“The Lord told Jeremiah, ‘Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take with you some of the leaders of the people and some of the leaders of the priests. Go out to the part of the Hinnom Valley that is near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Announce there what I tell you.’” (Jeremiah 19:1-2 NET)
The Hinnom Valley. In Jeremiah’s time this was an area associated with one activity: idol worship. And not just any false gods were worshipped here but what would seem to be the worst ones, the ones when children were sacrificed. Jeremiah described what went on in this valley to the south of Jerusalem through the words of God himself.
“Look here! I am about to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it ring. I will do so because these people have rejected me and have defiled this place. They have offered sacrifices in it to other gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah knew anything about. They have filled it with the blood of innocent children. They have built places here for worship of the god Baal so that they could sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to him in the fire. Such sacrifices are something I never commanded them to make. They are something I never told them to do! Indeed, such a thing never even entered my mind.” (Jeremiah 19:3-5)
You can hear the anguish of God as he described what went on in this valley. Children, innocent children, were offered as sacrifices. From what we know, children were burned alive as sacrifices to Ba’al as well as Molech. Descriptions of Molech worship tell us that the idol was of metal, a fire was lit within it, and infants were placed on the idols superheated outstretched arms to then roll into the fire. Such a thought as this is revolting. It was just as revolting to God – “such a thing never even entered my mind,” God said.
Yet these practices had been going on for years in the shadow of the God’s temple. King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, had sacrificed his own son (2 Kings 16:3). Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, did the same and even worse: “Furthermore Manasseh killed so many innocent people, he stained Jerusalem with their blood from end to end, in addition to encouraging Judah to sin by doing evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:16). What was God’s reaction to all of this?
“The time will soon come that people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Hinnom Valley. But they will call this valley the Valley of Slaughter!’…Now break the jar in front of those who have come here with you. Tell them the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, ‘I will do just as Jeremiah has done. I will smash this nation and this city as though it were a potter’s vessel that is broken beyond repair. The dead will be buried here in Topheth until there is no more room to bury them.’” (Jeremiah 19:6, 10-11)
God was aware of what they were doing and he was about to take action.
Jesus used this valley as a picture of hell – Gehenna (Matthew 18:5, et al). Although we often are told of a burning garbage dump, I think that Jesus was using a more abhorrent picture for hell, that of child sacrifice which took place in this valley. Hell is not a place that we want to be near, let alone spend eternity.
The good news is that Jesus came to deliver us from such an eternity. Temptation is there, but we need to turn to Jesus for strength to resist as well as forgiveness. God does not want anyone to perish but for us all to change our lives and serve him.
The Valley of Hinnom today, Jerusalem, by Jon Galloway, 2019.
Readings for next week: Jeremiah 18-25