Cake Week

Read: Jeremiah 7:16-20

Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. Is it I whom they provoke? Says the LORD. Is it not themselves, to their own hurt?  (Jeremiah 7:17-19, NRSV).

It’s a sure sign that I’ve been watching too many episodes of the Great British Baking Show. The first thing I thought of when I read Jeremiah’s words about the women of Jerusalem kneading dough “to make cakes for the queen of heaven” was: I wonder if I could find a recipe for those?

While I couldn’t find a precise recipe, I did discover that these cakes were a thin, unleavened loaf of fine flour, often fashioned or stamped with the image of Ishtar/Astarte/Ashtoreth. So, if this were cake week on the Great British Baking Show, “Cakes for the queen of heaven” would probably be a great choice for the technical challenge. Contestants would have to made do with only the most basic instructions: Produce 12 identical cakes stamped with the image of an ancient fertility goddess….

Please, please do not send this idea to Paul and Prue.

Right about now you are probably thinking, “Well, this is one Bible passage I don’t have to worry about. I’m so rarely tempted to bake cakes for the queen of heaven.”

That is where you would be wrong. All of us whip up these confectionery showstoppers on a regular basis whether we are conscious of it or not. It comes from being part of a culture that worships power, wealth, and pleasure. And like the people of Jeremiah’s day, we make our idolatry a family affair, passing our perverted values on to the next generation.

If you think I am exaggerating, consider the appeal of the ancient pantheon of which the queen of heaven was a part. What could be better? This was a faith that offered people the power to manipulate nature and thereby amass wealth. And did I mention that one could accomplish all of this while enjoying sexual pleasure? Honestly, marketing this one would be—well—a cakewalk.

Almost fifty years ago, sociologist Peter Berger wrote an article in the Christian Century called “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven: 2.500 Years of Religious Ecstasy.” He points out that religions centered on pleasure and power are also recognizable by their violations of social justice. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar?

  • Failure to abide by the law
  • Oppression of the weaker elements of society
  • Shedding of innocent blood

I suspect the prophet Jeremiah would have some harsh words for our society. And the sharpest words of all would be directed at those who claim to hold one set of values while simultaneously embracing another set altogether.

So, how about it? Baked any cakes for the queen of heaven lately?

Ponder: What does your daily routine say about your values? Is pleasure always bad? Power?

Pray: Help us to value the right things—and to do so consistently.