The High Places

I have recently been reading through the historical books of the Old Testament: 1 & Kings, 1 & Chronicles.  I love history, so I enjoy pouring over the details of kings, timelines, and intersections with major historical events in the Ancient Near East – you know, all that geek stuff most don’t pay attention to!  Bad rulers are scolded for their tolerance of foreign religion to run rampant through their land, while good kings are praised for tearing down the idols left by their predecessor.

Though I have read through these sections before, there is a reoccurring phrase that keeps jumping out at me.  Over a dozen times, even after good kings are praised, scripture adds the phrase:

The high places, however, were not removed.

The high places were locations of cultic worship associated with Baal, Molech, and Asherah, among other foreign gods.   They were typically located outside of cities on hilltops or mounds, perhaps contributing to the name, high places.  Another explanation to the name comes from the idea that Baal was associated with being god of the clouds, mountaintops, and other high places.  Over time however, they could be found anywhere.

I wondered why these high places were so difficult to purge from the land, even among the best of rulers.  I wondered if their location – remote and out of the way – made it seem like they were not worth the trouble of identifying and dismantling.  After having pegged the obvious perpetrators – large temples to Baal, Asherah poles set up in prominent places in the cities and in the temple in Jerusalem – perhaps traveling about the countryside for these small, crudely fashioned shrines seemed pointless.  Or maybe after spending time ridding the country of the large idols, kings figured they had other business to attend to.  Like modern-day politicians, perhaps they figured they had sufficiently grabbed the headlines; it was time to move on to other policy issues.  Yet, these historical writers note time after time that the high places were not removed.

It occurred to me, however, that as easy as it is to question these good kings, I have high places in my own life that seem too difficult to tackle.  Truth be known there are places in the remote areas of my heart and mind that I don’t want to make the effort to tear down.  It would be difficult to tackle and besides, those places are hardly observable to others.  And dare I say that part of me doesn’t even want to take them down.  After all, I try to read the Bible, develop a regular prayer time, and engage in other practices that bring me closer to God.  I just walked through my Fruit of the Spirit year in review.  Aren’t I doing enough?

The high places, however, were not removed.

Reading this over and over, I don’t want this to be true of me.  The first step, I suppose, is to simply acknowledge that they exist and that they have more allure than I give them credit for.  More than once I have found my mind or attitude drifting – wandering the remote countrysides of my heart and mind – only for that phrase, the high places,  to come to mind.  It is enough to give me pause and question what my next choice will be.

So what are the high places in your life?  When all is written, will it be recorded that you had the courage to go beyond the obvious to sweep clean all the unseen areas of your heart?  Or will it read: The high places, however, were not removed?

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3 thoughts on “The High Places

  1. I have been reading the same sections and pondering the same things, and just talked to Isaac about it the other week. I did a little research on it and found that the high places are places of worship, both to Baal, Asherah, other pagan gods, AND Yahweh. In a few passages it seems that worship to Yahweh is going on in the high places, and the author doesn’t comment one way or other other to indicate if this is negative or positive.

    The Deuteronomist definitely always sees the high places as negative, and most would say that’s because even if the high places were used to worship Yahweh, the prescribed place to worship was at the Temple. Is it the place of worship that is at issue, and obedience to those instructions? That’s what Bruggeman assumes.

    Or is it that the high places, used to worship any god you wanted, indicated the polytheism of the people, who may have worshiped Yahweh, but not exclusively? That makes sense to me given the context of His words to His people throughout the Old Testament, constantly demanding that He ALONE be their God.

    Fascinating.

  2. Kacie, I think you are correct that even though Yahweh was included among the gods worshiped at the high places, it was the fact that Yahweh was being included in polytheistic religions that was the issue. Artifacts have been found that basically have Yahweh and Asherah being married in order to join two religions together. It would have been common to worship Yahweh among many different gods. But it’s a good observation that Yahweh wanted to be the only God of Israel.

    I also just ran across a scripture (2 Chronicles 33) where people continued to sacrifice at high places, but only to Yahweh and it seems to mention this in an almost positive light.

  3. Pingback: My Year In Review: Blog Edition « dave gwartney

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