If you’ve done much Old Testament reading, you’ve come across the phrase High Places. It is mentioned over 100 times in the Old Testament. Usually, the high places are mentioned in reference to a new king and whether or not he took down the high places or allowed them to remain.
So what were those “High Places”?
- places of worship on elevated pieces of land – sometimes natural and others times elevated specifically for this purpose
- places for pagan worship
- places that pulled people away from worshiping the true God
When the Children of Israel were set to conquer Canaan, God gave them specific instructions. Numbers 33 gives us the account. Here are the instructions:
2 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their [e]high places; 53 you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess.
There’s a reason Jehovah wanted those high places to be gone. As I read through the Old Testament, kings and conquests are recounted by whether or not they got rid of the high places or kept them.
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, allowed his many wives and concubines to turn his heart away from God. Scripture tells us,
And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places.
The king had idolatrous high places of worship established for his pagan wives. He also worshiped with those women. Solomon kept trying to have his foot in both camps. This is why the kingdom was taken from him.
God had given specific instructions on where and how His people were to worship. Pagan worship in high places was not an option for His people, but they did it anyhow.
There was only one “high place” where His people were to worship, and that was at the temple. They were also instructed to get rid of the places where other nations served their gods. They were to get rid of those gods and destroy those places of worship. They were to quit doing what they were doing: allowing every man to be right in his own eyes.
Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa, loved the Lord, yet scripture specifically tells us,
Nevertheless the high places were not taken away, for the people offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. [I Kings 22:43.]
Hezekiah, who was only twenty-five when he began to reign, and he removed the high places.
Josiah, great-grandson of Hezekiah, discovered that the kings preceding him had rebuilt those high places. He not only tore them down, he went even further.
Now Josiah also took away all the [m]shrines of the [n]high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke [o]the Lord to anger; and he did to them according to all the deeds he had done in Bethel. 20 He executed all the priests of the [p]high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them; and he returned to Jerusalem. [2 Kings 23]
So what – you ask – does this have to do with us today?
The high places symbolized worship that turned their focus away from Jehovah.
Anything we “worship” that takes our focus off Jehovah God is a high place, or an idol.
Whether it’s an activity, an organization, a hobby, a vocation, a practice, or a person: if it takes us away from God instead of toward Him, it’s an idol. We can be just as guilty as the of building high places as the Israelites were. When we hold onto our own idols and bow to them instead of to our Creator, we too are maintaining high places.
In the history of Israel, there were only two kings who tore down the high places. All the others allowed the high places to remain. There were kings who loved God; yet their eulogy still retains these words: he removed not the high places.
Let that not be said about us!