They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, 33 for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips. 34 They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, 35 but they mixed 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 played the whore in their deeds. 40 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage; 41 he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them. 42 Their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their power. 43 Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity. 44 Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. 45 For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 46 He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive. 47 Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. 48 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord.
Psalm 106 is a summary of the history of Israel with a focus on her repeated sins and God’s repeated judgment and mercy. Psalm 106 is a picture of the Old Testament in miniature. It cries out for something more final, more lasting. The final verses (vv. 47-48) say, “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the Lord!”
Yes. And all that had been said before. Over and over, they called on the Lord to save them during the time of the judges, for example. And God did save them. He was merciful and gracious and slow to anger. But then over and over, they reverted to unbelief and disobedience. So the end of the psalm, just like the end of the Old Testament, cries out for something more. This psalm and the Old Testament itself are incomplete. They groan for something more. They point to the future. They are not ends in themselves. They are stories and books of promise.
Jesus: God’s Decisive Yes and Amen
And that is why the New Testament exists. Because the final, complete, decisive, lasting act of divine salvation happened when Jesus, the Messiah, came into the world. He was the final Adam (Romans 5:12-21), and the final prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37), and the final Israel (Matthew 4:1-11), and the final high priest (Hebrews 7:23-24), and the final Passover sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7), and the final manna from heaven (John 6:31-32), and the final suffering servant of Isaiah 53 (Mark 10:45), and the final Son of Man of Daniel 7 (Matthew 24:30). His blood was the blood of the promised final new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31 (Luke 22:20). He therefore was the final, decisive Yes and Amen to all God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).
So when we read the stories of the Old Testament like the one in Psalm 106 and we feel the oppressive weight of sin that never seems to have its final solution, we should think: It’s all pointing to Christ. This is not Christians reinterpreting the Jewish Scriptures. This is God revealing the completion of the Jewish Scriptures. And the point of the Jewish Scriptures and the long history of Israel was not in itself but in Christ.
God Has Come, His Name Is Jesus
Therefore, when this text ends today in verse 47 with the cry, “Save us, O Lord our God,” we should take it to mean: O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, rescue us from captivity wherever our enemies have the upper hand, and hasten the coming of the King, who will deliver us once for all from the worst of enemies, and make atonement for our sins once for all, and write his law on our hearts, so that we may fear him always and never rebel against him again.
And when we hear that cry, and understand that implication, we today should rejoice because he has come already. His name was Jesus. And he has revealed the mystery, long obscure in the Scriptures, that by his death and resurrection not only Jews but also all the nations of the world will be forgiven and justified and cleansed and reconciled by faith in him alone.
The Banner of the Cross
In other words, flying over this psalm and all its horrors and failures that are so relevant for our modern age, is the banner of Jesus Christ as the final Savior of the world who has died for sins and conquered guilt and condemnation and death and hell—for everyone who cries out from the heart, “Save me, O Lord my God.”
Flying over this message about abortion is the banner of the cross of Christ. Its color is crimson. Because the blood of Christ takes away the sin of abortion and the sin of not caring about it. So I don’t just end today with the call for repentance and the offer of forgiveness. I begin with it. I want it to hover over your head while I walk you through this text.
The Sins of Israel
Let’s get the bigger picture of the text and then focus on the sacrifice of innocent blood. First there are the sins of Israel, then the anger and judgment of God, and then the cry for salvation. First the sins:
Verse 32: At Meribah, Israel murmured against Moses because there was no water, and they provoked Moses to strike the rock instead of speaking to it, and God was angry that Moses did not sanctify his name by believing him (Numbers 20:11-12).
Verse 34: The Israelites did not destroy the peoples of Canaan as God had commanded them. This shows that the opposition to sacrificing the children we will see in a moment is not owing to a general opposition to killing. There was a place for killing. And the explanation for this horrific moment in Israel’s history is given in Deuteronomy 9:4, where God says,
Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, “It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,” whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you.
In that period of Israel’s history, God wielded them for his judgments. We may not follow them in this kind of judgment because things have fundamentally changed with the coming of Jesus. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting” (John 18:36). But the point I am making is that God’s anger at the killing of infants is not owing to a sentimental rejection of violence or physical force. There is another reason why God opposes it. We’ll come back to that.
Verse 35: “They mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did.” The root issue here is not intermarriage. That’s what we focused on last year in the racial harmony message. The issue is that mixing meant learning to do what the pagan nations did.
Verse 36 gives the general statement of what happened. And verse 37 gives the specific sin that expresses the corruption best. Verse 36: “They served their idols, which became a snare to them.” This was the overarching reason for God’s prohibition of mingling with the pagan nations. It led to idolatry—the abandonment of the true God and the worship of idols. And these idols, the psalm says, became a “snare.” They were a trap that led to their destruction.
Then verse 37-39 give the specific sinful behavior that this idolatry led to. “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 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. Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds.”
The Anger and Judgment of God
This is very strong language. This is God’s language. He is very angry. Verse 40-41: “Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage; he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them.” Idolatry led to a snare and the snare was the sacrificing of their own children in religious rituals and these rituals were spiritually whore-like in God’s sight and the anger of the Lord was kindled and judgment fell.
We need to feel the horror of this language: “sacrifice,” “demons,” “innocent blood,” “polluted,” “whore,” “anger of the Lord,” “the Lord abhorred his heritage.” We need to feel the force of this so that when we use such language today we do not communicate, any more than the psalmist did, that there is no hope for the guilty. That is the most amazing thing in the psalm.
The Cry for Salvation
Verse 44: “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. So we need to hear the horrible language so that the grace that comes will sound as amazing as it is.
And just like the psalmist looked child sacrifice full in the face, so today we need to study abortion. We need the raw facts—just as raw as the language of this psalm. We need to watch the videos over at Abort73, and we need to look at beautiful pictures of the unborn. We need the statistics of over 40 million babies killed by abortion since 1973 just in our own country, with 90% of the abortion clinics in urban centers, and therefore wiping out massive numbers of minorities (over half of all abortions) with a kind of ethnic cleansing that pro-choice people cannot dare to think about. We need to know the procedures (suction-aspiration, dilation and curettage, saline abortion, intact dilation and extraction, RU-486, intrauterine cranial decompression, or partial birth abortion).
Some Sins Need Raw Language
The psalm is as raw as it could get before photography and DVD. The point is: There are some sins that cannot be comprehended without raw language or raw pictures. I once read in the Star-Tribune that if all Americans could be made to watch a live execution (electric chair or lethal injection), capital punishment would be abandoned. I don’t know if that is true. But if it is, the same thing applies all the more to abortion. If we were made to watch a doctor pull off the little baby’s legs and arms one by one and place them on the table like a dentist removing cotton from your mouth—if all Americans were made to see what it really is, the pro-life goal of abortion being unthinkable (not just illegal) would be much nearer.
Four Parallels with Abortion
So the psalm is raw when it comes to child sacrifice. There are at least four parallels with abortion.
1) It Is Called Sacrifice
One is that it is called “sacrifice.” Verse 37: “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters.” Sacrifice means that you give up something ordinarily considered valuable (a sheep or a bull) to gain something better—usually from a deity. Abortion in America is not done consciously with any desire to get blessing from a deity. But it is done to gain something “better” than the baby—that is what the whole debate is about. Is the gain greater than the loss? We need to be sure to see it in those terms: The life of a child is being sacrificed for something. What that “something” is defines the barbarity of our culture. I say that knowing full well how unimaginably difficult many unplanned pregnancies are. I do not make light of that. The issue is: How precious is the child? And will we trust God to make a way? This is what crisis pregnancy centers are devoted to.
2) They Are Sons and Daughters
Second, the child sacrifice in the psalm is described as the sacrifice of our sons and daughters. Verse 37: “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters.” He could have said “children.” But he says “sons and daughters.” This draws attention to two things. 1) They were sexually different. They were little boys and girls. And 2) they were family. This baby that is being sacrificed is family. And so it is with abortion. It is always a little girl or a little boy. And it is always family.
3) There Was Innocent Blood
Third, the psalm calls the sacrifice “innocent blood.” Verse 38: “They poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters.” This is the difference between the Canaanites who are to be punished and the babies who are to be protected. This is not a statement about original sin or the lack of it. This is the ordinary legal statement that we all depend on in court: Did I do anything to deserve the punishment other people are about to execute on me? Among other people babies are innocent. They do not deserve to be mistreated by other human beings.
God himself has an absolute right to give life and take it. And we may be sure that if he takes the little ones, he deals with them according to what they could know (Romans 1:18-20). I believe they are saved. But we today have no right to take their lives. In relation to us, they are innocent. And we are guilty if we take their life.
(I insert here a qualification so you will know where I stand. There is no time to develop it fully. If God is already taking a baby’s life inside his mother—through some catastrophic anomaly or mishap, and if it is clear that the baby cannot live outside the womb and that leaving the child will imperil the mother’s life—under those circumstances I do not think we sin against the baby or God by taking the baby and saving the mother. But that is not the case in 99+% of the abortions.)
4) It Is to Demons
Fourth, the psalm says that this innocent blood is sacrificed to demons and to idols. Verses 37-38: “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan.” In 1 Corinthians 10:19-20, Paul deals with this connection between idols and demons. He says, “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.”
In other words, Paul sees behind all idols not any true God, but only a world of demons that promote idolatry and therefore, without the worshippers even knowing about it, these demons receive tribute from their sacrifice. Two years ago, a group of Catholics and Protestants produced a document called “That They Might Have Life.” In it, they said this about abortion:
The blindness of so many to this moral atrocity has many sources but is finally to be traced to the seductive ways of evil advanced by Satan. Jesus says, “He was as murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). 1
I think that is right. Which means that the sacrifice of our sons and daughters today is in a very true and profound sense a sacrifice to demons. The religious part of paganism may have fallen away in our modern Western world. The devil does it that way in today’s secular world. Otherwise, he would be laughed off the stage. And of course he wants me to be laughed at, not himself. So it all appears very secular, very rational, very non-religious, very high-sounding, when in truth it is very demonic.
Abortion: Sacrificing Our Sons and Daughters to Demons
It is the sacrificing of our sons and daughters to demons. And someday we will see this. And we will be as amazed that it could have endured so long as we are that the enslavement of Africans lasted as long as it did. The issue is just as clear as that one was. And we are just as blind today as they were then. The big difference is that the babies can’t run away. The underground railroad is entirely dependent on you, not them.
The strength to stand up and make a difference in this cause comes not mainly from the raw horrors of abortion, but from the amazing grace of verses 44-45: “Nevertheless [that is, in spite of sacrificing their children to demons], he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” This is what Jesus Christ came to achieve for all who will receive it.
Take Up the Challenge
I pray that the horrors of abortion and the glory of God’s grace will move you to take up the challenge of prayer on the back of the worship folder and to extend yourself in other practical ways for life, both temporal and eternal. Amen.
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the rights of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
First Things, October 2006, p. 22. ↩