Protection

You are my hiding place; you protect me from distress. You surround me with shouts of joy from those celebrating deliverance (Psalm 32:7).

Who can protect us?

Protection is a quite salient matter in a world full of dangers. Many want to speak of “the universe” as if it has some kind of specific will for us or will grant us certain things if we intend or behave in certain ways; yet scientifically it is beyond doubt that the universe is actively trying to kill us. Bacteria and viruses continually beset us. And we have all sorts of dangers in between: weather conditions and natural disasters, let alone what fellow human beings might do to us. It’s dangerous out there!

Some might want to think they live in greater danger today than those who came before us, but upon any level of investigation it would be difficult to sustain that kind of argument. If anything, our ancestors lived in greater dangers: various illnesses, wild animals and hostile weather conditions, natural disasters, and fewer ways to ameliorate the danger. Yet such kinds of comparisons ultimately prove futile: in truth, people have always been in danger; people will never run out of things regarding which they can be afraid and which they believe is dangerous; and therefore people have always looked to find some kind of protector.

As we have become ever more secular and skeptical of authority, many have come to suggest themselves as their own protector, or the protector of others. There is a whole American culture dedicated to the proposition of maintaining and upholding the honor and integrity of the family and friends through protection by any means necessary. It has deep roots in Americana; one easily identifiable source would be a particular Scots Irish frontier libertarian culture and mentality that elevated one’s ability to provide for oneself and one’s family without interference from authorities and protected with vigilance. Such types of perspectives easily meld protection within provision so that when many read, for example, that one who does not provide for one’s family is worse than an unbeliever (as in 1 Timothy 5:8), they understand it to mean not just to provide material and emotional resources but also protection, with violence if need be. We are now at the point when many profess the name of the Lord Jesus and will maintain weapons for violence on their person to be ready, at a moment’s notice, to harm or take the lives of others in the name of protecting those they love. Such is even done within the assembly of the Lord’s people, and is often commended as reasonable and sensible!

We understand the impulse; the desire to protect one’s own life and the lives of those we love and to whom we are dedicated is very strong. But is this the explicit will of the Lord Jesus? And who can really protect us?

The Lord Jesus spoke a word about protection through violence in Matthew 26:52: those who take hold of the sword will die by the sword. It was a message powerfully imprinted upon His disciples: Jesus had said as much to Peter when Peter had taken out a sword in an attempt to protect Jesus, and we never hear of Peter or any other Apostle using or encouraging the use of violence to protect themselves afterward. Such a posture only makes sense in light of what Jesus was about to do: He willingly gave Himself to suffer and die even though He had not done anything wrong. Peter himself would reflect upon this and declare that Jesus entrusted Himself to the God who judges justly and did not retaliate when harmed (1 Peter 2:22-23). Peter understood what Jesus had done as marching orders for those who would follow Him: they should go about doing good for others, even if they suffered for doing so, while entrusting themselves to a faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19). What would motivate anyone to do such a thing? The testimony of deep, abiding love of God displayed in Jesus for those who sinned and were alienated from God (cf. Romans 5:6-11). As God has loved us even though we have sinned and fallen short of His glory, so we are called to love others in the same way. We are to love those who would hurt us and pray for those who would persecute us (Luke 6:35). Jesus loves the criminal as much as He loves you, me, small children, and everyone else. Jesus wants them all to be saved: even the person who wants to hurt you (1 Timothy 2:4).

So who can protect us? In the days of old few men proved as mighty in battle as David son of Jesse. Yet after he confessed his sins before YHWH because they laid upon him grievously and commended this for others, he confessed YHWH was his hiding place, and that YHWH would protect him from trouble (Psalm 32:1-7). David was surrounded by those shouting for joy because God delivered them (Psalm 32:7).

Throughout the Psalms, in fact, David and other writers reckon YHWH as their refuge, strong rock, strong tower, and place of hiding and protection. They praise YHWH for deliverance. They also warn Israel against trusting in military might for their protection (cf. Psalms 20:7, 146:3). The prophets would utter a similar warning, exemplified in Isaiah 7:1-17: if God’s people trust in military maneuvering and foreign policy and not in their God, they will be humiliated, fail, and incur judgment. They were better off trusting in YHWH as their King and Protector, and YHWH would provide deliverance for them. They did not trust; they sought protection in chariots and foreign policy; and they were overrun and destroyed by chariots and foreign policy.

The faithful and wise people of God have always understood that God, and God alone, can truly protect them. How God has protected His people has manifested itself differently at different times and in different circumstances, and sometimes through very strange means. It is not as if there is no place for violence; God has established civil government to establish justice in the land and to punish evil; God’s people are to let them take vengeance and wield the sword (Romans 13:1-7). The rulers of old were held to that standard as well (cf. Isaiah 1:10-17). God helped Israel fight its battles time and again (cf. Exodus 15:1-19). Isaiah envisioned judgment on Aram and Israel to deliver Judah by the hands of the bloodthirsty Assyrians (Isaiah 7:1-17). The same kind of Roman soldiers and guards who helped to execute Jesus protected Paul from death at the hand of the Jewish people almost thirty years later (cf. Acts 21:32-26:32). God will hold all such authorities responsible for how they used and abused their authority; God does not hold responsible those who live, or those who suffer, under it.

It is not difficult to imagine circumstances in which it did not look like God protected His people. Plenty of God’s people have died at the hands of raging persecutors. Many others have died at the hands of violent men. Many have suffered exploitation in a thousand different ways. Untold thousands have died of disease or because of natural disasters. That’s a lot of suffering.

But what have we come to expect, and to what end? It is futile to imagine that we can truly protect ourselves or anyone else from every danger. We are not as powerful, and often not in control, as much as we would like to think we are. If protecting others through intimidation or force were as important to faithful Christian witness as many would imagine, why has God not spoken about it? Why did Jesus or the Apostles not model it, and just as importantly, why did Jesus denounce it when one of His disciples actually tried it? When we must speak frequently when God has not spoken it should give us great pause regarding what we are saying. Perhaps we have imported something that was never there in the first place. Perhaps we are not listening to what is being said.

It is a particularly modern delusion to think we are in control and can control our environment. Those who came before us lived by time and chance (Ecclesiastes 9:11); and if we would hear it, so do we. If we will be protected from dangers, it is because God is protecting us. If for whatever reason in God’s economy, be it the freewill decisions of others, the work of the powers and principalities, or perhaps even just unfortunate circumstance, we are called upon to suffer and die, it is not as if God has proven unfaithful. We brought nothing into this world; we cannot take anything out of it (1 Timothy 6:7). We are weak and frail; our strength should have always been entrusted in the Lord and His might (Ephesians 6:10-13). If we would truly want to see our families, friends, and loved ones protected, we do best to entrust them into the hands of God our Protector. If a mighty warrior like David thus trusted in God, perhaps we should also.

In the end, we will all be held accountable for what we have done in the body when we stand before the Lord Jesus (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-11). We do best to stand there having entrusted ourselves to our faithful Creator, even through tremendous suffering, humiliation, and degradation, than to stand before a faithful Creator with the weight of the pain, distress, and perhaps even the blood of human beings on our souls and our hands. We should stand before Jesus having followed His ways of humiliation and suffering so we might be exalted through the unimaginably fantastic glory of God, praising God as the Protector and Deliverer of our souls unto eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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