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What is an “abomination” to the LORD?What does the LORD “abhor”“detest”“despise”…or “loathe”?
All these are reasonable translations of the Hebrew words to’ab (the verb) or tow’ebah (the noun).

And we know – don’t we? — what such things are. We’ve been reading the Bible for some time, and it is plain. The LORD “abhors” or “abominates” the vilest, most sickening, and most disgusting of sins: the ones we can hardly mention, or surely don’t want to think about.

And that is true…but it’s only part of the truth.

Here is the whole truth (at least, insofar as an exhaustive Hebrew concordance can yield it):


Of course, the LORD abhors, or “abominates”:

  • Incestuous sexual relations of any sort (Lev. 18:6-17; Ezk. 22:11).
  • Committing adultery with your neighbor’s wife (Lev. 18:20; Ezk. 22:11; Ezk. 23:37; 33:26).
  • Sacrificing your children in the fire to Molech (Lev. 18:21; Deut. 12:31; 18:10; II Kgs. 16:13; II Chron. 28:3; Jer. 32:35; Ezk. 23:37; Psa. 106:37,38).
  • Male homosexual behavior (Lev. 18:22; 20:13).
  • Sexual relations with an animal (Lev. 18:23).
  • The images of the false gods of the Canaanite peoples, and even the gold and silver on the images (Deut. 7:25; 32:16; Isa. 44:19; Ezk. 11:18,21).
  • Encouraging others to worship idols (Deut. 13:13,14).
  • Worshipping other gods (Deut. 17:2-6; Jer. 16:18; 44:4,5; Ezk. 5:9,11; 6:9,11; 7:3-9; 16:36; Ezk. 23:37; Psa. 106:38).
  • Anyone who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead (Deut. 18:10-12).
  • Female prostitutes, and male prostitutes (Deut. 23:18; II Kgs. 14:24; Ezk. 16:22).
  • Lewdness (Ezk. 16:43,58).
  • Carving an image or casting an idol (Deut. 27:15; Ezk. 7:20; all of Ezk. 8).
  • Building altars to Baal and Asherah poles (II Kgs. 21:3), “high places” to Ashtoreth, Chemosh and Molech (II Kgs. 23:13), and altars to “all the starry hosts” of heaven (II Chron. 33:3).
  • Shedding innocent blood (Prov. 6:17).


But the LORD also abhors, and considers “abominable”:

  • Taking your wife’s sister as a second or rival wife, while your wife is living (Lev. 18:18).
  • Having sexual relations during the uncleanness of the woman’s monthly period (Lev. 18:19).
  • Eating any of the foods on the extended “non-kosher” list, including rabbits, oysters, shellfish of various sorts, and — especially — pigs: bacon, ham, pork, pork sausage, the whole lot! (Deut. 14).
  • Sacrificing to the LORD any animal with any defect or flaw in it (Deut. 17:1).
  • A woman wearing men’s clothing, or a man wearing women’s clothing (Deut. 22:5).
  • A man remarrying a woman whom he has divorced, after she has been married and divorced by a second man (Deut. 24:1-4).
  • Bringing foreigners into the sanctuary of the LORD (Ezk. 44:7).


And that is not all. The LORD ALSO detests these “abominations” as well (exactly the same Hebrew words are used in the immediate context, in each case):

  • Dishonest business practices (differing weights and measures) (Deut. 25:13-16; Prov. 11:1; 20:10,23).
  • A perverse man, one who is “crooked” (deceptive, dishonest) in his ways (Prov. 3:32); 11:26).
  • Pride, as well as those who are proud or arrogant (Prov. 6:17; 16:5).
  • Lying, and those who tell lies (Prov. 6:17; 12:22).
  • A heart that devises wicked schemes (Prov. 6:18).
  • A false witness — as in a judicial setting (Prov. 6:19).
  • Anyone who stirs up dissension among brothers (Prov. 6:19).
  • Sacrifices offered by wicked, rebellious people (Prov. 15:8; 21:27; Isa. 1:13 and context).
  • All the ways (the lifestyle) of the wicked (Prov. 15:9).
  • Even the thoughts of the wicked (Prov. 15:26).
  • Acquitting the guilty, in a judicial setting (Prov. 17:15).
  • Condemning the innocent, in a judicial setting (Prov. 17:15).
  • Even the prayers of those who ignore the Law of God (Prov. 28:9).
  • Deceitful men (Psa. 5:6).
  • Men who say IN THEIR HEARTS, “There is no God!” (Psa. 14:1; 53:1).
  • Mingling with the nations and adopting their customs (Psa. 106:35).
  • Those who are greedy for gain (Jer. 6:13,15).
  • Religious leaders who practice deceit (Jer. 6:13,15).
  • The hypocrisy of committing grievous sins, and then running back to the house of the LORD and saying, “Now we are safe!” — in other words, cheap “grace” or hypocritical “repentance” and “absolution” (Jer. 7:9,10).
  • Those who turn away from God in their hearts, but still claim to keep His law (Jer. 8:4-12).
  • Oppressing the poor and the needy (Ezk. 18:12).
  • Robbery (Ezk. 18:12).
  • Not honoring a pledge (Ezk. 18:12).
  • Charging excessive interest (Ezk. 18:13). “Will such a man live? He will not!”
  • “Marrying the daughter of a foreign god” (Mal. 2:11).
  • Being “arrogant,” and “not helping the poor and needy” (Ezk. 16:47,49,52).

Some things are obvious

Lists are interesting things. By putting various items in close proximity to one another — and by drawing comparisons — we may see certain things from a new perspective.

List 1 contains those items that, at a guess, most of us would readily associate with that all-condemning word, “abomination.” These are INDEED “abominations,” and church pulpits — and ecclesial platforms — the world over resound with strong denunciations of such sins. Sexual immoralities of the foulest kinds: incest, bestiality, prostitution, and adultery. Anything connected with idolatry, or the worship of false gods, or the practice of false religions. And especially, perhaps, homosexual practices.

Well, do these items fit into the category of “abominations to the LORD” — things that He abhors or despises? No question. They ought to be denounced, and plainly.

Sorting out the ceremonial issues

List 2 contains other things that the LORD “abominates;” and here we move off in something of a different direction. Now we are dealing with practices that violate more technical requirements of the Law of Moses. And we are faced with a problem: the Law of Moses does not apply, in all its precise restrictions, to Gentiles or to those who have put on Christ in the same way that it did to Jews in Old Testament times. Plainly this is true of the dietary laws, the laws about ceremonial uncleanness, and the like. Most of us would not think twice of enjoying pork sausage, or shrimp scampi.

But if we so readily embrace some practices that the Old Testament tells us God “abhors,” then we ought to be doubly sure that the New Testament still considers other practices — adultery, idolatry, and especially homosexual behavior — abominable, before we preach that they are so.

This is not difficult to prove. Adultery (Gal. 5:19; Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; I Cor. 6:9; I Tim. 1:10), idolatry (Gal. 5:20; I Cor. 6:9; Col. 3:5; I Pet. 4:3; Rev. 21:8), and homosexual practices (Rom. 1:26-28; I Cor. 6:9; Jude vv. 7,10) are all listed in the New Testament as things that God detests. And therefore we ought to be at pains to denounce “abominations” on the basis of New Testament evidence, and not just from Old Testament passages.

Having done that, of course, we must also apply — with equal force — the New Testament principles of mercy and forgiveness. Thus we must recognize and preach that, even if “that [adulterers, idolaters, homosexuals] is what some of [us] were,” nevertheless we may be “washed…sanctified…justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 6:11). If our preaching, in public or private, contains denunciations of abominable practices, it should also — in at least equal measure — contain the hope of redemption for those who have committed such evils, but repent and forsake them, and turn to God for mercy. “At one time, we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Tit. 3:3-5).

Issues to take particular note of

Then, finally, there is List 3, interesting in another way. We scarcely need to prove to ourselves that the deeds listed there are wrong: we all KNOW they are wrong — and warned against in both Old and New Testaments. But we too often and too easily excuse them, in ourselves as well as others, because…why? “Everybody does that!” “It’s no big deal!” “It’s what you have to do in this world, in business, whatever, to get by!”

BUT the Old Testament — using the identical Hebrew words — tells us, in no uncertain terms, that all these things are not just “little sins,” not just “inconsequential, getting-by, hardly-to-be-noticed, everybody-does-it” sins. No! They are “abominations to the LORD!” He detests them! He abhors them! He despises them…in the same way, apparently, that He despises incest, adultery, infant-sacrifice, and homosexuality.

Don’t stop here, please, just because the editorial comes to an end. Lift your eyes back to that sobering List 3 above. Look at the items, one at a time — look at them hard! Look in a mirror. Examine yourself! And before you hastily call down that terrible word “abomination” on your homosexual neighbor, or the repulsive sex offender, look at yourself again.

Are you — am I – “greedy for gain?” Do you — or I — ever stir up trouble among brothers? Do you — or I — ever tell “little white lies?” Do you — or I — ever neglect to honor a pledge, or a promise? (Think about that one again before you pass on!)

And (how this one hurts!) have you (or I) ever been proud or arrogant?

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about [or ‘to’] himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:10-14).

George Booker

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