Sacrifices to Molech

As the prophet Zephaniah ministers to King Josiah we will learn in finishing chapter 1 this week that the message is narrowed – we started with a warning in verses 2-3 of worldwide judgment and last week we saw how those two verses will be fulfilled in time by the events of the seals, trumpets, and bowls of the Book of Revelation. In judging the world everything will be consumed from the face of the earth with the outpouring of the wrath of God. Now to say that the focus is narrowing, we see that Zephaniah speaks directly to Judah.

Looking now at verses 4-18 we see the direct and specific judgment of God against Judah if they do not repent of their sin and return to Him in obedience. Remember now that Zephaniah gives us a summary of the prophesies from the Lord against Judah. They are being threatened with judgment because of their breaking the covenant, breaking the Law of God through idolatry and also through violation of the Sabbath Laws. The time of their exile in Babylon in fact is tied directly to the number of years they violated the Sabbath Laws and requirements of the Old Covenant. The neglected worship and the feasts, they were not allowing the land to rest, and they were not resting as God had prescribed in His Word. They also were mixing the worship of God with the worship of idols and false gods.

They were facing a severe judgment, a drastic measure God was going to take to remove them from the Land so that it might rest and be restored and to chastise them for the corruption and disobedience that they had allowed and encouraged throughout the nation. As we have already learned, these threats of judgment were fulfilled in the 70 year Babylonian captivity that began in 586 BC. Josiah reigned 640 to 609 BC. So while the cataclysmic cosmic judgments from verse 2 and 3 may still be many years still in the future for us now, the judgment we’ve just read about coming to the nation of Judah was now less than a generation away, about 25-30 years in Judah’s future. That really is not much time in the life of a nation is it?

In making this proclamation against the nation, we see in verses 4-13 that God addresses four specific groups of people. He speaks directly to the priests, the princes, the merchants, and the masses, telling each group how they have sinned, the consequences they are facing, and therefore why they must repent. After this message from the prophet there could be no confusion about who was responsible for the judgment that was coming.

Verses 4-6 give us the message to the priests, “I will stretch out My hand against Judah, And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, The names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests— Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; Those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, But who also swear by Milcom; Those who have turned back from following the Lord, And have not sought the Lord, nor inquired of Him.”

God is bringing judgment upon the religious leaders specifically for their religious customs, their accepted traditions and practices of worship. We learn here that they are doing three things that God said they were not to do and He describes three types of priests.

The first are idolaters. They are supposed to be serving as priests to the Lord God Almighty, King of Creation, and instead are actively worshipping false gods. They have turned away from God all the while claiming to be priests among the people but they are promoting idol worship. Two false gods mentioned in these verses are Milcom and Baal. Now Baal we are (or should be) familiar with, the god of fire and lightening, whose priests served under Jezebel and were confronted and exposed for the frauds that they are Baal are by the Prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel (which overlooks the Valley of Megiddo).  But who is Milcom? That is another name for Molech, the god to which children were sacrificed as they would be placed on his outstretched arms and burned to death in an abominable act of worship.

These false gods were worshipped. The idolatrous priests built altars and places of worship to them throughout the Land. They even set some idols of these gods up in the Temple in Jerusalem – in God’s House. What an abomination.

Now lest we believe that this cannot happen today, it does happen, often. Churches, so-called or self-identified, where men refuse to preach the Word of God and preach instead philosophy, psychology, business methods, motivational self-help messages – messages that reveal a worship of self instead of a worship of Christ. What we as the church are commanded and expected to do in the worship of God and in our daily lives is clearly given to us in the Word of God and not in the mere opinions of men who use ministry as a means of sordid gain.

The Lord through Zephaniah is telling Josiah and the people of Judah that these idolatrous priests are leading the people against God, not in service to Him. Their worship is false, reckless, and sinful. Because of this God promises to cut off every trace of Baal from the Land and not only that, but He is going to remove the memory of the names of these priests. God is going to wipe out their legacy and anything that would serve to remind the people of their devotion to these false gods.

The second type of priests mentioned are adulterous priests. The prophets refer to mixing the worship of God with the worship of idols as committing spiritual adultery, it is the ultimate unfaithfulness, to violate the covenant with God through service and devotion to idols. These perhaps have not turned completely away from God…yet…because they do still promote the worship of God, but they also include idols and blend the worship of multiple gods, probably to appeal to the widest audience. This is ecumenism!

In verse 5 we read about “those who worship the hosts of heaven on the housetops, those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, but who also swear by Molech.” Is God not clear about the worship of other gods in the Ten Commandments? Oh, but wait, the people had rejected and neglected the Word of the Lord, remember. Hence the coming judgment.

These adulterous priests are adding the worship of idols to the worship of God. To hear God’s take on worship let’s read Exodus 20, where He wrote in stone with His finger, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

These first four Laws tell us about God and how He desires to be worshipped.  First He says He is the only living and true God and we are to have no other gods. He is not to be the first of many, as if we were to rank the gods in our lives. He alone is God and He alone is to be worshipped as God.

And let’s be clear about what it means to take God’s name in vain. This is not merely to use God’s name as a curse or as profanity. To take His name in vain goes beyond that – it is to claim His name for yourself, saying you belong to Him, but then live in a way that dishonors Him and disregards His Word. Jesus said it this way in Luke 6:46, ““But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” To claim Him as yours and to claim that you are His and then to disobey Him, that is taking His name in vain, taking it in a futile way.

These priests were taking His name in vain, in futility, because they were claiming that He alone is not the only living and true God.

We see also the Sabbath, that foreshadowing of the rest we have in Christ and the rest we look forward to in eternity in His presence.

Here in this first tablet of the Law, God has told His people how to worship Him. The priests in Judah have not only disregarded these instructions, but they have directly disobeyed them.

We see then there are idolatrous priests, worshipping idols, adulterous priests, being unfaithful and mixing the worship of God with the worship of these idols, and there are apostate priests. In verse 5 they are described as priests “who have turned back from following the Lord, and have not sought the Lord, nor inquired of Him.” These have completely turned away from God. The phrase is literally that they are priests who have turned their back on God. They have walked away. I wonder then why they are even still serving as priests?

This serves as a warning and example to us that we need to be so careful about who we listen to preaching and teaching the Word of God. Those who are unfaithful and disobedient will lead us astray and into judgment.

God begins His warning to Judah by identifying the ways in which their religious leaders are leading them astray. When Josiah realized this when they discovered the Book of the Law in the Temple and read it to him and he saw that it was not enough to tear down the places set up for the worship of idols, but he needed to restore the right worship of God as God commands and expects. They reinstituted worship by cleaning and repairing the Temple and then observing Passover, celebrating the deliverance of the people from their captivity in Egypt.