The following is an excerpt from my booklet about Micah. A link to the full booklet can be found under the heading, “Booklets: The Spirit of Prophecy Series.”
Micah addresses at least two types of false religion: fertility cults and Molech worship. Fertility cults involved worship of various deities such as Baal or Asherah. Generally, these types of cults held that ritual sex-acts would ensure divine blessing on the harvest. Ritual sex happened between adherents or with priests and could be between members of the same or the opposite sex. Baal was represented by statues that were half man, half bull (bulls were symbolic of fertility). Asherah poles—large phallic statues—were also used in fertility ceremonies and are condemned in Micah 5:14.
Molech worship was, perhaps, at the other end of the spectrum from the self-gratifying religion of the fertility cults. Like the worship of Yahweh, Molech required sacrifice but Molech was far more exacting. Not satisfied by the blood of bulls, goats, or other animals, Molech could only be appeased by the ritual immolation (burning to death) of a child. Jeremiah 7:31 provides a brief description: “They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.”
The practices of these pagan religions are shocking to the sensibility of most people. Nevertheless, it might surprise us to find that some of our own practices are on a continuum with Baal or Molech worship. Fertility cults made pleasing oneself a religious activity. Some types of Christianity, too, are all about what blesses or benefits me. A big reason Baal was worshiped was to ensure a prosperous harvest. In churches driven by the prosperity gospel, believers pleasure themselves in the pursuit of God-blessed wealth and success. Teachings that say God has only victory for us because Jesus did all the suffering are tempting but do not have in mind the things of God (Matt. 16:21-24). We may also seek to gratify ourselves through spiritual experiences or use worship services as a means to an emotional high. There are also those who see no reason to be transformed by God; they go on doing whatever appeals to their sinful nature and justify their lifestyle of sin by claiming God’s grace and forgiveness (Rom. 6:1, 2). Finally, as Jesus said of religious leaders in His day, ministry can be a means to satisfy ourselves whether we seek success, achievement, prestige, or even money (Matt. 23:5-7; Luke 16:14, 15).
These and similar forms of Christianity present Christ without the cross. The passage wherein Micah mentions Asherah poles concerns the Lord’s promise to destroy false religion. The cure for today’s forms of self-pleasing religion is also judgment—the judgment of the cross. “For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’” (Rom. 15:3). But the cross must be more than something that happened to Jesus 2,000 years ago. We need the Holy Spirit to infuse our daily motivations with Christ’s crucifixion so that what we do is not for our own pleasure but for God and others (2 Cor. 5:15; Gal. 5:13).
(Read part 2 here: https://thevoiceofone.org/2013/01/11/the-idols-of-christ-and-the-cross-part-2/)