Molech

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).

Shame is baked into the name; the horror and the agony endure.

Among YHWH’s greatest concern for His people Israel involved the assimilation of the practices of the Canaanites and other nations whom YHWH would drive out before them. Israel was commanded time and time again to not serve the gods of the Canaanites and their related nations; unfortunately, for generations, Israel would not listen. Of all the idolatrous cults of the Canaanites, none proved as pernicious and wicked as the cult of a god which was known in terms of the Semitic root mlk: Melek / Milcom / Melquart. Later Jewish scribes, embarrassed and ashamed at the deeds of their ancestors, used the consonants mlk but inserted the vowels from the Hebrew boshet, “shameful thing”; thus we know “Melek” as Molech (also Moloch).

Melek is the Hebrew word for “king”; Melek as a god was known as the “Great King.” The cult of Melek was strongly associated with the cult of Baal, as can be seen in Jeremiah’s denunciation in Jeremiah 32:35; among the Ammonites Melek was known as Milcom (Malkam; 1 Kings 11:5, 33, 2 Kings 23:13; cf. 1 Kings 11:7); the Tyrians spoke of him as Melek-Qart, “King of the City,” which would become shortened to Melqart, and remain an important deity for both Tyre and its colony Carthage for generations. We do not know much about Melek; some scholars have even suggested we should understand mlk as a type of sacrifice more than a deity. Whether a god in and of himself, or just a sacrifice to the gods, the awful and terrible fact remains: Canaanites, and Israelites, would make their children pass through the fire to mlk/Melek.

The condemnation of offering children to Melek is found in many places in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5, 2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah 7:31, 32:35). It gave comfort to many to suggest the prophets spoke in hyperbole; that children really were not offered to Melek; who could do such an abominable thing? But Greek and Roman authors spoke of child sacrifices in Carthage, and we have found remains of such sacrifices as well as inscriptions which speak of such sacrifices including the word mlk. It is horrifying; it is terrible; but, by all accounts, it actually happened. People sacrificed their beloved children to Melek.

What would motivate people to do such a terrible and awful thing? We read of its condemnation; we are not explicitly told why people would do so. Nevertheless, we can imagine some possible reasons. For generations the Canaanites had served Melek and offered their children to him, either to placate him or to gain his favor. Perhaps they believed Melek would allow them to maintain some rule or power; perhaps they hoped Melek would give them strength over their enemies, something akin to Mesha’s sacrifice of his son to Chemosh which seemed to change the calculus of the battle for Moab according to 2 Kings 3:27.

We have no reason to believe the Israelites, or the Canaanites for that matter, held their children in derision or contempt. By all accounts, they loved their children like we love ours. Yet they felt obligated to offer some of their children to Melek. It had to be done, after all, to preserve their nation. That was just the way it was in the land of Canaan. The Israelites saw it, and accepted that logic. It had to be done. Melek needed to be satiated. Beloved children would die.

Such sacrifices would go on for years; no doubt many were convinced that it worked somehow. But they “worked” until they didn’t: the Assyrians overpowered the Canaanite states, followed by the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Macedonians, and they did not offer their children to Melek. Carthaginian offerings to Melqart did not grant them victory over the Romans.

The Israelites who returned from their exile had learned their lesson. “Melek” became Molech; the place where children were offered, once considered holy to Melek, was now seen as defiled and haunted. Jeremiah prophetically had pronounced the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, where people of Judah sacrificed their children to Melek, as the Valley of Slaughter (Jeremiah 7:31-32, 19:6-15); Israelites after the exile filled the Valley of Hinnom with garbage and burned it there; its awfulness inspired the word for hell in the New Testament, Gehenna (cf. Matthew 5:22, 29-30, 10:28).

We are rightly horrified at the prospect of slaughtering children to Molech. We cannot imagine that we would do anything of the sort. Yet we must be careful lest we overly demonize our ancestors in the faith; we might miss how we have made our own forms of Molech, and prove blind to what may condemn us in the end.

We could perhaps discover many forms of Molech in the modern world (confidence in military intervention in other places, corruption of children through abuse or instruction in deviant forms of sexuality, treatment of the poor, marginalized, and the oppressed, etc.), but in the Western world we should grapple with the prospect that we have made freedom a type of Molech in many ways. Every year scores of children are slaughtered in the womb in the name of a woman’s choice regarding her body. Some of the stories are tragic (women coerced into abortion by relatives, either her own or those of the father); others are horrifying in their callousness (women who think nothing of getting an abortion in order to demonstrate their rights). And yet, for those who advocate for women to maintain the right to abort in the name of choice/freedom, such is the necessary sacrifice for the cause. Those children have to die, after all, to preserve reproductive freedom. That is just the way it is done in the Western world. Likewise, every year scores of children and other innocent people are slaughtered with people with guns. Some of the stories are tragic (children coming upon a family member’s gun and accidentally killing someone); others are horrifying in their callousness (mass shooters, especially mass shooters in schools). And yet, for those who advocate an absolute right to maintain whatever arsenal a citizen might desire in the name of choice/freedom, such is the necessary sacrifice for the cause. Those children have to die, after all, to preserve our Second Amendment freedoms. That is just the way it is done in America.

No doubt people today believe their sacrifices to the Molech of freedom are convinced that it is working somehow. It might “work” until it doesn’t. And then it will be our descendants who might well look in horror and astonishment at us for what we justified and did, just as we look at our ancestors in our nation and in the faith in horror and astonishment for what they justified and did.

Israel was wrong from the beginning; Melek did not exist. YHWH, and YHWH alone, would give Israel blessings and victory and strength; setbacks, defeat, and weakness were due to an unwillingness to put that trust in YHWH. Molech’s danger remains, not because Molech exists, but because we are deceived into setting up Molechs and serving them, feeling powerless to do otherwise, while at the same time we give Molech the power over us. We prove willing to put fealty to a principle or an idea over natural care and compassion for people. We become afraid at the prospect of various dangers, and thus prove willing to justify all kinds of awful and terrible behavior so as to maintain the veneer of safety and comfort. We might look to legislation to fix things, but legislation can only try to enforce certain norms of behavior; it does not fix the underlying cultural trends which would justify or commend those behaviors in the first place. If we will stop serving “Molech,” we must repent, and no longer put our confidence in the ways of the world imprisoned by the principalities and powers, but to trust in the God who made us and in His Son who triumphed over the powers and principalities in His death and resurrection. It may lead to our alienation, persecution, and suffering; our vindication will come from God. May we serve the One True God and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Freedom

As free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God (1 Peter 2:16).

If you know nothing else about Americans you know just how much they love freedom. As Lee Greenwood so famously put it, “I’m proud to be an American / where at least I know I’m free.” Liberty and freedom still prove extremely popular; they remain an important part of the American creed, a point of agreement across the various divides in the country, even if disagreement remains about how said freedom ought to be exercised.

American freedom is of a particular type: freedom from tyranny, and thus freedom to live as one wants. The caricature of the American declaring, “I’m an American, I’m free, so I am gonna do what I want” is not terribly far off the mark. Freedom in America is thus perceived as license, the ability to go and do whatever is desired; any attempt to curb or restrain such desires is seen as tyrannical, despotic, and contrary to the American ethos. Little wonder, then, how freedom has become libertinism among far too many.

Americans also maintain a fondness for Christianity, or at least a version of Christianity which is quite amenable to American philosophies and the American dream. Freedom is offered in Christianity (John 8:32, 1 Peter 2:16); Americans like freedom; therefore, they imagine that the freedom in Christianity must be the same type of freedom they believe they have as Americans. And so freedom in Christ is perceived to be license as well.

The Apostle Peter, however, has a very different conception of what freedom means, and above all things, what the Christian is to do with his or her freedom. He wrote to Christians of modern-day Turkey who lived under the power of the Roman Empire in the days of Nero (1 Peter 1:1). The Christians there were enduring suffering, most likely from some sort of persecution (1 Peter 1:6-9, 2:11-12, 4:19). He encouraged Christians to respect human authorities for the Lord’s sake and to abstain from the lusts of the world (1 Peter 2:11-15). He then expected the Christians to live as free people, not to cover up wickedness, but to live as douloi (often translated as “bondservants” or “servants,” but really “slaves”) of God (1 Peter 2:16).

What Peter meant by “live as free” involves something which we tend to take for granted today: to live as one not enslaved. Many in Peter’s audience were slaves (cf. 1 Peter 2:18), yet even they, in Christ, were to live as if free. Freedom meant freedom from oppression and bondage: freedom from sin and the Evil One (Romans 8:1-8). Even if physically enslaved they remained spiritually free.

But what did such freedom involve? Peter exhorted Christians to not use their freedom as a “cloak of wickedness” (1 Peter 2:16). Such is the dark underbelly of the clarion call to “freedom”: freedom to what end? Many who imagine their freedom to be license use that freedom to participate in hedonism and self-aggrandizement, and often to the detriment of their fellow man. The very reason many covet freedom is so they can do things they know they ought not! Almost invariably freedom is abused not long after it is obtained; most of us can give stories of what happened when we were entrusted with greater freedom, and those stories are rarely pretty.

Instead, Peter encouraged Christians to use their freedoms to serve God (1 Peter 2:16). The Apostle Paul had invited Christians to understand reality in terms of serving God in righteousness or serving the forces of sin and evil in wickedness (Romans 6:16-23). Thus we do have choice, but a very limited one: are we going to serve the right or the wrong? The Christian’s freedom is not to be used as license to do whatever he or she wishes but an opportunity purchased by the blood of the Lord and under His sovereignty in the Kingdom to serve God and His purposes. In this way Christians put to silence the ignorance of the foolish (1 Peter 2:15): doing well in serving the Lord.

We therefore do well to transform the way we view freedom. Yes, we have freedom; it is a precious and valuable freedom, purchased by our Lord at great cost to Himself. In that freedom is a bit of power over ourselves inasmuch as we have the choice to serve good or evil. Such freedom maintains personal volition since it must be a constant choice regarding whom we will serve. Nevertheless, this freedom is not as far-ranging as many would want to imagine; if we exercise our freedom to live as we choose or please, we are not living according to wisdom but folly, and will invariably serve sin and not the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-7, Romans 6:14-23). God has given us freedom in Christ out of the bondage of sin and death so that we might choose to serve the Lord Jesus and submit to His will and purposes in all things (Romans 8:1-8).

We must dismiss any notion of freedom as “license to do whatever I want.” We lived our lives in the flesh according to our desires, and what did we gain at that time but shame and condemnation (Romans 6:20-22)? In Christ we are set free from bondage to sin and death so we can be empowered to live as God would have us to live, but only if we live as free people, using our freedom to submit to the will of God in Christ. May we take Peter’s lesson to heart and serve God in Christ, becoming ever more conformed to His image!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Lord the Spirit

Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

Paul is masterfully demonstrating the superiority of the new covenant to the old to those Corinthians who have begun to harbor doubts about Paul and his message (2 Corinthians 3:1-16). Through the image of the veil and the contrast between the letter of the Law and the ministry of the Spirit, Paul has declared the surpassing glory of God in Christ and the salvation wrought for all mankind.

These concepts are powerfully brought together in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is liberty. Believers behold the image of the glory of the Lord without needing a veil and are being transformed into that image from the Lord the Spirit.

Paul’s declaration that the Lord is the Spirit is quite challenging. What does he mean by it? Is he saying that Jesus and the Spirit are the same? And yet there are plenty of passages that differentiate the two (Matthew 3:16-17, John 14:15-17, 15:26-27, 1 Peter 1:2). Should we understand Lord, Greek kurios, in terms of YHWH in the Old Testament, and thus Paul is declaring that the Holy Spirit is YHWH? Scripture does demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is part of YHWH (cf. Leviticus 26:12/Isaiah 52:11/2 Corinthians 6:16-18, 2 Peter 1:21), and it is possible that Paul is still evoking the imagery of Exodus 34:33-35 and thus considers Lord in terms of YHWH. Yet the use of Lord in the near context clearly points to Jesus Christ: turning to the Lord in 2 Corinthians 3:16, and the image of conformity to the image of the Lord is consistent with Romans 8:29. The best sense of the words in context is that Paul is indeed identifying the Lord Jesus and the Spirit together.

While we should not assume that Paul’s identification here means that Jesus is the Spirit and the Spirit is Jesus, it does show the close relationship between Jesus and the Spirit. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are Three Persons in One being; they share in intimate relationship, unified in being, nature, purpose, will, character, and so forth. Whereas Christ and the Spirit are different Persons within the Godhead, and they have their different roles that they fulfill, Paul is making it clear that we should not separate them when it comes to their purpose and the end result. There is no contrast here between Christ and the Spirit; the Lord is the Spirit, and the ministry of the Spirit is designed to glorify God in Christ.

The presence of the Spirit means that there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17). It is far too easy in modern America to lift this verse out of context and turn this concept into something it was never meant to be. What does Paul mean when he says that there is liberty where the Spirit of the Lord is?

We get an idea from the final verse of this chapter and this section. Whereas the Israelites received God’s Law through the intermediary Moses, whose face they refused to see unveiled, believers through Christ receive God’s message directly through the revelation of the Spirit. Through the Spirit believers are able without any veil in the way to perceive the glory of the Lord as if looking in a mirror. We see the message of God manifest in Christ; the Corinthians heard it through Paul, and we see it through Scripture. That “beholding” is to lead to transformation into the same image, so that the glory of the Lord that we behold in the mirror may also be the reflected glory of God that we exhibit to the world. This can only be accomplished through the work of the Spirit in revelation and sanctification (2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 Peter 1:2).

The Law of Moses declared right from wrong; the Spirit allows for transformation to the image of God in Christ. The Law of Moses was read and heard with a veil over the heart of the Israelites; the message from the Spirit is to be heard without hindrance, seen, with spiritual eyes, without any hindrance or covering. Through Christ we can understand God’s redemptive plan and purpose for the creation; through the Spirit we learn of Christ and His message. And this is true freedom: freedom to understand without hindrance, freedom from the veil and the letter which kills. But it cannot be freedom as license to do as we please; that is inconsistent with the image provided throughout Scripture of the believer as being the humble servant of Christ seeking above all things to conform to the image of Jesus, who did not live to please Himself, but to serve the best interests of others (cf. Romans 6:17-23, 8:29, 12:1-2, 15:1-3, Philippians 2:1-11, 1 John 2:3-6). We have been set free from the law and sin and death so that we can become transformed creatures, servants of God, glorifying Him in all we do.

Little wonder, then, that Paul would treasure this hope and thus speak boldly (2 Corinthians 3:12). The Spirit made known to him the work of God in Christ, and thus we can learn of it as well. We can come to a better appreciation of the freedom which we have obtained through the Lord and the Spirit so that we can go through the transformative process of becoming like the Son in all things. Let us praise God and give Him the glory for what He has done!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Slavery

Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called. Wast thou called being a bondservant? Care not for it: nay, even if thou canst become free, use it rather. For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord’s freedman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ’s bondservant. Ye were bought with a price; become not bondservants of men (1 Corinthians 7:20-23).

Slavery– the very word evokes powerful feelings. Some of the darkest chapters of human history involve the enslavement of some people at the hands of others. The concept of slavery is entirely abhorrent to modern eyes, a tragic reminder of human sinfulness and rapacity. We have a great desire to move on and to get away from such a practice.

Our Bible translations seem to reflect this same impulse. Many times we will find the word “bondservant” in our translations. Somehow “bondservant” does not sound as bad– but it should. The Greek word doulos means “slave”– and that is not only what Paul calls himself (Romans 1:1), but in fact all Christians (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)!

When we think of slavery today our minds tend to drift toward the practice of slavery in America from the 1600s through 1865. While the Bible was used in fast and free ways, both to justify and to condemn that practice, slavery in Paul’s world was a bit different from slavery in America. In the ancient Roman world, slavery was sometimes the result of birth, but just as easily could have befallen a prisoner of war or someone who fell into too much debt. While some slaves were sent to mines or to do otherwise unpleasant and difficult work, most were domestic slaves, performing different functions for their masters and mistresses. The life of slaves could run the gamut– some had very cushy and comfortable lives, while others were as miserable as we could imagine and then some.

Yet the one constant with all slaves throughout time has been the desire to be free– or, if nothing else, such would likely be our desire had we ever been enslaved. We find freedom to be so important, and we cannot imagine what it would be like to be a slave.

The Bible’s attitude toward slavery has posed a conundrum for years. God does not wholeheartedly embrace the practice, but He also does not wholeheartedly condemn it, either. This has frustrated many believers for generations. How could God countenance such a terrible institution? Why was it not condemned outright?

As we can see in 1 Corinthians 7:21, 23, it is not God’s will for believers to be slaves of men. If a person is a slave when called, and he can obtain his freedom, he should. Believers should do everything in their power to avoid being enslaved to men, for it often leads to compulsion to do things one ought not do. It is easier to serve the Lord and His purposes unhindered by the expectations of an earthly master.

But the principles of Christianity transcend social structures. The emphasis of Christianity is on God’s Kingdom, not one’s position amongst men. Those who are appointed to eternal life and great things in God’s Kingdom are often those who are debased and despised among men (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27). As Paul says– the earthly slave is the Lord’s freedman, while the earthly free man is a slave of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22).

The Kingdom of God certainly upsets the social structures of the world, but not by direct assault. Government is to be respected and obeyed (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18); each is to remain in the position he had when called (1 Corinthians 7:24). In fact, one is to be better at whatever one does or is, seeking to reflect Christ as husband or wife, parent or child, slave or master (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). No ruler or authority could come and declare Christianity to be subverting existing social systems through direct, explicit condemnation of the ruler himself or of the prevailing ideas of the time.

Instead, the subversive nature of the Kingdom derives from its egalitarianism. In Christ man and woman, Jew and Greek, slave and free, rich and pauper, are equal (Galatians 3:28). In Christ there is no “other” to dehumanize or degrade, for every person is precious in God’s sight (1 Timothy 2:4). When you assemble with fellow Christians, including your own slaves, and jointly participate in Christ, it will be a lot harder to keep them as your slaves the rest of the time. This is why the dignity of man increased as Christianity was promoted.

Such things, however, cannot be forced. Instead, as Paul explains, it is always best to serve God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Paul wrote passionately to Philemon to save Onesimus, so we know that he has some level of sympathy for slaves. Ultimately, however, freedom is not the goal– salvation is the goal. Better to be a saved slave than a condemned freedman; therefore, it was best to serve God as a slave, understanding that in the Kingdom even a slave can be adopted as a son of God (Romans 8:15-17)!

In the end, the question is moot, for, as Paul indicates in Romans 6:16-22, we are all slaves to something. We do not particularly appreciate this perspective, yet it is needful for our sake, for, as Paul says, we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23). We glorify the idea of “redemption” and being “redeemed” from sin, but do we remember that redemption really means purchase, and that if we have been bought, we are no longer our own?

Slavery, in and of itself, is only a problem if we have made an idol out of “freedom,” and if we are deluded about the way things really work. In reality, far too many people have used their “freedom” to enslave themselves to taskmasters far worse than the slave drivers of the past. People all around us are enslaved to various passions and lust, being led astray by their own impulses, and in terrible straits. They are slaves of sin. But thanks be to God that we have been given the opportunity to turn away from such taskmasters and to become slaves of Christ, to live for Him and His purposes according to His dictates. Slavery is not optional; the master we choose to serve is. Let us be slaves of Christ, seeking His will, no matter what circumstance in which we find ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Freedom From Bondage

Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, “If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Jesus’ words in John 8:32 have provided comfort and encouragement for believers for generations. Many seek and hope to be set free in Jesus Christ, and we all know the great value present in freedom!

Sadly, in context, Jesus’ words were understood as anything but comforting and encouraging. The Jews, in fact, took great offense at them: how could Jesus insinuate that they were enslaved to anyone when they were children of Abraham (cf. John 8:33)? Despite Jesus’ attempts to explain to them that anyone who sinned was a slave of sin, a servant of “their father” the Devil (John 8:31-47), the Jews would not listen. The very Jews who “believed” in Him before now considered Him to be a demon-possessed Samaritan, worthy of being stoned for blasphemy (John 8:48, 59)!

It is evident that Jesus’ message of freedom does not sit well with those who do not perceive the burden of their sin. Those who believe that they are “healthy” and in no need of redemption find His message for them distasteful, even if they are willing to intellectually concede the value of His other teachings (cf. Matthew 9:11-13, John 8:30). It is one thing for Jesus to claim that He has a close relationship with His Father; it is quite another to claim that His hearers are enslaved and sons of the devil!

This is why the beginning of Jesus’ statement is so important: those who know the truth that will set them free are those who abide in Jesus’ word and who are His disciples (John 8:31)! The truth cannot liberate those who refuse it or reject it. The truth cannot liberate even those who hear it but do not act on it. It can only liberate those who believe in Jesus Christ and who abide in His word– His obedient servants!

Such is an important reminder for those of us who enjoy great freedoms in our country. When many people think of freedom, they think of license: “I am free to do as I please.” Freedom in Jesus Christ is not license; instead, it is deliverance. The truth sets us free from sin and death in order to serve Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1-2, 6:16-18). It does not give us license to act as we please, as if recognizing that Jesus is Lord can somehow save us from ourselves. Instead, it delivers us from our earlier “father,” the devil, so that we can begin to serve our heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It means that we throw off the yoke of sin and death and take on the yoke of the meek and gentle Shepherd of our souls (cf. Matthew 11:28-30).

Freedom in Jesus Christ is most precious indeed; it was paid for by His own blood. Let us learn to appreciate His sacrifice and our deliverance from sin, and seek to serve our Lord and to be His true disciples!

Ethan R. Longhenry