2 Kings 3:26-27, Does Human Sacrifice Work?

When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.

//This story in the Bible presents a theological puzzle. Moab is losing a war against Israel, so the king of Moab makes a strategic decision: he sacrifices his son on the city wall, in view of everyone. This turns the tide, and Moab routs Israel.

The question is, how did this work? How did the sacrifice of the King’s son turn the tide of battle?

The intended answer is probably hidden in the word “fury.” The “fury” against Israel was great. This translation stems from the Hebrew word qetseph which can imply the wrath of God … or of another god. For example, see this cry to God in Psalms 29:24:

Pour out your fury [qetseph] on them; consume them with your burning anger.

Thus the Bible story seems to be saying that the sacrifice was made to a god, and that that god responded to lead a military victory. This god is surely the Moabite national diety Chemosh, a nasty fellow who does fit the mold of one who would be stirred to action by human sacrifice.

So human sacrifice works, but only if you worship a god who likes that sort of thing.

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