The moment I saw that child’s face was the exact moment I knew that sacrifice repulsed God. I saw the child’s face as he was drawn near to the fire, and I turned away, my ears full of the drumming they made to hide the pleas, the screams. I went behind a rock, and with shut eyes and ears full of drums, voided everything in my body. So, no, I never saw the child burnt alive.
At that very moment, I knew that that kind of sacrifice was not what Yahweh wanted. Sacrifice in the form of the death of a living being is not and never was his will. Not even animal sacrifice.
I cut my hair off. I ripped open my clothes. I wept. I wept for the child, for his father, his mother, for all the lies they had been told. I wept for their fear of invasion, the fear that led them to thrust their own child into the fire to save their country – as though it ever could. As though anything good could ever come of that. And I raged against the leaders of the people, who believed the safety of Judah lay in just the very playing of politics which caused the fear. I raged against priests, and prophets, and against the King. I came down from that valley, so near Jerusalem, so very far from everything good in civilisation, in human society, weeping for the stupid cruel waste of it all. Even in the city, I could hear the distant drums. It was a torment past bearing, made worse because I knew that up there, a far, far worse torment was going on. The day Josiah the King stopped it, that was, well, it was … But by then I had seen what I had seen, and knew what had happened to so many, many terrified children. That drumming, that sickness, had become part of each day.
Was Josiah a good King? He tried to be. Yes, he finally did away with the child sacrifice. He got his trained men into that accursed valley destroying the shrine up there. In his way, I think he believed in the Law – or in the basic rudiments of human decency. That no woman was to be blamed if a man raped her. That no seeking of justice was ever to exceed the crime done. That some things were simply evil: theft, adultery, the worship of foul gods who demanded people offer their children to fires, or their own reluctant bodies to use without love. That much he believed.
He never believed that what really mattered was doing Yahweh’s will. He never truly though his job was to make his country a place which grew strong through ensuring each person in it flourished, that none of his people remained slaves. He believed in the politics of power, in game-playing and in Judah being a strong state. He would play one of the super-powers off against the others, alliances with Egypt, or Babylon. Our country lay like a battlefield between superpowers. They courted him, and he made himself attractive to them like a whore. And like a whore he was used for an hour and then left. I never convinced him. It was doubly dangerous. First, to attract attention, flirting openly with other powers. Secondly, ignoring what was really for the good of my people; drinking deeply from the loving kindness of Yahweh, ensuring every person in Judah thrived, living as a free people without fear. Living with tender hearts, dedicated to honesty, justice, mercy. Living as though Yahweh was their tender lover.
I never convinced him, or come to that anybody else, that sacrifice should only ever be a matter of the heart, the mind. The offering of bodies, any bodies, was at the very best an irrelevance. That last was going too far for the King. Far too far for the priests.
What Yahweh was saying to me now was more and more difficult for people to hear. Telling my family that their daily lives are deeply unpleasing to God, when all they were doing is seeking to serve him. Telling the King that his every last foreign policy was downright wicked. Nobody else could see any of it. My voicing it, my voicing the commands of Yahweh, made me more and more an outsider. There are two ways of diminishing an outsider. To call them a traitor or to make them a figure of fun. Either can be dismissed. Either can be removed. I watched it become imperative that I was silenced.