Are You Capable of Child Sacrifice?

Jeremiah 7:30-8:3 has an important but difficult message for us to hear.

One time I remember riding in a car with my future wife Aletha. We were both students and a college professor/friend of ours was driving. We hitched a ride with him to visit Aletha’s family in Oregon and on the way back to California down Interstate 5 he was in a hurry. I don’t frighten easily but we must have been going 90 miles an hour weaving in and out of traffic.

All I could do was hang on and pray for God’s mercy. Jeremiah 7:30-8:3 is kind of like that so hang on and I promise there’s good news in the end.

So let’s take a look at Jeremiah 7:30.

“For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,” declares the Lord, “they have set their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it.

What they’re doing here is hedging their bets. The Israelites are putting their “faith” in the Lord, but at the same time trusting idols, and false gods—just in case.

Of course, their faith isn’t real faith at all. The gospel is Christ plus nothing and when we start trying to add things to the gospel we don’t make it better, we make it powerless to save (Matt 6:24).

So what they’re doing is evil in God’s sight. It’s “detestable.” It’s an abhorrent abomination. It would be like setting up an altar to the Wiccan “mother goddess” in our church entryway, only worse.

Jeremiah 7:31 says they were literally sacrificing their children in the high places.

“They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.

The “high places” weren’t always very high geographically. Sometimes these shrines or raised platforms were built down in the valley. This particular place of worship was called “Topheth” which means “fireplace” or “oven” and it’s where they went to burn their sons and daughters.

Obviously, they were doing the opposite of what God commanded, but I think they had good intentions, selfish intentions but still they meant well. They were hedging their bets just in case God didn’t come through for them. Maybe Molech or Baal would listen to them.

Child sacrifice was a reoccurring problem for Israel. They were told not do it in the Law of Moses (Lev 18:21) but Ahaz, King of Israel, sacrificed his own son in the fire (2 Kings 16:3) and so did King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6). And the regular people followed their example.

One of the things good King Josiah did was to tear down the High places (2 Kings 23:19), and put a stop to child sacrifices. But it seems that was just a temporary reprieve since the book of Jeremiah occurs after Josiah died and here they are at it again, killing their babies.

We don’t need to be too graphic in describing what they were doing but please keep in mind that this passage describes real fire, and literal flames. It’s not just a metaphor for doing bad things.

So why were they killing their children?

Were they insane? Had they gone completely mad? Were they possessed by demons? I don’t think so. I think they were acting with complete reasonableness because they thought what they were doing was necessary for their salvation.

I think they loved their children just like all fathers and mothers do but they also believed the lies of the false gods they were worshiping—and besides if their leaders were doing it it must be okay.

Some of them might have even thought that child sacrifice is what God told them to do in Scripture. Exodus 22:29 says,

“You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.

If you don’t read the surrounding verses this kind of sounds like God approves of child sacrifice, right? Or what about Abraham? Didn’t God tell tell him to sacrifice his son?

Well, in the case of Exodus 22:29 if you read the next verse you’ll see that God is talking about circumcision, not child sacrifice.

And in the case of Abraham, the key difference is that God never intended for Abraham to actually kill Isaac. It was a test (Gen 22:1-2) to see if Abraham would obey God even when his command didn’t make sense to him.

Child sacrifice is an extreme example of what can happen when we listen more to the world around us than to the word of God.

God’s word has been used over the centuries to justify slavery, being deceitful, illicit relationships, and even murder. But not everything done in the name of Jesus is pleasing to him. And just because we may have good intentions doesn’t make our actions acceptable to God.

And in this case of child sacrifice, God goes out of his way to make it clear that what Israel was doing was not pleasing to him. Jeremiah 7:31 says,

“They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.

“Mind” is literally “heart” as it is translated in the KJV. So it’s not that God is saying “It never occurred to me” but that it was never his intention for them to do such a wicked thing.

So if it didn’t come from the mind or heart of God, then where did it come from? It came from their culture, the world around them. It came from sources they thought they could trust.

What about America?

You might be tempted to think that this kind of barbaric practice is a thing of the past. America is civilized and we would never do anything like that any more, right?

But you’d be wrong. Every time a pregnant young girl walks into an abortion clinic and walks out no longer pregnant, our unborn children are being slaughtered. Often it happens at the insistence of the father so it’s not just women that are responsible.

It’s not my intent to elaborate on the evil of abortion today because I think most reading this probably agree with me, and if you don’t, there probably isn’t a whole lot I could say to make you change your mind in one sitting.

The reason most won’t listen is because at the root of our abortion problem is a spiritual problem. The act of abortion is a form of idol worship and nothing ruffles more feathers than telling people they’re not worshiping right.

The gods of this world tell us that the most important things are physical comfort, making money, and career success. They tell us that the most important goal is to be happy and if you need to sacrifice your unborn child to be happy then, well, that’s just what you must do.

So even if every state made abortion illegal (which I hope they do) we would still have a spiritual problem. Picket signs and legislation may help but our primary weapons are spiritual weapons: the love of Christ, the truth of the gospel, prayer, and the Word of God.

Unfortunately, literal child sacrifice is far too prevalent in America, but there are many lesser forms of child sacrifice occurring here too.

Parents display the same heart-attitude that the Israelites displayed when they sacrifice their family for their career. Every time selfish anger prevents disciplining a child in love it’s as if they, themselves, are going down to the valley of slaughter, not literally but in spirit.

What I am saying is that we all need to check our hearts while we interact with our children, whether they are still at home or not. We need to check our hearts for selfish pride and for the attitude that leads to mistreating our children or anyone else for that matter.

So even if we aren’t literally murdering children we are capable of displaying selfish attitudes that lead to acting in ways that are just as disgusting to God.

The prideful, selfish mindset is all too prevalent in politics right now. People, even Christians, are entrenched in their sides willing to sacrifice the lives of others in order to preserve their way of life, their political party, their country.

Perhaps these are lesser manifestations than child sacrifice, but they come from the same heart that justifies killing an innocent child.

What are the consequences of an evil heart?

Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. Death is the reward, the payment for sin. And Jeremiah doesn’t describe death for the wicked as “the ceasing of bodily functions” or “going off to a better place”. Instead, Jeremiah 7:32-33 says,

“Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place. “The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them away.

In Jeremiah’s words, death is ugly. It reeks. It’s disgusting because sin is also disgusting. And sin, when it’s allowed to continue, effects everything, even our living families. Jeremiah 7:34 continues,

“Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a ruin.

A society where parents sacrifice their children for their own selfish reasons will come to ruin. Abortion, bad parenting, and even tribalism, all come from the same prideful, selfish heart and will bring a society to ruin quicker than anything else.

There is no joy for our country or for us as individuals if we continue to practice wickedness without repenting. And our leaders will be judged especially harshly according to Jeremiah 8:1.

“At that time,” declares the Lord, “they will bring out the bones of the kings of Judah and the bones of its princes, and the bones of the priests and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem from their graves.

A decent burial is too good for leaders that have led their country to sacrifice their children, literally or figuratively. Israel’s leaders should have led their country in humble ways, showing them the meaning of self-sacrifice and grace. Instead they led in a way that encouraged their people to do whatever they thought was necessary to save themselves. Jeremiah 8:2 says what happens as a result.

“They will spread them out to the sun, the moon and to all the host of heaven, which they have loved and which they have served, and which they have gone after and which they have sought, and which they have worshiped. They will not be gathered or buried; they will be as dung on the face of the ground.

See, they had good intentions, but they were worshiping the wrong gods, and the result is that they are stretched out to die a slow death while their gods look on and can do nothing to save them. The punishment for what they have done is so severe they will wish for death. Jeremiah 8:3 says,

“And death will be chosen rather than life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family, that remains in all the places to which I have driven them,” declares the Lord of hosts.

And with that this section is mercifully over.

But where is mercy?

Where’s the relief? Where’s the grace? Where’s the silver lining in this passage? We could go on to verse 4 but God just continues to pile more condemnation upon his people.

Why is that? It’s because the Valley of Slaughter is the Valley of Gehenna, what the New Testament calls Hell. In Luke 12:5 Jesus says,

“But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!

“Hell” in this verse is “Gehenna” which in Jesus’ day was located outside the city of Jerusalem. It’s where they burned the trash, but it refers to a place much worse— Hell. It’s a place of abomination, wickedness, burning, cruelty and living death.

This is what it looks like today:

Today, the Valley of Gehenna looks like a lovely park but imagine it filled with blood and decaying bodies, some still partially alive.

The reason Hell is such an awful place is because God’s love is not there. When God removes his grace and love and completely allows people do their own thing that’s what makes Hell to be Hell.

So, if you are still hedging your bets and haven’t put your complete trust in Christ, there is no time to lose.

Through Jeremiah’s words, God has given us a glimpse of what hell is like and we can be sure that hell, when it is fully revealed to those that go there, will be much worse than what our English words are capable of describing.

A Time for Lament

As we conclude, let me personalize this for the church, for those that have already put their trust in Christ.

In the words of Phillip Ryken, President of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois:

There seems to be plenty of angry Christians these days, condemning sinners for society’s ills. There seem to be plenty of self-righteous Christians around these days too, chastising the nation for leaving the faith of its fathers.

There is a place for righteous anger about the sins of America, and there is some truth to the idea that our nation is in spiritual decline. But our primary response to the lost ought to be lamentation over the dishonor done to God and over the prospect of eternal judgment.

What’s amazing to me is that Philip Ryken wrote these words 20 years ago yet they couldn’t be more relevant today.

He couldn’t be more correct when he says, “Our primary response to the lost ought to be lamentation over the dishonor done to God and over the prospect of eternal judgment.” And Jeremiah 7:29 gives us some insight into the kind of lament we should be feeling:

‘Cut off your hair and cast it away, And take up a lamentation on the bare heights; for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath.’

In other words, this isn’t the time to be focused on our good looks and other relatively trivial things. It’s time for despair and anguish, not for ourselves or even for our country, but over our sin and the lostness of so many people.

People are going to Hell while Christians are arguing over what’s the best way to save our country! Do the Republicans have the best way forward or the Democrats? Well, neither one of them is all that concerned about saving the lost. Both parties seem to be obsessed with self-interest and are devoid of any humble leadership. I’m sure there are exceptions, but by and large there are not many positive examples worth following.

Christ’s Sacrifice is Enough

So, as we lament the sins of our country, and our own sins, we need to remember that Jesus Christ has made the only sacrifice that is necessary for sin.

We don’t need to sacrifice our children to save our souls. We need Christ. The Prophet Micah asked in Micah 6:7—

Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

And the implied answer is a resounding “No!” Christ has paid it all. But there is something that God wants us to do. And what’s that? Micah 6:8 continues,

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

We walk humbly because Jesus, himself, is our sacrifice for sin. In other words, we walk humbly knowing we can’t save ourselves, and believing this (if we truly believe it) causes us to love kindness and do justice toward our fellow man.

Honestly seeing our hopeless condition and future without Christ, and then trusting in what He alone has done for us to ensure eternal salvation, will cause us to shed our prideful, divisive, selfish ways. It’s a natural response for those whose hearts have been changed by the gospel.

So, believe the gospel and do justice. Don’t just hope for justice, but actually do justice as Micah says, and love kindness.

Depending upon whom you listen most to, you might be thinking something more important is required right now in our country, but not from God’s point of view. And what we need right now, more than ever, is God’s point of view.