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Top Ten #8 // Can you handle these warnings?

Top Ten Pro-life Passages #8 // Proverbs 24

Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering towards slaughter.
If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? [Proverbs 24:11-12 NIV]

Our journey through key Old Testament texts has focused on what God’s Word teaches about the child in the womb, only in passing touching on abortion (mainly when discussing Exodus 21:22–25 and Jeremiah 20:17–18). This reflects the comment of Old Testament scholar Meredith Kline that: “[t]he most significant thing about abortion legislation in biblical law is that there is none. It was so unthinkable that an Israelite woman should desire an abortion that there was no need to mention this offense in the criminal code.”[1] Nevertheless, before we transition to the New Testament, it is necessary, given our contemporary context, to say something about abortion. We do so bolstered by a better grasp of the Scriptural understanding of the unborn child and mindful of John Stott’s principle that “it is our evaluation of the foetus which will largely determine our attitude to abortion.”[2] To do this we will examine what the Old Testament teaches regarding our duty to protect and preserve human life, with particular reference to its condemnation of all forms of child sacrifice.

A couple of texts from Proverbs set the scene. Proverbs 24:11–12 is a good place to start:

11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. 12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this”, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?

Three things stand out. Firstly, God’s people have a duty of care to those who are in mortal danger. Scripture values human life so highly that necessary precautions should always be taken in everyday life, such as when constructing a house (see Deuteronomy 22:8). If the Bible cares about “health and safety,” then it certainly has something to say about deliberate slaughter. When it comes to an all-out attack on human life, the stakes are raised, and inaction becomes inexcusable. This is the second point (see verse 12): pleading ignorance is no excuse. As much as the abortion industry wants to hush up the reality of the slaughter, the Church should be proclaiming it from the rooftops. Knowledge without action becomes culpable (see James 4:17 for a New Testament equivalent for this principle). How many churches have health and safety policies and compulsory risk assessments for their activities? Yet how many churches do you know which have a policy on abortion or a plan to actively challenge it? Thirdly, our view and action on abortion matters, precisely how we respond to this moral crisis is seen by Almighty God, and he will hold us accountable for our courage – or lack thereof – in speaking out and acting on behalf of our unborn neighbour: “will he not repay man according to his work?” (verse 12). All God’s people have a responsibility here, but Christian teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). We see similar themes elsewhere in Proverbs, e.g., Proverbs 31:8–9, an oracle in which a mother exhorts the “son of her womb” (Proverbs 31:2) to defend the vulnerable (Proverbs 31:9). Those without a voice (Proverbs 31:8)[3] surely includes the unborn child, for whom we must speak.

When combined with the powerful witness against child sacrifice in Scripture, the biblical case against abortion becomes even clearer. Abortion may not be directly addressed in the Old Testament, but God’s people lived amongst pagan nations who sacrificed their infants to various false gods, notably Molech. Leviticus 20:1–5 is a good example of a passage where God treats child sacrifice as the most serious kind of offence, a crime for which one was cut off from the people – with God himself taking such action if his people did nothing to intervene. Child sacrifice is frequently termed an “abomination” in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:9–12; 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 32:35). This latter verse, like Jeremiah 7:31, teaches that such a wicked practice is utterly opposed to God’s character: “it did not come into my mind,” (literally “heart” in Hebrew). God’s heart is rather to love and protect children – new-born and unborn – not to kill them.

As well as the moral revulsion of child sacrifice, the practice has serious long-term spiritual consequences. As Psalm 106:37–38 makes clear the land is polluted or defiled when this occurs:

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.

The culpability or “guilt of blood” involved in the poor design of one’s roof in Deuteronomy 22:8, is replicated on a far greater and communal scale through the mass slaughter of children in Psalm 106. The whole nation is affected by this stain. Is it any wonder then that we do not see meaningful revival or mass conversions within the UK, or elsewhere in the Western world, where abortion happens on such an industrial scale?[4] Simply claiming that the situation will change once people are converted will not do, and may even exacerbate the problem, if the hardness of the ground has its roots, in part, in the scandal of abortion. It is a major blot on the Church’s record in this generation that so few churches, including those which claim to take the Bible seriously, speak out on abortion. Child sacrifice impedes the Church’s mission and it also impedes one’s prayer life:

31 When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be enquired of by you. (Ezekiel 20:31).

The stakes then could hardly be higher. Will God’s people in this generation choose a different path, will they choose life as God desires (Deuteronomy 30:11–20), or will they continue to be mute in the face of an ever-increasing slaughter that drenches the land in innocent blood, year after year?

[1] “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 20 (1977), 193. [2] Abortion (London: Marshall Pickering, 1985), 10-11. [3] The NLT translation of this verse inspired the title of Camilla Olim’s excellent book For Those Being Crushed: Confronting Our ‘Social Justice’ Blind Spot (London: Kingdom Publishers).

[4] Within the UK the last revivals of note occurred in Wales in 1904–1905 and the Hebrides in 1949–52 – both long before abortion became legal in 1967.


God becomes an unborn child

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