Richard Agee

Levitucus 20:1-5: Molekh vs. priesthood of Israel

Richard AgeeThe mysterious deity-king Molekh appears in the Bible for the first time. Canaanites and later Israelites sacrificed their babies in fire to Molekh. What power did this worship hold then and does it unsuspectingly hold now?

There is a certain “king” who is mentioned five times in Leviticus 20 and he is mentioned in relation with the Israelite priesthood. I wanted to find out why God mentioned this king’s name so many times. Why is this “king” worthy of any mention in the Tanakh? 

I found myself asking God, “What is so important you in this Book?” Who is Molech? His name is a variation of the word מלך melekh, which means “king.” King David and all the kings of Israel were referred by this title but the kings of the nations are referred to by the title melekh as well. Molech is also related to Ba’al. 

“And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.” (Lev. 18:21 KJV)

God pronounces a harsh penalty on those who cause their children to “pass through the fire to Molech” as we read in Lev. 20:2, “Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.” 

Death by stoning is not a quick death, like a beheading. It’s a slow, painful, enduring death. 

God goes on to say, “I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name.” Israel was addressing Molech by God’s personal name, YHWH. They were making child sacrifices demanded by Molech in the name of YHWH and He detested this practice so much that people who would dare to commit such a crime were to be put to death in a slow manner as an stern example. 

Why does God go out of his way in Leviticus to mention this particular type of sacrifice to this type of “god”? 

“And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives some of his descendants to Molech, and they do not kill him, then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from his people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Molech.” (Lev. 20-4-5 NKJV)

God even has a harsh penalty for those to ignore this crime. He doesn’t just cut off the person who witnessed the child sacrifice and winked at it. God says He will cut off the silent witness’s entire clan from the promises of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It’s not a death sentence. It means that the man and his clan will no longer have any inheritance in Israel for ignoring such a heinous crime against the children and against His name. By ignoring the desecration of God’s name and reputation, you are participating in it. 

We should pay attention to what God tells us is evil and not participate in it. Living in holiness is not a matter of religion. It’s a matter of wanting to be more like Him. 

God’s name is not profaned if a non-Israelite commits a sin in the name of a king, or a court, or a nation. But when Israel, who bear God’s name, commit horrible crimes, those become a description of His name, that is a crime he takes seriously (Psalm 106). 

“They have not destroyed the peoples, As Jehovah had said to them, and mix themselves among nations, and learn their works, and serve their idols, And they are to them for a snare. And they sacrifice their sons And their daughters to destroyers, and they shed innocent blood — Blood of their sons and of their daughters, Whom they have sacrificed to idols of Canaan, And the land is profaned with blood.” (Ps. 106:34-38 YLT) 

When God talks about the land “being profaned with blood” most of the time, this is God’s condemnation of child sacrifice.  They were not just sacrificing babies and infants. They even sacrificed teenagers. 

Ezekiel, the priest/prophet, many generations after King David, said:

“Again, this they have done to Me, They defiled My sanctuary in that day, And My sabbaths they have polluted. And in their slaughtering their sons to their idols They also come in unto My sanctuary in that day to pollute it, And lo, thus they have done in the midst of My house.” (Ezek. 23:38-39 YLT)

The children of Israel at this time were causing their children to pass through fire right in His temple, in His sanctuary. Can you see why God would be profoundly upset by this? 

God does not always intervene to stop people from committing evil against each other. God has the records, He has power to resurrect the dead and the judgment is His to make.

“In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah reigned hath Ahaz son of Jotham king of Judah. A son of twenty years [is] Ahaz in his reigning, and sixteen years he hath reigned in Jerusalem, and he hath not done that which [is] right in the eyes of Jehovah his God, like David his father, and he walketh in the way of the kings of Israel, and also his son he hath caused to pass over into fire, according to the abominations of the nations that Jehovah dispossessed from the presence of the sons of Israel, and he sacrificeth and maketh perfume in high places, and on the heights, and under every green tree.” (2 Kings 16:1-4 YLT)

Ahaz, this evil, wicked King of Judah, was the father of King Hezekiah, the righteous king who cleaned out the complicit Levitical priests. However, Hezekiah’s lesson was short lived because his son Manasseh, who committed the same sin as his grandfather Ahaz. 

Even King Solomon condoned Molech worship. 

“And Solomon goeth after Ashtoreth god[dess] of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites; and Solomon doth the evil thing in the eyes of Jehovah, and hath not been fully after Jehovah, like David his father. Then doth Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, in the hill that [is] on the front of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the sons of Ammon; and so he hath done for all his strange women, who are perfuming and sacrificing to their gods.” (1 Kings 11:5-8 YLT)

King Solomon allowed an abomination to Molech was built on the top of the Mount of Olives. The statute to Molech and these other gods was not hidden, it was a high place. Everyone knew about it and saw it. 

Kidron Valley, with the Mount of Olives in the background. (Henrik Bernhard, freeimages.com)
Kidron Valley, with the Mount of Olives in the background. (Henrik Bernhard, freeimages.com)

Why didn’t God punish Him on the spot for allowing this abomination? He didn’t do anything about it? That is not how God operates. God does not have any delight in killing the wicked. He wants them to repent and live. 

“…Hear a word of Jehovah, ye kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Thus said Jehovah of Hosts, God of Israel: `Lo, I am bringing in evil on this place, at which the ears of every one who is hearing it do tingle, because that they have forsaken Me, and make known this place, and make perfume in it to other gods, that they knew not, they and their fathers, and the kings of Judah, and they have filled this place [with] innocent blood, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons with fire, burnt-offerings to Baal, that I commanded not, nor spake of, nor did it come up on My heart. Therefore, lo, days are coming — an affirmation of Jehovah — and this place is not called any more, Tophet, and Valley of the son of Hinnom, but, Valley of slaughter.” (Jeremiah 19:3-6 YLT) 

We can’t use God’s omniscience as an excuse for our sin. God is not a god of death but a God of life. 

Yeshua made reference to the valley of Hinnom, otherwise known as Gehenna several times in his Parables and teachings. For example Yeshua said, 

“And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna.” (Matthew 10:28 YLT)

There were three high places in and around Jerusalem: Mt. Moriah, the Mount of Olives and Mt. Zion. Today, Mt. Zion has been bulldozed so it doesn’t exist anymore. Yeshua on His return will split the Mount of Olives in half (Zechariah 14), to wipe it out of our memory because of the heinous crimes that occurred nearby. 

Jeremiah wasn’t the only prophet who reminded the children of Israel about their Molech inspired crimes. Amos and Stephen (who actually quotes Amos) also reminded the children of Israel how their ancestors had defiled themselves and their children to Moloch. 

You also carried Sikkuth your king And Chiun, your idols, The star of your gods, Which you made for yourselves. (Amos 5:26, NKJV)

“You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.” (Acts 7:43 NKJV) 

Why are we spending our time going through this? Sacrificing one’s children was not as uncommon in Israel as one might think. 

Easton’s Dictionary describes the god of Ammonites as a god who was a “consuming destroyer.” 

When a pagan wants to give your child to god, they give the child (either daughter or son) as the equivalent of a shalom or whole offering. It’s one where everything was given to the deity. The child was killed, its blood spilled and then burned to ash.

Let’s a read a section. It is really hard. I’ve read many explanations about different blood rituals. Blood represents life. In Judges there’s a very strange story, which God had commanded them not to do in the Torah. We will review the story very carefully. 

It’s recorded in the book of Judges. We know that God doesn’t want the blood of human beings, yet we read about Yiftakh’s (Jephthah) unusual vow.

“Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Yiftakh, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. And Yiftakh made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.'” (Judges 11:29-31 NKJV) 

Yiftakh didn’t say that he would offer something that came out of the out of the doors of his territory, or the gates of his goats, chickens, or cattle, but out of the doors of  his house. Also notice that this vow was in regards to a prayer to God for military victory against the people of Ammon, who were the worshippers of Molech. 

What happened?

“When Yiftakh came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.'” (Judges 11:34-35 NKJV) 

What did Yiftakh do? Some people suppose that he was going to sacrifice his servant but one doesn’t have legal right to kill a servant unless they commit a capital crime. We don’t like how this is written. I’m not given Yiftakh a way out of this. 

How did his daughter respond? Does she beg for her life? Did she quote Torah to rebuke her father? No. Let’s read what she said. 

So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.” (Judges 11:36-37 NKJV)

In order to be sacrificed to Molech, one had to be pure. Just as when an animal is sacrificed to God, it must be young, perfect and pure. 

Notice particularly in Judges 11:37-38 that she “bewails my virginity” not her life. 

So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. (Judges 11:38-39 NKJV)

Notice she went to the mountains to bewail her virginity. It doesn’t say she went to the valleys or the cities. We don’t know what mountain she visited, but it was a high place. All the pagan religions have their idols and conduct their worship services on the high places. We don’t like to hear this but the story ends with Yiftakh fulfilling the vow. 

The story concludes this way:

And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Yiftakh the Gileadite. (Judges 11:39-40 NKJV)

This is only 100 years or so after Moses, and we see here that the children of Israel had adopted the practices of the Canaanites.

We read in Torah that God had told the people through Moses that sacrifices were only to be made at the Tabernacle. We have to ask ourselves some questions. 

When we go back to Leviticus, we read God’s clear word that He didn’t want them to sacrifice their children in His name. God had delivered Jephthah from His enemies and Jephthah had made an irrational vow. The Torah does give instruction on how to get out of a foolish vow but we don’t think about that. Jephthah assumed he had to keep the vow now matter what. 

Yiftakh believed a lie. The Levitical priesthood were not teaching the people the truth of God’s word. 

I don’t like this story but it is what it is. There’s something for us to understand. When God talks about a bloody nation, He is rebuking a nation that sacrifices children and would presume to do it in His own sanctuary. 

When we think about children. Sometimes we get annoyed by our teenagers but God loves them. Jephthah’s daughter was not a young child, she was most likely a teenager or a young woman, who was mature enough to understand what was being asked of her.

God says if you dedicate a child to Him, that child is His. The child is to be a living sacrifice not a dead one. We read about children such as Samson and Samuel who were dedicated from birth to God’s service. They were not killed and burned up but lived lives of service.  

All of our insight is God’s hindsight, it’s what God has given us. He has taught us what happened in the past for our benefit so we won’t repeat the mistakes of those who came before us. 

Reader: Jeff. Speaker: Richard Agee. Summary: Tammy.


 

Alternate reading of Yiftakh’s vow

An alternate view of Judges 11 is that Yiftakh dedicated his daughter to lifelong service in the Sanctuary, rather than having her killed on the altar. That’s based on the allowed meaning of the Hebrew conjunction ו vav/waw as or instead of and. Translated that way, the last part of Judges 11:31 would read:

“‘… shall surely be the Lord’s, or I will offer it up as a burnt offering.'”

For more on this view, see “Child Sacrifice in Judges 11?” by Richard Anthony.


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