Can we use secular culture and other religions to glorify God?

Hi friends,

While studying Psalm 29, I was surprised to learn that the scholarly consensus is that this Psalm borrows from the language of pagan worship practices.

For instance:

But thematically it is clear that this Israelite poem borrows from its Canaanite environment…In this sense, the poem’s use of these themes is like the church’s use of the pagan tree as a symbol of the Christmas festival of the incarnation or the church’s use of the pagan name Easter for its festival of the resurrection. In that sense, as McCann has noted, “Psalm 29 is fundamentally polemical, for it clearly attributes all power to Yahweh (LORD), who is enthroned in v. 9 with the exclamation, ‘Glory!’" (Rolf A. Jacobson, NICOT)

William Vangemeren quotes another scholar, writing:

Craigie, 246, observes, “The poet has deliberately utilized Canaanite–type language and imagery in order to emphasize the Lord’s strength and victory, in contrast to the weakness of the inimical Baal” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary).

Most strongly, Craig Broyles notes,

It appears that the Hebrew liturgists sang of Yahweh’s kingship in a way immediately understandable to all ancients, especially their Canaanite neighbors. It is very possible that they had taken a hymn to Baal and substituted the name Yahweh. In fact, if we were to read Baal where the Hebrew text has Yahweh (“the LORD”), a number of poetic alliterations (re-)appear. The particular type of parallelism found in verses 1–2 is characteristic of Canaanite poetry (UTB Commentary).

Fascinating, right? As God’s people listened to pagans sing worship songs to their idols, they thought… yea, you’re almost right. There is a God who oversees all creation. Just one thing… you have the wrong name.

If Psalm 29 borrowed the language of pagan hymns to praise the true God, then as a principle, I believe it’s appropriate for us to do the same.

However, not everyone’s conscience will allow this, and we must respect each other.

Further, we must do this with wisdom and discernment.

Sometimes, I cringe when I see Christian ‘art’ that repackages secular logos with Bible verses. It’s hard for me to understand how using the design of the Coca-Cola logo helps clarify that Jesus is truly satisfying. However, perhaps this is the message that others receive from these t-shirts, and it does prompt them to find joy in God. I don’t know.

Here are some questions I’d ask when appropriating concepts from secular sources or other religions to point people to worship God:

  1. After repackaging these concepts, is the result consistent with the Bible?

  2. Looking at it from the other direction, have I compromised my faith with this message? (Have I violated any copyright laws or ethical principles?)

  3. Have I openly discussed this approach with other godly people and incorporated their feedback?

  4. Does this work draw my own heart closer to God?

Most challenging for me is that Psalm 29 is a defiant mockery of Baal.

It would be like taking the University of Michigan fight song, The Victors, and replacing it with lyrics supporting their rivals, The Ohio State University. I haven’t done this because, after researching it, even the effort to do this could violate copyright laws!

Besides the economic rationale, copyright law protects these lyrics because if adaptations were allowed, then - exactly as I’ve proposed - their creative work could be used to embarrass them. But… that’s exactly what Psalm 29 is doing to Baal!

So, when do we risk embarrassing someone for worshipping an idol? And when do we take a gentler approach? That’s a complex question that I’m still thinking about.

What do you think about Psalm 29 using language used to worship Baal and turning it into a song of praise to Yahweh?


Hi @Carson,

When I first heard that the Bible contains words from pagan hymns, I was honestly troubled. I found it difficult to accept that God inspired the psalmist, King David to copy a pagan hymn.

It would be interesting to make a side by side comparison of the Caananite psalm and the Biblical psalm. Were there many gods mentioned in the original Caananite psalm or just one god? I am also curious on how the possibility of pagans copying the Biblical psalm was ruled out, considering there are other parts of the Hebrew Bible that associate nature to God, like thunder to God’s voice ( Exodus 9:28, Job 37:4-5, Job 40:9).

In any case, if God inspired the psalmist to rewrite the psalm using “YHWH”, then there must be a good reason.

My thoughts went to the time Israelites started worshipping other gods soon after they came out of Egypt (Exodus 32:8, Judges 3:7). We see how God is grieved by worship of false gods in many places in the bible (Hosea 7:15). So by inspiring David to substitute YHWH for the names of the pagan gods in the hymn, could God be calling the Israelites to come back to Him, to give praise where its due, to the one true God? The removal of names of Baals from a pagan hymn is quite consistent with God’s desire to remove the names of Baals from the mouths of the Israelites, as seen in Hosea 2:16-17 (though Hosea may have been written later).

Israelites were mocking God by honoring Baal despite experiencing YHWH’s power over the waters, over the skies, and deliverance from the plagues in Egypt. I have read in other commentaries that Psalm 29 was used in Israelite festivals in honor of YHWH. Couldn’t mockery of Baal in this situation be acceptable before His own covenantal nation?

Perhaps to a certain degree. I am reminded of how Paul preaches in Acts 17:28-29. He agrees where he can with the secular culture but then adds a correction with truth. In Psalm 29, David copies the pagan hymn of the secular culture, but redirects them to the Truth.

As a broader principle, however, I think we need to exercise caution in using pagan ways to praise Him as our thoughts are not God inspired as the Bible is. Furthermore, in Deut 12:4, God specifically instructs that Israelites were not to worship YHWH the way the pagans did.

I think this is the key question. Does it draw us to other cultural things or to God?


Hi Lakshmi, I hear that. It is a bit disorienting - were the Biblical authors borrowing from pagan cultures?

We don’t know the history behind this, and I imagine it was more complicated and weird than we know. We don’t know how the worship of YHWH influenced the worship of Baal and vice versa.

As you said,

I am also curious on how the possibility of pagans copying the Biblical psalm was ruled out, considering there are other parts of the Hebrew Bible that associate nature to God, like thunder to God’s voice ( Exodus 9:28, Job 37:4-5, Job 40:9).

The interaction, back and forth, between the Israelites and surrounding cultures was extensive. Reconstructing who got which idea from where first is a very challenging task.

I find reassurance in remembering that all truth is God’s truth.

Additionally, your post prompted me to consider if this isn’t a broader pattern across the Bible, of God showing his supremacy against all rival gods.

For instance, consider the ten plagues on Egypt.

Ziony Zevit, a professor of Biblical literature and Northwest Semitic languages at the University of Judaism, writes this in Biblical Archaeology Review:

The ten plagues may also be interpreted as a series of attacks against the Egyptian pantheon. This suggestion finds support in Numbers 33:4 where we are told that the Egyptians buried those who had died by the tenth plague, by which plague “the Lord executed judgments against their gods.”

According to this suggestion, the plague of blood (No. 1) was directed against the god Khnum, creator of water and life; or against Hapi, the Nile god; or against Osiris, whose bloodstream was the Nile. Frogs (No.2) was directed against Heket, a goddess of childbirth who was represented as a frog. The pestilence against cattle (No. 5) might have been directed against Hathor, the mother and sky goddess, represented in the form of a cow; or against Apis, symbol of fertility represented as a bull. Hail (No. 7) and locusts (No. 8 ) were, according to this explanation, directed against Seth, who manifests himself in wind and storms; and/or against Isis, goddess of life, who grinds, spins flax and weaves cloth; or against Min, who was worshiped as a god of fertility and vegetation and as a protector of crops. Min is an especially likely candidate for these two plagues because the notations in Exodus 9:31 indicate that the first plague came as the flax and barley were about to be harvested, but before the wheat and spelt had matured. A widely celebrated “Coming out of Min” was celebrated in Egypt at the beginning of the harvest. These plagues, in effect, devastated Min’s coming-out party.

Darkness (No. 9), pursuing this line of interpretation, could have been directed against various deities associated with the sun—Amon-Re, Aten, Atum or Horus.

Finally, the death of the firstborn (No. 10) was directed against the patron deity of Pharaoh, and the judge of the dead, Osiris.

One weakness in interpreting the plagues solely as a religious polemic against Egyptian gods, however, is that some of the plagues are unaccounted for; and not all of the plagues can be conveniently matched up with Egyptian gods or texts. Specifically, divine candidates are lacking for the third, fourth and sixth plagues—lice, flies and boils. Even if scratching through Egyptian sources might produce some minor candidates that could fill these lacunae, there is another difficulty with the religious polemic interpretation. The Egyptian material on which this interpretation rests comes from different times and different places. The extant data do not enable us to claim that the perception of the pantheon presented above was historically probable in the Western Delta during the 14th–12th centuries B.C.E. when and where Israelites became familiar with it. Nevertheless, despite these difficulties, the Egyptian material describing links between Egyptian deities and natural phenomena does provide us with some insights into the way the plagues were intended to be understood.

I don’t agree with all of Zevit’s interpretations and conclusions, but it’s helpful to see the significant connections between the plagues and the Egyptian pantheon - especially given the explicit link that’s made between them in Numbers 33:4.

I look forward to learning more about this as we discuss it together.


Hi @Carson i thought this was a very interesting concept. I completely understand @lakshmi’s discomfort with this idea. After all, Deut 18:9 tells the Israelites not to even imitate the practices of pagan nations. I’ve taken this to mean that not only do they not imitate worship of pagan gods, but they must also not imitate the pagan practices even if they’re directed to Yahweh.

At the same time, there are examples in scripture of using pagan concepts and ideas to emphasise how much greater Yahweh is. One example that comes to mind is that of Jonah being swallowed by a fish before going to preach in Nineveh. The irony of this story is that the main deity of Ninevah was the fish god, Dagon. Here, Yahweh seems to be using this pagan symbolism to convict and humble Jonah to obedience. God’s use of Dagon symbolism shows that Yahweh is really the one in control of the sea, not Dagon. Another example is when Elijah competes with the prophets of Baal to see which deity will set fire to the altar. Baal, the god of fire cannot do it, whilst Yahweh does even after Elijah drenches it in water. Both examples borrow from pagan symbolism and religious language to emphasise a deep theological truth.

So are these examples contradicting Deut 18:9? I believe not, because the pagan practices aren’t being used as a genuine worship practice. In fact, Yahweh is mocking the pagan practice by showing their inadequacy up.

Regarding Psalm 29, my Bible study notes (The Apologetics Study Bible, Holman Bible Publishers 2017) says the following:

In the Canaanite religious texts, Baal caused the storms with a sevenfold peak of thunder, but in this Psalm we are told seven times that it was “the voice of the LORD”.

The rewriting of a Canaanite text glorifies Yahweh as the true God. The clever literary devices of repetition contribute to this clear message.

Yes, I was wondering if you know of a copy of the Canaanite version online anywhere? I’d be interested to compare.

I think this is a very wise caution. We must be clear that the Bible only imitates certain pagan things to highlight their inferiority. We must be careful not to think that the Bible is suggesting we can take a pagan practice and ‘Christianise’ it for Christian worship. One example might be ‘Jesus deck’ cards that are the ‘Christian’ version of tarot cards. I believe that in imitating practices in this way is a direct defiance of Deut 18:9. I think this discussion could be extended to the idea of ‘holy yoga’, the idea of taking a Hindu worship practice and doing it for Jesus. It could be a whole other topic!! Shall I do it :sweat_smile:?


We tend to forget that the OT writers were latecomers to the ANE compared to, Egyptian (6000 BC) or Sumerian (3100) cultures.
If you want a deeper dive, Othmar Keel’s book The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms might interest you.
The Israelites did not live in a vacuum.