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Groves and High Places: Child Sacrifices in the Bible
Groves and high places were places of worship erected to Canaanite gods and goddesses.
They were primarily devoted to the worship of Baal and Asherah (or Asherim, Asheroth).
Baal was simply the title (literally, Lord) of the pagan god Molech. Child sacrifice was a fundamental aspect of Baal worship.
Asherah was a fertility goddess. She had different names in various nations, but she remained fundamentally the same:
The Canaanites were characterized by their sexual perversity (Leviticus 18:3-30, 20:2-27). The Israelites were expressly forbidden to engage in their practices or in the worship of the Canaanite gods, which also involved sexual licentiousness. The failure of the Jews to keep this mandate resulted in increasingly more severe discipline from God and, eventually, in the final cycle of divine discipline: The Assyrian captivity for the Northern Kingdom (721 B.C.), and the Babylonian/Persian captivity for the Southern Kingdom (586 B.C.).
Judgement did not come without repeated warning. God sent prophets to both the Northern and southern Kingdoms:
Prophets to the Southern Kingdom Prophets....to the Northern Kingdom
Groves And High Places: Chronology
Prior to entering the land, the Israelites were commanded not to follow after the Canaanite gods worshipped in groves and high places (Deuteronomy 16:21-22).
The word grove makes reference to the wooden symbols of the female Canaanite deity Asherah. In the King James Version, grove is an incorrect rendering of two Hebrew words: Ashera - the Canaanite goddess, a wooden idol generally set up beside the alters of Baal; Eshel - the tamarisk tree (Genesis 21:33). [Cf. Merrill Unger’s Bible Dictionary].
The New American Standard Bible does an excellent job of correcting this mistranslation. This wooden symbol was phallic in shape and involved sexual licentiousness.
Upon entering the land of Canaan, the Israelites were to destroy all of the Asherah and high places (Exodus 34:11-13, Deuteronomy 7:5, 12:2-4).
In Judges 1:21-36 we see the failure of the Israelites to drive the Canaanites completely out of the land.
God cited their failure to tear down the altars of the Canaanites as the reason why He did not "drive them out" (Judges 2:1-3). The Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord by forsaking Him and serving Baal and the Ashtaroth (Judges 2:11-13).
The result was inevitable: God allowed the Canaanites to remain in the land to test the Hebrews (Judges 2:21-23, 3:1-4). They quickly failed the test (Judges 3:5-7).
After the nation divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, God promised the destruction of the Northern kingdom because of their continued idolatry (1 Kings 14:15).
By the time of Elijah, we find at least 450 prophets of Baal operative in the Northern Kingdom and at least 400 prophets of Asherah are eating at Queen Jezebel's table (1 Kings 18:19)!
Israel's continued worship of these false gods led to her destruction at the hand of Assyria in 721 B.C. (2 Kings 17:6-12).
Meanwhile, thanks to the preaching of Isaiah in the South, Judah experiences a revival under the leadership of King Hezekiah This resulted in the destruction of all pagan idols (2 Chronicles 29-32, 31:1).
Unfortunately, the revival was short-lived. Upon the death of Hezekiah, Manasseh assumed the throne and reintroduced idolatry (2 Chronicles 3:3).
In 586 B.C. the Jews were defeated by the Babylonians and were carried off into captivity for not paying heed to God's warning and scoffing at the prophets He sent them (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).
Child sacrifice in the Bible:
The Bible strictly forbids the sacrifice of children (Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5). This anticipated the far-reaching influence that the Canaanite religion would exert over the ancient world - especially Israel.
One primary aspect of the worship of Molech was child sacrifice. The child was caused to pass through or into the fire. Archeological excavations in Palestine affirm these practices:
Infant skeletons have been unearthed in ceremonial graveyards built around heathen shrines.
Remember: Baal is a title [like Jupiter or Zeus] meaning master or lord; Molech is a proper name [the Hebrew word Melek means king]. In some cases, the terms Baal and Molech are synonymous (2 kings 23:10, cf. Jeremiah 32:35).
Molech was a favorite god of the Ammonites; they worshipped him as a protecting father. How ironic that they should sacrifice their children to a "fatherly" deity (1 Kings 11:7)!
Solomon, in his hour of apostasy, built high places for Molech on the Mount of Olives (1 Kings 11:7).
King Ahaz, "made molten images for the Baals. Moreover, he burned incense in the valley of Ben-Hinnom - and burned his sons in fire according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel. He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree. He reigned from 732-716 B.C. (2 chronicles 28:2-4).
Manasseh (687-642 B.C.): He was undoubtedly the worst king in Judah’s history.
He "rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah…and worshipped all the host of heaven and served them…and he made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists…Then he set a carved image of Asherah that he had made, in the house of the Lord.” (2 kings 21:3-7).
According to a reliable tradition, the Prophet Isaiah suffered martyrdom by being sawn in half during Manasseh’s reign. This is most likely what Apollos was referring to when he writes, “By faith" the great doctrinal heroes of the past were "sawn in two." (Hebrews 11:37)
Israel was judged as a nation because of - among other things - child sacrifice. "Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire. So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his sight." (2 Kings 17:17-18)
One of the most famous altars built for Molech was in Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom:
The word Topheth is very interesting:
It is derived from the Hebrew word top, which means drum. It was given this name because a drum would be beaten during the ceremonial sacrifices to drown the screams of the children as they were caused to pass through the fire for Molech!
Gesenius links the root with the Hebrew word tut, which means to spit." This interpretation points up the fact that Topheth was a place to be "spit upon" and to "be abhorred." (See usage in Job 17:6.)
Other scholars see Topheth as from the Hebrew word topteh meaning "contempt," the "place of burning" dead bodies.
Topheth was located somewhere east or southeast of Jerusalem. Every detail of the place is now gone, and we can only guess as to where it was.
The name Topheth is found only in the Old Testament; neither the New Testament, nor the Apocrypha mentions the place.
At Topheth the cult of the Canaanites was practiced. Molech was worshipped there (Jeremiah 32:35), called also by his title: Baal (Jeremiah 19:5).
This altar was frequented by:
The ancient Canaanites;
Israelites in apostasy (Psalm 106:35-36; Jeremiah 7:31);
Solomon (1 Kings11:7);
King Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3); and
Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6).
When the pious king Josiah came to the throne, he instituted many reforms in an attempt to bring Judah back into step with God:
He "defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech.”
In order to stop the abominations there, Josiah "broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim.”
He also made the place ceremonially unclean by filling "their places with human bones." (2 Kings 23:10-14; 2 Chronicles 34:3-5)
After this, Topheth became a garbage dump where all the filth that would defile Jerusalem was deposited and burned it also became Jerusalem’s common cesspool - the place where its sewage was directed, making it the abhorrence of the city.
As we have said, Topheth was in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom:
The Greek word for the Hebrew Hinnom is Gehenna.
It is used many times in the New Testament by Jesus and the apostles to represent a place of judgement.
It is a type of hell in several ways:
The area was satanically charged.
Many were "burned” as an offering to Molech there.
It is a place of filth, sewage and all that defiles (cf. Revelation 21:8).
The fires that acted as a trash incinerator burned there continuously.
Therefore it is a type of the Lake of Fire.
However, Gehenna should not be confused with Hades or Sheol, which refer to the common grave of mankind - the intermediate state of unbeliever prior to the Great White Throne judgement (Revelation 20:11-15).
God’s true prophets uniformly condemned child sacrifice:
After Josiah destroyed the high places of Molech (2 Kings 23:29), he was killed in battle by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29). Pharaoh Neco placed Josiah's second son Jehoahaz on his father's throne. He was later imprisoned by Neco and replaced by Jehoiakim his brother (2 kings 23:33-34). During his reign he became subservient to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and re-instituted the worship of Molech, thereby repeating the "sins of Manasseh." (2 Kings 24:3-4)
Child sacrifice appears on the stage of history periodically where demonism and degeneracy are the order of the day. It is still practiced today in parts of Africa and India.
By: Pastor Gene Giguere