What is significance of high places in the Bible?

High places are associated with worshipping deities in the Bible, most often false gods. The Canaanites worshipped their gods on high places which were basically hills that were sometimes artificially made. These hills would often have some sort of altar at the top, surrounded by groves of trees and Asherah poles, pillars, or standing stones. Their worship often consisted of burnt offerings, incense, feasts and festivals, cult prostitution, and child sacrifice.

God warns the Israelites throughout the Bible about becoming involved in pagan worship. Even before they entered Canaan, God commanded the Israelites to destroy the high places: "You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way. But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there" (Deuteronomy 12:2–5). God set Himself apart from the pagan gods and their worship practices. Their ceremonies and rituals went against His character, and He did not want Himself or His people to have any association with these false gods (Deuteronomy 16:21–22). Because God knew His people's fallen nature, He commanded the destruction of these worship sites for their own protection from sin. Unfortunately, the Israelites did not heed God's warning. Throughout their history, from the time of judges to the reign of the kings, they continued to return to their false idols.

Before the temple was built the Israelites worshipped God on high places of a sort. The patriarchs and other pre-temple Hebrews often built altars to God on hills (Genesis 12:6–8; Genesis 28:18–19; Joshua 4:19–20; 1 Samuel 7:16–17). Prior to Solomon's construction of the temple, 1 Kings 3:2 tells us, "The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD." When the temple was built God designated it as the place where the people should worship Him.

But worship at the high places did not stop once the temple was built. Solomon likely began by worshipping the Lord in the high places before, but later in his life he let his many pagan wives lead him to worship their gods in the high places (1 Kings 11:1–4). Solomon's example stuck like a bad habit for the Israelites. King after king failed to tear down the high places, and the sin was passed down to succeeding generations as they continued to worship at the high places, engaging in pagan forms of worship. Even many of the "good" kings of Judah who followed the Lord left the high places (for example, 1 Kings 15:14; 2 Kings 12:1–3; 14:3–4; 15:3–4). Hezekiah removed high places, but Manasseh rebuilt them (2 Kings 21:1–3). Later Josiah removed them (2 Kings 23:1–20).

God had told the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites, destroy their idols, and demolish the high places from the Promised Land. He had warned, "But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them." (Numbers 33:55–56). This proved to be true.

In our lives today we may not worship false gods at literal high places, but many of us still have "high places" of a sort—idols that we turn to instead of God or in addition to God. But there is only one true God, and He alone is worthy of all our worship (Matthew 22:36–40; John 4:23–24; 1 John 5:21). So let us tear down the high places of false worship in our own lives and instead worship the one true God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24).

Related Truth:

What was an Asherah pole?

Who was the Beelzebub/Beelzebul that the Pharisees attributed Christ's work to?

Who or what is Belial? What is the biblical use of 'belial'?

Who was Dagon in the Bible?

Who was the Canaanite god Molech?

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