By Hoyt H. Houchen
For many years we had “dreamed” of a trip to Bible lands to view places where Jesus, Paul, and others have been. This “dream” was partially realized last June 10-23 when several of us were able to visit Greece, Turkey, the islands of Patmos and Rhodes, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Cyprus.
One of the highlights of this delightful tour was a visit to Baalbek, Lebanon, about fifty miles east and a little north of Beirut and about thirty-five miles north and slightly west of Damascus, Syria. It is beautifully nestled between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains at an altitude of 3,580 feet above sea level. To quote Julian Huxley: “Baalbek is the show place of Lebanon.”
“Baalbek” means “town of Baal” and the name seems to have been of Phoenician origin. The Seleucids called the city “Heliopolis” (“the city of the Sun”). One of the great wonders of this place is the enormous stones which were used by the Romans in erecting three temples in honor of Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus. These temples were a part of a massive complex, the work probably starting as early as Augustus and continuing for three centuries. The sight of Baalbek was most likely chosen by the Romans because it was strategically located in the heart of the Fertile Crescent on the cross roads of the ancient civilizations and midway between the Nile and Euphrates rivers. When the Romans occupied this part of the world, they acknowledged Baal and erected a temple in his honor, referring to it as Jupiter (not to be confused with the Greek-Roman Jupiter, Zeus). It has been said that at Baalbek are “the tallest columns ever built, the largest stone blocks ever used, and the boldest architectural engineering feat ever carried out by man.” We saw immense hewn stone blocks which formed a part of the foundation for the temple of Jupiter, each weighing about 400 tons. A part of the west wall of the temple is made up of three huge stone blocks known as the “Trilithon,” each estimated to weigh 800 tons. It is no wonder that it was impressive that only a few days before our visit here, about 75 of us, Christians, stood on Mars Hill in view of the Acropolis and the ruins of pagan idolatry, and Brother Homer Hailey cited Paul’s sermon recorded in Acts 17. And now in a secluded area at Baalbek, in the midst of ruins which stand as a reminder of what was once the greatest concentration of pagan worship that the world has ever known, our group gathered on Lord’s day to pay homage to the one true and living God, the one in whom “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Invited to speak on this occasion, I spoke on “The Power of God” and included some of the following comments in my brief discourse.
Baal was one of the chief gods of the Canaanites. Elijah made the test on Mount Carmel (1 `Kings 18) between God and Baal. Jehovah God answered from heaven with fire, the altar to Baal was consumed, and 450 prophets of Baal were slain.
Baal was the god` of fertility and in the Spring of the year there was much sex activity among his worshipers, immorality was practiced and many women sacrificed their virginity. In the Fall of the year the god was said to die and this was a time of mourning and funeral rites. Animals, food, and drinks were sacrificed to Baal, human sacrifices being rare, only in times of extreme stress or calamity.
Paul enumerated the pernicious sins of the Gentile world in Romans 1 and of the Gentiles he wrote: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves: for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 1:22-25). When men have attempted to seek God through the avenue of nature, they have inevitably become idolaters.
Pagans have always worshiped their gods by the structures and art of human hands such as we saw at Baalbek, Ephesus, and other places. But tributes of architectural structures are not limited to the pagan world. We visited mosques in Damascus and Jerusalem ornamented by intricate and gorgeous mosaics in homage to “Allah” and we saw inside of monasteries which featured tedious wood and stone carvings, rich and laborious paintings, and skillfully carved images and statues. The one true God whom Christians worship is not to be served by such devices of men. In his discourse on Mars Hill, Paul told the Athenians: “The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands (Acts 1.7:24).
Idols have never turned men to God, but men have turned from idols “to serve a living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). This conversion was made possible only by the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Lydia and her household were converted by the preaching of the word (Acts 16:14, 15). God has demonstrated His power in a number of different ways at different times, but the only power that He exercises in the converting of the human soul is the gospel of Christ. When men obey it they are saved from past sins and they are in relationship with God.
We observe that while scenes in lands which we visited are of special interest to the Christian, and while we were thrilled to walk in places where Jesus, Paul, and others had walked, it is more important for all of us to walk in their steps by emulating their lives (Matt. 5:13, 14; Tit. 2:11,12; 1 Pet. 2:21) so that someday we can go to heaven. This is what this life upon earth is all about.
Pagan monuments of antiquity, magnitude, and magnificance now stand in ruins as a result of wars and earthquakes. Only a few columns, stone blocks, cornices, artifacts, and entablatures now remain. But the word of God continues to convert and dwells in the hearts of those who obey it.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:48, p. 12, 14
October 10, 1974