Sin leads us where we could never imagine going. Christ went there to free us.
How many of you can imagine taking your newborn child and offering them up to be placed into fire? What if that sacrifice would bring you the hope it would secure your family economic prosperity in the future? Would that change your mind?
If the answer to both of those questions is no, then you’re exactly where the Israelites were roughly 700 years before the prophet Jeremiah spoke the words of judgment, found in Jeremiah Chapter 19, on the southern kingdom of Judah for doing this very thing.
While it may not seem relevant to us today, this section of scripture has a lot to teach us about the deceptive and “slippery slope” nature of sin. It’s my hope that by taking a deeper dive into a text like this we will be reminded of and/or propelled newly towards the answer that is found in Jesus Christ.
History & Context
Around 1400 BC Moses delivered his final address to the nation of Israel prior to them entering into the promised land.
In it he warns them over and over to avoid the worship of the gods of the people that inhabited the land:
Deut. 4:15-31 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. 21 Furthermore, the LORD was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance. 22 For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land. 23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. 24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. 25 “When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. 31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.
Deut. 7:25-26 The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. 26 And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.
Deut. 8:17-20 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.
Deut. 12:29-31 “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?–that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.
Around 700 years later, in 722 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. They had succumbed to the very thing that Moses had warned them about… idol worship. This is the kingdom of the northern ten tribes that God called the prophet Hosea to prophesy to.
Jeremiah then prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah for over 40 years, from around 627 BC until 586 BC, until Judah fell to the Babylonians.
The southern two tribes fell prey to the exact same sin of idol worship as the northern tribes. They held out 136 years after the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity, but eventually gave in to the same sinful patterns.
Which leads us to our text of Jeremiah Chapter 19. Here we find a stunning rebuke and judgement coming upon the people of Judah for offering their children up into fire as a sacrifice to false gods.
(Read Jeremiah 19:4-9)
How did they get there? How could they do such a thing?
In order to answer those questions we need to take a look at the practice of idol worship among the people that they were supposed to have wiped out completely from the promised land, but didn’t.
Idol Worship Explained
In my brief study of the ancient religions of the time that inhabited the land promised to Israel between the time of 1400 BC to 700 BC I found a complex web of gods and idol worship systems, but a few reoccuring themes among them that are backed up and supported by scripture.
While there are numerous gods or deities, all referred to as Baals, there were three that consistently rose to the top as the most worshipped and sacrificed to.
El = lead god & father type figure
Asherah = sexual fertility & mother type figure
Baal Hammon aka Molech = weather god or fertility of vegetation and agriculture & a son type figure
Notice the close parallel to the trinity of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit? I don’t think this is a coincidence. Satan, the deceiver, has always been hard at work to set up systems of thought and religion that contain bits of the truth but lack the full truth. He’s been a master of convincing people to buy into things that sound right and seem right, but in the end do not satisfy or produce real life. Baal worship was one of those systems.
Another thing I found was that the place of sacrifices to Baal, in any region, was referred to as a “Topheth.” We find this word repeated multiple times in the text of Jeremiah 19. This was the place where Jeremiah’s pronouncement of judgement was declared. Directly in the place where the children were sacrificed.
What was it about this idol worship system that was so enticing and gripping to the Israelites?
Why couldn’t they shake it? & How on earth could they end up sacrificing their own children to false gods into fire?!
How could they sacrifice their children?
Let’s take a closer look at the two Baals that get the most mentions in scripture for a second to understand what made them so enticing and difficult to get away from for God’s people.
Asherah = sexual fertility
This Baal represented all things having to do with sexual reproduction and intimacy. When scripture references God’s people joining themselves to temple prostitutes, this is the Baal that they were worshipping. Men would visit a temple of Asherah and pick a woman to sleep with as a way of appeasing the Baal Asherah. Women from across the region both volunteered and were forced to perform this duty as their offering to this Baal. It was seen as a means of ensuring reproductive fertility blessings for your own family. Since having many children was extremely valued, both for status and for economic productivity purposes, this would have been a powerful blessing to desire and attempt to manipulate in their favor for both men and women.
You can imagine the temptation to take part in this would have been great. Here was a culturally acceptable means of experiencing pleasure and intimacy outside of the bounds of marriage that was actually sanctioned and condoned by the culture.
Baal Hammon aka Molech = weather god or fertility of vegetation and agriculture
This Baal represented all things that governed the main way that people made money, namely agriculture fueled by favorable weather. Making sacrifices and appeasing this god was thought to be responsible for ensuring good crops, and healthy animals to be supported by the right kind of weather to make them flourish and thereby create economic comfort and stability.
There was a strong narrative of death and rebirth that accompanied this god’s back story, that required crop, animal and eventually human sacrifices to re-enact in hopes that new or abundant life would be given to their crops and animals.
If it could be within people’s control to do something to make their financial lives easier and more prosperous, you can imagine the temptation would have been great to “push that button” and make it happen.
I believe there are two foundational and sinful human desires that fueled the ongoing and hard to shake relationship that God’s people had with these two particular Baals:
1. The desire for Self-sufficiency
One of Satan’s lies from the beginning has always been, “You can do it on your own, you don’t need God.” Didn’t he say to Eve in the garden that she could be like God? That is a foundational lie that has wound its way through every form of idolatry known to man.
2. The desire for Comfort and immediate satisfaction
One of Satan’s other foundational lies that follows right on the heels of the first is that, “You can have it now and it will be satisfying.”
Remember the original temptation of Eve was that the fruit was made out to be a delight to the eyes, desired to make one wise and good for food? When we can see something, touch it, smell it and make sense of it, we can easily fall into the trap of making our familiarity with anything, and desire for it’s known pleasure producing ability, rule us.
Now add all that to a slow progression of living in a culture that adopted and practiced all of these things as normal for seven hundred years and we can begin to get a sense for how sin slowly led the people to a place where they were doing things they could never have imagined doing when they began in the land.
They had drifted so far from doing things according to God’s prescribed way that they had lost all sight of what was good and right and decent. They had grown accustomed to being self-sufficient in procuring their own comfort even at the cost of their own children. That’s the dark underbelly of sin. That’s what it truly looks like when you really examine it up close and over time.
And so there stands Jeremiah breaking a clay pot and declaring God’s judgement. Probably not a popular opinion. Probably very counter-cultural. Probably sounding very harsh to a people who had been desensitized to sin.
But God’s people needed to be judged, scattered and restored. God wasn’t through with them and He had a plan to have mercy on them for His namesake.
Remember in Deuteronomy Chapter 4 Moses had said to them, “And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. 31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.“
God’s people had been led by sin to do things they never could have imagined and even though God did have to punish them, He was still planning on redeeming them.
As we sit here today we may feel a lot like the Israelites did on the other side of the Jordan when Moses was warning them. We maybe can’t imagine sinning in such grotesque ways.
But, in one real sense this text of Jeremiah 19 also stands here today and breaks a clay pot in front of us.
We live in a modern world where Baal worship is alive and well and we as Christians would do well to consider to what degree we participate in it lest we be caught up in it and find ourselves in grave danger.
The modern day Baal of Asherah is worshipped whenever we become dissatisfied with intimacy in God and intimacy within the bounds of marriage, which leads to coveting intimacy elsewhere, which leads to viewing pornography or engaging in fantasy which leads to adultery of heart, which leads to physical adultery.
Families are being destroyed and churches and ministries are being crippled constantly in our modern landscape by this idol worship.
Let’s call it what it is and quit joining ourselves to temple prostitutes whether it’s in a cell phone or inside our own heart and mind.
As the culture around us begins to slide deeper and deeper into open immorality it will become increasingly more difficult to be satisfied in God alone and His prescribed means of intimacy for us, but we must if we are to be salt and light in the world.
The modern day Baal of Molech is worshipped whenever we become dissatisfied with what God has provided and when, which leads to seeking comfort and provision elsewhere and on our own time table, which can lead to love of money and materialism, which can lead to spending up to and beyond our means, which leads to indebtedness, which can lead to abortion.
Whoa, what do mean abortion? How do you figure?
When we as a society value spending as much money as we possibly can to be as comfortable as we possibly can it has unintended consequences, namely the offering up of our children as a sacrifice. This can take many forms, but the final forms are abortion.
I’m going to paint with a broad brush stroke here, but follow me as I speak to some general trends in our society that lead to a culture of death and absence of children, while being open to evaluating at what level we may be participating in these areas either knowingly or unknowingly.
When every garage in every house in our neighborhoods has every tool and piece of equipment duplicated. We are spending too many resources in the wrong place as a society.
When families have their own house that could easily house two whole families we are spending too many resources in the wrong place as a society.
When the majority of our economic system is based off of consumer spending on things that we don’t really need and could do without, it creates an expectation of a certain way of living that everyone must keep up with.
When people can’t keep up with that standard of comfort and living they start making sacrifices to get there.
When the amount of goods and services we require for comfort require both parents to be working outside of the home, we are sacrificing precious time with our children and for the care of orphans, widows, the poor, and the sick.
When the poor get pregnant abortion becomes an immediate option to help alleviate the financial burden that will come with a child and give them a chance to advance themselves enough to make money to “make it” in the world and have what others have.
When the young wealthy get pregnant abortion becomes an immediate option particularly if they haven’t established enough of a career yet or made enough money to situate themselves comfortably for retirement.
When large families are looked down on and one and two child families are praised and in some countries, required, we are sacrificing children to an idol by not having them or by having abortions.
In America alone, it’s estimated that we have aborted over 62 million babies since Roe vs. Wade passed back in 1973
Let’s call it what it is church. We live in a culture that actively sacrifices it’s children to Baal Hammon or Molech, the god of economic comfort and provision. So wherever we find ourselves joining in, we need to stop participating and be content with what God has provided and when He provides it.
There is hope in Christ
So Matt, am I doomed because I’ve sinned sexually or with my faithless, self-sufficient comfort seeking lifestyle? What if I’ve been caught up in these sins?
I’ve got good news. 600 years after judgement was pronounced and Judah was taken away into captivity, God’s son Jesus was hauled outside the gate of Jerusalem to a reviled place of death and punishment, where criminals were killed.
Where Jeremiah once stood outside of the gates of Jerusalem at a reviled place of death to break a clay pot, showing how God would completely punish His people, Jesus hung on a cross outside the gates, absorbing the full wrath of God the father and was completely broken and sacrificed.
Where God’s people once offered up their children to be sacrificed to procure temporary blessings, the Father sacrificed His own Son to procure eternal blessings for all those who would put their faith in Him.
Repent therefore and put your faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin. God has made a way for His people to be both judged and restored and He did it in the person of His Son Jesus.
Even if sin has led you to go places and do things that you could never have imagined doing, Jesus went to that unimaginable place, took the condemnation and paid the price to free you.
As I conclude be encouraged and take hold of the promise of God in Romans 8:1-4
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”