20 And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter 21 that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?
Ezekiel 16:20-21 (ESV)
The children in Sunday-morning swim lessons at the YMCA do not look abused. Indeed, they seem blessed. As doting parents look on, they learn to dog-paddle and then flutter-kick under the watchful, caring eyes of instructors. One child is wearing new flippers and goggles his father bought him while on an extended golf outing with his business associates. His father does not live with his mother anymore. They found their career interests at odds, and his wandering eye was a continual source of conflict. The marriage disintegrated, but both spend time with the child, and both make sure he has all the material advantages he wants. Church is not in the picture, but the boy has no lack of friends on the Lord’s Day. Most of his buddies are also at play, while other kids, fewer in number, attend church with their parents. Though the waters of the swimming pool are cool, they are reminiscent of the sacrificial fires which once burned in the valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem. Child sacrifice continues.
Ezekiel 16 is one of the most moving chapters of the Bible, portraying the Lord as a wounded husband, whose bride has turned into a callous prostitute. Yahweh had given Jerusalem her life (v. 7), causing her to flourish and prosper. After marrying her, He lavished her with gifts, and she became beautiful and renowned (vv. 8-14). But Jerusalem was faithless and played the whore. Ezekiel detailed God’s disdain for their idolatries (vv. 15-24) and then turned to the matter of their child abuse.
Molech worship (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 32:35), practiced in the Hinnom Valley, was grotesque. Children were burned as an offering to a bloodthirsty, imaginary god (Ezek. 16:21). The Lord was disgusted with the spectacle of grownups tossing aside His life-giving counsel for the sake of life-taking fictions. And His indignation at the destruction of their children was profound.
Strikingly, between verses 20 and 21, the pronoun changes. “Your children” becomes “my children.” Jerusalem’s children were not only received as gifts from the Lord, they were also borne for Him (v. 20). They belonged to Him. The people should have presented them to Him, to love and serve Him. Instead, they gave them to foreign gods to be slaughtered and consumed.
Today, Western parents serve more attractive gods, but the ruin of their children is just as sure. In their drive to secure raises, notoriety, creature comforts, power, and pleasure, mom and dad short-change their children. They fail at moral and spiritual instruction. By turning their backs on the Church, they deprive their children of the nurturing fellowship of the saints. By setting examples of avarice, callousness, and self-indulgence, they teach their children that life’s meaning is secular; they model obeisance at the altar of the profane. And so their children are lost, victims of the cults of mammon, eros, and hubris. And though they will not face the fires of Hinnom, they will more likely face the fires of hell one day, in large measure because of the spiritual neglect of their parents.
In the culture of divorce, the pastor often finds himself hearing complaints about visitation rights—which parent gets time with which child on which days. Lost in this unholy shuffle is the question of God’s rights regarding the children He has made. He has the preeminent rights and their only hope of abundant living lies in their finding His Way. So the Church must speak God’s word to the family, lest the children be forgotten, as they were in Ezekiel’s day.