This re-focusing of cosmic conflict legends onto real, concrete human beings and empires upon earth is to be found throughout the Old Testament. The pagan legends are alluded to only in order to deconstruct them and re-focus Israel's attention upon the essential conflicts- against our own human sin, and against the spiritual opposition of the unbelieving world around us. Hab. 3:8 asks: "Was Your wrath against the rivers, O Lord, was Your anger against the rivers, or Your indignation against the sea?". Remember that sea and rivers were seen as the abode of various gods, and were even at times identified directly with them. Hab. 3:12 goes on to answer the question- that no, Yahweh's anger wasn't against those sea / river gods, but "You did bestride / judge the earth in fury; You trampled the nations in anger". The real conflict of Yahweh was with the enemies of Israel, not with the pagan gods. For He was the one and only God.
Consider the following examples of what I'm calling 're-focusing':
- One of the Ras Shamra documents records the Canaanite poem about Baal's war against the Prince of the Sea: "Lo, thine enemies, O Baal, lo, thou didst smite through thine enemies, behold thou dost annihilate thy foes" (11). This is effectively translated into Hebrew in Ps. 92:10 and applied to Yahweh's conflict with Israel's enemies and all sinners: "For, lo, thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, Thine enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered". The myths about the supposed netherworld of Sea gods become reapplied to wicked men and nations- the true source of evil in Israel's world.
- Jer. 9:21 speaks of how "death [Mawet- a reference to the pagan god of the underworld, Mot] has come up into our windows, it has entered our palaces". The allusion is to how Mot, the supposed god of death and the underworld, was thought to enter people's houses by their windows and slay them. Thus the Ras Shamra texts record how in his cosmic conflict with Mot, Baal built himself a palace without windows so that Mot couldn't enter and kill him (12). But the historical reference of Jer. 9:21 is clearly to the Babylonian invasion of Judah. Thus the well known idea of cosmic conflict between Baal and Mot is re-focused upon the Babylonian armies whom the one true God had sent against the erring people of Judah.
- The Ras Shamra texts include a section on the fall and death of Baal. Although written in Ugaritic, this section has amazing similarities with the poem of Isaiah 14 about the fall of Babylon- e.g. "The death of Baal" includes lines such as "From the throne on which he sits... how hath Baal come down, how hath the mighty been cast down!". Isaiah's message was therefore: 'Forget those stories about Baal being cast down; what's relevant for us is that mighty Babylon, which tempts us to trust in her rather than Yahweh God of Israel, is to be cast down, let's apply the language of Baal's fall to the kingdoms of this world which we know and live amongst'. Another such example is to be found in Is. 47:1: "Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne". This is almost quoting [albeit through translation] from the 'Death of Baal' poem (13).
- The Ras Shamra poem about King Keret speaks of how this heavenly being earnestly sought a wife through whom he could have children, so that they could receive from him the inheritance of the whole world; and he grieved that only his servant would inherit the world, and not his own children (14). The Biblical record of Abraham's similar lament, and the promises that in fact he would have a seed, who would inherit the earth (Gen. 15:1-3 etc.) is so similar. Why the similarities? To re-focus Israel away from the pagan myths which they'd encountered onto a real, actual historical person in the form of Abraham.
- The Babylonian Account Of Creation claims (Tablet 4, line 137) that Marduk cleft Tiamat, the ocean goddess, with his sword. The Biblical idea of Yahweh cleaving the waters clearly picks up this idea (Hab. 3:9; Ps. 74:15; 78:13,15; Ex. 14:16,21; Jud. 15:19; Is. 35:6; 48:21; 63:12; Neh. 9:11). But these passages largely refer to the miracle God did at the Red Sea, bringing about the creation of His people out of the cleft waters of the Sea. Again, pagan creation is reinterpretted with reference to a historical, actual event in the experience of God's people.
- There were many pagan myths which featured fratricide- the murder of a brother by a brother. Israel in Egypt would've encountered the Egyptian legend of Seth who slew Osiris; and on entering Canaan, they would likely have heard the Canaanite story of Mot who murdered Baal. Moses in Gen. 4 gave Israel the true story of fratricide- that Cain had slain his brother Abel. The pagan myths were re-focused on a real, historical situation which had occurred, and from which personal warning should be taken to each reader with regard to the danger of envy and unacceptable approach to God.
- The Canaanite explanation of the family of the gods was that it contained a total of 70 gods- Ugaritic Tablet II AB 6.46 speaks of the "seventy sons of Asherah". This is re-focused by the record of Genesis 10- which speaks of 70 nations of men. Likewise Gen. 46:27 and Ex. 1:5 speak of the 70 sons of Jacob- and Dt. 32:8 says that the number of the Gentile nations was fixed "according to the number of the sons of God" or, "Israel" (according to some texts). The belief in the 70 gods of the Canaanite pantheon is therefore re-focused down to earth- where there were 70 sons of Jacob, 70 nations in the world around Israel, and Dt. 32:8 may imply that each is cared for by a guardian Angel in Heaven.
- The heroes of the early pagan myths were hunters who hunted fearsome animals and huge monsters- e.g. as recounted in the deeds of Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. Gen. 10:9 says that God only took notice of a mighty hunter called Nimrod ("he was a mighty hunter before the Lord")- and he was no hero in God's record.
- The Mesopotamian records also feature chronological accounts just as Genesis does. But they claim that any leaders on earth came down from Heaven, and the kings were effectively divine beings. Genesis is silent about this; there's a clear boundary between Heaven and earth, and people don't come down from Heaven to become kings on earth. The Genesis 11 genealogies are very clear that the chronologies are of ordinary, mortal men. Yet both the Genesis record and the Mesopotamian traditions tend to use the numbers six and seven, or multiples of them, in stating how many years men lived, or in the numbers of people recorded in genealogies (15). Moses did this in order to show that he was consciously alluding to those surrounding traditions- and yet re-focusing the understanding of Israel upon the literal, human, earthly realities to the exclusion of myth and legend.