Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Are there "high places" in your life?

During Bible times, high places were usually natural elevations in land such as hills or mountains, but sometimes they were man-made places such as tall towers or buildings. These were places where people worshiped or made sacrifices. Most prophets worshiped the one and only True and Living God atop these mountains or hills. The Canaanite "high places" were notorious for pagan worship where pagan idols were worshiped and wicked practices often occurred. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were commanded by God not only to have nothing to do with high places, but to destroy them because they would be corrupted by their presence - a command that was largely disobeyed, to their regret.

  As they were about to enter the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, God instructed the Israelites to demolish the idolatry in the land:

"And The Lord said to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, "Say to the people of Israel, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it." (Numbers 33:50-53 RSV)

Only two kings in Israel and Judah's history followed God's command to tear down the pagan high places of sacrifice. What was it that motivated them to carry out God's order when so many of their predecessors and successors did not? What can we learn from their example in order to tear down our own spiritual high places in our hearts?

If you're at all familiar with the history of Israel and Judah, then you probably know that most of the rulers were pretty ruthless.The good rulers were small in number. They tried desperately during their reign to reverse the evil their predecessors had introduced to their kingdom. They smashed idols and killed false prophets. 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 to make things right. 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."

But those kings had failures too. 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. 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). Instead of obeying this command, the Israelites adopted these pagan high places as additional centers for worship.

Some of them were honest attempts to serve God, but they were on man's terms. God mentioned only one location where He wanted His people to make sacrifices and that was in His tabernacle. (Leviticus:1:2-3). The Israelites' way of responding was to continue to use the high places. It was as if they were saying, "Okay, but...what about here too?" God had spoken! He had issued a decree! His people broke it by choosing to continue worshiping at the high places. Their disobedience resulted in 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..."

So what does this mean for us? We're not kings and we don't have the ability to tear down the "high places" of our world today. Did God make a point of recording this fault of the kings for no reason at all? I think not! God tells His children, "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). 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 idea that they could serve God through any means they wanted -in any way they wanted—that they could serve Him along with other gods or in locations of their own choosing. So they went to the high places, with "every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes" (Deuteronomy:12:8). 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...Maybe you've chosen to set yourself up as an idol, allowing God to only touch certain areas of your life...And what ways do you worship God that detract from how He wants to be worshiped? 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.

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). 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). 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). 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?

Many years later, Hezekiah's great-grandson, Josiah, would take the throne. He found that those before him had rebuilt the high places and reintroduced Israel to idolatry. How did he respond? He "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). 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) 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. Tear 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 destroy them on our own, but only through turning to God. By 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). Don't let those high places remain in your life. It's time to start tearing down those walls!

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