“‘You are not to let any of your children be sacrificed to Molekh, thereby profaning the name of your God; I am Adonai.”–Leviticus 18:21
Right smack dab in the list of prohibited sexual behaviors, we run into a commandment that doesn’t really seem to fit the rest.
Or does it?
I don’t think each of the commandments listed here in Leviticus 18 can be treated as stand-alone individual rulings that have nothing to do with the commands that come before and after.
Let’s not forget the basic hermeneutical principle of taking into account the surrounding context and culture in which a particular verse we’re studying is located.
So who or what was Molech?
Molech was a Canaanite deity whose name suggests “king”.
The real form of the name may have been Malik.
What’s being referred to here is the stomach-turning practice of child sacrifice.
This was widely practiced in the Syro-Palestinian region and is vividly attested to by the huge number of children’s graves uncovered at the site of Carthage, the Phoenician colony in North Africa.
What’s amazing is that in spite of this quite undeniable evidence that child sacrifice actually occurred, some scholars will maintain that what was involved was only a dedication ceremony in which the child was passed over the fire but not burned up as a sacrifice.
I’d say rubbish to that theory.
How can one deny the evidence of the skeletons of many small children and infants buried beneath the altars of the Canaanites?!
This was a combination of murder and gross idolatry.
Now why was a commandment like this lumped together with a bunch of sexual behavior prohibitions?
Recall how Leviticus 18 began.
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.“-Leviticus 18:1-3
From this verse, we can see that the primary and possibly the only reason God gave these commands was to draw a clear line separating the behavior of His people from those of the surrounding pagan nations.
Now one chief cultural characteristic of the ancient pagan world that may be difficult for us moderns to comprehend is just how widespread temple idol worship was.
And what may be even more difficult for us to grasp is just how horrid the activities the heathen practiced at these temples in worship to their gods were.
Child sacrifice was par for the course as well as male temple prostitution which involved the common practice of anal sex.
I believe verse 21 goes together with verse 22 which says “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable”.
The Lord was in one shot specifically condemning the two most practiced activities the heathen engaged in during their religious observances: child sacrifice and male temple prostitution.