If you’re at all familiar with the history of Israel and Judah, then you probably know this about their rulers: Most of them were pretty awful. They were awful to the point that the small handful of good rulers stood out just on principle of not being arrogant, conceited, foolish, blaspheming idol-worshippers.
Many of the good kings spent a large portion of their reign trying to reverse the evil their predecessors had introduced to their kingdom. They introduced sweeping reforms. They smashed idols and slew false priests. They renovated God’s temple and reintroduced true worship to the people.
Of the 39 rulers in Israel and Judah after the time of Solomon, only eight of them (all exclusively from Judah) attempted this. Only eight saw the depravity around them and decided to do anything about it. And in the books of 1 and 2 Kings, only eight kings are described as “doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”
Take Down the High Places
But those kings had failures as well. The overwhelming majority of Judah’s eight righteous kings have their histories tarnished by one common shortcoming: They failed to take down the high places (1 Kings 15:11 1 Kings 15:11And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did David his father.
American King James Version×,14; 22:43; 2 Kings 12:2-3 2 Kings 12:2-3 2 And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him. 3 But the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.
American King James Version×; 14:3-4; 15:3-4, 34-35).
Before entering Canaan, the Israelites were commanded to “utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things” (Deuteronomy 12:2-4 Deuteronomy 12:2-4 2 You shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which you shall possess served their gods, on the high mountains, and on the hills, and under every green tree:
3 And you shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and you shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.
4 You shall not do so to the LORD your God.
American King James Version×). Instead of obeying this command, the Israelites adopted these pagan high places as additional centers for worship.
Some of them were even honest attempts to serve God—on man’s terms. God mentioned only one location where He wanted His people to make sacrifices—His tabernacle (Leviticus 1:2-3 Leviticus 1:2-3 2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you bring an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.
3 If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.
American King James Version×). The high places were the Israelites’ way of responding, “Okay, but…what about here too?” God had made a rule, and His people broke it. Worshipping at the high places, whatever the intent, was sin.
We aren’t told why six of the eight righteous kings of Judah left the high places standing. Perhaps they didn’t see them as a serious problem. Maybe they were exhausted from the effort of eradicating the other forms of sin rampant in their country and decided not to bother with the high places.
Whatever their reasons, we can look at the recorded history and learn that stopping short of destroying the high places was not enough in God’s eyes. Their stories are all tarnished with what equates to, “They did what was right before God, except…”
What Are Our High Places?
So what does this mean for us? We’re not kings. We don’t have the ability to tear down our world’s modern high places. Did God make a point of recording this fault of the kings for no reason at all?
God tells His baptized people today, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, [which] is in you, [which] you have from God, and you are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19 1 Corinthians 6:19What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?
American King James Version×). And as God’s temple, it is our duty to stay wholly dedicated to Him and not allow ourselves to build any spiritual high places in our hearts.
The Israelites fell prey to the false idea that they could serve God however they wanted—that they could serve Him along with other gods or in locations of their choosing. So they went to the high places, with “every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8 Deuteronomy 12:8You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes.
American King James Version×). Without continued vigilance on our parts, we, too, can fall prey to that idea.
What high places do you have in your heart? Take a close look. What altars have you set up there, and what gods are you serving at those altars? Maybe you pay homage to money and possessions. Or maybe you bring sacrifices to popularity.
And what ways do you worship God that detract from how He wants to be worshipped? Maybe you’ve fallen into vain repetition in your prayer life or present your works to Him as if they are earning you your salvation.
Hezekiah and Josiah
The only two kings in history to follow God’s command to tear down the high places left us an example to follow for dealing with our own spiritual high places. Hezekiah, the first of the two, made such an impact that the Bible records, “After him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5 2 Kings 18:5He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.
American King James Version×).
Hezekiah “removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent” (2 Kings 18:4 2 Kings 18:4He removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the groves, and broke in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for to those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
American King James Version×). Why? What prompted him to do this, when the kings who had come before had fallen short?
To Hezekiah, nothing mattered more than God and His commandments: “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel…[He] held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him but kept His commandments” (2 Kings 18:5-6 2 Kings 18:5-6 5 He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.
6 For he held to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.
American King James Version×). So when he saw the high places standing in defiance of that same God, the only logical action was to tear them to pieces. What matters most to you?
Years later, Hezekiah’s great-grandson, Josiah, would take the throne only to find that those before him had rebuilt the high places and reintroduced Israel to idolatry. His response? Josiah “made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul” (2 Kings 23:3 2 Kings 23:3And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.
American King James Version×).
Josiah’s priorities were clear. God came first, and Josiah devoted himself to following Him. His whirlwind campaign to rid the land of all things pagan (see 2 Kings 23:4-25 2 Kings 23:4-25 4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them to Bethel.
5 And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense to Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.
6 And he brought out the grove from the house of the LORD, without Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof on the graves of the children of the people.
7 And he broke down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the grove.
8 And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba, and broke down the high places of the gates that were in the entering in of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand at the gate of the city.
9 Nevertheless the priests of the high places came not up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they did eat of the unleavened bread among their brothers.
10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.
11 And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathanmelech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs, and burned the chariots of the sun with fire.
12 And the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, did the king beat down, and broke them down from there, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron.
13 And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile.
14 And he broke in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men.
15 Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down, and burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove.
16 And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchers that were there in the mount, and sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchers, and burned them on the altar, and polluted it, according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words.
17 Then he said, What title is that that I see? And the men of the city told him, It is the sepulcher of the man of God, which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that you have done against the altar of Bethel.
18 And he said, Let him alone; let no man move his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria.
19 And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Bethel.
20 And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them, and returned to Jerusalem.
21 And the king commanded all the people, saying, Keep the passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant.
22 Surely there was not held such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah;
23 But in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, wherein this passover was held to the LORD in Jerusalem.
24 Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.
25 And like to him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.
American King James Version×) was a natural consequence of devoting himself to God. What are you devoted to?
Seek out every obstacle that stands between you and God—and when you find them, follow the example of Hezekiah and Josiah. Smash them to pieces. Chop them down. Grind them to dust. Obliterate every trace of all opposition to God, every speck of resistance.
Spiritual high places are much harder to destroy than their physical counterparts. We can’t put a dent in them on our own, however determined we are. Only when we turn to God in prayer, fasting, Bible study and meditation can we expect to tear down what separates us from Him. For “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
American King James Version×).
Only two kings in all of history took the high places seriously enough to deal with them. Will you? UN
Jeremy Lallier is a staff writer at the home office.