Many people know that in ancient societies, there was a prevalence of the idea of child sacrifice. In order to demonstrate your devotion to the deity, or perhaps to cover for a corruption that has been committed, you were to offer your child as a sacrifice. Recently, as I was reading through the Book of Jeremiah, a verse came out and took my attention:
Jeremiah 7:31: And they go on building the high place 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, nor did it come into my mind.
The Book of Jeremiah is one of the major prophetic books of the Old Testament that’s mostly devoted to condemning the evil and sins of God’s people, similar to other prophetic books (like Amos). Anyhow, as God was listing the sins and evil of the Israelite’s in Jeremiah, he mentions yet another one: they were sacrificing their own children. God says He never commanded this to them, nor had it even entered His mind. If God made no such command, why were the Israelite’s doing it? Well, the passage makes it clear, the Israelite’s were going to the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom where they sacrificed their children. Throughout the Old Testament, this is a location in particular where Israelite’s who followed pagan and Canaanite religions would go to in order to burn their children alive (child sacrifice) to deities like Molech and Baal.
2 Kings 23:10: He defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, so that no one would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech.
The continuation of the passage from Jeremiah above is worth quoting in full where God declares He will destroy this practice by turning Topheth into a desolate wasteland:
Jeremiah 7:31-34: And they go on building the high place 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, nor did it come into my mind. 32 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of the earth; and no one will frighten them away. 34 And I will bring to an end the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bride and bridegroom in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for the land shall become a waste.
Topheth is also mentioned in Jeremiah 19:6; 19:11-14, and Isaiah 30:33. The implication is clear, God seriously condemns child sacrifice. It is popular on the internet in anti-religious circles to argue that God commanded child sacrifice with regards to Abraham and Isaac, where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his child Isaac to him. However, scholars consider this ridiculous. God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac in the end, and the entire event is meant as an event to see whether or not Abraham would do the most extreme thing had God commanded it. Consider Abraham’s circumstances. God had told him earlier that he would become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5), and that Abraham was the one to whom God promised the promised land for his descendants (Genesis 15:18) and that through his descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). However, Abraham’s wife, Sarah (her name Sarai at the time), is barren, and her age is ninety years old. However, God tells Abraham that through Sarah, he will bring Abraham a son, and he will name that son Isaac, and it will be through Isaac that God establishes His covenant with Abraham and through Isaac that his descendants will become a nation, etc etc. God miraculously gives Abraham and Sarah the ability to have Isaac. However, all of a sudden, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The entirety of God’s plan with Abraham’s descendants, everything God has put Abraham through in his entire life was for this one moment: for Isaac to live on and make way for the future of Abraham’s promise and covenant with God. Yet God commands Abraham to give Isaac’s life for God’s sake. This was the ultimate command God could have given Abraham, and one that established Abraham’s trust in God to the very end. Abraham succeeded, and in the end, God made sure that Isaac did not die and in fact fulfilled His promise to Abraham. This does not condone child sacrifice in any way, and we have seen from previously mentioned verses, among many others that child sacrifice is not only an evil, but one of the greatest reasons why God utterly destroyed the Canaanite’s (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).
God is a God of righeousness, and Jeremiah made that very clear when he wrote “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”” (Jeremiah 33:16).