“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, 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
There are a lot of gods in the Bible. Asherah, Baal, Dagon, Marduk, Molech, and others are a reoccurring problem in the Old Testament. Israelite prophets, judges, and reformers would regularly rail against these gods and would rebuke the people of YHWH for worshipping these gods. While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments the people of God were building a golden calf (perhaps Baal, or El, or the Egyptian deity Apis). Idols were a huge problem back then, but are they still today?
There are clearly issues that ancient people faced that many (not all) in our country no longer worry about today (e.g. food storage, many types of illnesses, access to clean water, etc). However, the issues of idols were, and are, issues of the heart. While we may not be tempted to worship hand-carved figurines, I believe the core concept of idolatry lives with us on some level. The challenge is with identifying the idols in our lives.
The Rev. Peter W. Marty, editor of the Christian Century and senior pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Iowa, has identified one such idol. Rev. Marty invites us to look at Molech, one of the more disturbing gods in scripture. According to the various biblical accounts, Molech was worshipped by child sacrifice. It is unclear as to why the Israelites worshipped Molech but it is clear that at times the Israelites participated in this abominable act. Such a practice shocked the conscious of the prophet Jeremiah.
In a brilliant reflection, Rev. Marty connects this ancient idol to modern life. He draws a line between the sacrificial worship of Molech and the continued deaths of young people from gun violence as the price our society pays for its veneration of the right to bear arms. “The cowardice of politicians who refuse to consider serious gun safety legislation is striking. Every fresh bloodbath of innocents, they tell us, is the price that must be paid for the freedom to own firearms…Instead of regulating anyone, priests of the Second Amendment propose arming everyone from kindergarten teachers and soccer coaches to store clerks and restaurant servers. I call this the consecration of sheer madness…”
While I find his article moving, and worthy of your time, what I want to lift up here is his identification of a modern-day idol. Idolatry isn’t an antiquated notion, it’s just harder to identify in our daily life. We don’t have statues we can banish from our homes, but there are insecurities and lies that we need to banish from our hearts. In the Old Testament, idols always emerged from fear. They were a way that the people of God tried to manage their fear. Idols today work on the same principle. What fears are we trying to manage in ways other than prayer? What fears are we feeding when we need to be taking them to God?
Friends, let us come open-hearted to God with the faith that “perfect love casts out fear” and let us release that which is not love.