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In the Hebrew Bible it is usually understood that God is against killing and sacrificing children. He hates that and there are His laws that are against it but why would God make Israel eat their own children?

’I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’ Jeremiah 19:9.

Is He breaking His own law? Can God break His law? There are many instances in the Bible when God says do not kill etc. but then He commands it to do it. I know that it is punishment for doing evil, but God never requires people to sacrifice other people to Him, even as a punishment for evil.

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  • Mary of Bethezuba May 20, 2023 at 14:25
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    Hi Sarah, please add links to the parts of scripture you are quoting or basing your statements upon.
    – grammaplow
    May 20, 2023 at 14:31
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    Without referencing the text of which you speak, this question may be closed as off-topic, due to this being an hermeneutic (not a discussion) site. Please see the Tour and the Help (below, bottom left) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. Welcome to SE-BH.
    – Nigel J
    May 20, 2023 at 15:29
  • search each questions you will find existing related questions helpful. Only unlawful killing is condemned, not lawful ones. For sacrificial system read from this site biblestudying.net/rabbinic1.html
    – Michael16
    May 20, 2023 at 16:25

5 Answers 5

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Taken literally, the text of Jeremiah 19:9 does say that God would cause the people of Judah (not Israel, see 19:3) to engage in cannibalism, thereby making them break God's own law. However, the prophecy need not be taken as saying that God literally would do this. Rather, it may be seen as a warning to the kings and people of Judah to change their ways. Consider what the same prophet says in the previous chapter:

7 At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; 8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. (18:7-9)

With that understanding Jeremiah 19:6 should not be taken as determined by God or as absolute. God's heart in issuing some prophecies is to cause a change in the nation's attitude. It is the people who choose, and God is only too happy if an outcome results that negates the prophecy. In other words, the "if-then" of the previous chapter is implied in the warning of chapter 19. One also thinks of the Book of Jonah, where God instructed the prophet to foretell the destruction of Nineveh in 40 days and the prophet pouted when his words did not come true. God, thankfully, does not always share the attitude of his instruments.

The OP asks "Is He breaking His own law?" The answer his no, because it is not literally God who causes the evil, but people; and the outcome would be different if the people and kings of Judah would repent. It also asks "Can God break His law?" On that question I would say (admittedly a personal opinion) that God does not do so; whether he can or not is too big a question for me.

Conclusion: God did not make people eat their own children. The prophecy was not meant literally in that sense, and it was also not absolute in its outcome. It was up to the people, not God, whether the warning would be fulfilled. He did not break his own law in this case.

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Jeremiah 19:9 is a prophecy, not a command although it may sound like one. Eating one's own children was rare in the ancient Near East, but it did have one case described in 2 Kings 6, during the siege of Samaria by the Arameans, there was a great famine in the city. The passage in 2 Kings 6:28-29 describes the desperate situation:

28 Then he (king Jehoram) asked her, “What’s the matter?”. She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’

29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.” (NIV)

According to 2 Kings 25:1-2, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. 2 Kings 25:3 described:

3 By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat.

It should not be surprising that someone in the city would eat their own children to survive the famine. Did God make them eat their children? No! But God determined not to intervene in this abomination. But no matter what the people in the city did, their judgement had been determined: Jerusalem and its people were to be destroyed.

God did not break His law. Those who ate their children were no doubt the same people who worshipped idols, and their destruction had long been prophesied by the prophets.

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The LORD typically gives the reason for sending the judgement. And it’s not different here in Jeremiah where in Jeremiah 19:4-5 the Lord gives his reasons for bringing this promised disaster on his people.

Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— Jeremiah 19:4-5

From these we can see that Jerusalem is being filled with innocent children's blood. As you pointed out in the question, God hates these abominations. So what God did was judging them. Do you see the irony? These people were sacrificing some of their children to false deities. God hated that. And so he would see to it that they would find themselves in the position of having to eat the very flesh of those children – the ones that for whatever reason they hadn’t sacrificed to their false gods

From your question I get the idea that you are thinking like God is commanding someone to do these. God have given commands as judgments for sure. But here he is not commanding to someone. He is actually making the circumstances so that these things happen through the same people who sacrifice their children to false gods.So he's not breaking his laws but the people are. They have the free will to kill and eat or not kill and eat their children. But these people's heart is hardened by themselves enough to eat or sacrifice. Just remember also that God is not judging the children by allowing these evils. Only their parents are judged. Just like a family suffers when the father who was the provider of house sent to jail for his crime.

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When I read this passage it seemed clear as day to me that 19:9 was prophesying the siege of Jerusalem which many prophets speak of and Christ himself speaks of when speaking of the destruction of the temple “end of days”

This occurred during the siege and was written about by Josephus. Many other things he wrote about all fall into vindicating the prophets talking about the end of temple worship and how all nations are now able to partake in the new covenant. It also applies to the prophecy of Christ speaking of the destruction of the temple.

John Gill's Exposition of the Bible: Jeremiah 19:9. This seems to support this being a double prophecy.

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It is rather a figure of speech to describe terrible oppression upon people under the times of war. We should pray for this fate for the enemies of Israel.

[Isa 49:24-26 NJB]

Can the body be snatched from the warrior, can the tyrant's captive be set free? But thus says Yahweh: The warrior's captive will indeed be snatched away and the tyrant's booty will indeed be set free; I myself shall fight those who fight you and I myself shall save your children. I shall make your oppressors eat their own flesh, they will be as drunk on their own blood as on new wine. And all humanity will know that I am Yahweh, your Saviour, your redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

[Isa 9:19-21 NJB]

They have sliced to the right and are still hungry, they have eaten to the left and are not satisfied; each devours the flesh of his own arm. Manasseh devours Ephraim, Ephraim Manasseh, together they turn against Judah. After all this, his anger is not spent. No, his hand is still raised! - - -

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