Desperation in a polytheistic culture…

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Psalm 106: 32 They angered the Lord at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account; 33 for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke words that were rash. 34 They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, 35 but they mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did. 36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood. 39 Thus they became unclean by their acts, and prostituted themselves in their doings. 

Here the Lord chastises Israel for unfaithfulness while in the wilderness with Moses. I’m particularly struck by two things in this passage:

First, in a world in which there were assumed to be many gods not just one (a polytheistic culture), I expect switching allegiance from one god to another was not as rare as it is today – in our mostly monotheistic culture (there are some exceptions). If one god didn’t deliver, you could always try another. It was a more practical approach to spirituality based on outcomes. Did the god of the day protect? Provide? Prosper its followers? When the Hebrews struggled for 40 years in the wilderness it would likely have been considered normal to adopt another god. Hence Israel’s shifting allegiance.

The second thing that gets my attention this morning is v.37-38. We are told the Hebrews sacrificed their own children to the pagan gods of Canaan in a desperate attempt at survival. Humans are hard-wired to protect our children above just about anything else. We might choose to sacrifice ourselves for a just cause, but our children? That’s an entirely different discussion. For the people of Israel to have been willing to sacrifice their own children to a pagan god, their level of desperation must have been extremely severe.

So while I do not condone the unfaithfulness of Israel in the wilderness I think I can empathize. I’m not sure I would have done much better under their extreme circumstances. Lord, save us from the time of trial and deliver us from every evil. Amen.

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