Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
They are mentioned throughout the Old Testament, pagan shrines Israel and Judah put up typically to worship idols. Moses warns about them as early as Leviticus (26:30) and Numbers (22:41). This was the unrighteous practice of the Canaanites (Numbers 33:52), but it was adopted early and often by God’s people. Solomon appears to be the first king to lead the people into this, part of the evil influence of his pagan wives (1 Kings 11:7). It would become one of the reasons the northern kingdom is destroyed and the southern kingdom is taken into captivity (Psalm 78:58). It seems that this was one of the harder vices for God’s people to remove, even when times were at a relatively spiritual high. During the righteous reigns of Joash (2 Kings 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4), Uzziah (2 Kings 15:4), Jotham (2 Kings 15:35), and others, this was an exception to their righteous rule. Occasionally, a king was thorough enough to remove these (2 Chronicles 14:3), but soon they were rebuilt and the people went right back to using them. Calvin explains that it was through these high places “that the service of God would be perverted and contaminated, unless they were regulated in every part of it by the Divine Word” (Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. 3, Logos).
God had a place to be worshipped and a way to be worshipped. The high place was a concession or accommodation that became a stumbling block to the people’s spiritual health. The temptation arose through it to change the object of worship and to see the high place as a convenient substitute for the tabernacle and the temple. But, the worst of all religious practices ultimately occurred there (Jeremiah 19:5). Only in Josiah’s reign, just a few decades before Babylonian Captivity, were they finally destroyed (2 Kings 23:4-20).
Is it possible for me to construct my own high place, a shrine or altar to something that becomes a hindrance to serving God faithfully? It might be a vice, a habit, or a secret sin, something I retreat to as an indulgence or allow myself to participate in. It might be an attitude, disposition, or character trait that is the exception to my spiritual rule. It might be an unhealthy relationship or person I allow to unduly sway me. I might say, “It’s just this one thing or area of my life. What’s the big deal?”
Maybe that’s how the Israelites looked at the high places. But, nothing can be allowed to occupy mental and spiritual space that belongs only to God. I cannot rationale or compartmentalize something as my self-made exception to God’s rule. Sin grows and expands when it is not dealt with and rooted out. I must regularly examine myself (2 Corinthians 13:5) to make sure only Christ is seated upon the throne of my heart. Jesus challenges me, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, emphasis mine). I must be vigilant to take that challenge most seriously!