1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Say to the people of Israel, 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. 3 I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, 5 then I will set my face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech.
6 “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. 7 Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. 8 Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you. 9 For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.” – Leviticus 20:1-9 ESV
The laws outlined in chapters 18 and 19 declare all those things that the Israelites were forbidden to do. But in chapter 19, God provides the consequences that were to accompany the violation of some of those very laws. Back in Leviticus 18, Moses recorded God’s ban on the practice of child sacrifice.
“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
Now, in chapter 20, God provides the penalty for violating this command: Death.
“Say to the people of Israel, 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
The law prescribed in chapter 18 clearly prohibited the Israelites from offering their children as human sacrifices to the Canaanite god, Molech. This law was incontestable and binding. But the only outcome for violating this law was the profaning of God’s name. Yet chapter 20 adds the deadly consequences for daring to break this particular command.
God was making it painfully clear to the Israelites that He was serious about their obedience and holiness. He expected His people to distinguish themselves from the nations of Canaan by adhering to His laws and avoiding any temptation to assimilate their pagan practices and customs.
It seems strange that God would place so much emphasis on forbidding child sacrifice. After all, the very thought of willingly putting your child to death to appease a god is repugnant to our modern sensibilities. It seems barbaric and inhumane. How could any loving Israelite parent ever consider the thought of sacrificing their child to a foreign god? Yet, God knew that His chosen people would eventually find even this repulsive act to be acceptable and even preferable. The Scriptures reveal that the day came when infant sacrifice became common practice among the Israelites, with the king himself setting the standard for this egregious behavior.
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.…And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. – 2 Kings 21:1-2, 6 ESV
Even the great king, Solomon, the son of David, promoted the worship of Molech along with a host of other false gods introduced to him by his many foreign wives.
So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. – 1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV
These injunctions by God were absolutely necessary because the people of Israel were predisposed to disobedience and fully capable of committing sins of the worst kind. Upon hearing God’s ban on child sacrifice, it’s likely that the Israelites were appalled that God would consider them capable of such a heinous sin. But God knew His people well and He understood the depravity of the human heart.
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” – Jeremiahs 17:9 NLT
The path to apostasy begins with a single step, a minor concession that, at first glance, appears innocent enough but that eventually leads ends in death. No self-respecting Israelite would have ever considered himself capable of committing such a despicable sin, yet God knew it was not only possible but inevitable. Even with His commands carefully articulated and the consequences for disobedience clearly communicated, the people of Israel would still choose to disobey and suffer the penalty for doing so, and that penalty was severe. The guilty individual was to be stoned to death. No questions asked, no excuses accepted, and no exceptions made. And God gives the reason this sin was unforgivable and demanded death.
“…because they have defiled my sanctuary and brought shame on my holy name by offering their children to Molech.” – Leviticus 20:3 NLT
Any pagan religious practice the Israelites incorporated was an affront to God because it diminished the sanctity of the Tabernacle and cast doubt on the all-sufficient nature of God Himself. By offering sacrifices to false gods, the Israelites were demonstrating their lack of faith in Yahweh. He was not enough. By sacrificing their children to Molech, they would be denigrating God’s gift of the fruit of the womb, one of the many blessings the Israelites could expect to receive from Him in the land of Canaan.
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-6 NLT
To take a gift given by God and to sacrifice it to a false god was the ultimate slap in Yahweh’s face. These kinds of actions revealed a lack of belief in God’s goodness and demonstrated an underlying doubt in the efficacy of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system He had provided.
The primary issue, as always, was holiness. God’s people were to live set-apart lives, determined by God’s laws and regulated by His sacrificial system. God knew His people would fail to keep all His laws. That’s why He provided the sacrificial system as a means of receiving atonement and forgiveness for sins. But there were certain sins that, when committed, were unforgivable and for which atonement was unavailable. These included child sacrifice as well as any involvement with mediums and necromancers.
“I will also turn against those who commit spiritual prostitution by putting their trust in mediums or in those who consult the spirits of the dead. I will cut them off from the community.” – Leviticus 20:6 NLT
“The prohibition here concerns those who would seek special knowledge through the spirits of the dead, whether the dead in general or dead relatives in particular.” – NET Bible Study Notes
God was placing off-limits any of the cultic practices of the Canaanites. This included the worship or veneration of the dead. Canaanites believed that following physical death, the soul departed from the body to the land of Mot (Death). Through the use of mediums and necromancers, they believed they could communicate with deceased relatives, offering them food and drink in return for help. God forbade these kinds of superstitious practices among His people because they displayed a blatant disregard for His sovereignty.
How ludicrous it sounds to seek help from the dead when you have the power of the living God at your disposal. But the author of Hebrews reminds us just how easy it is to turn your back on God and seek assistance from the dead and powerless things of this world.
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. – Hebrews 3:12-13 NLT
God alone brings life. He is the only reliable source of hope and help. And He calls His people to keep His commands so that they might enjoy the ongoing blessing of His presence and the benefit of His incomparable power.
“So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord who makes you holy.” – Leviticus 20:7-8 NLT
The worship of Molech would not make them holy, but it would cut them off from the community of faith and place them under the judgment of a holy and righteous God. Rather than enjoying life, they would experience death. The ways of the Canaanites might appear attractive and potentially beneficial, but they would prove to be dangerous and deadly. The path to holiness was paved with the commandments of God and led to a life of blessing and joy. But the world always offers alternative routes that promise a shortcut to the desired end. But as Jesus articulated in His sermon on the mount, the ways of the world may seem tempting and tantalizingly easy, but they all lead to the wrong destination.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14 ESV
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.