🔼The name Molech in the Bible
Molech (or Moloch) is the name of an Ammonite deity, but whose cult spread over a much wider area. The worship of this particular vile specimen of theological folly included the sacrifice by fire of living children. Writers of old report that statues of Molech would be heated from within and children would be placed on this monster's outstretched arms. Priests, in the mean time, would beat drums so that the parents of the sacrificial children wouldn't hear their screams and lose heart.
It's quite difficult to imagine what may motivate a culture to develop a theology that requires one to sacrifice one's offspring, but psychology tells us that humans tend to appreciate the things they have to work hard for or have to suffer for. Perhaps the priests of Molech would tell the parents that giving their children to Molech would really be best for them. Or perhaps they had somehow seen but not boarded the train of thought that caused Abraham to (almost) sacrifice Isaac, or YHWH to sacrifice His Son Jesus Christ. But how bad would one have to want something to sacrifice one's own child in order to get it? The people who served Molech couldn't have been mindless morons but must have been sincerely worried about their virtues. The blame, therefore, lies entirely with poor theology.
The Bible obviously condemns the practice of sacrificing children. Note that the introductory prohibition, in Leviticus 18:21, occurs in a chapter on sexual sin. First the Lord prohibits incest of any kind, then looking upon a naked menstruating woman, then adultery, specifically with one's neighbor's wife, then the sacrifice of one's offspring to Molech and the profanation of the Lord's Name, and finally bestiality.
Leviticus 20:1-5 specifies the laws concerning Molech, and explains that the Lord of Life equates giving one's offspring to Molech with defiling His sanctuary and the profanation of His holy Name. Verse 5 seems to suggest that God views a visit to a whore — and act of intended sex without love and specifically designed to not result in reproduction — with sacrificing one's children to Molech.
In that light it's even more remarkable that in his old age, Solomon, the proverbially wise king of Israel, allowed his wives to turn his heart away from the Lord of Life, and built a place of worship for Molech on a mountain east of Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7). It's not clear whether Solomon actually sacrificed his own children to Molech, but at the time of the reforms of king Josiah, some three centuries after Solomon, when these monstrosities were destroyed, the Israelites were (2 Kings 23:10).
Another dozen or so years after Josiah, Judah was overrun by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian hordes. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God explains that He allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take Jerusalem because of the evil the Israelites committed, specifically by causing their sons and daughters pass through fire to Molech (Jeremiah 32:35).
Much later, Stephen inserts Amos 5:25-27 into his final sermon (Acts 7:43) and Molech (now called Moloch) is mentioned for the last time in the Bible.
🔼Etymology of the name Molech
The name Molech is obviously related to the word מלך (melek), meaning king:
We can't know how the name of this deity was pronounced by the ancients (because there are no sound recordings from those days) so it's a bit of a mystery how the word melek became the name Molech. One possibility is that when scholars began to pen down sounds, that is when the Bible was translated into Greek, they borrowed the sounds of the word בשת (boshet), meaning shame, and grafted them onto the vowels of our name, hence producing M-o-l-e-ch.
Also note that the name Molech appears to have been preceded by the definite article as a rule: המלך (Hamolech), meaning the king. This is why there are so many different interpretations of Amos 5:25-27. Note also that Molech was possibly also known by the name Milcom, which may be understood to mean their king:
- NAS, JSP & Young: ...Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images...
- NIV: ...the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols...
- ASV: ...the tabernacle of your king and the shrine of your images...
- KJV: ...the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images...
- Darby: ...the tabernacle of your Moloch, and Chiun your images...