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"Show them no mercy!"

The Biblical story of Child Sacrifice in the worship of the gods

by  Leonard D. Long

This document is colour-coded  :

Bold black for references todetestable practices

Red for references tochild sacrifice and to show them no mercy

Green for the words of Jesus


Child Sacrifice : Abstract

The story here of the Israelites - from the Exodus to the Exile and their return - collects all of the Biblical references to child sacrifice in worship of the gods as an explanation of the problematic “Show them no mercy” clause which has raised questions as to whether God ordered genocide, and how this fits with Jesus’ words:  ‘Love your enemies…’

Show them no mercy” was not because the people in those countries sinned; everyone does that.   Show them no mercy” was not because of idolatry; every nation outside, and many inside Israel, did that.  The people already in the “Promised Land” had descended to doing “despicable things” which included divination or sorcery, interpretations of omens, witchcraft, casting of spells, and mediums or spiritists who consulted the dead.

The “Show them no mercy” clause was given because of the horror of the particular “despicable things” that they did in their worship of their gods, with the repeated explanation that the unrecoverable worst horror is the sacrificing of their own children in the worship of their gods.  The implication is that when a culture descends to the point of child sacrifice in worship of its gods then it has passed a point of no return.

This claim is demonstrated in the story of Israel itself: they did not wipe out those who had descended to the practice of child sacrifice in the worship of their gods, they intermarried with these people, turned to worship their gods, and descended to doing even worse, as warned: sacrificing their own children to more gods than the people had done before them in that land!

Solomon ignored the warnings against marriage to foreign women.  Ahijah prophesied that the system of altars (which Solomon built at the end of his life, in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, which led eventually to the subsequent sacrificing of their own children in their worship of these foreign gods), would be their ultimate downfall.

The ensuing history of Israel demonstrates that descent to child sacrifice in the worship of their gods is not a recoverable situation in that the Israelites kept returning to this practice in spite of four clean-ups by good kings.

Parts of Israel went into Exile, learnt lessons from their own story of failure, and returned to the Promised Land as a miserable remnant.  Ezra-Nehemiah understood clearly the horrors of continuing forbidden practices, so the Israelites expelled their foreign wives with their children because of the results of Solomon’s disobedient practice, and they finally became monotheistic and loyal to their God.

In punishing Israel for its sins, the Babylonians went on the rampage and did what Israel was ordered to do – there is no record of child sacrifice in the region thereafter.

The Apocrypha gives the same explanation for the exile, child sacrifice.

By the New Testament time the Valley of Ben Hinnom had been renamed “Gehenna”, and seven times Jesus uses this as a warning of Israel’s ultimate degradation, destruction and loss, the bite of which is missed in the translation of Gehenna as “Hell”.  Seven times Jesus knifes the Jews with the reminder of their renaming of the Valley of Ben Hinnom as Gehenna, which is often translated limply as ‘hell’

Stephen, to the Sanhedrin, gives child sacrifice (“Moloch” from the LXX - Septuagint) as the final reason for the exile. 


Child sacrifice as the ultimate sin against the Law of Christ.


1. Introduction

The Israelites were becoming a theocratic nation as they came out of Egypt and faced the taking of the Promised Land.  They are told that, in taking this Promised Land, they are to kill everyone there, “you must destroy them totally.   Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy”. (Deuteronomy 7:2).

This text raises two problems, that of genocide, and that of how does this fit with the words of Jesus, “Love your enemies”?

In spite of centuries of agonising over these texts no one, it seems, has studied the complete Biblical story of child sacrifice in the worship of the gods, the core of this problem, and the core of the history of Israel’s failure, which I present with (almost) no theological, philosophical, or ethical comment.

Israel had been chosen to be an exemplar people, a group who showed the advantage of living properly with their God, the real God who made the heavens and the earth.  In this they failed, badly, as the history shows.  If Romans is read with proper attention to Paul’s flags as to which group of people he is addressing in each section, then it is seen that he is saying that the Jews were elected and predestined to bring forth the Messiah in spite of their failures as a people, and that election and predestination do no apply outside this narrow setting; there is only the Gospel for anybody and everybody else.


2. Old Testament

2.1. Why was Abraham shown the Promised Land and sent away for 400 years?

Genesis 15:16 “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

So what was the “sin of the Amorites” when it did reach its full measure?

2.2. Why “show them no mercy”?

Why were the Israelites told to wipe out everyone in the Promised Land?  To “show them no mercy”?

It was not because of “sin”.  Everyone does that.  It was not because they worshipped idols, false gods.  Everyone outside Israel, and quite a few inside Israel, did that.

It was much more specific.  It was because of, and only because of, the worst of the  detestable things” that they did in the worship of their gods that they are to be wiped out, that there is no way back when a religion / culture reaches that extreme point of child sacrifice.

Leviticus 18:21 " Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech [or: to be passed through /the fire/], for you must not profane the name of your God.   I am the Lord. [] 24 Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. [...] The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you and the land became defiled.   28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 Everyone who does any of these detestable things – such persons must be cut off from their people.   30 Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practised before you came and do not defile your­selves with them.   I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 20:1  "The Lord said to Moses, 2 Say to the Israelites: Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives [or sacrifices] any of his children to Molech must be put to death.   The people of the community are to stone him.   3 I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving [sacrificing] his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name.   4 If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives [sacrifices] one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, 5 I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech. …"

Molech was a god to whom the only sacrifice was child sacrifice.


"22 Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you.   Because they did all these things, I abhorred them."  

Deuteronomy 7:1 "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you – 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.   Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.    

5 This is what you are to do to them:  Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.   The Lord your God has  chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession."

Deuteronomy 7:16 "You must destroy all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you.   Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you."

It was not because Israel was good or holy :

It was made clear that the order to “show them no mercy” was not because the people of Israel were especially good or holy.  It was not because the people of Israel were any better than anyone else

Deuteronomy 9:4  "After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.”   No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you.  5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people."

Clearly God choosing Israel as his people was a two-edged sword, there were obligations attached to this process:

Deuteronomy 11:­26 "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – 27the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 a curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known."

There were repeated warnings, spelling out that it was not just idolatry for which the land was being condemned.   Here ‘detestable’ is also tied to child sacrifice.

Deuteronomy 12:29 The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess.   But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods?   We will do the same.”   31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates.   They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

Again ‘detestable practices’ is tied to child sacrifice, amongst other things which are regarded as a slippery slope to that end stage:

Deuteronomy 18:9 "When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.   10 Let no-one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practises divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.   12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you."

Again ‘detestable’ practices is the warrant for clearing the land of those people, as though there is no way back once a people descend to that depth in their religious practice:

Deuteronomy 20:16 "However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.   17 Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – as the Lord your God has commanded you.   18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God."

2.3. Why not intermarry?

Why were the Israelites banned from intermarrying with the people already in the Promised Land?  Because they will be led astray to do these detestable things :

Exodus 34:16 "And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same."

Deuteronomy 7: 3 "Do not intermarry with them.   Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you."


2.4. The Choice

On the edge of entering the Promised Land, Joshua  (24:14-15) gave the people of Israel a choice,

to serve the gods of their fathers (the region from which Abraham came),

put these gods away (they had been carried right up to now!  This began at least with Rachel, Genesis 31:19ff) or

to serve the gods of the Amorites, or

to serve their God who had led them thus far?

of following God; Joshua 24:31 “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.”)


2.5. In the Promised Land

The people of Israel stumbled around for years, in all their chaotic wars, and failed to take over the Promised Land.  They failed to follow the instructions to “show them no mercy”; they also intermarried with the locals, with the result that they came to worship the gods of that area, with consequences.

This is the background to the famous “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15.)

Judges  2:2-3

•        "But you have not obeyed my command.  See what you have done! "

•        "So … I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you."


Judges  2:10-12

•        “another generation grew up who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel."

•        "Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshipped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord,… they followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them."


2.6. Israel’s Royalty

Israel developed a royal system of government, which almost seemed to work.  At first.  But this led to their complete destruction.  The prophet Samuel was against the appointing of a king, but he was told by God:

1 Samuel   8:7;  "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them."

[Samuel’s reaction to the people of Israel completely going against his advice is a model for all Christians in dealing with controversy :

1 Samuel 12:23  Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and right way.”]


2.7. Who set up Israel for failure?

Who of their kings set Israel up for ultimate failure?  Not one of their ‘bad’ kings.

It was Solomon : in all his glory and wisdom! ?! !?!

The nation state of Israel made its biggest splash on the international scene with Solomon their ‘wisest’ ruler, but the wisdom of hundreds of wives and concubines must be questioned, especially with its consequences.   Solomon was the pinnacle and the pits of Israel’s life; he was the height of its political influence, and, like an F. Scott Fitzgerald hero, he and his abilities which took him up were at the same time the cause and the beginnings of his own undoing.   He took Israel down with him with what he set in motion.

1 Kings 11: King Solomon, however, loved many women besides Pharaoh’s daughter [] 2 They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods. …

4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.   5 He [Solomon] followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.   6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.   8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.

Molech : was a god to whom the only sacrifice was child sacrifice.

Chemosh :  a god to whom, increasingly, sacrifice was child sacrifice.

Here at the height of the glory of Israel, by the person who built the temple to the Lord their God, are the seeds of destruction sown.   King Solomon built the high places for Chemosh and for Molech, the gods to whom children were sacrificed.   Not that they were yet sacrificed, but their shrines were introduced into Israel by none other than Solomon, the “wisest” man, not just in Israel, but in all the world.   These shrines were set up in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, on one side of the hill on which Jerusalem stood.

The Valley of Ben-Hinnom is important in the rest of this story : it is the centre of action for the rest of the Old Testament, and it comes back with a particular bite seven times in the words of Jesus, which bite is lost in translation, as you will see.

The prophet Ahijah saw the implications of Solomon’s actions :

1 Kings 11:29 About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloah met him on the way, wearing a new cloak.   The two of them were alone out in the country, 30 and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces.   31 Then he said to Jeroboam, ‘Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes.   32 But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe.   33 I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, not done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.  []  39 I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not for ever.

Chronicles is much more sympathetic to David and Solomon than the books of Kings.   For instance, Chronicles does not record the incident of David and Bathsheba.   Chronicles records the Lord’s appearance to Solomon after the dedication of the temple, and records the warning given:

2 Chronicles 7:19 But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot Israel from my land which I have given them, and will reject this temple which I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.   21 And though this temple is now so imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?   22 People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshipping and serving them – that is why he brought all this disaster on them.”

In spite of recording this warning to Solomon, Chronicles does not record his behaviour mentioned in Kings of setting up shrines to his wives’ gods and his worshipping of these gods.   Selectivity in history and thesis writing is nothing new.


2.8. The Split of the Kingdom :

When Solomon died his son Rehoboam took over, but continued his father’s burdensome tax system until the people revolted.  Jeroboam was elected king of the revolting northern 10 tribes. 

The northern kingdom became known as “Israel”, and the southern kingdom, which consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (and Levites), was referred as “Judah”.

Each kingdom decayed in its own way and timescale to much the same end.


2.9. The Northern Kingdom.

The Northern kingdom decayed the fastest and was wiped out first.  As the first king of the northern tribes of Israel, Jeroboam :

1. changed the religious symbols of Israel, setting up two golden calves to keep people away from worshipping in Jerusalem (1 Kings 13:28ff.), 

2. changed the religious worship centre from Jerusalem to Dan and Bethel.

3. changed the priesthood by making priests of anyone who wanted the job.   With this almost all the priests and Levites left for the south, so there was no one to teach the people or the king, so that none of the kings or the Northern kingdom turned his heart and kingdom to God.

4. changed the religious calendar, setting up his own holy days, his own sacrificial system, and made priests of anyone who wanted the job (1 Kings 13:33-34).

5. gave himself the role of priest by burning incense on the altar in Bethel.

This adds up to, not a heresy of the old religion but, a new religion, rather like Deistic Critical Historical Liberal Theology is a new religion, not a heresy of Christianity.

Jeroboam became the evil yardstick for measuring his successors (1 Kings 15:26, 34;   16:2, 19, 26, 31;   22:52 etc.

Ahab and Jezebel,  874-853 b.c., reign 22 years, (1 Kings 16:28 – 22:40; 2 Cr 18:1-34): Built a temple to Baal, were as bad as it got as royalty.

The northern and southern kingdoms combined to take on Moab, where the first named person committed a child sacrifice, to Chemosh, the “detestable” god of the Moabites:

2 Kings 3:26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed.   27 Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall.

Source: http://cojs.org/why_king_mesha_of_moab_sacrificed_his_oldest_son-_baruch_margalit-_bar_12-06-_nov-dec_1986/

Rather than projecting their own characteristics on to their gods, the pattern is of these people taking on the characteristics of the gods that they chose to worship, in a devastating comment on their deterioration, which led first to the destruction of the northern ten tribes of Israel.  We are not given as much detail about the kings and the misbehaviours of the northern kingdom, until the summary at their exile : 2 Kings 17:5-18.

Time Scale : The northern kingdom lasted around 210 years, with 19 kings and 9 dynasties, each new dynasty arising by murdering the previous king... and no good kings who set about reforming or restoring their worship.

To Exile : In 722 b.c. the northern kingdom, Israel, was defeated by Assyria, the population was deported to various places listed in 2 Kings 17:6 and 18:11.

The explanation for the destruction of the northern kingdom, (as distinct from “Judah”, which was the southern kingdom) : 2 Kings 17:7-23.  The kings of the northern kingdom are recorded as bringing in worse practices than the peoples in the land, whom the people of Israel were imitating.

2 Kings 17:7-8 “They had worshipped other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced.” 

15b They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.   They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, ‘Do not do as they do,’ and they did the things the Lord had forbidden them to do.

16 They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole.   They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshipped Baal.   17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire.   They practised divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger.

Here the practice of child sacrifice is listed as one among many of the deformities of their religion and religious practice.

18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence.   Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God.   They followed the practices Israel had introduced.   20 Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; He afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until He thrust them from his presence.

Failure even in Exile, so no return :

All the people of the Northern Kingdom were removed into exile (732-720 b.c., 2 kings 17, 18:1-12) , and the King of Assyria repopulated the land of the Northern Kingdom from the rest of his empire.  When these imported peoples got into trouble the Assyrian king had them taught how to worship the Lord of that land. 2 Kings 17:28.  But the priests of the north were self-appointed, only half-heartedly learned their lessons, and went on worshipping the gods of the countries from which they came.

2 Kings 17:29-41. The Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.  [“melech” = Molech]  32 They also worshipped the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places.  33 So they worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.”   

“41 So these nations worshipped the Lord, but also served their carved images; to this day their children and their children’s children continue to do as their ancestors did.” 

As we do today, worshipping the Lord, but also worshipping the gods of those around us in our materialist consumerist Epicurean culture.

Moving conquered peoples all around was typical of the Assyrian empire, as it was with Alexander the Great later.  The Assyrian empire was at the end of its run of importance, was over-run and broken up, so there was no coherence left, nor interest in returning anyone to anywhere.

Because of these failures to learn any lesson from their experience, even to the point of continuing to sacrifice their children to their own gods at the same time as worshipping the God of Israel, no one from the northern kingdom returned from exile.


2.10. The Southern Kingdom.

The Southern Kingdom consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and Levites, but Solomon’s son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 11:42-12:24;  14:21-31;  2 Chronicles 9:31-12:16), led them astray at the beginning :

2 Kings 17:18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced.   20 Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; He afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until He thrust them from His presence.

Rehoboam : 1 Kings 14:21 : was 41 when he began his reign of 17 years.

1 Kings 14:22 Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord.   By the sins they committed they stirred up His jealous anger more than their fathers had done.   23 They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree.   24 There were even male shrine-prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.

So Rehoboam followed his father’s example not just in taxation; his father had built the great Temple, and had begun the worship of all these other gods . .. …  and Rehoboam followed the worst of his father’s habits.

Time Scale : The southern kingdom, “Judah”,  lasted 350 years; consisted of one dynasty, the house of David; had some good kings, but the good that they did was always undone; and worse could follow.

The second king, Abijam (1 Kings 14:31-15:8;  2 Chronicles 13:1-22), son of Rehoboam, committed all the sins of his father.

(1). After 2 bad kings came 2 good kings,  Asa (1 Kings 15:8-24;  2 Chronicles 13:1-22) and Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:1-50;  2 Chronicles 14:1 – 16:14), who removed many of the symbols of other religions, but not the “high places”.  Jehoshaphat did get rid of the remnants of male temple prostitutes.

Then came 3 bad monarchs : Jehoram (2 Kings 8:16-24;  2 Chronicles 21:1-20), Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:24 – 9:29;  2 Chronicles 22:1-9), and Queen Athaliah (2 Kings 11:1-20;  2 Chronicles 22:1 – 23:21), who followed the bad example of Ahab.

(2). Then came 4 good kings who did what was right, but not completely : Jehoash (Joash) (2 Kings 11:1 – 12:21;  2 Chronicles 22:10 – 24:27) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord., but did not destroy the “high places” where people continued to sacrifice and worship.  Even though the priests and people and army destroyed the temple etc of Baal.  Joash repaired the Temple.  (2 Kings 12:1-16).  Killed by his servants (2 Kings 12:19-21).

Amaziah (2 Kings 14:1-20;  2 Chronicles 25:1-28),  Azariah (Uzziah) (2 Kings 15:1-7;  2 Chronicles 26:1-23), and Jotham (2 Kings 15:32-38;  2 Chronicles 26:1-23) did what was right, but did not remove the “high places”.

Then came one of the worst kings : Ahaz, son of Jotham (2 Kings 16:1-20;  2 Chronicles 28:1-27)  did not do what was right, but walked in the way of the kings of Israel.  The first recorded child sacrifice in Judah is by none other than the king himself, following the path laid by Solomon.   This selection also attaches ‘detestable’ to child sacrifice.

2 Kings 16:2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for sixteen years.    Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God.   3 He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.   4He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

This picture shows that when the king is involved in child sacrifice in the worship of the gods then it becomes a huge social / cultural / religious event.

The story of Ahaz is repeated in Chronicles.

2 Chronicles 28:1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for sixteen years.   Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.   2 He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshipping the Baals.   3 He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations that the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.   4 He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

He also replaced the Lord’s altar in the Jerusalem Temple with one modelled on an altar in Damascus (2 Kings 16:10-16).

 (3). Ahaz was followed by a good king, Hezekiah, during whose reign the northern kingdom was destroyed :  Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, (2 Kings 18:1 – 20:21;  2 Chronicles 29:1 – 32:33) did what was right, removed the “high places”, cut down many sites.  By the 6th year of his reign Assyria had overrun the northern kingdom.  Hezekiah bought off the Assyrians.  Consulted with Isaiah, prayed, Sennacherib was defeated by the angel of the Lord in the night.  (2 Kings 19, 35f).  Became ill, recovered, showed the Babylonian envoys all the treasures of his kingdom.

Following Hezekiah was the worst of their kings:  Manasseh, son of Hezekiah (2 Kings 21:1-18;  2 Chronicles 33:1-20), worse than undid all his father’s good work.  The southern kingdom did not learn from the events in the north, as the next quote shows, the nation worsened to the point of putting idols inside the temple of the Lord their God.

2 Kings 21:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for fifty five years.   His mother’s name was Hephzibah.   2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.   3 He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done.   He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshipped them.  4 He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, ‘In Jerusalem I will put my Name.’   5 In both courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts.   6­ He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practised sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists.   He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger. … 9b Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. … 16 Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end – beside the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

2 Chronicles 33:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for fifty-five years.   2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.   3 He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles.   He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshipped them.   4 He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem for ever.”   5 In both courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts.   6 He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practised sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists.   He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger.   7 He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple, of which God had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name for ever.   8 I will not again make the feet of the Israelites leave the land I assigned to your forefathers, if only they will be careful to do everything that I commanded them concerning all the laws, decrees and ordinances given through Moses.”   9 But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites."

Kings does not record the reform of Manasseh of 2 Chronicles 33:10-17.

Amon, son of Manasseh did what was evil (2 Kings 21:19-26, 2 Chronicles 33:21-25),

 (4). Following the worst came the best of their kings :  Josiah, son of Amon (2 Kings 22:1 – 23:30;  2 Chronicles 34:1 – 35:27) found the book of the Law,

2 Kings 23:1-25 describes all the reforms of Josiah, worth reading to see how far the Israelites had sunk, and includes: 10 [Josiah] desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no-one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech [Milcom].

13 The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem in the south of the Hill of Corruption – the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the people of Ammon. …

So Solomon’s altars to these ‘vile’ gods had lasted for over 300 years!

25 Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.   26 Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger.   27 So the Lord said: ‘I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘There shall my Name be.’

Josiah’s reforms are also recorded by the Chronicler:

2 Chronicles 34 – the reforms of Josiah, who read the books of the law, and all the curses therein.   v. 22 the prophetess Huldah said that nevertheless, the curses would be carried out as written, but not in Josiah’s reign.   2 Chronicles 35:18 The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel…

Following their best king were 4 kings who did what was evil, Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31-33;  2 Chronicles 36:1-4), Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34 – 24:5; 2 Chronicles 36:5-7), Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:6-16;  2 Chronicles 36:8-10), and Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17 – 25:30;  2 Chronicles 36:10-21), and that was the end:

Zedekiah, (2 Kings 24:18f)  did evil, everyone became worse, including the leaders.

2 Chronicles 36:12 [Zedekiah] did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the Lord.

… 14 Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which He had consecrated in Jerusalem. 15 The Lord, the God of their Fathers, sent word to them through His messengers again and again, because He had pity on his people and on His dwelling place.   16 But they mocked God’s messengers, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against His people and there was no remedy. … [the remnant of Israel went into exile to Babylon]   21The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.  [and in Leviticus 26:31-35]

The Chaldeans and Babylonians overcame Judah the southern kingdom, and carted them off into exile in 3 stages.

The blame for the exile is again laid at Manasseh’s feet in:

 2 Kings 24:3 Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from His presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, 4 including the shedding of innocent blood.   For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.

Why was the reform of Josiah not enough to overcome the heritage of guilt of Manasseh?   Is it because of the story of repeated backsliding that something more drastic was needed to burn the idolatry out of Israel?   That anything else would again be temporary once they had degenerated so far as to resort to child sacrifice?  Isaiah and Jeremiah both record that the child sacrifice returned after Josiah’s reforms.

When the Babylonians came through to wipe out Judah and send the remnant into exile, they went further on the rampage, with the result : 

1.  that they wiped out all the high places and religious systems, so that there is no record of worshipping of foreign gods by the Israelites after that. 

2.  that there appears to be no child sacrifice in that region thereafter.  So in punishing the Israelites for failing to do what they were told, the Babylonians appear to have gone on to do what the Israelites were supposed to have done.

 Babylon :

In the 19th c. b.c. the Amorites founded their dynasty at Babylon.  Hammurabi (1792-1750 b.c. was their most famous king.

Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 b.c..

Tiglath-pileser III reigned as king of Assyria and simultaneously as regent of Babylonia from 728-727 b.c. 

Sennacherib reigned as king of Assyria (704-681 b.c.) and of Babylon (704-703 b.c.) attempted to take Jerusalem from Hezekiah.  (2  Kings 20:12)

Listed as part of the Chaldean revival of the Babylonian empire. 

Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 b.c.) carried King Jehoiachin of Judah and his family into exile.]


2.11. Return from Exile

Ezra and Nehemiah record their advice for -and the expulsion of- the foreign wives and their children by the returned men of Israel.  Importantly for my thesis of child sacrifice, Nehemiah credits this move to the avoidance of the corrupting example of Solomon and his foreign wives noted above.  (Nehemiah 13:23f)

So the Bible closes the circle for me, in blaming Solomon for this complete mess.


2.12. The Prophets and Psalmist

The prophets have a consistent message of speaking against idolatry and injustice, and usually see both as connected; worshipping false gods leads away from correct behaviour to corrupt behaviour, the teleology of life is lost. The prophets spoke nothing new, ever, but they merely repeated and applied the covenant curses recorded in the Pentateuch[1].   This appears to be so in relation to the subject of child sacrifice.   Molech is almost spat out by the writers as the detestable god to whom children were sacrificed.


2.12.1. The Major Prophets :


The prophetic view of God is of Him being very active in what happens, including taking responsibility, as in Job, for the bad things which happen to people:

Isaiah 45:7 I form the light and create darkness,  I bring prosperity and create disaster;  I, the Lord, do all these things.

Isaiah 54:16b And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc.

The need to act in these terrible ways is because of what humans, in this case the Israelites, do:

Isaiah 24:5 The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.  6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt, Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.

Later, the prophet explains the reasons for the coming disasters:

Isaiah 57 :5 You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; (i.e., idolatry) you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags 9 You went to Molech with olive oil and increased your perfumes.  You sent your ambassadors far away; You descended to the grave itself.  [ ] 11 Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to Me, and have neither remembered Me nor pondered this in your hearts?  Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear Me? 12 I will expose your righteousness and your works,  and they will not benefit you. 13 When you cry out for help, let your collection [of idols] save you!  The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away.  But the man who makes Me his refuge will inherit the land and possess My holy mountain.


2:23 How can you say, ‘I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals’? See how you have behaved in the valley; consider what you have done. ..

The reference to what they had done in the valley is to the Valley of Ben Hinnom where the child sacrifices occurred, a charge that they could not run away from.

3:24 From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our father’s labour - their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters.  25 Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us.

Jeremiah 7 – the people of Judah had become so bad that God was going to destroy them, so angry and determined was God that He said to Jeremiah –

7:16 So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with Me, for I will not listen to you.   17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?   [They all worship false gods, disobey God and refuse to listen.] v. 28c ‘Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.’

7:30 ‘The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord.   They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears My Name and have defiled it.   31 They have built the high places of Topeth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire – something I did not command nor did it enter My mind.   32 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, …

Jeremiah blames the sins of Manasseh as the cause of the exile, along with the pattern of backsliding from every stage of previous lessons taught to Israel.   God no longer trusts them to reform and stay on the way of wisdom.

Jeremiah 15:4 I will make them [Israel/Judah] abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem. [...] 6 You have rejected Me,” declares the Lord.   “You keep on back­sliding.   So I will lay hands on you and destroy you; I can no longer show compassion…”

In this next speech to the leaders, Jeremiah has taken the elders and priests to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, the site of the detestable shrines set up by Solomon, and the site of their sacrifice of their children to the gods.

Jeremiah 19:3b Listen!   I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.   4 For they have forsaken Me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.   5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter My mind.   6 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, [...]  15b ‘Listen!   I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to My words.”

Repeated in Jeremiah 32:30ff, as Jerusalem was under siege … 32.32 The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done – they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem.   33 They turned their backs on me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline.  34 They set up their abominable idols in the house that bears My Name and defiled it.   35They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter My mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.

[What does this last sentence say about God’s omniscience?]

Jeremiah 49.1… ‘Has Israel no sons?  Has she no heirs? Why then has Molech taken possession of Gad?  Why do His people live in its towns?

… [ But things will reverse when God acts…]

3… for Molech will go into exile, together with his priests and officials.


5:11 Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favour; I will not look on you with pity or spare you.” 

Ezekiel feels God’s pain in watching his people’s behaviour, and makes four points :

 (1) Ezekiel uses the phrase ‘detestable practices’ much more than the other prophets, and in each case it does seem to be referring to child sacrifice: it is at least included in the “detestable practices”.  Ezekiel gives three emphases of importance in this story.

Ezekiel 6:8 "But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations.   9 Then in the nations where you have been scattered captive, those who escape will remember me – how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols.   They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done, and for all their detestable practices.   10 And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them."

Ezekiel 7:8  "I [the Lord] am about to pour out my wrath on you and spend my anger against you; I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all your detestable practices.   9I will not look on you with pity or spare you; I will repay you in accordance with your conduct and detestable practices among you.   Then you will know that it is I the Lord who strikes the blow."

(2).  God takes the sacrifice of the children of Israel personally, it is the sacrifice of His children, in this chapter of metaphorical theological history of Israel.

Ezekiel 16:20 And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols.   Was your prostitution [normal idolatry] not enough?   21You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols. … 35 ‘Therefore, you prostitute, hear the word of the Lord!   36This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  Because you poured out your wealth and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood, therefore [I will punish you…]   

(3). The Israelites became more depraved than the people previously in the land.

 47 You not only walked in their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they.

16:60 "Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. … 63Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign LorD."

Sodom was not as bad as Israel has become – Ezekiel 16:48!

Ezekiel 20 is a theological history of Israel, with a list of their failings, culminating in the accusation of their practice of child sacrifice in the worship of their gods.

Ezekiel 20:25 I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; 26I let them become defiled through their gifts – the sacrifice of every firstborn – that I might fill them with horror so that they would know that I am the Lord. … 30b Will you defile yourselves the way your fathers did and lust after their vile images?   31 When you offer your gifts – the sacrifice of your sons in the fire – you continue to defile yourselves with all your idols to this day.

44 You will know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, O house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Ezekiel 23:36 The Lord said to me; “Son of man, will you judge Oholah [Samaria] and Oholibah [Jerusalem]?   Then confront them with their detestable practices. 37 for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands.   They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them.   38 They have also done this to me: At the same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths." 

(4). the admixture of religions :

*39 On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it.   That is what they did in my house.

Here the Israelites are worshipping the Lord, and worshipping the gods of the surrounding peoples and culture, even on the same day – just as we do now. .. …


2.12.2. The minor prophets

...get into the same act, or in the same vein.

Hosea 13

13:1 When Ephraim spoke, men trembled; but he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. 2 Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images.  all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, “They offer human sacrifice and kiss the calf-idols.” 3 Therefore they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing-floor, like smoke escaping through a window.

Micah 6  :  is well known for verse 8, but it is preceded by a horrific suggestion in 7b, which is roundly rejected by the more famous phrase.

6 With what shall I [Israel] come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

16 You have observed the statutes of Omri and all the practices of Ahab’s house and you have followed their traditions. Therefore I will give you over to ruin and your people to derision; you will bear the scorn of the nations.

Zephaniah 1  – warning of coming destruction – against Judah  –

4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal, the names of the pagan and the idolatrous priests -  5 those who bow down on the housetops to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the Lord and who also swear by Molech [...] 9 On that day [of the Lord] I will punish  all who avoid stepping on the threshold  [Dagon worshippers] who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.”

Remember that Molech was the god to whom the only sacrifice was child sacrifice.


2.12.3. The Psalmist : 106

Psalm 106:  [After describing the problems that the people of Israel had in keeping to God’s ways in the exodus …]

34 They did not destroy the peoples as the Lord had commanded them, 35 but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. 36 They worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. 38 They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood. 39 They defiled themselves by what they did; by their deeds they prostituted themselves. 40 Therefore the Lord was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance. 41 He handed them over to the nations, and their foes ruled over them.

Thus the Psalmist also agrees with the explanation of and reason for the exile given here.


3. The Inter-Testamental period

Between the writing of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, writers give the same explanation of the problems in the Promised Land.

Wisdom (?) of Solomon 12:1-11f; 3f, “Those who lived long ago in your holy land you hated for their detestable practices, their works of sorcery and unholy rites, their merciless slaughter of children, and their sacrificial feasting on human flesh and blood.  These initiates from the midst of a heathen cult, these parents who murder helpless lives…”  [...]   14:23 “they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries”

In the inter-Testamental period “Gehenna” became the Hebrew word for the Valley of Ben Hinnom, with its “Topeth” which was derived from an Aramaic word meaning “fire place”, with the Hebrew vowels for ‘shame’ inserted.  This was the site on which they sacrificed their children.

Also in this inter-Testamental period “Gehenna” became the metaphor for hell or eternal damnation, 1 Enoch 27:2f; 90:26f;  2 Esdras 7:36-38. 

This is how “Gehenna” is translated in Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9;  Mark 9:45;  James 3:6.  It is also used in Matthew 13:42, 50; Mark 9:43; and Matthew 25:41. 

In the NIV, NRSV, ESV, the word “hell” has a footnote to “Gehenna”, but without this background of what Gehenna was in their history, the child sacrifice that they did in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, then the modern reader is disconnected from the historical reality of the bite of this reference by Jesus.

This translation removes the sting, the bite, that Jesus puts into his words, that Jesus is saying – if you continue on your present path, and do not clean up your act, then you are on the same path to the ultimate sin and disgrace of your forebears?  Thus “Hell” is not so much a place as it is the result of your own continued choices; God’s worst punishment is to leave you to the consequences of your own choices.


4. The Atheists

Lucretius (~99-55b.c.) : De rerum natura, his great Latin Epicurean materialist poem.

Lucretius said that there are acts done in the name of the gods that would be utterly condemned in other areas of life.

Animal sacrifice is ineffectual.

Sacrifice is horrific if the victim is a human...

His worst example was the myth of Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia to Artemis at Aulis to obtain a favourable wind for his navy.

Plutarch (<50 – 120a.d.) argued that in such cases it is not that religion is wrong, but that the gods have been misrepresented.

Lucretius wrote “Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum" : (“Such is the terrible evil [human sacrifice] that religion was able to urge”)

Voltaire sent this to Frederick II, the Great, of Prussia, in 1737 to promote secularism, with Frederick the Great changing the universities of Germany from Pietism to Deism and turning them into instruments of the state.

 [This connects with my Deism thesis, and helps explain the downgrading of the Old Testament as Scripture in the 18th century rise of Deistic Critical Liberal Theology and since, the inability to explain this ghastly episode because the underlying causative factor of child sacrifice in the worship of their gods had not been explicated.  This made it easier, in turn, to deny the inspiration of the New Testament also.]


5. New Testament

5.1. The New Testament reason given for the wipe-out of Israel

and the sending of the remnant into Exile:

Acts 7:43, Stephen to the Sanhedrin, quoting Amos 5:25-27 (Septuagint LXX), to explain the exile,

43 You have lifted up the shrine of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship.Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.        

Again, Moloch is the 'god' to whom the only sacrifice was child sacrifice.


5.2. The Valley of Ben-Hinnom, Gehenna,  Topheth, Hell

Old photo of Hinnom Valley

The Valley of Ben-Hinnom is on one side of Jerusalem.  Solomon had set up the shrines and altars to his wives’ gods, including the gods Molech and Chemosh.  Israel had descended to sacrificing their children to more gods than those nations that had already been there – as they had been told they would do.

Jeremiah had taken their leaders into this Valley of Ben-Hinnom and told them that it was because of what they did there - the child sacrifice etc. - that they would be wiped out and that only a remnant would survive.

Those who returned from exile recognised the site of their ultimate disgrace, and by the time of Jesus the Valley of Ben-Hinnom was known by its Hebrew name, Gehenna.  The critical central part of the valley, the place where the children were sacrificed, known as Topheth, which now had the Hebrew vowels for “shame” inserted into it.

Gehenna, the Valley of Ben Hinnom, had become the rubbish dump of the city, where the fire burned continually to burn up the smelly rubbish.  Gehenna” had become, for some, a symbol for hell. 

Seven times Jesus warned his disciples against committing sins that would lead them to Gehenna, that if they made the wrong choices then they too could end up in the rubbish dump : the warning of their possible future was out of the depth of the worst of their own past:  Matthew 5:22, 29, 30;  23:33.  Mark 9:43, 47. Luke 12:5

When Gehenna is read as “hell” the bite of the reminder of the depths of their own depravity of child sacrifice in the worship of their gods, is missed.  Sort your­selves out or you will end up this bad also…  Hell” is the consequences of your own choices.  As noted above.


6. Chronology / timetable

The timescale involved indicates that God does not issue on-the-spot fines.  He gave people 400 years, twice, in which to see and feel the horrors of the results of their choices and change.  They did not. 

God gave the southern kingdom of Judah 130 years after the northern kingdom was wiped out to reform.  They did not.

With no instant connection between sin and punishment, there was time to change, = repent.   This time was misinterpreted :

Isaiah 57:11: "Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, and have neither remembered me nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?

Wisdom (?) of Solomon 12:10 “but judging them little by little you gave them an opportunity to repent.”

Ezekiel 20:26 “I let them become defiled through their gifts – the sacrifice of every firstborn – that I might fill them with horror so that they would know that I am the Lord.”

“Deuteronomy explains [child sacrifice in the worship of their gods] as the custom of the indigenous population of Canaan.  The Israelites practiced this type of worship from about 735 b.c. until about 575 b.c..  The reference to child sacrifice in the worship of their gods in Jeremiah and Ezekiel show that Josiah’s reforms did not eradicate it;” [2]  i.e., at least 160 years of the practice of child sacrifice in their worship of other gods by Israel, time to learn, react, revolt against their own behaviour.  Once developed, then the people of Israel repeatedly fell back into the practice of child sacrifice in their worship of other gods, even after four reforms by good kings.  The whole society had become so corrupt, degenerate, that child sacrifice in the worship of their gods could not be eradicated, even by the king removing all those sacred sites.


7. Conclusion :

The “Destroy them utterly” and “Show them no mercy” clauses were given,  

Not for sin,  not for idolatry – everyone had both of these.

It was for the “despicable things” that the people already in the Promised Land did in worshipping their gods.

In particular it claims, implicitly, and demonstrates, that  child sacrifice in worship of their gods marks an unrecoverable degeneration of a religion / society / culture.

The materialists Epicurus and Lucretius agree that child sacrifice is the worst thing done in the name of religion.

The history of Israel supports this claim, and extends it to say that this is an unrecoverable stage for a religion / society / culture.  Israel did not follow their instructions, instead they intermixed and intermarried with the child-sacrificing people of the Promised Land, and descended to sacrificing their children to more gods than the people had before them, as they were warned they would. 

This history of Israel also shows that the degeneration of a religion / culture / society to child sacrifice in the worship of their gods is an unredeemable situation, with their repeated return to child sacrifice in the worship of their other gods in spite of four clean-ups by good kings.  Only after the work of Ezra and Nehemiah after the return of the remnant from Exile did the Jews finally clean up their act and become monotheistic and loyal to their God.

This is a l-o-n-g, coherent, sorry, story from the Exodus to the Exile to the return of the remnant before Israel had learnt its lessons.

Israel did not follow their instructions to wipe these people out utterly.

Further, against warnings the Israelites mixed with and intermarried with the locals and began to worship their gods, as warned.

The result was that the people of Israel descended to child sacrifice, and to sacrificing their children to more gods than the people before them in the land, as warned.

They show, by lack of recovery of good sense even after 4 clean-ups by good kings, that once a culture descends to the point of child sacrifice in the worship of their gods.... there is no way back.

Jesus warns that we are no different, that we are subject to the same temptations to err, which can put us on the slippery slope to our own Valley of Ben-Hinnom, our own “hell”,.  Jesus has knifed the Jews with the worst of their own history, and the bite of his comment is lost when translated generically as “Hell”.

* * * *

Here follow a few comments . .. …

 8. The Law of Christ : why child sacrifice is the ultimate sin.

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. and a second is like it : (Wow!  We need a sermon on this connecting comment)

2. Love your neighbour as yourself.

The great sin against the first half – idolatry.

The great sin against the second half – injustice.

“On these two laws hang all the Law and the Prophets”.  So this Law of Christ sums up 27 books of the Old Testament The Law  (5 books)  The Former Prophets  (6)  The Major Prophets  (3)  The Minor Prophets  (13)  (Daniel was counted among the prophets when Jesus said this; it was moved out to the writings after the destruction of the Temple.)  5 + 6 + 3 + 13  =  27  books of the O.T. are summarised by the Law of Christ.

Child sacrifice – the ultimate sin :                                

Child sacrifice is the ultimate sin against the first half of the Law of Christ,  you sacrifice this child to a god that is no god, 

and is the ultimate sin against the second half of the Law of Christ – because you take this child whom you have made in an act of co-creation with God, your child to whom you specifically, personally, owe all the love, care, protection etc. of parenting, and instead of loving and caring this child, you kill it – for what?

Why sacrifice your child?

The more important your offering, the greater the gift to the god.  Your child, your most important / valuable possession, is the greatest thing that you can offer to the god.

But and still and however - How can you actually do this??????  As the atheists said, this is the worst action within religion, and, as shown with this study, it is heavily condemned biblically as the worst thing that humans can do, so bad that it is an unrecoverable situation for a religion / culture / people.


9. Abraham and Isaac :

Can you imagine God saying –  “Look at that!  These humans really will do this sort of thing – sacrifice their children to – to what?!  For what?!  Even this Abraham fellow, whom I thought was a pretty decent, sensible sort of bloke to carry out my plans.”?

Like the training of Moses for leadership, this story of the ‘sacrifice of Isaac’ is built in at the beginning : this episode was to teach Abraham, and his descendants, that this was what they were NOT to do, that God would provide the sacrifice, firstly in the Temple sacrificial system, and eventually with his own Son.

Previously, Abraham had argued / negotiated with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, why did he not do so over this instruction?


10. The crucifixion of Jesus.

This, was the ultimate sacrifice that God would provide, needs the doctrine of the Trinity to see why it is not child sacrifice.  It is God himself feeling the worst that we can suffer – [Spufford, “Unapologetic”, useful on this, God’s coming and feeling of our pains with the incarnation and all associated life and death.]


Q. Is abortion the modern child sacrifice?  A common question, I have found.  No, I don’t think so. (**)

1. Child sacrifice was performed in a public ceremony of worship of their gods.

2. Abortion is not mentioned in the New Testament.  The Early Church Fathers treat abortion under the rubric of  ‘thou shalt not kill’ with no reference to child sacrifice.

3. Jesus’ warnings against descending to ‘hell’ have no reference to abortion but to other temptations and actions that might lead us equally as far astray.



Before Promised Land Shown promised Land - Genesis 15:16.

Show them no mercy :  Deuteronomy 7:1-2, 5-6, 16; 20:16-18.

Child sacrifice : Leviticus 18:21, 24, 27-30;  20:1-5, 22-23 Deuteronomy 12:29-32;  18:9-14;

Do not intermarry :  Exodus 34:15-16 Deuteronomy 7:3-4.

Israelites are no better :  Deuteronomy 7:7-8;  9:4-6f.

Blessings, curses, warnings Deuteronomy 11:26-28 Joshua 24:20, etc

Copying detestable practices Deuteronomy 20:16-18.

Choice : Joshua 24:14-15 Solomon

Worshipping other gods : 1 Kings 11:1-8.

Prophecy of disaster : 1 Kings 11:29-40.

Warnings to Solomon : 1 Kings 11:9-13;  2 Chr. 7:19-22.

Split of Kingdom : 1 Kings 12:1-24;  2 Chr. 10.

Northern Kingdom - Jeroboam :  1 Kings 11:25–14:20;  2 Chr. 9:29–13:22.

Ahab and Jezebel : 1 Kings 16:28–22:40;  2 Chr. 18:1-34.

Child Sacrifice : 2 Kings 3:26-27.

Reasons for wipe-out 2 Kings 17 – 18:12

Southern Kingdom - Rehoboam : 1 Kings 11:42–12:24; 14:21-31;  2 Chr. 9:31–12:16.

Ahaz : 2 Kings 16:1-20;  2 Chr. 28.

Hezekiah : 2 Kings 18:1–20:21;  2 Chr. 29:1 – 32:33.

Manasseh : 2 Kings 21:1-18;  1 Chr. 33:1-20.

Josiah : 2 Kings 22:1–23:30;  2 Chr. 34, 35.

Zedekiah : 2 Kings 24:17 – 25:30;  2 Chr. 36:10-21.

Exile - reasons : 2 Kings 24, 25.


Isaiah : 57:5, 9

Jeremiah : 2:23;  3:24-25;  7:30-32;  15:4-6;  19:1-7, 14-15;  32:30-35;  49:1-3.  [Milcom = Molech];

Ezekiel : 5:11;  6:8-10;  7:8-9;  16:20-21, 35-36, 47;  20:26, 31;  23:36-39.

Hosea : 13:1-3.

Micah : 6:6-8, 16.

Zephaniah : 1:4-9.

Psalms :  106:34-41.

Return from Exile : Ezra 9, 10;   Nehemiah 13:23ff

Apocrypha :  Wisdom (?) of Solomon 12:1-8f; 14:23 2 Esdras 7:36-38; (Also 1 Enoch 27:2f; 90:26f)

New Testament - The Exile :  Acts 7:43 (quoting LXX Septuagint).

Valley of Ben-Hinnom  to  Gehenna : Matthew 5:22, 29, 30;  23:33;  Mark 9:43, 47; Luke 12:5   (James 3:6.)   (tr. “hell”)

Law of Christ : Matthew 7:12;  22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28.

Abraham and Isaac :  Genesis 22:1-19.

Jesus : Crucifixion

[3] Douglas Stuart, in General Introduction to his Word Commentary on the first group of minor prophets.

[4] Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, p. .



Article published on: 30-6-2018.

Last update: 30-6-2018.