In the Ten Commandments, God (who identified Himself as Yahweh or “I am”) commanded the Israelites not to worship any gods but Him. Yet the Israelites were tempted to worship the gods of the peoples around them.
Molek (or Molech or Moloch) was the god of the Ammonites. The name might be related to the word for king. A key component of this religion was child sacrifice.
In their wilderness wanderings, God warned the people of Israel not to worship Molech, even before they had had much contact with the Ammonites: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:21 NIV); “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. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek” (Leviticus 20:2-5). This might seem harsh, but capital punishment is an appropriate punishment for someone who murders innocent children.
Israel did not heed these warnings. 1 Kings 11:4-7 records: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.…On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.” God’s prophet denounced this sin in 1 Kings 11:33. These places of false worship apparently remained for three centuries, until King Josiah “desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek.…The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon” (2 Kings 23:10,13). This did not end the idolatry. God’s prophets continued to condemn the worship of Molek: “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 and also Isaiah 57:9 and Zephaniah 1:5). In the New Testament, Stephen summed up this sad history, quoting the Septuagint translation of Amos 5:26-27: “You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Babylon” (Acts 7:43).
2 Kings 3:26-27 records an enigmatic story: “When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he…took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.” The Moabites and Ammonites were both descended from Lot and might have shared a common false religion that called for child sacrifice. Yet the meaning of this passage is not clear. Did the sacrifice of the king’s son anger his people so much that they were able to fight back against Israel? Did the sacrifice unleash demonic hordes against Israel? Did the Israelites themselves fear Molek so much that they lost heart? We do not know. What we do know is that Jeremiah 49:1-5 prophesied that the Ammonites themselves would be punished and sent in exile for their sins and their worship of Molek.
What does this have to do with us? The worship of Molek has faded into history. But the ideas behind the worship of Molek have persisted. Worshippers of Molek did not necessarily sacrifice children because they enjoyed hurting children but because they were willing to trade their children for something they valued more—victory, success, prosperity. People in our age are still willing to sacrifice children for their own benefit. The most obvious example is abortion. Babies are aborted because they are inconvenient or expensive or they get in the way of another relationship. Other examples are child killing, child abuse, child sexual abuse, and any practice in which adults put their own power and pleasure and prosperity ahead of the well-being of children. God declares that He not only does not command or condone such detestable practices but also that they “never entered His mind.” They are unthinkable evils.