The long-drawn-out controversy between the believers in Yahweh and the followers of Baal was a socioeconomic clash of ideologies rather than a difference in religious beliefs.
The inhabitants of Palestine differed in their attitude toward private ownership of land. The southern or wandering Arabian tribes (the Yahwehites) looked upon land as an inalienable—as a gift of Deity to the clan. They held that land could not be sold or mortgaged. “Yahweh spoke, saying, ‘The land shall not be sold, for the land is mine.’”
The northern and more settled Canaanites (the Baalites) freely bought, sold, and mortgaged their lands. The word Baal means owner. The Baal cult was founded on two major doctrines: First, the validation of property exchange, contracts, and covenants—the right to buy and sell land. Second, Baal was supposed to send rain—he was a god of fertility of the soil. Good crops depended on the favor of Baal. The cult was largely concerned with land, its ownership and fertility.
In general, the Baalites owned houses, lands, and slaves. They were the aristocratic landlords and lived in the cities. Each Baal had a sacred place, a priesthood, and the “holy women,” the ritual prostitutes.
Out of this basic difference in the regard for land, there evolved the bitter antagonisms of social, economic, moral, and religious attitudes exhibited by the Canaanites and the Hebrews. This socioeconomic controversy did not become a definite religious issue until the times of Elijah. From the days of this aggressive prophet the issue was fought out on more strictly religious lines—Yahweh vs. Baal—and it ended in the triumph of Yahweh and the subsequent drive toward monotheism.
Elijah shifted the Yahweh-Baal controversy from the land issue to the religious aspect of Hebrew and Canaanite ideologies. When Ahab murdered the Naboths in the intrigue to get possession of their land, Elijah made a moral issue out of the olden land mores and launched his vigorous campaign against the Baalites. This was also a fight of the country folk against domination by the cities. It was chiefly under Elijah that Yahweh became Elohim. The prophet began as an agrarian reformer and ended up by exalting Deity. Baals were many, Yahweh was one—monotheism won over polytheism.