The word ta·ʽavʹ (detest) and the related toh·ʽe·vahʹ (detestable thing) occur some 140 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Their usage in the Bible indicates strong aversion to or rejection of things or persons on the basis of their violating certain principles or not meeting definite standards held by the one so viewing them.
Thus at Genesis 43:32 we read that it was “a detestable thing” (“abomination,” KJ; “abhorrent,” AT) for Egyptians to eat with Hebrews, and at Genesis 46:34 that “every herder of sheep is a detestable thing [“abomination,” KJ; “abhorrent,” AT] to Egypt.” According to G. Rawlinson, this aversion was based on the Egyptian contempt for foreigners in general and for herdsmen in particular. Again, at Exodus 8:25-27, we find Moses, fully aware of the Egyptians’ adoration of certain animals (and particularly of the cow) as sacred, insisting that Pharaoh allow the Israelites to withdraw into the wilderness to make their sacrifices because these would be “a thing detestable to the Egyptians.” (Egypt and Babylon From Sacred and Profane Sources, 1885, p. 182) Such Egyptian standards, of course, were not divinely set or approved by Jehovah God.—See ABHORRENT THING.
God’s own declared standards, principles, and requirements are shown to be the proper basis for detestation. (Le 18:1-5; De 23:7) Thus, Psalm 14:1 says: “The senseless one has said in his heart: ‘There is no Jehovah.’ They have acted ruinously, they have acted detestably [a form of ta·ʽavʹ] in their dealing. There is no one doing good.” Examination of the texts using the Hebrew words ta·ʽavʹ and toh·ʽe·vahʹ, therefore, gives insight into God’s mind on matters. It also shows why there is a marked contrast or open conflict between the position or mental attitude of those who follow God’s Word and those ignoring or rejecting it in preference to their own standards or those of others.—Pr 29:27.
Among the Canaanites. Before Israel’s entry into Canaan, Jehovah made plain to them the practices and customs of the peoples of Canaan that were detestable to him, and these they were to detest. (Le 18:26-30) Outstanding was their practice of idolatry. God said: “The graven images of their gods you should burn in the fire. You must not desire the silver and the gold upon them, nor indeed take it for yourself, for fear you may be ensnared by it; for it is a thing detestable [thoh·ʽavathʹ] to Jehovah your God. And you must not bring a detestable thing [thoh·ʽe·vahʹ] into your house and actually become a thing devoted to destruction like it. You should thoroughly loathe it and absolutely detest it [wetha·ʽevʹ tetha·ʽavenʹnu], because it is something devoted to destruction.” (De 7:25, 26) Any Israelite guilty of making images for religious worship was to be accursed. (De 27:15) Regardless of the craftsmanship they reflected, such images were to be morally repugnant to God’s people.—Eze 7:20; compare Isa 44:18-20.
Other practices of the Canaanites to be detested by Israel were: spiritism with its seances, casting of spells, fortune-telling (De 18:9-12), offering children up in fire to their gods (De 12:31; Jer 32:35; 2Ki 16:3), incest, sodomy, and bestiality. (Le 18:6, 22-30; 20:13) Doubtless the morally repugnant practice of sodomy was the reason for the severity of the rule declaring the wearing of apparel of the opposite sex to be “detestable.” (De 22:5) The Canaanites also practiced “sacred” prostitution by male and female temple prostitutes, but Jehovah prohibited the bringing of “the hire of a harlot or the price of a dog” into his house, “because they are something detestable.”—De 23:17, 18; 1Ki 14:24.
On the basis of these and other “abominable” or “detestable” practices, Jehovah God ordered Israel to devote the Canaanites to destruction so that no contamination by false religion would result. (De 20:17, 18) Any Israelite practicing the same things or advocating such apostasy was to receive precisely the same penalty.—De 13:12-15; 17:2-7; Ezr 9:1, 11-14.
Israel Infected. In the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, ta·ʽavʹ and toh·ʽe·vahʹ are used to describe commercial cheating or fraud (De 25:13-16; Pr 11:1; 20:10, 23), lying (Ps 5:6; 119:163; Pr 12:19, 22), adultery (Eze 33:26), robbery, greed, oppression of the poor (Eze 18:10-13), pride, shedding of innocent blood, hurtful scheming, bearing false witness, and causing contention among brothers; all such are termed “detestable” by God.—Pr 3:32; 6:16-19; 11:20; 15:26; 24:9; 26:24-26.
The practice of these things also makes a person’s worship unacceptable to God, causing the sacrifices and even the prayers of that person to be “detestable” to God. (Pr 15:8, 9; 21:27; 28:9) For this reason Jehovah later called the apostate Israelites’ sacrifices, incense, as well as new moon and Sabbath celebrations, “detestable.” (Isa 1:11-17) He asked them: “Can there be stealing, murdering and committing adultery and swearing falsely and making sacrificial smoke to Baal and walking after other gods whom you had not known, and must you come and stand before me in this house upon which my name has been called, and must you say, ‘We shall certainly be delivered,’ in the face of doing all these detestable things [“abominations,” KJ]? Has this house upon which my name has been called become a mere cave of robbers in your eyes?” (Jer 7:9-11) They came to be past shame or humiliation for their detestable acts.—Jer 6:15; 8:12.
Even though Israel’s leaders, the kings and the priests, were guilty of these acts or condoned them (1Ki 21:25, 26; 2Ki 21:2-12; 2Ch 28:1, 3; 33:2-6; 36:8, 14; Eze 8:6-17; 43:7, 8), God’s faithful prophets were ordered to cause the people to know Jehovah’s detestation of their rebellious course and warn them of the consequences. (Eze 16:2, 51, 52; 20:4; 22:2; 23:36) The people were urged to reject such detestable practices and return to God’s statutes and standards of conduct. (Eze 14:6) To continue practicing what God detests could only lead to eventual desolation and destruction. (Jer 44:4, 22; Eze 6:11; 7:3-9; 11:21; 12:16; 33:29) After the exile some would become ashamed of their bad ways, and Jehovah would give them “a new spirit.”—Eze 6:9; 11:18-21; 36:31.
Job’s experience shows that those who uphold God’s standards may be mocked (Job 30:9, 10) and rejected by former acquaintances (Job 19:19; Ps 88:8), because such ones “have hated a reprover, and a speaker of perfect things they detest.” (Am 5:10) “It is something detestable to the stupid ones to turn away from bad.” (Pr 13:19) But God detests those who twist his standards so as to pronounce “the wicked one righteous” and “the righteous one wicked.” (Pr 17:15) He promises a complete reversal of circumstances in the future for his servants who are thus detested.—Isa 49:7; compare Mt 5:10-12; 1Pe 3:16; 4:1-5; see DISGUSTING THING, LOATHSOME THING.