Reference: High Places
The ancient Canaanites, and other nations, worshipped the heavenly bodies and their idols upon hills, mountains, and artificial elevations. The Israelites were commanded to destroy these places of idol worship, De 12:2, but instead of this, they imitated the heathen, and at first worshipped Jehovah in high places, 1Sa 9:12; 1Ki 3:4, and afterwards idols, 1Ki 11:7; 2Ki 17:10-11. Here also they built chapels or temples, "houses of the high places," 1Ki 13:32; 2Ki 17:29, and had regular priests, 1Ki 12:32; 2Ki 17:32. Different groves were sacred to different gods; and the high places were inseparably linked to idolatry. Hence one reason why Jehovah required the festivals and sacrifices of the Jews to be centered at his temple in Jerusalem; that the people of the living and only true God might be delivered from the temptations of the groves, and witness as one man against idolatry. The prophets reproach the Israelites for worshipping on the high places; the destroying of which was a duty, but the honor of performing it is given to few princes in Scripture, though several of them were zealous for the law. Before the temple was built, the high places were not absolutely contrary to the law, provided God only was adored there. Under the judges, they seem to have been tolerated in some exceptional cases; and Samuel offered sacrifice in several places where the ark was not present. Even in David's time, the people sacrificed to the Lord at Shiloh, Jerusalem, and Gibeon. The high places were much frequented in the kingdom of Israel; and on these hills they often adored idols, and committed a thousand abominations. See BAMOTH and GROVES.
Archaeological and scientific researches have made it evident that in the varying forms of early religions, and in lands far distant from each other, high places were selected for worship of a sacrificial character. This was so especially among the Moabites (Isa 15:2; 16:12; Nu 23:28). The three altars built by Abraham at Shechem, between Bethel and Ai, and at Mamre, were on heights. Such sites consecrated of old would naturally be resorted to in after times as sanctuaries. Not only these, but heights originally dedicated to idols (Nu 33:52; Le 26:30). The law forbade sacrificial worship elsewhere save at the one national sanctuary. Old usage however strove against the law, and too frequently reasserted itself. The high places polluted by idol worship (2Ki 23:9) were condemned by all the kings that worshipped Jehovah.
But those sacred to Jehovah (2Ch 32:12; 33:17) were tolerated by less thoroughly reforming kings; and sacrifices and burnt incense were offered on them (1Ki 12:3; 14:4; 15:34). Hezekiah and Josiah removed them utterly, as opposed to the letter of the law and mostly to the spirit of it too (2Ki 18:4; 23:5 margin; 2Ch 34:3). In the time of the judges (Jg 6:25-26; 13:16-23; 1Sa 7:10; 16:5), and while the temple was yet unbuilt (1Ki 3:2), and in the Israelite northern kingdom where religious order could not be preserved, owing to the severance from Judah (1Ki 18:30), greater latitude was allowed. But the strict rule was against it, except where God especially (1Ch 21:26) sanctioned sacrifice on some one occasion at a place (De 12:4-11; Le 17:3-4; Joh 4:20).
The priests whom the kings of Judah ordained to burn incense in the high places were called Chemarim; compare Ho 10:5; Zep 1:4 idol priests not having reached the age of puberty, meaning "ministers of the gods," the Tyrian camilli, (black attired ministers, subordinate to the priests, they felled the victim), from chaamar "to be black." The high places of Dan and Bethel were already sacred by usage; so Jeroboam found it easy to induce the people to forsake the temple and cherubim at Jerusalem for his calves in Dan and Bethel. Bamoth, the Hebrew for "high places," became so common that the term was used for a shrine in a valley or a city (2Ki 17:9; Eze 16:31; Jer 7:31). In Eze 20:29, I said ... what is the high place whereunto ye go?
And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day," the sense is, You ought to have long since put away the name, and the high place which it expresces; the very name implies it is not sanctioned by Me; therefore your sacrifice even to ME in it (much more to idols) is only a "provocation" to Me (Eze 20:28). In Eze 16:16," of thy garments thou didst take and deckedst thy high places with divers colors," the sense is: as a harlot spreading her tent of divers colors to lure victims, so Israel set up on the high places, not stone chapels, but tents hung with colored tapestry, as the "woven hangings of (Asherah) Astarte" (the right translation for "grove") (2Ki 23:7). Asa in one place is said to have taken away the high places, in another not so; also Jehoshaphat similarly.
The seeming discrepancy occurs not only between Kings and Chronicles, but even between different passages of the same chronicler. Doubtless the godly kings at first tried to put down entirely the high places, but afterwards yielded to the general usage of the people in cases where the high place was to Jehovah; where it was to idols they put them down utterly. "They opposed impiety but winked at error" (Hall). So rooted was the practice that the removal of the high places was made by Rabshakeh a taunt against Hezekiah as if it were an impious innovation against Jehovah's honour; evidently he knew that the act had provoked the enmity of a considerable party among the Jews.
from the earliest times it was the custom among all nations to ere
HIGH PLACES. The prophets reproach the Israelites for nothing with more zeal than for worshipping upon the high places. The destroying of these high places is a commendation given to only few princes in Scripture; and many, though zealous for the observance of the law, had not courage to prevent the people from sacrificing upon these eminences. Before the temple was built, the high places wore not absolutely contrary to the law, provided God only was there adored, and not idols. They seem to have been tolerated under the judges; and Samuel offered sacrifices in several places where the ark was not present. Even in David's time they sacrificed to the Lord at Shiloh, Jerusalem, and Gibeon. But after the temple was built at Jerusalem, and the ark had a fixed settlement, it was no longer allowed to sacrifice out of Jerusalem. The high places were much frequented in the kingdom of Israel. The people sometimes went upon those mountains which had been sanctified by the presence of patriarchs and prophets, and by appearances of God, to worship the true God there. This worship was lawful, except as to its being exercised where the Lord had not chosen. But they frequently adored idols upon these hills, and committed a thousand abominations in groves, and caves, and tents; and hence arose the zeal of pious kings and prophets to suppress the high places. Dr. Prideaux thinks it probable that the proseuchae, open courts, built like those in which the people prayed at the tabernacle and the temple, were the same as those called high places in the Old Testament. His reason is, that the proseuchae had groves in or near them, in the same manner as the high places.