the high places

high places

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I’ve been meandering my way back through 1 and 2 Kings recently. First of all, Elisha and Elijah were both complete BAs. And I mean that in the most biblically-awesome way possible.

Second, through the chronicling of each king in Judah and Israel, I’ve noticed a very common theme. Even the kings who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” left what scripture refers to as “the high places” untouched. There are over 100 references to these pagan worship places throughout the Old Testament, hinting that they were likely as popular as donut shops in Fort Worth, Texas. (That’s a lot.)

Every once in a while, an exemplary Jewish king like Josiah or Hezekiah would come along and tear down these idol posts and attempt to lead the nation back to the one true God, but it was usually the very next king (almost always the son of the “good” king) who allowed them to return. Somehow, Israel just couldn’t break completely free from the idols of the cultures around them.

A bit of research about these so-called high places reveals that they were Canaanite places of sacrifice and worship. God warned the Israelites about the false gods of the Canaanites before they even entered the Promised Land. He explicitly told them to tear down these places of worship, which were dedicated to any number of about 26 major gods “overseeing” anything from sex to harvest. Worship of these gods took many forms, from burning incense to massive orgies, and even sacrificing children.

Despite God’s warnings, though, Israel slowly allowed itself to become accustomed to these false practices. It got to a point where even the kings who called themselves men of God and avoided participating in rituals at the high places did not attempt to tear them down. And if they did, it was about as scandalous of a political move as outlawing guns in Texas.

Israel’s idolatry became just a part of the country’s culture. People probably didn’t even think twice about how messed up it was to have a sex shrine on each hilltop, and those who did were likely seen as ultra-conservative jerks. When they heard about how Joe down the road killed and burned his first-born son as a sacrifice to Molech, it was probably seen as extremely impolite to ask questions.

I bet children were SUPER obedient to their parents back then.

It’s easy to point out the Israelites’ flaws when there was an official religion, complete with sculpted gods, tied to their idolatry. Nevertheless, we are just as guilty of idolatry in our own culture. Aside from religions, we drive past topless bars and casinos with little more than a shrug of surrender, if anything. And those are just two of the blatant “high places” of our culture, which is utterly obsessed with money and pleasure.

We reveal our own idolatry with casual sex, rampant divorce, and more loyalty to a sports team than our Creator.

Everything our culture builds up as good, pleasing, and worthwhile encourages us to set ourselves up as our own gods. We worship ourselves– measuring our own success, pleasure, or happiness in pursuit of our own heaven where we are the head honcho.

Anything is acceptable as long as we are pursuing our own glory. If it earns us money, bring it on. If it earns the government money, laws get changed to allow it and sometimes even encourage it. And if it feels good, nothing should get in our way from getting as much as we can.

We’ve become so backwards that anyone who even hints that they believe in the original standard of right and wrong, and that we should intentionally place God and His design back at the center of our society is immediately labeled a conservative, hateful bigot.

Even self-professed Christians these days give very loud and public passes to the lifestyles that other self-professed Christians are living even though they are explicitly contradictory to God’s plan for those who love Him. They might argue that it’s all in the name of love, but I would argue it’s more in the name of being accepted by today’s culture– even though it’s our faith in God that is meant to characterize our values, not the culture around us. 

We can love people without affirming that they should be able to do whatever they feel like doing. Godly love for other believers has to contain a certain amount of accountability to the truth of what unites us, which doesn’t change with culture. Argue all you want, but first read 1 Corinthians 5: 9-12.

I’m not afraid to say it: homosexual lifestyles, cohabitation and premarital sex, divorce on the grounds of “it’s just not working anymore,” and pornography are just a few examples of celebrated practices that are seen as “necessary” or “natural” in our culture. But each of them are rooted in nothing that is honoring or respecting to God. In fact, they each directly contradict God’s desire for our lives.

Our culture is 100 percent about ourselves and whatever we think is okay. We consult nothing more than our own pleasure-seeking emotions when deciding whether something is beneficial or moral.

If somebody calls foul about their decisions and feelings not being accepted, many consider it insensitive to not digress and immediately agree that it’s only the result of them being naturally born this way. We completely ignore the unfortunate factors and circumstances in that person’s life that led to them being conditioned to their habits.

And somehow our culture has allowed this view of “as long as you’re happy” to get mixed with “but I’m still a Christian.”

A Christian is someone who trusts that God’s way is simply the best way– the way we were designed to operate, live, and thrive. A Christ follower is someone who agrees that whatever Jesus and the rest of God’s word has to say about something is the end of the argument, even if it’s uncomfortable.

The Bible, which is held up by so many people as true to God’s purposes and desires for us, has boundaries that are more clearly defined than the “do what you feel like doing” standard that many of those same people use for their lives.

But God isn’t pleased as long as we are pleased.

There are ways to combat a submissive, self-worshiping culture. And while hatred may seem like a natural response, it is just as self-worshiping as the initial action. Anything that feels natural is not automatically good. Consider any sin you’ve ever committed as proof of this.

It’s vitally important to recognize that we all have unique temptations to overcome (hatred being one of them). Just because one person’s battle is more public than another’s doesn’t mean we get to pick up stones and assassinate the “public screw-up.” We all live in sin and need Christ to redeem us.

It starts with recognizing that sin is real and we are guilty of it. But there’s also a basic required understanding of what it means to be in God’s plan. That plan is outlined with a very simple but incredibly difficult command that we get wrong more times than right: love God with ALL of our heart. Out of that love flows obedience, trust, and love for others.

This isn’t a race to the top of the mountain so we can look down on all the weaker corpses below us. It’s a camaraderie exercise for each of us to help each other closer to the finish line in a way that encourages, uplifts, and consoles.

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references: 2 Kings 14 & 18; 2 Chronicles 34; “Seduced by the High Places” by Scott Morton


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