The high places
“Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree.” (Deut. 12:2).
“And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places.” (1Ki. 3:3).
“And he [Jeroboam] made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.” (1Ki. 12:31).
“But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa’s heart was perfect with the Lord all his days.”(vs. 14).
“Save that the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places.” (vs.4).
“And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the Lord their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.” (2Ki. 17:9).
“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…. 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.” (2Ki. 18:1,3,4).
“And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile.” (2Ki. 23:13).
“Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he brake down, and burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove.” (2Ki. 23:15).
“And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Bethel. And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.” (2Ki. 23:19,20).
“He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.” (Deut. 32:13).
“The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!” (2Sam. 1:19).
“He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” (Ps. 18:33).
“I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” (Is. 41:18).
“That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.” (Is. 49:9).
“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”(Is. 58:14).
Were the high places good or bad? For David, Samuel, Habakkuk, Moses, and even from the mouth of the Lord through Isaiah, they could be good. They could be a desirable place to worship, and acceptable to the Lord before the temple was built. But they were evil for the Canaanites and for Israel who desired to copy the ways of the inhabitants of Canaan.
What made the difference? It sounds arbitrary. Does God contradict Himself? Does He allow a practice for His favorites, His pets, and not for His odious enemies?
Let’s take a look at this most important issue. Was there anything inherently wrong with a high place? That must not be the case if He promised to give them to us, as Isaiah related above. What was a high place? According to E-Sword commenting on 2Kings 17:16:
In 2Ki. 17:10 there is a reference to the old high-place worship, which was professedly a worship of Yahweh, but with unauthorized rites and emblems; here the reference is to Ahab’s setting up a grove to Baal in the city of Samaria (marginal reference).
And worshipped all the host of heaven - Astral worship has not hitherto been mentioned as practiced by the Israelites. Moses had warned against it Deu. 4:19; Deu. 17:3, so that it no doubt existed in his day, either among the Canaanite nations or among the Arabians Job 31:26-28. Perhaps it was involved to some extent in the Baal worship of the Phoenicians, for Baal and Astarte were probably associated in the minds of their worshippers with the Sun and moon. Later in the history we shall find a very decided and well-developed astral worship prevalent among the Jews, which is probably Assyro-Babylonian (2Ki. 21:3 note).
The problem with high places wasn’t with high places. God made the mountains which were the most primitive “high places.” The high places weren’t the problem, but rather with what happened on them. False worship to Satan was what was wrong with their use.
The same happened with the brazen serpent that Moses made. It ceased to teach the lessons God had associated with it, lessons of dependence and reliance on Him. The lesson behind the object, looking to Him by faith and utter helplessness, was replaced by adoration of the object itself. The object lesson became degraded into an expression of self-absorbed, self-generated worship of self. Once its treatment was altered, it no longer should exist. Yet the serpent on a pole had been made at the command of the Lord Himself. Its place in Israelite history was an important one. Now it no longer accomplished its purpose; Satan had succeeded in destroying its real meaning in the minds of the people.
The ephod played a central part of the true worship. It adorned the High Priest as a sleeveless waistcoat and attached to it hung the beautiful breastplate with 12 precious stones and two stones called the Urim and Thummim. “And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty.” (Ex. 28:2).
Simplicity and beauty shone out from this holy garb and God was pleased. Yet, when Gideon chose to make a replica of it out of pure gold, it ensnared the people into idolizing it. How quickly we fall into idolatry! How prone to false worship!
Idolatry is Satan’s method of vandalizing and altering the things of God into things against God. Idols take on the shape and appearance of His gifts of love. Even abstract things, such as His promises, His grace, faith, ect. can be altered when the correct understanding of them fades away. Then a devious look-alike takes its place. When the devil can lead people to be careless with their relationship with God, then he can lead them into a worship of a different kind. Self becomes the object of worship. Intoxicating emotion replaces the enjoyment of quietly sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning from Him.
The problem wasn’t with the ephod or the brazen serpent which Christ later compared to Himself dying on the cross. The trouble resulted from the wrong relation to those objects. The people needed a new heart in order to discern the beautiful truth Providence intended in them. Humbled by God’s love the human heart can responded properly to the objects and precepts god has given this world. We must be “turned into another man.” (1Sam. 10:6).
Repentance must take control and sorrow for sin and the hatred of it must bear sway. Any other state of heart and mind is an abomination to God, and idolatry. King Saul had been given a new heart and a changed life. But when he walked away from that and went on his own moral compass, his stubbornness and rebellion were rebuked and called “idolatry” and “witchcraft.” (1Sam. 15:23).
Likewise, but from the other end of the spiritual spectrum, we cannot approach the Law of God and hope to obey it without a new heart. If we try, we only end up despairing and discouraged, or angry and full of contempt for the Author of law. It is the height of arrogance to take on the hard labor of being a moral person without first getting the gift of God, a new heart, conversion. Unless the change is a total one, affecting every aspect of the life: physically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, socially, in the family circle, in the workplace, in our civil relationships to the neighborhood, the city, the state, the national government; then our change wasn’t made by God. He works in us a harmonious development resulting in a balanced character.
No other change in us, except that coming from our justification to God by faith through repentance and trusting in Him to be full of mercy, is of any merit before the Law. And no other state of soul prepares us to obey the Law. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Rom. 7:7). “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Rom. 7:12).
The problem with the Law of God is not with it, but with us. We are the big problem. We have the wrong relation to it. We see it in the wrong light. If it reproves us, pride rises up and says, “How dare you! Who do You think You are to reveal my lack of morality! I’m a pretty good person! Compared to everyone else!” The carnal mind can never obey the Law of God because it naturally sees itself as already satisfying another law of life. But this standard is a faulty and low man-made standard.
And even if I assent to the Law of God that it is good, I still am unable to obey it. (Rom. 7:16,23). My relation to it is still flawed. I need a new heart and mind in order to want to obey it. I need a gift from heaven. That comes when we get to know the Person behind the Law. Its only when we become attached to Him that we can fulfill It. He is where we find the power to obey It. It’s all about Him. His love, His righteousness. When I know Him, then I will obey Him. He will become my full focus. And thus by obeying His will, without knowing it the Law is obeyed.
This is why those who have found victory over evil, destructive habits through getting better acquainted with Jesus, get surprised, when at some point, it dawns on them that the sin which had for so long harassed them was gone, and it had been gone for some time. We don’t overcome sin by stomping it out. We get with Jesus and He crowds sin out. This is righteousness by faith in Jesus. Every other method to victory over sin is a fake, and too often, an endless pursuit of anger and frustration. As it is written, “and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night.”(Rev. 14:10,11).
In the right relation to the brazen serpent the worshiper would have discerned the Messiah, the Most Holy, the Anointed One. In the righter relation to the ephod, the worshiper of God would have exclaimed with David, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” (Ps. 27:4).
In the right relation to the high places we can sing, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” (Ps. 121:1).
And if we will come to Jesus, just as we are, and spend time with Him, getting better acquainted—Him getting better acquainted with our needs, and us with His hopes and desires and needs—then our willingness to walk in step with Him will come naturally because He will transfer His character to us.
He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned. Steps to Christ, p. 62.
In order to serve Him aright, we must be born of the divine Spirit. This will purify the heart and renew the mind, giving us a new capacity for knowing and loving God. It will give us a willing obedience to all His requirements. This is true worship. It is the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit every sincere prayer is indited, and such prayer is acceptable to God. Wherever a soul reaches out after God, there the Spirit’s working is manifest, and God will reveal Himself to that soul. For such worshipers He is seeking. He waits to receive them, and to make them His sons and daughters. Desire of Ages, p. 189.
Then we will walk in our high places because “The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet.” (hab. 3:19).
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Is. 40:31).