“he laid its foundation…he set up its gates.” After a miraculous victory and destroying the city of Jericho, Joshua spoke a curse over the destroyed city: “Cursed is the man before Yahweh, who rises up and builds this city Jericho. With his firstborn son will he lay its foundation, and with his youngest son will he set up its gates.” That curse, which was also a prophecy, was fulfilled over 500 years later when Hiel the Bethelite rebuilt Jericho and offered his oldest and youngest sons as foundation sacrifices.
Hiel lived during the time of Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen of Israel, so it is helpful to know about them, because that is the environment Hiel lived in. Ahab did more evil than all the kings before him (1 Kings 16:30). He worshipped the golden calves that Jeroboam had made (1 Kings 16:31). He married Jezebel, who was the daughter of the King of Phoenicia (1 Kings 16:31 says king of Sidon, but that seems to be a general term for Phoenicians), and worshipped her gods, Baal and the Asherah, even making a Temple for Baal in his capital city (1 Kings 16:32). Jezebel was an idolater, witch (2 Kings 9:22), and murderer. She supported hundreds of prophets of Baal and the Asherah, and killed the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:4, 19), and would kill innocent families just to get a piece of land she wanted (1 Kings 21:1-16; 2 Kings 9:26. It is not well known that Jezebel killed all of Naboth’s family, but she had to in order to get clear title to his land).
The god Baal was infamous for human sacrifice, especially child sacrifice, which is specifically mentioned in the Bible (Jer. 19:5), and in the reign of Jezebel and Ahab, Israel was permeated with the worship of Baal. Besides that, Hiel came from Bethel, which was one of the two centers of idol worship in Israel, a city where Jeroboam had set up his golden calves (1 Kings 12:29). So Hiel was almost certainly a worshipper of Baal, and the evidence is that he participated in child sacrifice.
We learn from archaeology and ancient texts that one of the most common types of human sacrifice was “foundation sacrifice,” where children or adults were executed and placed, sometimes in jars, under the walls and gates of cities. The British anthropologist and historian, Nigel Davies writes:
“Another very common form of human sacrifice was the rite of interring adults or children in the foundations of new buildings of under city gates or bridges. Foundation sacrifice springs from a primitive fear of anything new or doing an act for the first time. A new building is also a form of intrusion on the domain of the local spirit, whose anger may be aroused and who therefor has to be appeased. The buried person is not only a peace offering to this local spirit; his soul becomes a protective demon for the building. When the city of Tavoy in the extreme south of Burma was built, and eyewitness was able to testify that a criminal was put into each post-hole in order to become a guardian spirit. …Archaeology supports the Bible’s account of such foundation sacrifices [as that of Hiel the Bethelite]. In the sanctuary in Gezer were found two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children and the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawn in two. At Megiddo a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. Excavations show that the practice of interring children and adults under new buildings was widespread and some were evidently buried alive” (Human Sacrifice in History and Today; William Morrow and Company, New York, 1981, pp. 21, 22, 61).
The way the Hebrew text is worded, that “in [or “with”] Abiram his firstborn he founded her [Jericho], and with Segub, his youngest, he set up her gates,” makes it quite clear that Hiel did not have two tragic accidents while building Jericho, but rather sacrificed his sons to appease the gods and to become protective demons for his newly rebuilt Jericho.
In contrast to our Heavenly Father, who is loving and protects the innocent, the god of this world and his followers, even those who follow him out of ignorance, are blinded by their false religion and participate in terrible acts of cruelty and injustice. Jesus made it clear that we shall know evil by its fruit.