Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Worship of the High Places

When we read in Scripture about the worship in the "high places," some of us may automatically assume that this is a reference to pagan worship. That assumption is not fully justified. Although the people of Israel were not commanded to worship God in "high places," nevertheless it seems that they did.

The first clear reference to this practice can be seen in the softly negative comment about Solomon.

1 Kings 3:1-4
And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the LORD, and the wall of Jerusalem round about. Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days. And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar.

The exception to following the statutes of David was that Solomon sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places. This, in combination with the reference to the fact that people sacrificed in the high places before the temple was built show - or at least suggest - that this was worship to the Lord.

The second reference to this practice is more clearly negative, and is connected with the Jeroboamic worship, which we have previously explained was an aberrant form of worship of the Lord.

1 Kings 13:1-5
And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out. And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him. The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD.

And again, at the end of the same account:

1 Kings 13:29-34
And the prophet took up the carcase of the man of God, and laid it upon the ass, and brought it back: and the old prophet came to the city, to mourn and to bury him. And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother! And it came to pass, after he had buried him, that he spake to his sons, saying, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones: for the saying which he cried by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass. After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places. And this thing became sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.

The use of the high places returned to Judah after Solomon. We see testimony about this at various times, including one curious time that involves Jehoshaphat.

1 Kings 22:42-43
Jehoshaphat was thirty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.

2 Chronicles 17:3-6
And the LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; but sought to the LORD God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel. Therefore the LORD stablished the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance. And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the LORD: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.

2 Chronicles 20:31-33
And Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah: he was thirty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. And he walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the LORD. Howbeit the high places were not taken away: for as yet the people had not prepared their hearts unto the God of their fathers.

One explanation for this apparent contradiction (between 2 Chronicles and 1 Kings and internally within 2 Chronicles) may be found in another account:

2 Chronicles 33:10-18
And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken. Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God. Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah. And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel. Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the LORD their God only. Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer unto his God, and the words of the seers that spake to him in the name of the LORD God of Israel, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel.

So, the solution with respect to Jehosophat is that he took away the high places of Baalim, but not those of Lord. Thus, the high places were not eradicated entirely, though those for Baalim were eradicated.

Hezekiah, however, was apparently more thorough. In fact, Hezekiah is praised this way:

2 Kings 18:1-6
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name also was Abi, the daughter of Zachariah. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.

This zeal, however, lead to an interesting argument from the invading Assyrian general, Rabshakeh. Arguing to the people of Jerusalem, he stated:

2 Kings 18:22 But if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?

2 Chronicles 32:12 Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it?

Rabshakeh mistakenly thought that Hezekiah had insulted the Lord by destroying the places where the Lord was worshiped. He knew that Hezekiah had removed the high places that were used to worship the Lord, but he did not realize that this was required in order to purify the worship of the Lord in accordance with the law of Moses.

Further evidence that these were high places for the Lord come from the theme of several praising passages for the kings of Judah. Asa, Jehoshaphat (already discussed above), Amaziah, and Jotham are all praised as having done that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and yet are criticized for not removing the high places. Given the harsh condemnation that came upon those who permitted Baal worship, it is reasonable to suppose that these are instances of Jewish inappropriate worship of the Lord, as opposed to purely pagan practices.

1 Kings 15:11-14
And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did David his father. And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron. But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa's heart was perfect with the LORD all his days.

1 Kings 22:42-43
Jehoshaphat was thirty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.

2 Kings 14:1-4
In the second year of Joash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel reigned Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah. He was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, yet not like David his father: he did according to all things as Joash his father did. Howbeit the high places were not taken away: as yet the people did sacrifice and burnt incense on the high places.

2 Kings 15:32-35
In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah king of Israel began Jotham the son of Uzziah king of Judah to reign. Five and twenty years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Jerusha, the daughter of Zadok. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD: he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places. He built the higher gate of the house of the LORD.

What should these passages teach us? First, they should teach us that God values the purity of his own worship. Hezekiah is highly praised for the purity of his worship, and even other righteous kings are criticized for failing to purify the worship of the Lord. Second, they should teach us charity. If even those with impure worship can be said to have done "right in the eyes of the Lord," we should be charitable toward our brethren who have modern-day high places in their worship. We may rightly encourage them to purify their worship, but we ought not to try to suggest that they are not Christians, simply because of an error of this category.

-TurretinFan

5 comments:

AK said...

Great post! One correction, however. The reference to the high places in I Kings 3:1-4 is not accusing Solomon of error or idolatry. Before the temple was built, the portable tabernacle was lawfully moved around to various locations, called "high places" (i.e. hills). I Chron. 16:39 informs us that the tabernacle was at this time located at the high place in Gibeon, so it was perfectly acceptable for Solomon to sacrifice there. The point of I Kings 3:1-4 is that sacrificing on various high places with a mobile tabernacle was inferior to having a permanent temple in a single, central location. It is only after the temple was built that the phrase "high places" is used to describe false worship, since by that time the temple was permanently situated on THE high place (i.e. holy hill) in Mount Zion. To sacrifice elsewhere would therefore have constituted sin, as the other texts you cited indicate.

natamllc said...

AK,

While I agree with your point being made, I wonder if you might be mixing up a couple of things in this article?

I don't know and am willing to risk it in commenting and touch on it with you to find out if you are?

First, though, I would like to develop my idea this way. I would pull from one portion of the Scriptures TurretinFan has used in bringing us to his conclusion and one portion from 2 Samuel.

Here, consider this that we read from 2 Chronicles 33:10-18:

"... And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. . ...".

And also, consider these "interesting Words of Scripture" from 2 Samuel 15:

2Sa 15:17 And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house.
2Sa 15:18 And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king.
2Sa 15:19 Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, "Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home.
2Sa 15:20 You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the LORD show steadfast love and faithfulness to you."

...

2Sa 15:24 And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites,
bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city.
2Sa 15:25 Then the king said to Zadok, "Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place.
2Sa 15:26 But if he says, 'I have no pleasure in you,' behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him."
2Sa 15:27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, "Are you not a seer? Go back to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar.
2Sa 15:28 See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me."
2Sa 15:29 So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there.
2Sa 15:30 But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went.
2Sa 15:31 And it was told David, "Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom." And David said, "O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness."
2Sa 15:32 While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head.


What can we learn from this? Well, one thing is we can see the legal scheme that God required the Children to follow so as to "offer" sacrifices to God the "way" God required it during the Old Testament days of the Children of God. They were to carry out this legal scheme so as to keep the relationship between God and them in tact. It was a load and burden they failed to carry and keep!

Second thing is this that King David said to Ittai the Gittite. Here we see that King David was walking in true humility and in God's Faith before the Lord in that he tells Ittai to "go back to the king". The king King David is referring to here is his son Absalom.

So, the issue of the high places is one of "who" is being approached at that high place and two, "why" is there going to be worship there and not a sacrifice?

natamllc said...

And as a digression and side note to this teaching here, is this verse.

It shows me just Who God is when it comes to Him and His Eternal Purpose and Plan predetermined by Him before the foundation of the world.

I will paste it and then another one from the First book of Peter.

1Ki 19:15 And the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.

...


1Pe 5:11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.


What we can understand from that verse cited from 1 Kings is God has power over the heart of the king or the one who He intends on making king of a nation. In this instance He sends His Prophet, a Jew, to Syria to anoint a man, Hazael, to be their king, king of Syria.

What we can understand from that verse cited from 1 Peter is Peter comes to understand that God is doing what God is doing and He is doing it according to His predetermined plan.

I can only think of two kinds of creatures, one, fallen angelic creatures, and the other, fallen human creatures, who would not want to lift up God's predetermined plan before the nations today!

We can get a sense of why fallen human creatures would not want to do this by these verses from Deuteronomy:

Deu 32:31 For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves.
Deu 32:32 For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter;
Deu 32:33 their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps.
Deu 32:34 "'Is not this laid up in store with me, sealed up in my treasuries?


"Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly"!


For those of us from the sons of Adam, Jesus Christ and ourselves, these Words apply:

Eph 3:8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
Eph 3:9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,
Eph 3:10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Eph 3:11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Eph 3:12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

PeaceByJesus said...

The high places were apparently an attempt by Israel, during times of imperfect revival, to turn pagan shrines, which God told them to destroy, into places of Jehovistic worship - likely rationalizing it as did Rome with its religious syncretism - thereby perpetuating it and allowing it to easily revert back to its former form.

God does not reformation, and does not need help from aspects of distinctly pagan worship, but He does regeneration.

And at the risk of getting a lot of good people upset, i think Christmas, which Rome instituted, is an ongoing from of a high place, in which rather than walking in the liberty of Christ and the aforementioned principle, every year believers basically must submit (if one does not he will be seen as a suspect) to Rome in observing an annual day (or days, if one includes the Lenten season) which is contrary in principle to the New Covenant, (Gal. 4:10) as well as an attempt to Christianize a pagan feast which should have died from neglect.

This does NOT mean that one cannot commemorate the Lord's birth as the Lord leads, or that those who celebrate Christmas cannot be of a better heart than those who see such as contrary in principle and to being led by the Spirit and truth in worship, though those who do not observe this day for the above desire are in danger of being accused of being in some sort of bondage.

Yet in contrast to the Puritans, Christmas has almost become a holy day of obligation, which is a form of legalism.

turretinfan said...

You make a good point about Gibeon. I'm not sure that's what 1 Kings 3:1-4 is referring to, but it is a potential avenue of relief for Solomon!