Molech 


The children of Israel, under divine command, massacred the prior inhabitants of Canaan:

"But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God." (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

Certainly no human being has the moral standing to reach such a verdict against another human community, but this was no human verdict. God had weighed these people in the balance and found them wanting. Their culture focused on a cruel practice called 'passing through the fire.' This was the premeditated murder of their own children in the name of their deity. They carried out their crime by burning the helpless little ones to death:



  • "When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods."
  • (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).



The Bible
Human Initiative
Ancient Historians
Archaeology
The Problem of Evil
Child Sacrifice Today
Justice
Last Stand
Binding of Isaac
Infidels' Indictment
Rahab


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The Bible

LogoWhen the children of Israel came into the promised land, they were commanded by God to extirpate the people already living there, the Canaanites. No human being can lawfully reach such a verdict concerning an entire race; it was God, the righteous judge of all the world, who delivered the verdict against them. Their culture was built around a practice which would make even Hitler blanch: burning alive infant children as an offering to their gods. The atheists cry, 'genocide'! But in some jurisdictions in the U.S., a mother and a father who had been convicted of incinerating their own children would be eligible for the death penalty, given the cruelty and depravity of the act. Is God a monster, as is alleged, for reaching the same verdict as the justice system of certain American states?

God warned against the practice in His law:

"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." (Leviticus 18:21).

"Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people." (Leviticus 20:2-5).

"There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

In spite of all these warnings, Israel, which had not carried out the command in full, kept continually getting infected with the practice, even kings like Ahaz and Manasseh doing away with their own children:

"But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel." (2 Kings 16:3).

"And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger." (2 Kings 21:6).

"They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the LORD commanded them: but were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood." (Psalm 106:34-38).

"And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." (Jeremiah 7:31).

"They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter." (Jeremiah 19:5-6).

"And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." (Jeremiah 32:35).

"For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you." (Ezekiel 20:31).

"That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them." (Ezekiel 23:37).
Up

Human Initiative

The atheists reason, that if it is morally permissible for God to strike down entire civilizations and populations, as the potter can return a marred vessel to its original matrix, then surely human beings can do the same, upon their own initiative:



  • "And the Bible story of Joshua's destruction of Jericho, and the invasion of the Promised Land in general, is morally indistinguishable from Hitler's invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein's massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs."
  • (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 280).




Logo Does the Bible share this viewpoint: that nothing can be withheld from man which is permitted to God: or specifically rebut it?:


Judge Not

LogoOur author neatly and completely rebuts his own thesis, when he reports on a study showing that school-children who approved of Joshua's obedience to God's command, disapproved when similar events were presented as initiated by human will: "But it all looks different from a religious point of view." (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 292). No kidding. For that matter, we do not arrest the functionary at the State Penitentiary who presses the button on Ol' Sparky and charge him with murder; imagine that. Most likely, if you were to attempt a citizen's arrest of this functionary as a murderer, he would likely produce a signed, lawful death warrant, or make some other feeble excuse like that.

Ancient Historians

LogoClassical authors record the practice of child sacrifice in Carthage, a colony founded in North Africa by the Phoenicians, a people related to the Canaanites:

"Therefore the Carthaginians, believing that the misfortune had come to them from the gods, betook themselves to every manner of supplication of the divine powers; and, because they believed that Heracles, who was worshipped in their mother city, was exceedingly angry with them, they sent a large sum of money and many of the most expensive offerings to Tyre. [...] In their zeal to make amends for their omission, they selected two hundred of the noblest children and sacrificed them publicly; and others who were under suspicion sacrificed themselves voluntarily, in number not less than three hundred. There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus, extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire." (Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book 20, Chapter 14).

Some nineteenth century authors sought to discredit the Bible account, the reports of rabbinical commentators, and the ancient literary evidence as 'myths,' but subsequent archeological findings in various places of cinerary urns containing thousands of tiny, incinerated children put a stop to that tendency. Plutarch also records the Carthaginian practice:



  • “What an advantage had not it been to the Carthaginians to have taken Criteas or Diagoras for lawgiver from the first, rather than to have offered such victims as they used to offer to Saturn—not, as Empedocles says, when attacking such as sacrificed living things,
  • “His metamorphosed child the sire himself
    Slaughters and offers vows—fool that he is,”
  • “but with their eyes open, and knowingly did they sacrifice their own children. Childless persons used to buy infants of the poor, and slaughter them like so many lambs or chickens; the mother stood by, without a tear, without a groan, for should she weep, should she utter a groan, she was deprived of her price, and the child was sacrificed all the same: and the whole place was filled with noise in front of the image, by people sounding pipes and beating timbrels, in order that the sound of any lamentations might not be audible.”
  • (Plutarch, On Superstition).



Dionysius of Halicarnassus confirms the usage of the Cathaginians:

"It is said also that the ancients sacrificed human victims to Saturn, as was done at Carthage while that city stood and as is still done to this day among the Gauls and certain other western nations, and that Hercules, desiring to abolish the custom of this sacrifice, erected the altar upon the Saturnian hill and performed the initial rites of sacrifice with unblemished victims burning on a pure fire. And lest the people should feel any scruple at having neglected their traditional sacrifices, he taught them to appease the anger of the god by making effigies resembling the men they had been wont to bind hand and foot and throw into the stream of the Tiber, and dressing these in the same manner, to throw them into the river instead of the men, his purpose being that any superstitious dread remaining in the minds of all might be removed, since the semblance of the ancient rite would still be preserved." (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book I, Chapter 38).

The church writer Eusebius provides an excerpt from the Phoenician historian Philo Byblius giving further information on Phoenician theology and the practice of child sacrifice:

"So then from the aforesaid writing let these passages suffice: but from the first book of Philo's Phoenician History I will quote the following:

"[PHILO BYBLIUS] 'It was a custom of the ancients in the great crises of danger for the rulers of a city or nation, in order to avert the general destruction, to give up the most beloved of their children for sacrifice as a ransom to the avenging daemons: and those who were so given up were slain with mystic rites. Kronos, therefore, whom the Phoenicians call El, who was king of the country, and subsequently, after his decease, was deified and changed into the star Saturn, had by a nymph of the same country called Anobret an only-begotten son (whom on this account they called Jeiid, the only-begotten being still so called among the Phoenicians); and when extreme dangers from war had befallen the country, he arrayed his son in royal apparel, and prepared an altar and sacrificed him.'" (Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, Book IV, Chapter XVI).

Again, the same author, in the Theopania:

"The Phoenicians too, in their greater calamities, whether wars, pestilences, or famines, sacrificed one of their friends, who was selected (for this purpose), to Saturn. The history too of the Phoenicians — composed by Sanchoniatho in the language of the Phoenicians, and (which) Philo Biblius translated into the Greek, in Eight Books,— is full of this, (viz.) as to those who were (so) sacrificed." (Eusebius of Caesaria, Theopania, Second Book, Section 59).

Archaeology

Archaeology confirms the practice:

"These accusations might have been put down to nothing more than Greek slurs if it had not been for the determined sleuthing of two minor French colonial officials, Francois Icard and Paul Gielly, in the 1920's. Icard and Gielly had become increasingly suspicious of a Tunisian stone-dealer who kept on appearing with very fine Punic steles. One example had particularly grabbed their imaginations. It was engraved with the image of a man wearing the cloak and headdress of a priest, his right hand raised in supplication and his left cradling a swaddled infant. The inscription bore the letters MLK. Had the stone-dealer stumbled across the sacred precinct where the Carthaginians had continued the macabre traditions of their Phoenician ancestors? One night, acting on a tip-off, the two Frenchmen surprised their quarry digging up steles in a field not far from the site of the great rectangular harbor. After coercing the owner of the land into selling them the plot, the two men set to work. What they found further fuelled their suspicions: a series of votive offerings, each consisting of a stele listing dedications to Baal Hammon and Tanit, and usually accompanied by a terracotta urn containing calcified bones and sometimes jewels and amulets. When the contents of the urns were analyzed, it was ascertained that virtually every one contained the burnt remains of young children. ('Carthage Must Be Destroyed,' Richard Miles, p. 70).

How prevalent was the practice of human sacrifice in the ancient world? It is difficult to say, owing to the ambiguity of practices like the Romans' habit of throwing the old men off the bridge. . .or rather, puppets:

"Then, too, the Virgin [the Vestals] is wont to throw the rush-made effigies of ancient men from the oaken bridge. He who believes that after sixty years men were put to death, accuses our forefathers of a wicked crime. There is an old tradition, that when the land was called Saturnia those words were spoken by soothsaying Jove: “Do you cast into the water of the Tuscan river two of the people as a sacrifice to the Ancient who bears the sickle.” The gloomy rite was performed, so runs the tale, in the Leucadian manner [the “lover’s leap” at the promontory of Leucas is well known. A man used to be cast from it every year; but all possible means were taken to make his fall easy and to save him] every year, until the Tirynthian hero came to these fields; he cast men of straw into the water, and now dummies are thrown after the example set by Hercules.

"Some think that the young men used to hurl the feeble old men from the bridges, in order that they themselves alone should have the vote. . ." (Ovid, Fasti, Day Before the Ides of May).

There are two possible interpretations: a.) either the straw puppets now thrown into the water are substitutes for the 60-year old men originally thus disposed of, or b.) it was always puppets. Depending upon the interpretation offered for this common paradigm, human sacrifice was either once common, or not. But the Phoenician practice of infant sacrifice is well-attested in either case. Dionysius of Halicarnassus concurs that the modern puppets were substitutes for the original living, breathing human beings, (continuing quote from above): "This the Romans continued to do every year even down to my day a little after the vernal equinox. . .on this day, after offering the preliminary sacrifices according to the laws, the pontifices, as the most important of the priests are called, and with them the virgins who guard the perpetual fire, the praetors, and such of the other citizens as may lawfully be present at the rites, throw from the sacred bridge into the stream of the Tiber thirty effigies made in the likeness of men, which they call Argei." (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book I, Chapter 38).

From time to time skepticism has been raised about human sacrifice; it seems we human beings would like to imagine we are not capable. But not only does archeology keep uncovering grim Aztec finds, the practice is broadly documented in literature, for example in ancient Europe: "The peoples are crude, superstitious, and sometimes even so monstrous that they used to believe that to the gods the best and most pleasing sacrificial victim was a human being. Traces of their savagery remain, even though it has been banned now. Nevertheless, after they have led their consecrated human victims to the altars, they still graze them slightly, although they do hold back from the ultimate bloodshed. And yet, they have both their own eloquence and their own teachers of wisdom, the Druids." (Pomponius Mela, Description of the World, Book 3, Section 18, p. 107.) Arrian mentions a case in southern Europe, "Alexander proceeded to the assault; on which the enemy sacrificed three boys and three girls and three black rams, and then made a rush to intercept the Macedonian right wing; but when the Greeks drew near, they deserted the strong positions they had occupied, and the newly sacrificed victims were found still lying there." (Arrian, Anabasis, Book I, Chapter V.) It takes more 'faith' to believe these things never happened, than that they did. The Carthaginian variant on this once widespread practice zeroed in on helpless infant children.

If God had not heard the cries of these little ones and blotted out this heartless and cruel culture, the atheists would present His refusal to act as an instance of the 'problem of evil,' but because He did act, they present His ridding the world of this evil as an instance of the 'problem of evil:'


Problem of Evil

Holy, Holy, Holy

The Problem of Evil

The dilemma called 'the Problem of Evil' complains of two things: God for a time allows evil to persist without cutting off the evil-doers, and then, even worse, God at times cuts off the evil-doers. What is it that they want Him to do? If He acts, they cry out, if He fails to act through patience and long-suffering, they cry out. It is frustrating to go round and round the mulberry bush with the atheists on this issue,

Atheist. Oh, how dreadful to hear the cries of the little ones, murdered for no crime of their own! How can a loving God permit such a thing! They were sacrificed in the name of their God; see how religion poisons everything. Patently, there is no God.
Theist. But He did not permit it. He rid the world of that corrupt and horrifying civilization.
Atheist. Oh, how terrible! He should never have done such a thing! There is no God.
Theist. But you just said He should not permit the Canaanites to murder their children with impunity.
Atheist. Well, he should have instructed Israel to do away with the males of military age, not the women or children.
Theist. But it was His will to rid the world of this civilization, and women are carriers of civilization just as are men. If the women survived, they would have told their little ones the tales of ancients while rocking them in the cradle, and the practice would never die out. As it was, it proved a snare for Israel, because those who were  not fully committed to the religion of Moses and the prophets kept reviving this atrocity. It is a contagious practice, unfortunately.
Atheist. Then he should have spared the little children.
Theist. And hired who to serve as wet-nurse, their mothers? Then we are back to Square One, the civilization goes on, as indeed it did historically.

What, exactly, do they want Him to have done that would nullify the 'problem of evil'? The evil here is human altogether. Once He grows tired of hearing the screams of the little ones, then it's over. Canaan is after all a human society only an atheist could treasure. It is difficult to see upon what ground they are standing when they complain about the wholesale slaughter of the Canaanites. Their system of morals, if any, rests upon differential success in reproduction; that is its ultimate moral sanction. Altruism is good, they say, because groups which display this trait succeed at reproducing more than those who do not. Here, in the conquest of Canaan, one group succeeded, the other failed. What succeeds is 'good' in their system. If they don't believe in their own system, who else will?:


Moral Evolution

Atheists today disapprove of ritual child sacrifice, asking about the sacrifice of a little Inca girl:

"Yet, how dare anyone even suggest this? How dare they invite us — in our sitting rooms, watching television — to feel uplifted by contemplating an act of ritual murder: the murder of a dependent child by a group of stupid, puffed up, superstitious, ignorant old men? How dare they invite us to find good for ourselves in contemplating an immoral action against someone else?" (quoted, with approvingly, by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 368).

Only in the case of the Canaanites do they approve of it, and demand instead to know why anyone was punished for it.

This practice, fully attested in the case of the related nation of Carthage, was the center-piece around which Canaanite culture was built. That God willed to extirpate such a culture root and branch is nothing shameful; rather, the atheists ought to explain why they want to preserve a child-burning culture, against God's decree. God wanted it gone:

"Some men pull down some things as if they meant to raise them again, and destroy some things as if they meant at a future time to re-establish them. But God wills that what has been once destroyed and pulled down shall never be raised or re-established again, but shall be utterly destroyed and for ever, as being contrary to what is good or beautiful." (Philo Judaeus, comment on Exodus 23:24, Fragments, The Works of Philo Judaeus, Volume IV, p. 282, translated by C. D. Yonge).

Child Sacrifice Today

According to Tertullian, the last vestiges of this abominable practice continued down into the early centuries of our era:

"That I may refute more thoroughly these charges, I will show that in part openly, in part secretly, practices prevail among you which have led you perhaps to credit similar things about us. Children were openly sacrificed in Africa to Saturn as lately as the proconsulship of Tiberius, who exposed to public gaze the priests suspended on the sacred trees overshadowing their temple — so many crosses on which the punishment which justice craved overtook their crimes, as the soldiers of our country still can testify who did that very work for that proconsul. And even now that sacred crime still continues to be done in secret." (Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 9).

Lest any think the pagans have given up altogether on this heartless practice comes a news story from India:

"Child sacrificed, liver offered to gods: Indian police
AFP – Sun, Jan 1, 2012

"A seven-year-old Indian girl was murdered in a tribal sacrifice and her liver offered to the gods to improve crop growth, police in the central state of Chhattisgarh said on Sunday.

"The body of Lalita Tati was found in October one week after her family reported her missing.

"'A seven-year-old girl was sacrificed by two persons superstitiously believing that the act would give a better harvest,' Narayan Das, the police chief of Bijapur district, told AFP by telephone.

"The two men was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of killing the girl and offering her liver to the gods in a grisly tribal ceremony. Police said the men had confessed to the crime."

It should go without saying that no human judge has any standing to reach such a verdict; but this was no human verdict, rather a divine decree, delivered by the One Judge who has standing to judge the whole world. God's ultimate purpose for the remnant of this atrocity-prone people was redemption:

"And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth: but he that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite." (Zechariah 9:7).

Child murder was widely practiced in the ancient world. In some cases it was even mandatory: the Twelve Tables prescribed death for any Roman child born who was physically imperfect. Two thousand years of Christian civilization have convinced even atheists we should not murder children. Or have they?:


Abortion

Why would such a horrifying practice have become entrenched? Perhaps because infanticide is a one hundred percent reliable form of birth control. All the benefits that are seen to accrue to societies which limit their population growth would have flowed to the societies that followed this abominable practice. Living standards rise when agricultural production is not outstripped by population increase. But it's a moral atrocity, so God says no.

Justice

In the case of Canaan, as for that matter in the case of consigning the wicked to an eternity in outer darkness, God's punishments are not remedial, and punishment on any grounds other than rehabilitation excites the atheists' indignation. In this particular case, destroying the Canaanite culture ended the suffering of the little ones and vindicated their cause against those (their own parents) who sought to destroy them. What rolled back upon the parents was the stone they had set in motion, murder: "Then hear thou from heaven, and do, and judge thy servants, by requiting the wicked, by recompensing his way upon his own head; and by justifying the righteous, by giving him according to his righteousness." (2 Chronicles 6:23). Where is the injustice in that?: "Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him." (Proverbs 26:27). If justice giving to each his due, they have no complaint.

But then, how were the blameless children rescued from the oppression of human sacrifice by ensuring no more of their brothers or sisters would be born? This is the kindness of the vegetarian, who ensures that no animal will ever be sacrificed for meat on his account; not that cattle and sheep will be left free to roam the country-side; these creatures have not been spared, rather they will not ever be born unless someone sees a profit in raising them. Very little of the meat supply comes from wild animals, so if a vegetarian saves a spring lamb by not eating meat, this means only the lamb will never be born.

The Bible states the principle of sparing the lives of the innocent,

“But the LORD said, 'You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?'” (Jonah 4:10-11).

. . .but in the case of Canaan that principle was not applied. Why not? What is the remedy here: for the infant children to be raised by the conquerors, to learn to sing the praises of the conquering nation, not their own? The defenders of Masada slaughtered their children rather than send them to the fate of serving as slaves to their enemies. The women and children of Phocis took a vote on this very question, though happily their men prevailed and it did not come to this. They voted not to sing the songs of the conquerors:

"The Thessalians were engaged in a war without quarter against the Phocians. For the Phocians had slain on one day all the Thessalian governors and despots in their cities. Whereupon the Thessalians massacred two hundred and fifty Phocian hostages; then with all their forces they made an invasion through Locris, having previously passed a resolution to spare no grown man, and to make slaves of the children and women. Accordingly Da´phantus, Bathyllius's son, one of the three governors of Phocis, persuaded the men to meet the Thessalians in battle, and to bring together into some one place the women with their children from all Phocis, and to heap about them a mass of faggots, and to post guards, giving them instructions that, if they learned the men were being vanquished, they should with all haste set fire to the mass and reduce the living bodies to ashes. Nearly all voted approval of the plan, but one man arose in the council and said it was only right that the women approve this also; otherwise they must reject it, and use no compulsion. When report of this speech reached the women, they held a meeting by themselves and passed the same vote, and they exalted Da´phantus for having conceived the best plan for Phocis. It is said that the children also held an assembly on their own account and passed their vote too." (Plutarch, On the Bravery of Women, Chapter II, The Women of Phocis).

The children who survived in Canaan had won the struggle for survival with their siblings. That some children were murdered under the auspices of the child sacrifice system left improved conditions for those who were spared, not through the favor and blessings of the demon (as those who bought into this system thought), but simply in the natural order of things. The child who survived thus benefited from the death of the sacrificed child, his older brother, though of course not from any conscious, malicious intent on his own part. The law demands restitution: what can the surviving child pay back to the murdered child to make up for his stolen life? Is this surviving child even innocent, if he benefited from a murder? In wiping the slate clean, God was not wronging these children.

Israel was a theocracy, which ultimately failed owing to human sinfulness. There is no such thing as a 'do-it-yourself' theocracy; no nation not so founded and constituted by God can be a theocracy at all. Atheists err in generalizing this one-time command; only God can judge a people in this way, not man. It is very common nowadays for people to assume that all religion is invented by man, and from this atheistical perspective, it is hard to differentiate between Israel's view that Palestine would be better off without the Canaanites and Adolf Hitler's decision that Germany would be better off without the Jews. However, there is a difference as sharp as between that of night and day: God delivered the first verdict, man the second. Israel chafed under the theocracy, and did not want to be governed by God. They wanted to be governed just like other people: "But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." (1 Samuel 8:6-7). However at the time of these actions, they were not governed like other people, they were governed by God. And there can be no question that He who gives life is also entitled to take it away: "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand." (Deuteronomy 32:39).

Some people say that this event, the conquest of Canaan, never happened, inasmuch as archaeologists have discovered no layer packed with burnt human bones such as would attend the general destruction of a nation. These people intend to disprove the Bible account, but they misunderstand what the Bible says. God's intent was not to corral these people and exterminate them, but rather to drive them out of the land: "Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite." (Exodus 34:11). God's intent was to drive out, expel, cast out, drive away these people, to destroy their national existence, not to wipe them out to the last man: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places; you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess.’” (Numbers 33:51-53).  It was those who did not flee who were devoted to destruction. Undoubtedly there were waves of refugees fleeing before the conquest; God did not leave them with no escape route, nor command that they be pursued beyond the national border. To see that this is so, compare the accounts in Joshua and Judges: areas in which God's directive was fully carried out were found, years later, to have been re-populated by Canaanites. When the U.S. military would cleanse a given region of Viet Cong, they weren't always deluding themselves in finding their efforts successful; these people had the good sense to leave when there was pressure, then come back when the heat was off. It would have been better here, though, once having left, to have stayed gone, because in the end, Israel's failure to follow the Lord's directives punctiliously led to the result, as predicted, that the Canaanite religion proved a lasting snare.

Molech, whether this is a proper name or a title, 'king,' was a harsh task-master. Whatever he was presumed to be, he was no real god; it may be some roaming demon thought up this brutal system. Another pagan deity to whom no one ever said, 'Lead, Kindly Light' is Dionysos. Blameless Agave was his acolyte, fervent in her devotion; so how did the god reward her for her service? By causing her to tear her own son, Pentheus, limb from limb. Some people, when they think about paganism, think about the spring-time meadows and ever-blooming flowers of the pagan revival during the Renaissance. The real thing was somewhat darker:


Euripides
 The Bacchae
 

The cult of Molech is another pagan form of devotion that almost does not bear contemplating. The rabbinic traditions concerning Molech give gruesome technical details, whether historic or imagined I can't say:

"'Our sages of blessed memory say that whilst all other idols had temples in Jerusalem, Molech had his temple outside Jerusalem, in a place by itself. It was a brass and hollow image, bull-headed, with arms stretched out like a human being who opens his hands to receive something from his neighbor. . .He first kissed the image, as it is written, 'let the sacrificers of men kiss the calf' (Hos. xii[i]. 2). Whereupon a fire was kindled in Molech, until its arms became red hot; the child was then put into its hands, and drums were beaten to produce tremendous noises, so as to prevent the shrieks of the child from reaching the father's ears, lest he should be moved with pity towards his offspring.'" (A Handbook of Scientific and Literary Bible Difficulties, Robert Tuck, p. 471)

Where is Molech today? It might seem that he has vanished into a black hole in company with other no-longer-worshipped deities. But a little reflection shows he is still with us, peering out from behind the gaudy billboards of the Hollywood entertainment industry, promoting the family values of farm animals, drug use, and other soul-destroying behaviors. Human sacrifice is still practiced, when living souls are bartered away in exchange for a revenue stream.



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A Jealous God

LogoLast Stand

The Gauls were bearing down on Rome, and the terrified populace was fleeing the city. Even the Vestal Virgins skedaddled, travelling in a borrowed wagon. No doubt you or I would have seen the wisdom of this course of action; but not everybody did:

"The rest of the priests and the old men who had been consuls, and been honored with triumphs, could not bear to leave the city. At the instance of Fabius, the Pontifex Maximus, they put on their sacred vestments and robes of state, and after offering prayer to the gods, as if they were consecrating themselves as victims to be offered on behalf of their country, they sat down in their ivory chairs in the Forum in full senatorial costume, and waited what fortune might befall them." (Plutarch, Life of Camillus, Chapter XXI, Plutarch's Lives, Volume I, Kindle location 159).

And there they died. We would not do that, but they did it. So much religious awe and veneration was bound up for these people in patriotism to their native place that to leave it was a fate worse than death, and to leave their children brought up by their enemies to curse their memory and their gods cannot have been much more comforting.

Though modern people find it hard to comprehend, the people of antiquity often had such a religious devotion to their own city that they did not wish to survive it. All of us, I suspect, would happily leave the foundering vessel if we saw it going down. We would start over elsewhere, as these Spartan women had the opportunity to do: "At nightfall the Lacedaemonians at first proposed to send away the women to Crete, but they refused to leave the city. Archidamia even went to the senate-house with a drawn sword in her hands, and on behalf of the women of Sparta reproached the men for insulting them by supposing that they would survive the capture of their city." (Plutarch's Lives, Life of Pyrrhus, Chapter XXVII, Volume II, Kindle location 3359). We perceive Josef Stalin as a monster because he disliked the thought that his own son had survived to be taken prisoner in a Nazi camp. We do not see things the way these people did, but God granted to these people what they may have wanted, which was, not to survive their civilization. Quite possibly God respected their own choice. We tend to assume that, of course, these people would have wanted their children to survive them, even if that meant becoming acculturated to a hostile, alien culture. This is not necessarily so.

LogoThe Binding of Isaac

The reader may object: why all this indignation? The transaction at the heart of Christianity is a human sacrifice, or worse, a divine/human sacrifice. Who are you to criticize the Phoenicians? Maybe so, but unlike the pagan idols, the living God does not demand His votaries' children; He himself provides the ram for sacrifice:


Binding of Isaac

LogoInfidel Indictment

Israel's conquest of Canaan, following divine command, is Exhibit A of the unbelievers' accusation that the God of the Bible is a monster:



  • There are matters in that book, said to be done by the express command of God, that are as shocking to humanity, and to every idea we have of moral justice, as any thing done by Robespierre, by Carrier, by Joseph le Bon, in France, by the English government in the East Indies, or by any other assassin in modern times. When we read in the books ascribed to Moses, Joshua, etc., that they (the Israelites) came by stealth upon whole nations of people, who, as the history itself shows, had given them no offense; that they put all those nations to the sword; that they spared neither age nor infancy; that they utterly destroyed men, women and children; that they left not a soul to breathe; expressions that are repeated over and over again in those books, and that too with exulting ferocity; are we sure these things are facts? are we sure that the Creator of man commissioned those things to be done?”
  • (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter I - The Old Testament).



Thomas Paine

Logo Let there be no misunderstanding of what these people are demanding. They are demanding that the Canaanites be left free, generation after generation, to do to their own children things that would have turned Hitler pale. Meanwhile they reserve for themselves the right to punish criminals, with the guillotine if need be, as this is after all a human method of execution, chosen for its very humanity. Who is it who makes the accusation? A man who rushed to serve the French Revolution; Thomas Paine was not a resident of France, but an eager volunteer, though, like the rest of them, he was perplexed when he, the judge of all the earth, landed in prison; that was not supposed to happen. It is strange that when they, pitiable and fallible creatures, execute justice, this is a good and noble thing: should the wicked be permitted to triumph and laugh over their prostrate victims? But when God judges His creatures and finds them wanting, He has no authority. How dare He? They have it exactly backwards. If God decreed an end to the Canaanites and their wicked society, that is within His sovereign rights.


The French Revolution

LogoChristians who discuss these issues with atheists will inevitably discover their interlocutor is 'arguing in the alternative,' as does the careless borrower who defends himself against the charge of having damaged a borrowed pot by saying, a.) the pot is not damaged, and b.) it was damaged before I borrowed it. The Christian defends God against the accusation that He lacks the moral authority to withdraw the borrowed life He has granted His creatures. . .but after having done so successfully, then it turns out God had nothing to do with it! The atheist explains that the Israelites themselves, motivated by greed, pretended that God had commanded them to seize the land, when God had not spoken. Does it need to be stated, it is great wickedness to pretend that God has spoken, if He has not? The God who gives life to all possesses the moral authority to withdraw His inevitably time-restricted gift, while greedy men who want what you have and are willing to kill you to get it, do not. But if that's all that is going on here, then why are they so angry. . .against the God who had nothing to do with it? To those of us who are Bible-believers, there is no question but that God was in it, in which case, the moral calculus is completely different from what it would have been, had the Judge of all the earth not been seated on the dias.

LogoRahab

The Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11 mentions a woman named Rahab:

"By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace." (Hebrews 11:31).

Rahab was a Canaanite. So when Israel entered the land, she was slaughtered, right? No, those who perished were "those who did not believe," and Rahab confessed herself a believer in the living God:

“Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men: 'I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.'” (Joshua 2:8-11).

A believing Canaanite is not a Canaanite but an Israelite. The ultimate criterion for membership in the people of God has never been ethnicity, although later the rabbis who compiled the Talmud would narrow it down very nearly within those limits. Ultimately, God will not only cut short their earthly walk, but consign unbelievers to an eternity in hell; He is judge. Some believers, incidentally, think this is also the eternal destiny of the innocent Canaanite children who perished, though various confessions differ on this point; but certainly to those of us who have attained the age of accountability, faith is our only hope. This is not ancient history; we all face the same stark choice as Rahab faced, we can choose death or life. The open door to salvation has always been faith:


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