Hezekiah And The High Places

King_Saul006As far back as the time of the judges, before Israel went through the civil war that split them into a northern and a southern kingdom, they began disobeying God. One manifestation of this was the fact that they began building “high places” all over.

God had instructed the people through Moses to have only one place of sacrifice, one altar where they were to gather and where the priests were to offer the Sabbath day, new moon, and feast day offerings.

The thing was, the peoples around them had a different way of doing things, and pretty soon, though Israel started out with zero toleration for strange altars and offerings, they began to look more and more like the nations around them. When the northern kingdom succumbed to Assyria and went into exile, here’s the epitaph God wrote for them:

Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD. (2 Kings 17:7-11, emphasis added)

There were other things too, but this passage seems to indicate that building high places so they could be like the other nations was a key part of Israel’s downfall.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know why God wanted one central place of worship. The Church today obviously is made up of many houses of worship, and the very idea of a single location for all believers to gather is impractical in this lifetime. Consequently, it’s hard for me to imagine why it was so important to God that Israel establish one and only one worship center.

I can speculate on reasons—the main thought I have is that by maintaining one place of worship, there would be less likelihood of false teaching seeping into the nation because everyone would be hearing the same message from the same high priest—but God only knows why He planned it this way. I have no doubt that His way was best for Israel and that by copying the nations around them instead of following God’s clear instructions, Israel opened themselves up to many other evils.

Surprisingly Scripture never records a prophet reprimanding a king for tolerating or promoting high places, though the kings of Judah are identified as good to the degree that they did or did not remove the high places.

In fact King Hezekiah was one of the few who did remove the high places:

He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel (2 Kings 18:3-5a)

Ironically, Assyria came up against Hezekiah’s kingdom, too, and the military leader who led the siege against Jerusalem chided Hezekiah as anti-God for this very act of obedience:

But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’? (2 Kings 18:22)

Basically he was saying, Hezekiah just tore down your God’s altars and places of sacrifices and expects you to only use the altar in Jerusalem, and you think this same God is going to protect you now?!

Because Hezekiah was doing something counter-cultural—all the surrounding nations had high places where they worshiped their gods—this Assyrian, who didn’t have the Torah and didn’t know what God had told Moses, questioned Hezekiah’s relationship with God.

I’ve started wondering what the high places are which the Church of today has built or which it has not torn down. We have God’s word, but the culture around us does things differently, so we are choosing to go along with them instead of standing up and doing what God has said to do.

A few things come to mind, one being gender issues. We the Church went along with the patriarchy of society for years and years, though Scripture paints a different picture of the husband/wife relationship from the beginning and even after the fall.

Yes, when God established the Church, He did clarify the roles of husband and wife, but like Christ sacrificed Himself for His Bride, so a husband is to love his wife in the same sacrificial way. That’s his role, which isn’t the kind of patriarchal, iron-fisted, authoritarian rule too often seen in the past. Sadly the Church went along with “the way things were in the world.”

feminismToday there’s a shift in the culture, and women are now being told we are only valuable if we do what men do. Once again the Church is peering about, watching what the world is doing, and scampering to catch up to the customs of those around us. Consequently, some in the Church believe women are only valuable if we can be like men, Therefore, we must be allowed to be pastors too.

I think both extremes are “high places” we’ve built and are building, instead of paying attention to what God has told us about man/woman relationships.

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Published in: on November 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 Comments

  1. I like this. Well said. The church really fills a vital role when they gently stand up for God’s ways, even when the world is going a bit crazy. God’s ways are not just arbitrary rules handed down by a dictator, they are actually designed to make your life better, more fulfilling, happier.

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    • And we know that society will bend in concert with the demands of our sin nature, so when we follow the winds of culture, we’re moving away from God as well as from the best He has in mind for us. The verse that plays in my mind from time to time starts with Fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . That, I think, is what the Church needs to be actively, unrelentingly about.

      Becky

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  2. Once upon a time, I decided to study Hebrew. Because I couldn’t enroll at the closest college for six months, I made the fortuitous error of getting a book called ‘Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought’ by David Patterson to get a head start. It wasn’t on the textbook list but I thought it would be helpful. I understood maybe 10% of it but the bits I did understand completely revolutionised my understanding of the ‘so-called patriarchal society’.

    Head off to Exodus 32 in any English version and find one that in any way hints at what is apparently obvious to Jewish rabbis from the text: the women of Israel did not give any ornaments for the golden calf. And then head on out into the rest of Exodus, again choosing any English translation, and find a version that says the women were the first to give gold ornaments for the Tabernacle. (This is why, according to tradition, that women have a once a month holiday on the new moon. To reward their faithfulness.)

    So – on this matter of gender in Scripture – I think our own culture and society tends to back-formulate a bias against women that is not really there.

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    • Anne, I so agree. I don’t know how many sermons I’ve heard that describe how women were treated in Biblical times that sound a lot more like today’s Middle East than anything. I’ve started keeping notes about the ways women were treated or what they did that were recorded which may surprise a lot of people. For instance, when King Josiah was given a copy of the Law, he and his closest advisers wanted to know what God had to say about what they’d read, so, in the day when Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, they went to a prophetess instead, a woman who confirmed that God would punish Judah as the Law said.

      Society was so different then, I think it’s hard for us to grasp, and consequently hard for us to see how God regarded women and how He expected His people to be different from the cultures around them.

      Sadly, through the centuries after Bible times, it seems the Church followed Israel’s errors and adopted the norms of society at large rather than clinging to what Scripture says.

      Consequently, there have been abuses in the name of religion and even in the name of Christ, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how those positions are inconsistent with God’s word.

      Becky

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