*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.
Served Baal and Ashtaroth - In a general way, probably, Baal and Ashtaroth mean the sun and moon; but in many cases Ashtaroth seems to have been the same among the Canaanites as Venus was among the Greeks and Romans, and to have been worshipped with the same obscene rites.
And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and (f) Ashtaroth.
(f) These were idols, which had the form of a ewe or sheep among the Sidonians.
And they forsook the Lord,.... The worship of the Lord, as the Targum; this is repeated to observe the heinous sin they were guilty of, and how displeasing it was to God:
and served Baal and Ashtaroth; two images, as the Arabic version adds; Baal, from whence Baalim, may signify the he deities of the Gentiles, as Jupiter, Hercules, &c. and Ashtaroth their female deities, as Juno, Venus, Diana, &c. the word is plural, and used for flocks of sheep, so called because they make the owners of them rich; and Kimchi and Ben Melech say these were images in the form of female sheep. Perhaps, as Baal may signify the sun, so Ashtaroth the moon, and the stars like flocks of sheep about her. Ashtaroth was the goddess of the Zidonians, 1-Kings 11:5; the same with Astarte, the wife of Cronus or Ham, said to be the Phoenician or Syrian Venus. So Lucian says (r) there was a temple in Phoenicia, belonging to the Sidonians, which they say is the temple of Astarte; and, says he, I think that Astarte is the moon; and Astarte is both by the Phoenicians (s) and Grecians (t) said to be Venus, and was worshipped by the Syrians also, as Minutius Felix (u) and Tertullian (w) affirm; the same with Eostre, or Aestar, the Saxon goddess; hence to this day we call the passover Easter (x), being in Eoster-month; and with Andraste, a goddess of the ancient Britains (y). There were four of them, and therefore the Septuagint here uses the plural number Astartes; so called either from Asher, being reckoned "blessed" ones, or from Asheroth, the groves they were worshipped in; or from "Ash", and "Tor", the constellation Taurus or the bull; so Astarte by Sanchoniatho is said to put upon her head the head of a bull, as the token of her sovereignty; See Gill on Genesis 14:5.
(r) De Dea Syria. (s) Sanchoniatho apud Euseb. Evangel. Praepar. l. 1. p. 38. (t) Suidas in voce (u) In Octavio, p. 6. (w) Apolog. c. 24. (x) Vid. Owen. Theologoumen, l. 3. c. 4. p. 192. (y) lb. c. 11. p. 244.
Ashtaroth--Also a plural word, denoting all the female divinities, whose rites were celebrated by the most gross and revolting impurities.
Thus they forsook Jehovah, and served Baal and the Asthartes. In this case the singular Baal is connected with the plural Ashtaroth, because the male deities of all the Canaanitish nations, and those that bordered upon Canaan, were in their nature one and the same deity, viz., Baal, a sun-god, and as such the vehicle and source of physical life, and of the generative and reproductive power of nature, which was regarded as an effluence from its own being (see Movers, Relig. der Phnizier, pp. 184ff., and J. G. Mller in Herzog's Cyclopaedia). "Ashtaroth, from the singular Ashtoreth, which only occurs again in 1-Kings 11:5, 1-Kings 11:33, and 2-Kings 23:13, in connection with the Sidonian Astharte, was the general name used to denote the leading female deity of the Canaanitish tribes, a moon-goddess, who was worshipped as the feminine principle of nature embodied in the pure moon-light, and its influence upon terrestrial life. It corresponded to the Greek Aphrodite, whose celebrated temple at Askalon is described in Herod. i. 105. In Judges 3:7, Asheroth is used as equivalent to Ashtaroth, which is used here, Judges 10:6; 1-Samuel 7:4; 1-Samuel 12:10. The name Asheroth
(Note: Rendered groves in the English version. - Tr.)
was transferred to the deity itself from the idols of this goddess, which generally consisted of wooden columns, and are called Asherim in Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3; Deuteronomy 16:21. On the other hand, the word Ashtoreth is without any traceable etymology in the Semitic dialects, and was probably derived from Upper Asia, being connected with a Persian word signifying a star, and synonymous with Ἀστροάρχη, the star-queen of Sabaeism (see Ges. Thes. pp. 1083-4; Movers, p. 606; and Mller, ut sup.).
With regard to the nature of the Baal and Astharte worship, into which the Israelites fell not long after the death of Joshua, and in which they continued henceforth to sink deeper and deeper, it is evident form the more precise allusions contained in the history of Gideon, that it did not consist of direct opposition to the worship of Jehovah, or involve any formal rejection of Jehovah, but that it was simply an admixture of the worship of Jehovah with the heathen or Canaanitish nature-worship. Not only was the ephod which Gideon caused to be made in his native town of Ophrah, and after which all Israel went a whoring (Judges 8:27), an imitation of the high priest's ephod in the worship of Jehovah; but the worship of Baal-berith at Shechem, after which the Israelites went a whoring again when Gideon was dead (Judges 8:33), was simply a corruption of the worship of Jehovah, in which Baal was put in the place of Jehovah and worshipped in a similar way, as we may clearly see from Judges 9:27. The worship of Jehovah could even be outwardly continued in connection with this idolatrous worship. Just as in the case of these nations in the midst of which the Israelites lived, the mutual recognition of their different deities and religions was manifested in the fact that they all called their supreme deity by the same name, Baal, and simply adopted some other epithet by which to define the distinctive peculiarities of each; so the Israelites also imagined that they could worship the Baals of the powerful nations round about them along with Jehovah their covenant God, especially if they worshipped them in the same manner as their covenant God. This will serve to explain the rapid and constantly repeated falling away of the Israelites from Jehovah into Baal-worship, at the very time when the worship of Jehovah was stedfastly continued at the tabernacle in accordance with the commands of the law. The Israelites simply followed the lead and example of their heathen neighbours. Just as the heathen were tolerant with regard to the recognition of the deities of other nations, and did not refuse to extend this recognition even to Jehovah the God of Israel, so the Israelites were also tolerant towards the Baals of the neighbouring nations, whose sensuous nature-worship was more grateful to the corrupt heart of man than the spiritual Jehovah-religion, with its solemn demands for sanctification of life. But this syncretism, which was not only reconcilable with polytheism, but actually rooted in its very nature, was altogether irreconcilable with the nature of true religion. For if Jehovah is the only true God, and there are no other gods besides or beside Him, then the purity and holiness of His nature is not only disturbed, but altogether distorted, by any admixture of His worship with the worship of idols or of the objects of nature, the true God being turned into an idol, and Jehovah degraded into Baal. Looking closely into the matter, therefore, the mixture of the Canaanitish worship of Baal with the worship of Jehovah was actually forsaking Jehovah and serving other gods, as the prophetic author of this book pronounces it. It was just the same with the worship of Baal in the kingdom of the ten tribes, which was condemned by the prophets Hosea and Amos (see Hengstenberg, Christology, i. pp. 168ff., Eng. trans.).
Baal and Ashtaroth - That is, the sun and moon, whom many Heathens worshipped, tho' under divers names; and so they ran into that error which God had so expressly warned them against, Deuteronomy 4:19. Baalim signifies lords, and Ashtaroth, blessed ones, he - gods and she - gods. When they forsook Jehovah, they had gods many and lords many, as a luxuriant fancy pleased to multiply them.
*More commentary available at chapter level.