Keep the Gods Happy
In the ancient Near Eastern world, people believed that the gods were initially quite content to live without human beings. The gods had created the cosmos for themselves, built cities and lived together in community. As time went on, however, they grew tired of feeding themselves, making clothes for themselves and building houses for themselves. Digging ditches for irrigation to grow crops was heavy labor.
They therefore decided to create humans as a slave labor force. The responsibility of humans was to care for the gods in every way. Rituals provided food and drink for the gods. Temples provided housing. The gods then became dependent on people to provide the luxury to which they were accustomed and which they deserved. In turn, the gods would provide for the people (so the people could provide for them) and protect the people who were caring for them. This defined the codependent relationship between the gods and humans in the ancient world. It was a need-based system and comprised the religious responsibilities that people had.
Besides the rituals and the temple building, the gods were interested in maintaining justice among the people, but not because the gods were inherently just or because of any sense of ethical right and wrong. Rather, the gods understood that if society was plagued by lawlessness, violence and disorder, the people would not be at liberty to carry out their ritual obligations. Thus there was a symbiotic relationship between gods and people (which may be called the “Great Symbiosis”), which was maintained for a smoothly operating ritual system, designed to keep the gods happy.
The difference in Israel was that even though they offered sacrifices to Yahweh, Yahweh did not need these sacrifices as food. In his covenant with Israel he promised to provide for his people and to take care of them, much like other gods did. However, what he required of them was not care and feeding, but covenant fidelity. We could therefore say that the Great Symbiosis was replaced in Israel by the Covenant Symbiosis.