Solomon is credited with being the wisest man in all of history. One bit of wisdom he shares in the book of Ecclesiastes came to mind this morning as I continue to read through 2 Kings.
Ecclesiastes 1:9;3:15 – That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. … That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.
History repeats itself because human nature doesn’t change unless God intervenes. It’s true today, and it’s very evident as we read the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah. One area where the kings repeatedly failed in their ability to lead was how they decided to address the “high places” of worship.
There were two kinds of high places – those dedicated to the false gods like Baal and Molech, and the altars built to worship God before the Temple was built. Moses instructed the people as they entered the promised land to destroy all the high places and altars of the false gods. Instead, they would bring their sacrifices to God to the Tabernacle, the temporary Tent of Meeting used through the wilderness as the place of God’s presence until God chose a place for the more permanent dwelling, the Temple originally built by Solomon. They were not free to worship any place or in any way they chose; they were to follow God’s strict commands for proper worship and sacrifices, including the place where sacrifices could be offered.
Deuteronomy 12:5 – But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.
2 Chronicles 3:1 – Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
Many of the kings were obedient to God at a certain level, destroying the altars to Baal and the other pagan gods, but they lacked the wisdom and courage to follow God completely. They allowed the people to continue offering sacrifices on the various high places as a compromise. Perhaps they were too busy to make the journey to Jerusalem; it was more convenient to arrange for one of the Levitical priests to sacrifice locally, closer to home. Only the most faithful, most devoted kings were willing to require the people to follow God’s laws completely. Even Solomon, who certainly knew better, failed in this. Not only did he allow the high places of sacrifice to God, but he also built altars for his foreign wives for pagan worship.
How do “high places” relate to our twenty-first-century worship? Are we ever guilty of worshipping God in ways that displease Him?
As New Testament followers of Jesus, we live under the covenant of grace purchased by the finished work of Christ on the cross. As the body of Christ, we are the temple of God; the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in every true believer saved by God’s grace. We are not called to go to a certain place to worship, but we do offer sacrifices. We are to “present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” as our spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1). We are to offer up the sacrifices of praise and good deeds (Hebrews 13:15-16) and be willing to make the spiritual sacrifices required as we surrender to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 2).
Where then, are our high places? High places are anything in our lives that keeps us from being fully devoted to God alone. Do we compromise on the clear commands of God? Do we substitute our thoughts for His truth? Do we choose comfort or convenience, or justify giving into our fleshly desires, rather than committing to full obedience, even if it is costly, uncomfortable, or illogical to our human reasoning? And worse, do we do this all while proclaiming the name of Jesus?
I’m sure there were many Israelites who declared allegiance and faith to Yahweh but made excuses for their high places. They justified a disobedient heart, while outwardly offering sacrifices to God.
I’m thankful God keeps His covenant with us, even when we fail to keep ours. While He had every reason to abandon the nation of Israel, God remained faithful.
2 Kings 13:23 – But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now.
As Israel found out many times over, God disciplines us for our disobedience, but if we belong to Him, He will not cast us away. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:13-14). He knows our frame because Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).
We are so blessed to live with the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit allowing us to worship God at all times. We’re so privileged that the final sacrifice has been made, and God does not require us to load up our lambs and bulls and travel to a physical temple. Yet we are just as likely as the children of Israel to have high places in our lives that need to be demolished.
What’s our takeaway? When the Holy Spirit shows us our high places – those areas in our hearts and minds and actions that we know are displeasing to God, but we want to hold on to or justify – let’s be quick to tear them down. In gratitude for His mercy and grace, may we return to Him with a fully devoted heart and offer up worship that is worthy of Him.