Tolerating Moral Differences

The Bible has an interesting take on tolerating moral differences. After forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were a force with which to be reckoned, and constituted a formidable nation in their own right. Ready to enter and take possession of the land of Canaan, God instructs them to attack and destroy the local tribes of Canaan before establishing their settlements. But why such a drastic and horrific step?

Because, as God informs the Israelites, the Canaanites “burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods”(Deut 12:31).

Note that while God detests child sacrifice, His command has nothing to do with ridding the world of this practice! The Canaanites (and other peoples of the Ancient Near East) had been practicing child sacrifice for centuries. His reason, the Bible tells us, is He was unwilling to have His people live among the Canaanites and yet tolerate child sacrifice. Thus do we read in Deut 20:17-18, that God issues this horrific command “so that they [the Canaanites] may not teach you [the Israelites] to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.”

God’s fear was that by coexisting with a culture that engaged in such practices, the Israelites would inevitably begin to worship the Canaanite gods.

Molek (Masoretic מֹלֶךְ) is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god or possibly an ancient form of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents as sacrifice for the deity.

Molekh (Masoretic מֹלֶךְ) is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god or possibly an ancient form of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents as sacrifice for the deity.

Child sacrifice to the god Molekh was an important moral obligation for the people of Canaan. So important, in fact, that when Joshua offered peace to any city that would give up the practice, all but one city refused the peace offering (Joshua 11:18-19). In offering peace, Joshua was not abrogating God’s command. He was executing God’s intentions. As God explained (see above), His purpose was to protect the Israelites from the temptation to worship Molekh. The intent of God’s command was to remove the temptation that tolerance encourages and implicitly supports.

tolerance-not-christian-virtueThe tolerance of moral diversity is simply not a Judeo-Christian value. So, are Jews and Christians then to murder those whose moral values differ from theirs? Of course not. As did Joshua, we are to seek God’s intentions which, throughout the Holy Scriptures, requires the exercise of critical thought and reasoned judgment. We are not, as many literalists would have it, to lose ourselves in the forest because all we see are trees.

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