A couple of weeks ago, I wrote something of an addendum to my long essays on what the story of scripture, and not just the law, have to teach us about sexual relations (Here, here, here, and here.) called “How Sex is Different.”
Israel faces a lot of penalties for failing to keep the covenant — disease, pestilence, famine, conquest, exile, slavery. But those are all externally imposed. They come from outside the land of Israel, in the form of Assyrians and Babylonians. Only in the case of these sexual sins does the land itself threaten to grow sick and expel Israel.
That’s what makes sex different, and what makes these acts unique. (The passage does not say why sex is different. We are free to speculate, but any conclusions we come to are just that — speculation.) They poison the very land, which grows so ill that it will expel Israel, just as God expelled the Canaanites so that Israel may take possession of the land.
The passage in Leviticus 20 that contains some of the strongest admonitions against unlawful sexual relations — that is, sex with close relations — is also bundled with strong condemnations of anyone who “turns to mediums and wizards, whoring after them” (Lev. 20:6) and anyone who “curses his father or his mother” (Lev. 20:9). Death awaits the latter, and a cutting off from the people await the former.
But Leviticus 20 begins with this warning:
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. (Leviticus 20:1-5 ESV)
Leviticus 18 contains a much smaller version of the same warning, right before it condemns men lying with men “as with woman”
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)
Molech — מֹּלֶך — comes from the very same Hebrew root “king” does, and it implies sovereingty and rule. We have few references in Molech in the Bible (Stephen mentions Molech in his final witness before the high priest), but all the references we have describe a god to whom children are sacrificed. Specifically, they are burned alive.
This burning alive, ushered in by Solomon’s wives (1 Kings 11:1-8) and performed by kings Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3) and Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6) of Judah, is one of the indictments Jeremiah hands to the Kingdom of Judah during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem:
34 They set up their abominations in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (Jeremiah 32:34-35 ESV)
This is a special sin, this sacrificing of children, on par with illicit and unlawful sex (as outlined by Leviticus). And it pollutes the land.
Scripture doesn’t say much about what Molech demands or why anyone would sacrifice a child in a roaring fire. It is simply portrayed as a repugnant act — even as scripture also tells the story of God demanding (and then rescinding the demand) that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, slitting his throat and setting him alight atop a large pile of wood. And as God takes the lives of the firstborn of Egypt in the horrible night of the Passover as Israel waited in terror for its redemption.
It is a horrible thing, this sacrifice of children. A detestable thing. It defiles and sickens the land. And Israel, despite the command, tosses it’s children into the fire to appease a god who isn’t even real.
Some evengalical protestant groups have used this bit of scripture to describe abortion. But it’s not a mainstream view (no one with an angelfire website has been mainstream since 1996). And not why I’m writing about this today.
I have, in the last couple of months, come face to face with a foster care system that has, for want of a better term, gladly and happily sacrificed at least some of its charges to Molech. Living, breathing, thinking, feeling, beautiful, amazing, smart, sweet, wonderful kids, bound and tossed into a fire. Kids no one cares about, except maybe for profit and/or for sadistic pleasure. Kids given up, and given up on.
Kids, faithful and persistent, who — despite the suffering and horror they have endured — have not given up on themselves.
And it makes me angry. Like nothing else has ever made me angry before. Because how we treat our children matters.
I cannot say much more about this right now. Except that I’ve gotten a sense, through all my whining about not having work and my book not selling, what my real calling and my real ministry is. To these kids. Who persist, and live, and hope, and love, like plants growing out of the side of a brick wall.
There’s a story in thge Qur’an that also happens to be a Jewish legend. Young Abraham has already become a devoted follower of The One God, and he asks his father about the idols his people worship. “We found our father’s worshiping them,” Abu Ibrahim said, as if that settles the matter. Abraham then tells his father they are all wrong to worship these things made by human hands, and during the night he sneaks in and smashes all the idols except one — the largest of them.
When the people come and find all their gods broken to pieces, they accuse Abraham. “Did you do this?” they ask.
“Nope,” he replies. “The biggest one did it. They are your gods, ask him!”
“You know very well these things cannot speak!”
“Then why do you worship them?” Abraham responds.
At which point they tie Abraham up and toss him into a fire — a fire God commands to be cool and safe for Abraham. (Quran 21:51-70) Such is the fate of those who challenge what “we found our fathers doing.”
I want to break some idols and rescue some kids. Because those idols need to be broken.
And those kids need to be rescued.