“In everything he followed the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” 1 Kings 22:43
All throughout the written history of the kings of Israel and Judah we find summaries similar to this one written of Jehoshaphat. So and so was a good king and did what was right in the eyes of the LORD but the high places were not removed. How could this be? Why was mentioning this important to the scribes and why should we care today? First some background on what the writers were referring to.
The term “high places” comes from the Hebrew word “bamah” and does not necessarily mean a physical high place. It can also signify spiritual high places for the intention of worship of some deity, pagan or not. In many cases the biblical writers are referring to places where Baal and Asherah were worshipped while in other cases Yahweh was worshipped there. Regardless of which deity the writer had in mind, the implication is that worship at those places was not acceptable since it was outside the approved location, the temple in Jerusalem. This was clearly a very big deal, so much so that how a king dealt with high places during his reign was one of the key measuring sticks applied to his life. The worst kings participated in the pagan worship that occurred there, the average kings did not participate but did nothing about it and the revered kings tore them down and destroyed them. What was going on?
As we can all see playing out before our eyes today on a regular basis, politics is a tricky business. It is a rare leader who purposes in his or her heart to do the right thing, regardless of popular opinion or what the masses desire. As we have written in past posts, this is only amplified by the current obsession with social media. Careers and reputations can be ruined overnight by one false step in the eyes of the public. Human nature has not changed. It was no different in ancient Israel and Judah. The people liked their high places and any king who faced that issue head on would face the wrath of his people. In addition, high places and their associated pagan worship were often left in place as appeasement to other nations to maintain positive relations and minimize any external threat. Ancient kings like Jehoshaphat, while apparently pursuing the LORD with their whole heart were also covering their bases by appeasing popular opinion and potential enemies by not dealing with the high places. At this point, this may be sounding all too familiar.
Today, as Jesus made very clear, we live at a time where we do not need to worship in this mountain or that mountain or in temples made with human hands. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit and there is no requirement to worship in this church building or that church building or within any structure (physical or organizational) that is made with human hands. Then why does the issue of high places matter at all? It is of great importance and in fact a key to understanding our life’s purpose.
Every generation and every individual in that generation have their own high places. For some, like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, it was racial inequality. For others, like Susan B. Anthony and Mary Wollstonecraft, it was women’s rights. For every well known and famous person like these there were countless other unknown and everyday people who were committed to the same causes. Regardless of their visibility, they all faced the same question, would they lie down and accept the status quo of the day or rise up and act against it? There was a price to be paid within their families, friends and communities and they were willing to pay this price. Are we willing to do the same?
Our generation is living through a 21st Century Reformation of redefining the meaning of “church” and what it means to be a Jesus follower. Many have referred to this as a “deconstruction” of everything they have previously understood to be “Christianity”. Is it possible that what is called Christianity is not “right in the eyes of the LORD” at all but is actually a high place? Will we live a life of tolerating the pagan idolatry associated with it or step up and actively participate in tearing it down? Our experience will be no different than that of other courageous people in the past. Family, friends, business associates and possible our bank balances will be impacted.
In your life you may be dealing with much different high places. Alcoholism, drug addiction, narcissism, poverty or sexual abuse may be the altar that demands your participation in worship. Part of finding your purpose in life may be to identify your high place and then live to take it down and destroy it. As you do so, may you find the grace and strength for the task so that your descendants may walk in freedom. At Back to Eden Group we aim to take down every high place in our own lives and hope to be an encouragement to you as you do the same.
In closing, regardless of what our high places may be, may our lives one day be summarized like Hezekiah, king of Judah:
“He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.” 2 Kings 18:3-5