The word “abomination” pops up from time to time in the Bible, describing God’s attitude toward certain behaviors.
Certain sexual sins are described as an “abomination.” For example, Leviticus 18:22 says, “you shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” Same with cross-dressing (Deut. 22:5), prostitution (Deut. 23:18, 1 Kings 14:34) and other scandalous things (Deut. 24:4, Ezek. 22:11). God says that they eventually lead to His judgment upon whole nations (Lev. 18:24-30).
The most frequent use of “abomination” is in contexts of idolatry (I got over 50 and stopped counting). “You shall not bring an abomination into your house” (Deut. 7:26). “Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the Lord” (Deut. 27:15). Here, the word to-ebah is sometimes translated “detestable thing” (Deut. 17:4, Ezek. 16:36). Idolatry–to serve an impotent statue crafted by the hand of man from materials (ironically) provided by God–this goes beyond sinful to outrageous.
Of course, serving abominable idols leads to abominable people (Isa. 41:24) doing abominable acts, such as sacrificing children (Deut. 12:31, 2 Kings 16:3, Jer. 32:35, Ezek. 18:12). Ahab “acted very abominably in following idols” (1 Kings 21:26, Jer. 32:33-35, 44:4).
Still, I’m not sure we really grasp the deep connotation of disgust. The Hebrew word to-ebah means “that which is abhorrent or repugnant” (Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words). To-ebah is used in Genesis 43:32 when the Egyptians found it “loathsome” to eat with Hebrews (cf. Exodus 8:26). I’m not sure why; I imagine they perceived them to be poor unwashed animal herders with odors and manners more suited to the fields than the sophisticated dining rooms of Egyptian palaces. They forced Joseph to serve them at a separate table! Whether or not this perception was true or fair is beside the point–it helps us grasp the meaning of the word. I guess some sins are just downright disgusting to God.
Here’s the thing–there are other run-of-the-mill natural-sounding sins, which God also describes as abominations. If we are not careful, we will apply the “abomination” label to others, when it equally deserves to be applied to ourselves.
Fortune-telling, channeling the dead, divination, witchcraft, and the like are all described as abominations (Deut. 18:9-14). That palm reader on the corner may look fun and harmless, but she’s worse than a waste of money!
Cheating and injustice are abominations. Proverbs 20:12 says, “Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the Lord.” The idea is a merchant who would mislabel his products to trick his customers. “You shall not have in your bag differing weights … for everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly, is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deut. 25:13-16). Dishonest acts, especially those designed to exploit the weak and poor, are sickening to God.
People make honest mistakes or stumble into sin without thinking it through. But premeditated sin, especially conspiring to harm others, is abominable. Proverbs 3:32 says, “Do not envy a man of violence, and do not choose any of his ways. For the devious are an abomination to the Lord; but He is intimate with the upright.” Devious men take by trickery or force, whether a brigand on the road, or a corporate embezzler. These efforts are often successful, but God is repulsed. Similar abominations include “the perverse in heart” (Prov. 11:20), “the way of the wicked” (Prov. 15:9), “evil plans” (Prov. 15:26), “lying lips” (Prov. 12:20), the “proud in heart” (Prov. 16:5), and the flatterer (Prov. 26:24-25). God reserves special scorn for the priest and prophet who deceive people under their charge with false words (Jer. 8:8-12).
Proverbs 6:16-19 brings all these pieces together in one portrait:
There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.
No matter how we try to put lipstick on the pig of sin, God’s sensibilities are the basis of judgment, not our own. Things that mankind shrugs at, or even celebrates, are off-putting to God. We don’t want anything to hinder our relationship with Him. “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9, cf. Isa. 1:13).
“Nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). —John Guzzetta