poles as one of the several reasons for Assyria’s conquest of Israel. The reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah both attempted to outlaw these images sacred to the Canaanite goddess. Therefore, the order to cut down these cultic poles signified the need to purify the nation of foreign influence and return to compete loyalty of Yahweh.

What did Asherah Poles look like?

Scholars are not completely sure about whether these were simply wooden poles that symbolized trees, perhaps containing the carved image of the fertility goddess, or part of a sacred grove. Pictures on seals excavated in Palestine, for instance, show Asherah as a stylized tree in the Iron Age. The reference in 2 Kings 17:10, which refers to Asherah poles beside “every spreading tree” seems to indicate that these were for cultic purposes rather than planted trees.

Apparently the women wove types of coverings or vestments to adorn the Asherah statue. Fashioning woven and embroidered garments for the statues of gods in Mesopotamia was a well-known practice.

What does this mean for us today?

The Israelite’s Asherah poles were one of the many ways they violated God’s command to have no other gods or worship a created image (Ex 20:3-6). Throughout humanity’s history, God has been calling us back to Him. Worshipping anything else just doesn’t make sense when we could be giving glory to the Creator of the universe.

A couple conclusions I made from of the above information:

  • Sometimes, it takes a while to learn your lesson. Even if you keep sinning against God, all He wants is for you to turn back to Him.
  • The Israelites often fell back into idolatry due to the influences of the neighboring/invading cultures. Set your mind on Him and do not let yourself be drawn away from God by today’s culture.
  • Asherah was sometimes erected right next to the altar of Yahweh. Don’t let yourself be tricked into believing that you can prioritize other things as much as God. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24).

Keep learning

IVP Bible Background Commentary Asherah

With the IVP Bible Background Commentary, a staple of many religious educational institutions, you can learn cultural information to enrich and contextualize your study of the Bible. Because the Bible comes from a different cultural perspective, this vital tool brings understanding around actions, dialogue, literary devices, and cultural references. So if this historical viewpoint interests you, add the IVP Bible Background Commentary to your library today!

8 Comments

  1. Good article and very true, we must not let anything else pull us away from putting God first and never worshipping putting above God other “gods”, such as money and property etc..

    One type you have at the end ” “No one can serve TO masters” (Matt 6:24)” should be ” “No one can serve TWO masters” (Matt 6:24)”

  2. We must obey his Commandments and Statues The Most High has never put away his Laws and Commandments we must follow his word and obey him. Learn from our ancestors sins of disobedience!

  3. Maung Maung Soe Reply

    I’m from Myanmar and a believer, In our bible written, we have seen that Asherah Trees but not Asherah Poles.
    I don’t know how do they translated as tree from pole? : the Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments, Translated into Burmese from The Original Tongues by Rev. A. Judson, D.D

    • Michael Potter Reply

      Maung, these “trees” were probably poles made to imitate trees. The translation is not fully clear. However, the important thing to take away is that they were worshipped over God. Even though we probably won’t run into any today, mankind has lifted up other idols to worship that we must watch out for.

  4. Tiayona Hilliard Reply

    The ending scripture was awesome. Thank you for the information. I was reading out of Micah when I finally decided to learn what these poles are to make sure I stay away from them. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

    • Michael Potter Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to read it! God bless you too

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