The Hebrew word to-ebah means “abomination; that which is abhorrent or repugnant” (Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words). The word is used in Genesis 43:32 when Joseph had to serve food to his brothers at a separate table, for the Egyptians found it “loathsome” to eat with Hebrews (cf. Exodus 8:26).

You run across this word from time to time in the Bible, describing God’s attitude toward certain behaviors. It ought to make us stop and take notice. Some things are just plain sinful (and no one is suggesting these things are okay). But some sins are downright disgusting to God.

It will come as no surprise that certain kinds of sexual sin 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 to fifty 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 goes beyond stupid to outrageous—serving a powerless statue crafted by the hand of man from materials provided by God (Isaiah 44:19).

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). “Oh, do not do this abominable thing which I hate” (Jer. 44:4, cf. 32:33-35).
But there are other run-of-the-mill sins, which God also describes as abominations. We should take notice of these, too.

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. On the other hand, realize that the righteous are often nauseating to the wicked (Prov. 29:27, cf. 17:15)!

People often make mistakes and 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 others by trickery or force; they are playground bullies, brigands on the road, corporate embezzlers. 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 with false words people under their charge (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.

On one occasion, Jesus warned the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). In the immediate context, Jesus was speaking of riches. But we should see a broader point, that 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, Rev. 21:27).

—John Guzzetta