With 45 to 50 million abortions performed annually around the globe, one can rightly speak of an abortion holocaust. This is something everyone, and especially Christians, should be greatly concerned about. Sadly however, many believers do not seem aware of, or bothered by, the horrors of abortion.
Perhaps one way to get modern-day Christians to rightly consider abortion is to find a comparison that they can more readily relate to, or be familiar with. Since all Christians should have a working knowledge of the Old Testament, perhaps finding an ancient parallel there to the modern abortion tragedy would be helpful.
Clearly the best parallel that can be found is the issue of child sacrifice which is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament. Since God made crystal clear his absolute revulsion of this ancient practice, it might help us to get some perspective on how God feels about the practice of abortion today.
Why it is that God had the Israelites drive out the inhabitants of Canaan? There are a number of reasons, but one was that Yahweh was exercising judgment on the wicked practices of the Canaanites.
Old Testament Background
Consider a bit of background to this situation. According to Genesis 9 and 10, Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. One of the sons of Ham was Canaan. From Canaan can be traced some of the tribes that made up the land of Canaan.
An interesting passage concerning the Canaanites can be found in Genesis 15:16 where it states that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full”. While the Amorites were one of a number of nations that made up Canaan, sometimes the term is used to represent all the inhabitants of that land.
Given that this passage comes from the time of Abraham, we can place it around 2000 BC. The exodus from Egypt and the march to Canaan took place around 1440 BC. What does Gen. 15:16 refer to? It seems to indicate that there will come a time when the wicked practices of the Amorites (Canaanites) will be so despicable that a limit will have been reached, and action will have to be taken.
That is, by the time of the conquest of Canaan, the iniquity of the inhabitants of the land was full, or complete. Thus the taking of Canaan by the Israelites was in part God’s way of punishing the sins of the Canaanites.
Consider the emphasis of Canaanite religion: they were primarily fertility religions. Indeed, Baal, Moloch and Ashtaroth were all fertility gods. The gods of Canaan were seen to be intimately connected with fertility of all kinds, whether the productivity of the crops, the state of livestock, or the health of families.
Moreover, the Canaanites made a religion out of sex. Not unlike today, it was a sex-soaked culture. Homosexuality, prostitution and promiscuity were part and parcel of Canaanite religion. And because sacrifice to the gods was a way of ensuring the blessings of fertility, there was much shedding of blood, including human blood. Thus there were two main elements to Canaanite religious practice: sexual immorality and murder.
With so much human sacrifice, especially child and infant sacrifice, Yahweh had to act before things could get any worse – if that were possible. Thus the destruction of the Canaanites was God’s way of ridding the land of these horrible practices.
The Old Testament describes these horrible practices in many places. In Leviticus 18:21, for example, the Israelites are warned about this: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.”
The penalty for such an offense is severe: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: “Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name”.’” (Lev. 20:1-3)
Deut. 9:4 makes it clear that it was not Israel’s virtues that caused them to inhabit the land, but the wickedness of the Canaanites: “After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.”
Yahweh clearly warns his people that when they dispossess the Canaanites, they must eradicate them entirely, so that they do not get polluted by their evil practices: “The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” (Deut. 12:29-31)
The total elimination of the Canaanites was called for. Unfortunately, Israel did not obey the Lord on this, and the Canaanites and Canaanite practices remained. And sure enough, soon Israel became contaminated by these abominations:
“Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (Judges 2:11-13)
And it kept going from bad to worse. For example, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.” (2 Kings 16:2-3)
Thus Psalm 106 laments: “they shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and daughters”. (v. 38) And because Israel followed the practices of the Canaanites, they too had to face judgment:
“Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” (Jer. 19:3-5)
This shedding of human blood is something so evil that it did not even enter into Yahweh’s mind. And this was not mere murder, but officially sanctioned human sacrifice. Hosea can describe the situation as one where “bloodshed follows bloodshed” (4:2).
Lessons For Today
Thus God judges Canaan for these horrible practices, but then must punish Israel as well for the same thing. But before going on to the contemporary application, let me make one more point.
The ancient Phoenicians were originally northern Canaanites, some of whom settled in North Africa. Carthage, in modern day Tunisia, was one of these settlements. Some decades ago archeologists made gruesome discoveries in Carthage. They unearthed ancient burial places, with large urns filled with bones. Many such urns were found and they were filled with the burnt bones of children offered in sacrifice to the gods. It seems that most of the victims were children two to three months old, although some were up to five years old. There also seem to have been unborn children sacrificed as well. Some experts believe that as many as 20,000 of these urns were deposited in and around Carthage between 400 BC and 200 BC.
We now can see more clearly why God wanted to wipe out the Canaanites. Their wickedness had peaked. The conquest was an act of justice, not of aggression, as Joshua 24 explains. A holy and righteous God had to act. He could stand it no more. Such atrocious activities had to be stamped out.
And as mentioned, God did not want the Israelites contaminated with the Canaanite religion (Deut. 7:1-6; 20:16-18). They had a special redemptive mission to the world and needed to stay pure. Yet they never did fully wipe out the Canaanites (Jud. 1:27-36), so they were a constant thorn in the flesh for Israel. The whole story of Judges, the Kings and Chronicles is one of Israel being corrupted by Canaanite religion, of apostasy and decline (bondage), followed by repentance and renewal (deliverance), then more apostasy, etc. This resulted in final judgment, with the fall of Israel (the northern kingdom) to Assyrians in 722 BC, and the fall of Jerusalem (and Judah, the southern kingdom) to the Babylonians in 587/6 BC.
God hated such practices and he had to act. Can we see parallels with the practice of abortion today? We may not be appeasing fertility gods, but we certainly are appeasing other modern gods: a woman’s right to choose, career paths, convenience, lifestyle choices, unrestricted promiscuity, and so on.
We as a culture seem to be just as idolatrous as the Canaanites were. We seem to be just as much involved in sexual promiscuity. And we seem to be just as much involved in murder. They often go together. If God had to act against the Canaanites, does he not also need to act against our own culture? Have we not provoked the wrath of God as much as the Canaanites have?
Our only response can be repentance and then obedience. We need to wake up to the tragedy of abortion, and seek God’s heart over it. If not, certain judgment awaits.