Question: "Who was Molech?"
Answer: As with much of ancient history, the exact origin of Molech is unclear. The term is believed to have originated with the Phoenician mlk, which meant a type of sacrifice made to confirm or acquit a vow. Melekh is the Hebrew word for king. It was common for the Israelites to combine the name of pagan gods with the vowels in the Hebrew word for shame: “bosheth.” This is how the goddess of fertility and war, Astarte, became Ashtoreth. The combination of mlk, melekh, and bosheth result in Molech, which could be interpreted as “the personified ruler of shameful sacrifice.” It has also been spelled as Milcom, Milkim, Malik, and Moloch. Ashtoreth was his consort, and ritual prostitution was considered an important form of worship, as though “reminding” the two how to procreate would ensure a plentiful harvest.
Phoenicia was a loosely gathered group of people who inhabited Canaan (modern day Lebanon, Syria, and Israel) between 1550 BC and 300 BC. In addition to sexual rituals, Molech worship included child sacrifice, or “passing children through the fire.” It is believed that giant metal statues were made of a man with a bull’s head, either with a hole in his abdomen or outstretched forearms that made a kind of ramp to a hole in his torso. A fire was lit in or around the statue. Babies were placed in the statue’s arms or in the hole. If a couple sacrificed their first born, they believed that Molech would ensure financial prosperity for the family and future children.
Molech worship wasn’t limited to Canaan. Monoliths in North Africa bear the engraving “mlk”—often written “mlk’mr” and “mlk’dm,” which may mean “sacrifice of lamb” and “sacrifice of man.” In North Africa, Molech was renamed “Kronos.” Kronos migrated to Carthage in Greece, and his mythology grew to include becoming a Titan and the father of Zeus. Molech is affiliated with and sometimes equated to Ba’al, although “ba’al” was also used to designate any god or ruler.
The Israelites had their first exposure to Molech worship when Abraham followed God’s call to move to Canaan. Although human sacrifice was not common in Abraham’s native Ur, it was well-established in this new land. God referenced this exposure when He asked Abraham to offer Isaac (Genesis 22:2). But, unlike the native Canaanite gods, Abraham’s God abhorred human sacrifice. Just as He provided a ram to take Isaac’s place (Genesis 22:13), He provided His own Son to take ours. Over five hundred years later, Joshua led the Israelites out of the desert to take their inheritance of the Promised Land. God knew that the Israelites were immature and easily distracted from worshiping the one true God (Exodus 32). Before the Israelites had even entered Canaan, God warned them not to participate in Molech worship (Leviticus 18:21) and repeatedly told them to destroy those cultures that worshiped Molech. They didn’t. Instead, they incorporated Molech worship into their own traditions. Even Solomon, the wisest king, was swayed to build places of worship for Molech and other gods (1 Kings 11:1-8). Molech worship occurred in the “high places” (1 Kings 12:31) as well as a narrow ravine outside Jerusalem called the Valley of Hinnom (2 Kings 23:10).
Despite occasional efforts by godly kings, worship of Molech by the Israelites wasn’t abolished until the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon. (Although the Babylonian religion was pantheistic and characterized by astrology and divination, it did not include human sacrifice.) Somehow, the dispersion of the Israelites into a large pagan civilization succeeded in finally purging them of their false gods. When they returned, they rededicated their relationship to God, and the Valley of Hinnom was turned into a crematorium for garbage and the bodies of criminals. Jesus used the imagery of an eternally burning fire, consuming countless human victims, to describe Gehenna, or hell, where those who reject God will burn for eternity (Matthew 10:28).
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