CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A Different Perspective on Abortion

Sep 1, 2006

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.

[1763 words]

8 Responses to A Different Perspective on Abortion

  • Congratulations Bill, another excellent article. One wonders why politicians and the like cannot see what fate they are imposing upon Australia when they support the killing of the most vulnerable of all human beings, while at the same time protest to other countries about the ‘death penalty’ for criminals.
    Keep up the good work.

    Madge Fahy, Victoria

  • Great effort, Bill. This excellent article should be compulsory reading for all Christians, many of whom sometimes tend to skip over the “difficult” parts of the Old Testament. This article spells out, in a way that cannot possibly be misunderstood, how God does not allow infant sacrifice, abortion and other massacres of the innocents to go unpunished.
    When will Western nations wake up and put a stop to this evil?
    John Ballantyne, Melbourne

  • Dear Bill, once again an excellent article very pertinent to what many of us are thinking today about where the world is going. On 60 minutes last night journalists were showcasing an ancient tribe of cannibals they had found and congratulating themselves on how far we have come since the ancient societies but if we think about it have we progressed at all when we abort 100,000 of our babies in our country alone before they even come into the world and if we speak out about it we are ‘discriminating’ against women’s rights!

    Nola Drum

  • Amen Bill!

    My wish is that church leaders will preach such to their congregations. Just yesterday my wife was approaching congregation members to sign a petition against the Bracks plan to decriminalize abortion. 1 in 4 said they could not sign as they disagreed.

    We were stunned!

    The reasons given included an ‘absence of clear biblical direction’ and thinking of the ‘unfairness’ of disabled babies being allowed to be born and how bad that is.

    I’m going to seek a sermon on the topic including your article, Deut 5:17, Ps 51:5 and Ps 139 vs 13-16 in particular.

    Have you any other biblical references that may help?

    Jeremy Peet

  • If we say God is unfair because we have disabled babies then I suggest our faith is shallow indeed. My response is to the recent survey mentioned by Jeremy when he said his congregation also felt they did not have clear biblical direction. I totally agree; it is only my studies through Bill that have afforded me any ground for discussion on the matter. Can we trust God in ‘all’ or is that just for book heroes like Paul and Jesus who lived a life of peace in the suffering?
    Space does not permit word definition but the bible is clear, God gives life. What right has man to play God and terminate something God starts?
    First we need to teach our children to take responsibility in everything they initiate. Then maybe this free for all in creating life without considering the outcomes may stop. Unwanted pregnancies are another way of shifting the buck, ‘I refuse to be accountable, don’t blame me, I will not be responsible for my actions.’ Let’s not deal with the issue when its too late. We call unwanted babies ‘bastards’; what about the people who ‘have their way’ and shake their fists at God and others who warn them that ‘their way’ is the wrong way?
    Ilona Sturla

  • Agree we have a sex soaked culture. I was appalled at some christians in my home who wanted to have a priests and prostitutes party. To them it was a laughing matter. Yes, they are Sunday church going people, so what then is a Christian?
    Perhaps it’s our youth groups that need to re look at what they are doing with young people. instead of being revelant by putting up smoke machines, low lighting and pounding music they might break up into small groups and get to know each other as people. This is the forum for debate on these issues. Sadly I have heard of youth walking out of these meetings to go and have their abortions. I used to take young Asian people along but no one bothered to get to know them so at age 61, I teach them over some food and fellowship at home initiated get togethers.
    Ilona Sturla

  • I think many do sacrifice to the fertility gods. How many women sacrifice their first born in hopes that they can have other children at a more convenient time? How many zygotes are prevented from implanting in the womb because the woman doesn’t want a child right now?

    In the past women sacrificed wanting to be more fertile, to be given more children from the gods of fertility. Now women want to manipulate their fertility so that they are in control of when and how many children they will have.

    Kylie Anderson

  • Thanks Bill. Unfortunately many discount the righteous and holy God of the Old Testament as not the same God of today, as if the sacrifice of Jesus somehow absolves us from living according to His holy standards. One has to wonder what they think when they read the story of Ananias and Sapphira where two people were struck dead for lying to God, or the words of Jesus Himself Who said that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees who scrupulously did their best to live holy lives according to what they knew. That is because we now have the Spirit of God to enable us to live holy lives. How deceived are we to assume that because of God’s longsuffering He will overlook this most grievous of sins, the slaughter of innocent infants in a most gruesome fashion when He did not overlook it from the Canaanites. And what must He feel when His Body on earth joins with all the agreement of our society and couldn’t even be bothered to vote for those who stand for righteousness.
    Dee Graf

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