The Shedding of Blood – 9: Human Sacrifice and the Prophets

Posted: February 27, 2013 by J in Bible, Theology
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The prophets continued to emphasise the Torah’s teaching about Yahweh’s feelings toward human sacrifice. Jeremiah in particular mounts a sustained campaign against the high place of the valley of Ben-Hinnom (also called Tophet).

How can you say, ‘I am not defiled;
I have not run after the Baals’?
See how you behaved in the valley;
consider what you have done. Jeremiah 2:23
 

The practices connected with the valley run counter to the commands of God to Moses:

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.  32 So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Jeremiah 7:31-32

The warning at the end here harks back to the command given to Noah: those who shed human blood in sacrifice, shall themselves be slain. Later, Jeremiah acts out a symbolic judgement on the valley:

This is what the LORD says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. …go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom…There proclaim the words I tell you,  3 and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: … “they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.  5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.  6 So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.

“‘In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who seek their lives, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. … 9 I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’

“Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching,  11 and say to them, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room.  12 This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the LORD. I will make this city like Topheth.  13 The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth—all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.’” Jeremiah 19:1-13

 

This is to be Jerusalem’s punishment: the whole city will become like Tophet.

The valley is described as an open disgrace, a standing reproach to Jerusalem:

I am against you, Jerusalem,
you who live above this valley
on the rocky plateau, declares the LORD—
you who say, “Who can come against us? Jeremiah 21:13

Jeremiah repeats his memorable earlier phrase:

They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.                                  Jeremiah 32:35

Eventually, the whole valley will be redeemed, the horrors brought to an end:

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate.  And the measuring line shall go out farther… The whole valley of the corpses and the fat ash, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the LORD.      Jeremiah 31:38-40

For Jeremiah, the valley and the practices associated with it are at the heart of Israel’s sin, a clear turning-away from the Torah, and a main cause of the exile. In spite of the extensive sacrifice-laws of the Torah, more and ongoing prophecy is required to deliver Israel from this horror of human sacrifice.

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