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!

19 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!

    • So very true it makes the pursuance of wood or stone idols relevant today in modern day worship of material objects and riches. These riches often earned by unjust means, bribery, and various crimes or even a life style of sin, or out of control hard work that takes our attention and worship away from God. IT all starts in the heart. We can’t be a follower Of Christ, not even a child of God if our lives are caught up in the demand forced upon those seeking fame wealth, power,. That is a human heart given over to pursuing idols and worship of materisl things rather than God (yahweh). HAVE NO OTHER gods Or idol before ME. God expects us to worship and praise Him. He dies not want us caught up pursuing the worldly desires and lust which will all be destroyed one day when God’s time clock for the world strikes 12.00 or the end of earth time. We must prepare now by living to God’s standard and calling upon our lives.

  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

  5. Faith Hope Love Reply

    I am torn, I believe the custom of the Christmas tree derived from these old customs. Duet 16:21 Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the alter of the Lord they God. Jeremiah 10: 1-5 ….. Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you…. For the customs of the people are futile, for one cuts a tree from the forest…. They decorate it with silver & gold….Nor can they do any good. ( lukewarm).

    • Michael Potter Reply

      It’s entirely possible that the practice of putting up a tree originated with Asherah, although I do think it’s important to examine modern usage. Regardless of how it started, if YOU and the culture you are in do not put up a tree to worship a pagan idol, then in my opinion, it’s not idolatry. I don’t think the world is trying to trick Christians into worshipping Asherah on Christmas, especially since it was the Christians who knew the background that took over this tree tradition.

  6. Actually the word of God shall never be changed unto our own opinion. If the Bible says DO Not then its don’t. Since the the word of God is truth John 17 verse 17.and the Bible also said we must not add or take out the word of God.

  7. Isn’t it interesting how the devil has used “poles” in strip clubs? Where, sadly, women perform dance rituals as a worship to Baal while men are robbed by satan of their (real) manhood or masculinity watching these satanic dances. Their identity of the head of the house, the head of the family diminishes as the “goddess” rules over him and takes away his authority. Men, do not allow anyone to entice you to be part of any of this. It is not worth it and it will save your soul.

  8. I put up a Christmas tree and fully enjoy the season of lights.. I find the Goodness of God in every celebration that Puts HIM at the center.. HE loves family gatherings around big tables, with Love, & plenty of food to share with everyone.. HE is “Love” personified.. and HIS Word says… “That HE Works Everything together for the GOOD of those who Love HIM” and HE does.. When we Keep HIM at the “Center” of All things in Our Lives.. Doing EVERYTHING.. “As Unto HIM” HE Blesses us in ALL we DO.. HE finds NO Condemnation in US.. He came to SAVE us.. NOT to Condemn US.. HIS Words!! So STOP Condemning yourselves.. Its NOT Sin unless you’re Doing some you BELIEVE is Wrong when your doing it, and you do it anyway.. thats willful Sin.. HIS Word says HE has made ALL things clean.. and HE writes HIS Law on our Hearts… When we become born again, keeping the Law Is no longer a burden.. we find that we just naturally follow it.. He Sprinkles our conscious clean and washes us with Living water.. Praise God.. 🙌🏽 The Greek Word for Baptismal or Emersion has a connotation meaning “ Constant” and “Continual” Cleansing Washing” and again.. We are washed by HIS Word..
    So dont focus on ALL the things you worry about doing wrong..or FOCUS on ALL the Ways we WILL fall short.. But choose to SEE ALL that HE HAS Justified by HIS Own Blood ♥️ We are Meant to Enjoy EVERYTHING HE Created.. To Worship HIM in ALL things.. Not in a In-Ordinate Way but in a Grateful and Thankful Way.. Worshipping HIM our Creator and NOT the Created.. We can STILL be Grateful for What HE Created Tho.. Remembering it was ALL made for US.. Just for US!!! for OUR own enjoyment.. FROM, HIS Perfect and SELFLESS Love.. Love, HIMSELF !!!.. For HE IS LOVE!! Put your Son-Shades On and SEE the World and Others, thru HIS Eyes.. Its really Amazing.. Beautiful .. Good & Justified!! .. SEE HIM in ALL HIS Gifts and Worship HIM for HIS LOVE, Grace & Mercy..♥️

  9. John McLeroy Reply

    Christians have taken what is evil and turned it around for good over and over. Charles Wesley took rowdy drinking songs and gave them new lyrics to reach out to those in pubs. The season of Christmas is centered around the winter solstice to turn a pagan festival into a Christian one. The question about the tree, the ornamentation, the parties, the lights and everything is this: does it bring glory to Christ? or does it take our attention away from Him? Do we worship the tree or the presents or Santa clause who “brings” us the material blessing for being good? There is a remarkable pressure on children to believe in him. Is our Christmas cheer from the joy of salvation or from a bottle? Our manger scenes are being replaced by giant lighted blow-up images of Santa and his reindeer. of toys, and enough lights to land an aircraft. The Easter bunny has a way to go to catch up with Santa, but there are a lot more images of bunnies than crosses. more attention spent on candy than sacrifice. -And this is done for our children!

  10. Wayne Searfoss Reply

    Starbucks symbol is the symbol of Astaroth found on the coffee cup in Sunday services in Church’s.
    What a cruel situation to the many times Israel was brought to desolation.

  11. Aryeh ben yosef Reply

    I am busy on my doctorate–textiles and clothing in the Hebrew Bible, and am puzzled by the reference in 2Kings 23:7 where we are told –where the women wove coverings for the Asherah.

    Any suggestions as to the source of this ”industry”?

    Rabbi Dr Aryeh ben Yosef
    Cape Town

    • Brad Hoffman Reply

      Hi Aryeh! Good question! While I can’t speak to the source of this industry officially, it is possible this refers to garments worn in the worship of Asherah (cf. 2 Kings 10:22) or were objects of worship themselves (cf. Ezekiel 16:16-18), somehow “clothing” the Asherah. However, the language seems to imply that the women were weaving “houses” in the “houses” of the male prostitutes. They could have possibly been weaving curtains, tent walls, or some other type of partition to mark off space for the Asherah. There doesn’t seem to be any scholarly consensus on what is being referred to here leaving the meaning pretty obscure! Best of luck in your doctoral studies!

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