To many Christians and Jews, the Bible is the unquestioned authority on morality. Often times you’ll hear believers say that the Bible is a book of morals but they never take the time to actually read it and when you point out the atrocities contained within, they look at you as if you’re the crazy one and say “Well, I don’t believe that!” In this episode we are going to look at what the Holy Bible has to say about Child Sacrifice! This is C-Webb’s Sunday School!
On the surface, it seems like we can intuitively answer the question of child sacrifice in the Bible. Hell No! God never condoned it but other tribes at the time participated in it. Sounds about right but once you dig a little deeper than what your preacher tells you on Sunday or what you and your little Bible Study group go over on Wednesday, you can see that the idea of child sacrifice evolved as Yahweh evolved. In this episode I will show you the evidence from the Bible that at one point in time (figuratively of course, most of early Jewish history in the Bible is completely made up) Yahweh not only condoned child sacrifice but actually accepted it as a form of tribute. I will once again use the actual words from the Holy Bible to make my case.
I think the best place to start is with a story that most of us are familiar with and that is the Exodus story. I’m going to skip the parts about locus and bloody waters and jump right the end. Exodus 11:4-6:
So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.
Jews and Christians love this story. The evil Pharaoh getting what he deserves, the triumphant Jews escape with the help of almighty God and this story is even used in the infancy narrative of Jesus. Needless to say, it’s a pivotal point in the story of Yahweh and his followers. Nevermind the fact that the there is no evidence that the Exodus ever occurred, that’s for a different episode, what is important, is what God actually does in the passage.
What we see here is God performing child sacrifice. He is killing all of the first born of the non-Jews. From Pharaoh all the way down to the slaves and even the animals. This is child sacrifice. God is offering up children to be sacrificed for his pleasure. Several times throughout this story, God hardens the heart of Pharaoh, essentially overriding his free will and he even does so with this last attempt to free the Jews. If it were not for God hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, the Jews would have long since been released but for some reason, God wanted this to occur. God wanted this sacrifice. Now this is one small paragraph, we simply cannot extrapolate God condoning child sacrifice from this. We need other pieces of evidence and lucky for us, we can find it right there in the pages of the Old Testament.
God had a history of accepting child sacrifice and it wasn’t until late in the history of Israel that child sacrifice was finally abolished. God only had a problem with child sacrifices if it was to other gods and I’ll show you that these other gods did indeed accept these sacrifice. Yes, the God of the Bible acknowledged the existence of other gods, even the Israelites were aware of this fact but we’ll get to that eventually. First, let us look at another familiar story and that is Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:2:
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
The rest of the chapter is Abraham getting everything ready to sacrifice his son until God steps in and stops him and replaces Isaac with a ram. Because of this, scholars think that this story is evidence that it was part of a late biblical tradition and therefore an interpolation. Even if we accept the story at face value, Abraham barely bats an eye at the request to sacrifice his child, it wasn’t an impossible request. As a matter of fact, the only thing that was unexpected, was the ram they eventually sacrificed.
So far, we don’t have any concrete examples of God wanting child sacrifice. We’re kind of speculating at this point but luckily we have a few verse to make our case at little more concrete. First let’s look at Exodus 22:29-30:
“You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.”
“The firstborn of your sons” is pretty straight forward. I’m not sure how else to read that. The next line is about doing the same with oxen and sheep. Could this really be condoning and even encouraging child sacrifice? To fully understand this verse and we have to go to Ezekiel 20:25-26:
So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live;I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the Lord.’
With this verse, we see God did indeed approve of the sacrificing of the first born but only did so because he wanted to put fear into the hearts of the Israelites. What you will notice throughout the Old and New Testament is the idea of a substitute sacrifice and this is what we saw with the Abraham story and we see this in other verses as well like Exodus 13:13
Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.
Clearly an animal sacrifice is a substitute for the firstborn of man but in our Exodus 22 verse, no substitute is indicated. We’re to assume that God wanted the firstborn of man to be sacrificed to him. It was a more pleasing sacrifice but seeing how that was bad for population growth, he accepted an inferior animal sacrifice and the ritual of circumcision was a stand-in for child sacrifice as well. When placed within context of other cultures and tribes in the area, God got upset when child sacrifice was made to other gods. Was this because he found child sacrifice abhorrent or was it the fact that the sacrifice was made a another god? Leviticus 20:2 sheds some light on this:
“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.”
“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.”
2 Kings 17:17:
And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.
Here we see God getting angry at child sacrifice to other deities, again, not because it was morally wrong but because it was offered to another god. Now you could very well read into it that God found child sacrifice abhorrent but I do have an example of it actually working against the Israelites. Yes, I have a passage that says an enemy of Israel sacrificed his child as a burnt offering and it caused the Israelites to retreat. 2 Kings 3:26-27:
When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.
Apparently child sacrifice did indeed work. It sounds like God wanted to stop child sacrifice to other deities because it has proven power. Again, God wasn’t against child sacrifice, just child sacrifice to other deities and this even goes to show us that these other gods did indeed exist, that Yahweh was not the only god in town, why else would he be so upset?
It’s getting harder to believe that God was against child sacrifice but what about actual child sacrifices to God himself? Right now we just have stories and commands about how and when to do it, surely there is not biblical characters that actually participated in child sacrifice? Based on the text and God’s commandments, it can be assumed that Israelites sacrificed their first borns to other gods and clearly other cultures in the region participated in this ritual but we do have examples of biblical characters sacrificing their child to Yahweh himself and the first example is Jephthah from Judges 11:30:
And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”
Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made.
It’s pretty obvious what happened here. Jephthah made a vow to God that whatever was the first thing to greet him when he returned from battle, he would offer up as a burnt offering to God. With his shitty luck, his daughter was the first thing to greet him and he could not break his vow with God and he did what he said he would do, a burnt offering to god. He sacrificed his only daughter to God. Now why didn’t God step in like he did with Abraham and stop Jephthah? Why did he let him go through with this? Because the offering was made to Yahweh and is was an appropriate offering. Moral of the story, your vow to God is more important than the lives of your children.
We have other examples of Israelites offering up child sacrifice to God such as 2 Kings 16:2-3:
Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.
In Micah 6:6-8, we see Micah wondering what he should offer to God as a sin offering:
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
What these verses point out is that child sacrifice was not a foreign notion to the Israelites and at times was an acceptable offering to God. What keep seeing this over and over again throughout the Old Testament. It is even the reason God sent the Babylonians to conquer Israel in 2 Kings 17:16-18:
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 worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger. So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left,
Child Sacrifice was a very real thing throughout the Old Testament. At times God accepted it as an offering and at others he rejected the offering to other Gods. We see God condoning and condemning it and we also see that child sacrifice did indeed wield some power. I can keep going on and point to even more verse but I think you get my point. The God of the Old Testament was a barbaric tribal God and the idea of child sacrifice was not foreign and was even practiced amongst the Israelites. Any other conclusion is ignoring the text and amounts to putting one’s fingers in their ears and screaming “I’m not listening!”
Looking at the evidence, it’s not hard to conclude that human, specifically child, sacrifice was practice in the Middle East and around the mediterranean. If we accept the bible narrative at face value, something for the sake of argument, it seems that God not only condoned but accepted human sacrifice as an offering. Personally the whole idea of sacrificing even animals to some deity is appalling but like most things in the Old Testament, 21st century morality is usually better than bronze age morality, go figure?
But before I go, we are missing one big, many say the most important, human sacrifice of all. Not only did God accept and condone human sacrifices, he actually sacrificed his only begotten son and his name is Jesus. We seem to forget that, don’t we? The very center of Christian theology is the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus, a human and child sacrifice. It makes no difference what Christians say about the God of the Old Testament, they can’t escape the fact that the core of their beliefs is human sacrifice. Plain and simple. Not only that, but God carries on with this in the form of eternal torment in hell…depending what form of Christianity you believe in. Regardless of your flavor of Christianity, you can’t escape that God performed and accepted the human sacrifice of his only begotten son. Good night!