High Places

HIGH PLACES (Heb. bāmâh, rāmâh, elevation). It seems to be inherent in human nature to think of God as dwelling in the heights. From earliest times people have tended to choose high places for their worship, whether of the true God or of the false gods that man has invented. The reason for this is that the so-called gods were in fact the barely personified forces of nature; they were empty of moral character and therefore one could not appeal to them in the same sense as one could appeal to the God of Israel. They had made no promises and extended no covenant to their people. All, therefore, that the worshipers could do was choose an exposed site where the “god” was likely to see what they were doing and to perform there some act comparable to what they wished their god to do for them (See also Baal). In Canaan the high places had become the scenes of orgies and human sacrifice connected with the idolatrous worship of these imaginary gods; and so, when Israel entered the Promised Land they were told, “Drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places” (Num.33.52). Figured stones were covered with crude carvings, sometimes more or less like geometrical figures, or with talismans or other signs presumably understood by the priests and used to mystify or terrorize the worshipers. Israel partly obeyed but largely failed in this work. In Judg.1.19-Judg.1.35 we read of the failure of eight different tribes to drive out the people of the land, and though “Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him” (Josh.24.31; Judg.2.7), they soon relapsed into idolatry, used the high places for the worship of Baalim, and “provoked the Lord to anger.”

Before God would use Gideon to drive out the Midianites (Judg.6.25), Gideon had to throw down his father’s altar to Baal and the image (“Asherah pole”) that was beside it. Before Solomon built the temple, there was a mixed condition of worship. The tent of meeting (i.e., the tabernacle) with most of its furniture was at the high place at Gibeon, several miles north of Jerusalem, though David had brought the ark to Jerusalem. Solomon went to the high place at Gibeon to offer sacrifice, and there God heard his prayer and granted him surpassing wisdom (2Chr.1.1-2Chr.1.13). Later some godly kings, including Hezekiah (2Chr.31.1), destroyed the high places, whereas others, including Manasseh, relapsed and rebuilt them (2Chr.33.3). After Manasseh had been punished and had repented, he was restored to his throne and resumed the temple worship; but the people “continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God” (2Chr.33.17). Through Manasseh’s early influence, the people had gone so far into apostasy that they could not repent; but through the godliness of Josiah, especially after he had heard the law read (2Kgs.22.8-2Kgs.22.20), the judgment was delayed until after the death of Josiah. His great “housecleaning” is described in 2Kgs.23.1-2Kgs.23.25. God’s attitude toward the godly kings and toward the wicked ones like Ahab in the north and Ahaz and Manasseh in the south depended largely on their attitude toward the high places.——ABF