I was wondering just what were the “high places” which caused so much distress among the writers of Deuteronomy History? How many were there and where were they located? Why were they characterized as being “ “high” ”? What went on there and who participated? How were these organized and who organized them? But most importantly, why were they organized and what went on at them, so inimical to the followers of Yahweh?
And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree. (NASB) 2 Chronicles 28:4
Some of the best-known high places are visible today such as those at Gezer and Petra. It was there that gods who were “no gods” were worshipped – the gods of stone, trees and metal (Num. 33:52). We do not know how many high places existed in Canaan, but it is probably safe to assume there was at least one for each nation. Joshua 12:7-24 lists thirty-one nations that Israel defeated when they entered the land. Joshua 13:2-6 says that Israel had left five nations in the land (Philistines, Canaanites, Sidonians, Gebalites and all Lebanon). That makes a total of thirty-six nations in the land of Canaan. We do not know for sure how many high places existed or where they were all located.
The high places were places of religious worship. Five religious activities occurred here: a) animal sacrifices (1 Kings 3:2), b) prostitution (Jeremiah 3:2), c) the burning of incense (1 Kings 3:3), d) daughters walking through fire (Jer 32:35), and e) human sacrifices (2 Kings 23:20, Jer. 7:31). It appears that there were sacred pillars at the high places (2 Kings 17:8-12). These appear to be carved pillars depicting the female goddess of fertility and male deities. It appears that each high place had priests (Num. 22:41). The “gods” that were worshipped at the “high places” included Baal (Num. 22:41), Asherah (2 Kings 21:3), Asherim (2 Chron. 17:6), Topheth (Jer. 7:31), and the gods of the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the host of heaven (2 Kings 23:5, 2 Chr. 33:3). The gods at the “high places” were depicted as carved and molten images (2 Chr. 34:3).
Why did they use high places for worship? Were they attempting to get closer to their god? Was there a psychological appeal to being up high? Was there a spiritual experience? Sexual experiences were part of worship. Today people seek spiritual highs. It is interesting that God’s tabernacle in the wilderness was in the plain and not on a high place. God’s concept of worship is not “sexual experiences,” burning our children or making our children walk through fire. God calls us to love Him, seek Him and to know Him.
It is interesting how often Christians go to a seminar or to camp and then come home with a religious high, but two weeks later it is gone. We wonder why. The answer is that back at home we are spending less time focused on God. True fulfillment is an emotional love for God that captures our whole person (Matthew 22:36-39) and results in “I love you, God” and obedience (Rom. 12:1-2).
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