“And the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven.” Jeremiah 7:18
The Bible makes two references to a “queen of heaven,” both times in the book of Jeremiah.
In chapter seven, the Israelites have flagrantly adopted pagan idol worship practices thanks to King Ahaz (also called Ahab) of Judah (2 Kings 16; 735-715 B.C.). Under his Phoenician wife Jezebel’s influence, he burned incense to the Phoenician pagan god Molech (aka Baal), erected worship poles in the high places, and set up a child sacrifice system, with his son among the first sacrificed. As a result, God, in His anger, sent the Israelites into Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 17).
Following the Israelites’ return from captivity, Ahaz and Jezebel’s daughter, Athaliah, married the Judean King Jehoram, and she influenced her husband to continue promoting pagan worship of Molech/Baal (2 Kings 8:16-18). Their son, Ahaziah, also maintained the practice.
Athaliah’s brother, King Hezekiah, attempted to point the Israelites back to the one true God when he came to power (2 Chronicles 29-31). One of the first things he did was purge the land from all idols and restore the people to the Lord.
“He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image, and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made (Numbers 21:9), for until those days, the children of Israel burned incense to it and called it Nehushtan.” (2 Kings 18:4, my addition)
Unfortunately, upon his ascension to the throne, Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, restored his grandfather Ahaz’s practices (2 Kings 21). He also re-established worship poles to the queen of heaven, who was known by many other names—Ishtar (Sumerian), Isis (Egyptian), Astarte/Aphrodite (Greek), and, to the Israelites, Asherah.
Entire families were involved in worshiping Molech and his wife, the queen of heaven. Children would gather wood, men used the wood to build the altars upon which the children were sacrificed, and women baked bread and made drink offerings to the queen of heaven. The women especially worshiped her as a fertility goddess since bearing children was so culturally vital at the time.
These pagan practices compelled the prophet Jeremiah to preach and prophesy against the Israelites, warning them of God’s impending judgment if they did not repent. But the pagan religious practices were already too ingrained and intertwined in Jewish culture.
The Israelites’ Pagan Worship of the Queen
Naturally, the people’s pagan worship enraged the Lord, as we see in both Jeremiah 7 and 44.
“Therefore, do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me, for I will not hear you. ‘Do they provoke Me to anger?’ says the LORD. ‘Do they not provoke themselves to the shame of their own faces?’ Therefore, thus says the LORD GOD: ‘Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched.” (Jeremiah 7:16,19-20)
“Therefore, thus says the LORD of the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will set My face against you for catastrophe and for cutting off all Judah.’” (Jeremiah 44:11)
Jeremiah did his best to move the people to repent of their rampant idol worship. But, like anyone who worships something or someone more than they do the Lord, they would not listen. Their close-minded selfishness is all that matters, which is exactly why the men defended the women who worshiped the queen of heaven.
“Then all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense to other gods, with all the women who stood by…answered Jeremiah, saying, ‘As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you! But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Juda and in the streets of Jerusalem.’” (44:15-17)
The men wholeheartedly believed that their good fortune came from the queen of heaven and not from God. They even went so far as to say they lost their prosperity when they briefly quit making sacrifices to her. In their own pitiful defense, the women declared they were innocent of God’s wrath because their husbands had permitted them to worship the queen (v19).
In response, just as He had done with King Ahaz, God cast judgment again on the Israelites and sent them back into captivity, this time under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 21:12-14), who expanded their idol worship practices.
Clearly, the Israelites’ beliefs and commitment to the queen of heaven were quite strong. They were willing to kill for her, die for her, and sacrifice everything they owned for her. Which makes one ask, who is she?
Mixing the Queen with the King of Heaven
Pagan culture asserted that the queen of heaven (commonly called Asherah in the Bible) was both Molech/Baal’s wife and his mother (1 Kings 18). Legend says they birthed 70 other gods together. Many also believed she was the wife of a Canaanite pagan god called El. Unfortunately, over time, the people became confused about who her husband really was.
Because some said her husband was El, and the Hebrew word for God is Elohim, many people eventually believed that the queen of heaven was married to the holy God of Israel. This corrupt blending of a holy God with a pagan goddess became part of everyday religious practice. Of course, the idea that she is a paramour of the Lord, the King of heaven, is entirely idolatrous, crude, and unbiblical.
Worship of the queen of heaven was not limited to the Israelites. According to Will Durant in his book The Life of Greece, the Babylonians also revered her as Ishtar, “The Virgin,” “The Holy Virgin,” “the Virgin Mother,” “Goddess of Goddesses,” and “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” She was the “shining light of heaven, light of the world, enlightener of all the places where men dwell, who gatherist together the hosts of the nations.”
The Babylonians would also cry out, “Ishtar is great! Ishtar is Queen! My Lady is exalted, my Lady is Queen. There is none like unto her.”
Much like the Israelites, the Babylonians also believed the queen of heaven’s lover was also her son, the exception being they called him Tammuz instead of Molech or Baal.
Thankfully, people eventually gave up the practice of child sacrifice, but erecting poles made of wood or stone in honor of Asherah, the queen of heaven, continued.
[RELATED READING: Separating Fact From Myth: Asherah and Idol Worship]
Some scholars believe the poles eventually became a mere cult symbol, with no one knowing who Asherah was. Others believe they persisted in representing the goddess, similar to the cross being a representation of Jesus. Still others believe the poles (representing a goddess of fertility) were replaced with magical rabbits who laid eggs filled with good fortune for women to find.
The Queen and the Catholic Church
The belief that a “queen of heaven” was also a mother gave rise to the theme of “Mother and Child.”
Thanks to the Babylonian Empire, we see the idea of a “Mother and Child” in countless nations in ancient times, such as Spain, Portugal, Africa, France, Germany, Bulgaria, and as far as Mexico and China. Since then, the “Mother and Child” motif has persisted, even in modern times. In each case, the idea is that the queen of heaven gave birth to a son while still a virgin.
More recently, priests and popes within the Roman Catholic Church promoted the modern view that the queen of heaven is Mary, the mother of Jesus. They pointed to Luke 1, when the archangel Gabriel visited Mary to announce the birth of the Messiah, as the basis for their belief.
Some theologists (though few) assert that the Catholic Church invited pagan worshipers into their churches in an act of syncretism, where pagan beliefs and church practices are blended. According to them, in ancient times, the church allowed the pagans to worship their mother-goddess, the queen of heaven, within the church to increase the number of members.
The story goes that, over time, the church eventually identified the queen of heaven as Mary and gave the pagan worship of Asherah the face of Christianity. The thought is syncretism continues to this day; however, there is no sound basis for this belief.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church does continue in the practice of worshiping and praying to Mary, “the Virgin Mother.”
Refusal of Worship
It cannot be emphasized enough that the worship of Mary is soundly unbiblical. Though God exceedingly blessed her in choosing her to bear the Savior of the world, she was not extraordinary. She was not divine or without sin. She was just as human with a sinful nature as the rest of us.
Similarly, Abraham, Moses, David, the disciples, and the apostle Paul were also especially blessed by the Lord, but we do not worship them, and they did not want it. Peter refused worship in Acts 10.
“As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.’” (Acts 10:25-26)
Paul, in his writings, repeatedly wanted to be considered only as a servant of the Lord’s.
“Let a man so consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1)
The angels also refuse our worship. Instead, they always pointed John (and us) back to Father God, that He alone is worthy of worship.
“And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant and of your brethren, who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’” (Revelation 19:10)
“Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’” (Revelation 22:8-9)
Mary is Not the Queen
In the same way, we should not worship or pray to Mary.
Jesus, our Lord and Messiah, rebuked a woman in Luke 11 who cried out that His mother was surely worthy of worship. His pointed response illustrates that Mary, though blessed, should never be considered an object of worship.
“And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed You!’ But He said, ‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” (Luke 11:27-28)
Jesus is saying that Mary’s relationship to Him as His mother in no way bestows any additional honor or blessing than those who hear and obey the word of God. They are more blessed than her.
Most significantly, Mary herself refused any idea of personal worship in her “Magnificant” in Luke 1:46-55.
“And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant. For behold, henceforth, all generations will call me blessed, for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (v47-49)
In her own words, Mary humbly acknowledges that she is neither divine nor immaculate but someone in need of a Savior and His grace.
[RELATED READING: All Women are Blessed]
Worship the One True God
For unknown reasons, people through the centuries want to believe that God has a wife or that He is somehow connected to a divine female being who should be prayed to and worshiped. But these beliefs are wholly unbiblical and idolatrous.
The queen of heaven does not exist. There has never been a queen, and there never will be one. The King of Kings does not have a queen in any way, shape, or form. He alone sits on the throne of heaven, and He shares it with no one.
Mentions of a heavenly queen in the book of Jeremiah are simply references to an ancient mythical pagan goddess. And elevating Mary to the same status as Jesus or the Father Himself, as one who is deserving of worship, is also false religion. In all cases, we would do well to remember the first two commandments God gave us:
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3-5)
Catholics do not like to listen…
This is often true, unfortunately.
Thank you Gina. Very insightful.
I may have a theory as to why cultures throughout history wanted to believe that God had a wife.
Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that men throughout history have always known how much better their lives were or could have been while married to a Godly woman ( I personally know mine is!!) So, naturally God would want to be married as well. Right?
Just a theory.
That could be one theory, but that would be humanizing God. He is by no means human. But it is wonderful that you have a godly wife. The Bible says you are very blessed for it, as I know you are.