“For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.” – Jeremiah 7:30-34 ESV
This particular passage should have a painful familiarity to it. Not because we have read it before, but because it sounds eerily like our own day. In these closing verses of chapter seven, God points out a specific sin committed by the people of Judah that should leave us shocked and appalled. They were offering their own sons and daughters as human sacrifices to Molech, the god of fire. Both Ahaz and Manasseh, kings of Judah during Jeremiah’s long term as prophet, we guilty of practicing child sacrifice.
Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. – 2 Kings 16:2-3 ESV
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. – 2 Kings 21:1-6 ESV
When we think of the kind of idolatry practiced in those ancient days, we tend to picture little statues or figurines to which the people offered their sacrifices and before whom they would worship. It all sounds fairly innocuous and silly to us. The very thought of bowing down before an inanimate object and treating it like a god sounds ridiculous to us. But there was far more to the idolatry practiced by the people of Judah than simply offering sacrifices to a wooden figurine or saying prayers to a motionless stone statue. The inherent problem with idol worship is that these false gods never seemed to be satisfied. They require increasingly more intense and costly sacrifices. Because they are not real and cannot answer the requests made to them, the natural conclusion by those who worship them is to up the ante. They assume that their sacrifices are not enough. The gods require more. To get the attention of the gods, the cost of the sacrifice must be increased. The life of an animal must not be enough. Perhaps the god would answer if we sacrificed something hear and dear to us – like a son or daughter. And there were those pagan religions that practiced this kind of sacrifice. And before long, the people of Judah, just like their northern neighbors in Israel, began to escalate their worship of false gods by practicing child sacrifice. All in spite of the warning God had given them long before they entered the land of Canaan.
“You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 18:21 ESV
“Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.” – Leviticus 20:2 ESV
And yet, here was God accusing the people of Judah of doing the very thing He had forbidden them to do. How had they gotten to this point? What would have caused them to sink so low that they would take the lives of their own children and offer them up as sacrifices to false gods? It all began with their forsaking of God. Slowly, but steadily, the people had begun to seek and serve other gods. They had turned their backs on Yahweh and sought help from other sources. It had all begun innocently enough. In fact, it had all made perfect sense to them. Why not hedge their bets and take advantage of the many gods of their foreign neighbors. After all, what did they have to lose? What if these gods really could deliver what they promised? And by worshiping the gods of their foreign neighbors, it made the people of Judah seem far more accommodating and tolerant. It allowed them to fit in to the world around them. And step by step, slowly but surely, the number of idols in Judah grew, and the intensity of their worship and the cost of their sacrifices increased. Before long, they had actually placed false gods in the temple Solomon had dedicated to Yahweh. And not only that, they had created a specific place in which to offer their own children as sacrifices to Molech: Topheth in the valley of Hinnom. The name “Topheth” is likely from the Aramaic tephath, which refers to a fireplace, oven, or hearth. It was in this place that the people of Judah would burn their children as offerings to the fire god, Molech.
The very idea of this appalls us. We find their actions despicable and inexplicable. How could they do such a thing? What would possess anyone to consider killing their own children and calling it worship? But before we pick up stones to throw at the people of Judah, we might want to consider our own modern context. Even we, as modern Christians, are guilty of offering up our children on the altars of our modern-day gods. We sacrifice our children to the god of sports and academics, vicariously living our lives through theirs as they spend countless hours practicing, performing, and pursuing fame and fortune through these man-made activities. I am not suggesting that playing sports or pursuing an education are wrong, but we must admit that far too often we allow these things to become like gods in our lives; driving our schedules, consuming our time and resources, and promising us outcomes that they can’t deliver.
Consider how much time we allow our children to sit in the innocuous glow of a TV, smart phone or tablet, wasting hour after hour of their day consuming entertainment and information that has no lasting value and actually sucks the spiritual life right out of them. These modern-day technologies, while not evil in and of themselves, have become not-so-subtle tools of the enemy, drawing our children away from God and distancing them from their own families. While they spend countless hours “connected” they are actually disconnecting from the very One who made them. Despite their growing number of online “friends” and increasing community within the wireless world, our children are growing more lonely, despondent and, as research has proven, more suicidal. A 2013 study by the University of Oxford concluded:
Moderate or severe addiction to the internet is also connected to an increased risk of self-harm, as well as increased levels of depression or thoughts about suicide, according to the Oxford review.
But perhaps the most striking parallel between the people of Judah and our modern-day context is the growing number of abortions taking place around us. Ever since the passing of Roe V. Wade in 1973, there have been an estimated 59 million babies murdered through abortion in the United States alone. Worldwide, the number is rapidly nearing the 1.5 billion level. Those staggering numbers represent countless innocent lives that have been sacrificed to the gods of pleasure, promiscuity and personal rights. Worshiping at the altar of self-satisfaction and self-gratification, we offer up our own children as sacrifices to the gods who promise us a life of happiness and uncluttered contentment. The children become expendable, explained away as nothing more than discarded human tissue. They are considered no more valuable than an unwanted growth or dangerous tumor. So, they are removed. Their lives are sacrificed at the altar of self.
And we would do well to remember what God told the people of Judah:
“But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols.” – Jeremiah 7:5-6 NLT
We have more than our fair share of false gods. And our unfaithfulness has manifested itself in the willing sacrifice of our own sons and daughters. God would have us wake up and recognize the error of our ways. He would have us be appalled at how low we have sunk in our pursuit of the gods of pleasure, prominence, popularity and power. We have adapted to the ways of the world. We have adopted the gods of this world. And we have done evil in His sight.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.