By Drew Zuverink
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites: Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name.'"
You might be thinking, "Well this morning's devotional is about not sacrificing my children to a god named Molek, I think I can manage that so I don't really need to read the rest of this." I completely understand that the passage for this week's devotional is strange, but don't quit reading yet, it will make sense soon.
Molek was the god of the Ammonites and sadly the practice of child sacrifice was common in some of the surrounding countries near the Israelites. Because God wants the Israelites to worship him and obey him only, he condemns the practice of sacrificing children. Killing your child to appease some god was morally detestable to God, which is why he instituted the death penalty for anyone who was caught doing that.
I doubt many of us have much of a problem with God commanding the death penalty for someone who would sacrifice their own child to a foreign, made up god, but what if I told you that in the same chapter God commands the death penalty for:
Anyone who curses their father or mother.
A man who commits adultery with another man's wife.
A man who has sexual relations with another man.
Does that seem a bit extreme to anyone else?
Now this was a long time ago and God no longer commands the death penalty for these things (Jesus refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery in the gospels) but it's still hard to read that at one point in time God really did command the death penalty for these things.
How could God command such a harsh penalty for things that don't seem like they're that big of deal? I mean I get it if they were sacrificing children, but adultery? Adultery is a big deal, but is it bad enough to be put to death for? What does this tell us about God?
This chapter is a giant lesson on how God views sin.
"The primary reason that we have trouble with this is because we have a superficial understanding of sin and God's attitude towards it. We tend to think of sin as a kind of correctable mistake, easily taken care of. Why be so upset about it?" (Amplified Study Bible).
That is not God's attitude towards sin. God views sin as morally detestable, and sometimes drastic measures are needed to deal with it. If we witnessed a parent sacrifice their child as a ritual for a made up god, it would disgust us, fill us with righteous rage, and possibly even make some of us throw up because of how repulsive it is. Well God feels that way about many sins, even though we do not.
You see, God is a very holy God, he is unlike anything in this world and his power and glory are indescribable. He has commanded respect and obedience from humans and when we blatantly disobey what he clearly commands, it's a big deal.
The ancient people understood this for the most part. Take the Ammonites for example. Although their god Molek was not real, they believed that if he was real and he was indeed a god, well then he must be very powerful and so they ought to appease him. They believed, if there is a god far more powerful than we are, our only option is to submit because what other option do we have, he's god.
Their understanding of which god was real and what a god would want from them was way off, but they did understand one thing correctly. If there is a God and if he is as powerful as the Bible describes him, then our only option is to submit to him. Why? Because when you are as powerful as God quite frankly you get to do whatever you want. One of my favorite quotes is from Francis Chan, "No offense people, but when you create your own universe you can create your own standards." It's true isn't it? If there is an all powerful creator God, then it doesn't matter if we like what he commands, it's his universe and our role in it is to submit to his authority - if he is a good God - that's just a big bonus.
God is God and he can do what he wants. American's are very unique in the fact that we believe, for some reason, that we can say to God, "Nuhuh! You can't command the death penalty for adultery way back then. You can't send a flood to wipe out the increasingly evil human race. You can't command me to avoid certain sexual practices." And maybe we understand that God can command those things but we think, "He doesn't REALLY think it's that big of a deal when I disobey in this little way. It's not that big of a deal if I don't spend any time with him in his word or in prayer. He'll forgive me like he always does, it's no big deal." Wrong, wrong wrong! God believed those things were a big deal back then and although he doesn't command the death penalty for as many things now - he's still morally repulsed by sin today.
Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In other words, it's the very foundation that wisdom is built upon, and what terrifies me is how we have lost much of our fear of God. Because if we lose that which is literally the beginning point of having any kind of wisdom at all, how are we going to be able to live God honoring lives? It is absolutely vital to yours and my faith that we regain a healthy fear and reverence for God as GOD! It's his universe and he's in control and our role is to submit and obey. Rebelling and willfully disobeying any of his commandments is a big deal and if we don't feel that way, it's clear evidence that we have lost some of our fear of him.
Remember that God is a loving father who has adopted Christians into his family. Jesus Christ is a loving savior who calls us his brothers and sisters. God loves us and he enjoys a family relationship with us - but he is still the king, he's still the ruler, he's still our Lord, and he's still unbelievably powerful in ways that ought to bring us a healthy amount respect to obey and fear to disobey. Build your Christian life off of the foundation of reverence and fear of God. Place on top of that very basic beginning point all of your decisions.
Trying to live a life that honors God, which I trust is all of our goal, is impossible without fearing God because he is GOD. Work hard to re-learn who God is. Don't overemphasize his mercy and his love to the point where you neglect to understand his holiness. Take the time to meditate on all of his characteristics, reinstate a healthy fear of him in your hearts and re-learn what your role in your relationship with God is supposed to be. If we will do that, we will be able to enjoy a life that is much more pleasing to the Lord and much more effective in reaching others with the gospel.