An analysis of Micah 6:6-8 suggests that child sacrifice was practiced in ancient Israel:
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (emphasis added)
It is true that some read this this passage as a condemnation of the practice of child sacrifice. But not so. The only basis for such a reading seems to be Micah’s claim that child sacrifice does not please God; only justice, loyalty, and humility please God. But this is an arbitrary reading of the text. Christian scholar Thom Stark explains:
“The logic is quite clear. It is not only child sacrifice that is said not to please God, but also the sacrifice of calves and rams and offerings of oil. And why is it said not to please God? Not because the acts in themselves are inherently immoral, but because Israel performs them in lieu of justice, loyalty, and humility. The point is not that sacrifice is abhorrent, but that sacrifice without repentance from structures of injustice is useless” (1).
However, a closer reading of the text seems to show that human sacrifice is actually seen to be the greatest type of sacrifice. Stark goes on:
“There is a progression in three parts from the least to the greatest sacrifice. The first is year old calves, the second is “thousands of rams, ten thousand of rivers of oil,” an example of Hebrew parallelism. This is clearly a step up from a year-old calf. The crescendo culminates in the sacrifice of the firstborn child – the greatest of all the sacrifices, for obvious reasons. Rather than a condemnation of child sacrifice, the logic of child sacrifice is upheld. It is seen in the text as the epitome of sacrifice – the greatest gift to be given.”
Yet the shock of the text is when we read that even the greatest of sacrifices (child sacrifice) is said to be of no value without justice. Thus, it would suggest that Micah’s rhetoric lends credence to the common assumption that the sacrifice of one’s child is noble. If that assumption was not shared by his audience, his rhetoric would fall flat. Stark concludes:
“The text does not condemn child sacrifice, or else it must necessarily also represent a condemnation of the sacrifices of calves and rams, and of the offering oil. This is clearly not the intent of the text. Micah is simply making the point that Israel’s sacrifices are meant to lead them to repentance, and when they do not repent, the efficacy of such sacrifices is nullified. It is a progressive critique of the sacrificial system, to be sure, but a condemnation of the logic of sacrifice, even human sacrifice, it is not. As late as the time of Hezekiah, the logic of human sacrifice is still basic to Israelite religion.”
1. Stark, T. The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals when it Gets God Wrong (and why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It). p. 94.