The Low-Down on High Places
In the ancient Middle East, there were worship centers called “high places”, where all kinds of pagan ritualistic mischief took place. They show up in Joshua and Judges with regularity, and there is a lot about them you probably have never thought about. The key word here is “pagan”, and it’s safe to say that it is probably hard for the average person reading this blog to imagine what went on there. (Think: really bad.) Since they revolved around polytheism, sex, and drug use, the one true God of Israel naturally condemned both them and anyone who used them.
“In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” (2 Kings 12:1-3, NIV).
Read through 2 Kings sometime. It describes a society full of treachery and deceit, with murder and betrayal on almost every page. The Kings of Israel and Judah were a dangerous bunch, and the good ones were few and far between. Joash became King over Judah at age seven, and actually had godly counsel around him. He did right in the sight of the Lord during all of his 40 year reign, but did not, however, remove the high places.
“High Places” is a somewhat euphemistic title given to the pagan worship centers out in the mountains and countryside in Israel. Idolatry, pagan rituals, illicit sacrifices, prostitution, and all kinds of carnal activity took place there in the name of “worship”.
Maybe That’s Where “Getting High” Came From?
The high places were sort of secret men’s clubs, somewhat hidden and off the beaten paths–but every man in Israel knew what went on there. Pagan rituals encouraged men to substitute a spiritual walk with sexual ecstasy as they worshipped the goddess of fertility (known variously as Ashtoreth, Ishtar, Astarte, or Asherah).
The High Places were holdovers from the nations and cultures Israel defeated to take the Promised Land, and the reason they weren’t torn down is because guys liked to go and sin there. Funny how so little really changes with men over all these years… Men don’t necessarily call it worship, but they still go to particular places where the allure of feminine sexuality is powerful and seductive. Even church-going men will check their Bibles at the door to enjoy the atmosphere, just like the pagans did at the high places.
Funny thing, when you take away men’s pet sins they will insult you, call you names, and even resort to violence to keep being able to do them. When Gideon tore down his father’s Asherah pole, the Bible says “The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son [Gideon]. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” (Judges 6:30)
Hebrew men were so involved with pagan worship that they were willing to kill to preserve it. They loved doing low things in high places… In later times, a couple of the good Kings brought reform to Israel and helped turn people back to God; but that was the exception rather than the rule; all too often the high places remained. They were sort of a secret, “pet” sin that men kept in reserve, so they could go there to “worship”.
At first glance it may seem hard to believe that any form of spiritual revival could take place when such sinful sanctuaries remained. How could Israel outwardly worship the Lord but then keep on sneaking around to wallow in such dirty sins? How could they love God but hold on to some carnal pleasure in reserve? Can you imagine? Acting religious but harboring evil desires?
Upon reflection, it’s pretty easy to see, isn’t it? This is still happening today. The rich and powerful still have secret places where they can go sin. But let’s bring it home a bit: It’s not just them, but it is US. We love God outwardly but secretly worship other, carnal, false gods. (And before you women feel too smug about men’s obvious weaknesses, remember that lusting for material things, status, or control are just as much of a carnal sin as sitting in the men’s club…)
An Easy Choice?
We may sometimes feel moved to have revival, but then we fail to remove some of our “high places”. And apparently the Lord wants us to choose between those and HIM.
What are your pet sins, your secret sanctuaries? Do you ever live outwardly as a Christian even while you are at the same time judgmental, greedy, lustful, selfish, hateful, critical, anxious, bitter, covetous or proud? The concern that crosses our minds over Israel’s idolatry is the same concern we should have about ourselves. Do you have any high places? Take an inventory of the secret sanctuaries you harbor, and consider tearing. Them. Down.
Places, High and Low
High upon the mountain, or way back among the hills
There were pagan temples where a man could get some thrills.
Temple priestesses would stimulate the men’s virility
Calling them to worship with the goddess of fertility.
Participants who worshipped there were very normal men
Who visited high places and then just went home again.
Improbable, you say? These hypocrites could not be saved,
When claiming to love God while they are secretly depraved!
And yet that is my story. I love God, and want to win,
But there are idols in my life. I harbor secret sin.
Lord, when there are idols in my heart that make you frown,
Help me feel your love, and Jesus, help me Tear. Them. Down.
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