by Stan Smith
I've been reading in the books of Kings (1,2). There is a general consensus in there. You know the story. David was king of Israel and then his son, Solomon, became king. Solomon was wise and made the Temple. But Solomon was foolish and got entangled with pagan women and, consequently, pagan worship. So God split Israel. Ten tribes went one way and two another. The northern group was called Israel and the southern group was called Judah. I haven't found a single king of Israel that was a good king. All of them "did evil in the sight of the Lord" including, primarily, idolatrous practices. Judah, on the other hand, had a few kings that the Bible calls "good". They tried to do what was right in the sight of the Lord. Not a lot of them, but some.
There is a repeated phrase that starts with Solomon and echoes on through the stories with many of the "good" kings of Judah. Almost every "good" king of Judah receives this indictment from the Lord. Speaking here of Asa, it says, "But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true to the LORD all his days" (1 Kings 15:14). Over and over we hear that this king or that king of Judah did right ... "but the high places were not taken away." A few removed them, but most didn't. What's up with that?
Historically, "high places" were typically actually high places -- hilltops or the like -- that were set aside for the purpose of worship. Sacrifices were offered there. Before the Temple was built, it appeared (despite the tabernacle, apparently) to be the only place for the people of God to sacrifice to God. Even after the Temple, however, these high places remained. Generally, then, these high places were the places that the people went to worship other gods. This worship included animal sacrifice (1 Kings 3:2), prostitution (Jeremiah 3:2), and even human sacrifice (Jeremiah 7:31). They were decorated with "sacred pillars" and were used for the worship of various deities such as Baal, Asherah, and Topheth, deities that provided answers to problems such as fertility and fortune. They even had their own priests. These, then, were the places that the evil kings of Israel and Judah and even most of the good kings of Judah allowed to remain.
We, of course, know better. Whether we're Christians or not, we don't have these hilltops where we seek answers from deities by means of sinful practices. Or ... do we? I suspect that we're more attached to high places than we realize. I suspect that we Christians, although we have hearts that are "wholly true to the Lord", still find ourselves tolerating high places in our own lives. What do our modern high places look like?
If a high place was an elevated place where people went to obtain answers to their problems typically via sinful means, places that were not dedicated to God, but had their own priesthood, I would argue that we can find a lot of these places today. They come in various "elevations" with varying popularity, but they appear to meet these qualifications. And of most concern to me is that Christians seem to use them just as frequently and fervently as the unbelievers. There is, for instance, the government. We anticipate that the government with its attendant priesthood of legislators and governing bodies will give us good laws and fair taxation and reasonable protection of our rights. We do not anticipate that God will do that. We know that, in fact, because, well, sometimes our rights are violated. Part of that "high place" called government but distinct is the judicial system. We often anticipate that the "high place" of the court with its priests, the judges, will provide for us the relief that God has failed to give us when what we consider to be our rights have been violated. Farther down the hillside, perhaps, but still a "high place" is law enforcement. We anticipate that they will provide for us the protection that God has promised us. Then there are other "high places" for other needs. It's good, after all, to cover all your bases. So while we call on the god of government and its minions, the judicial system and law enforcement, to provide some relief for us, we will also turn to other "high places". One extremely popular one is "Social Security", although that "religion" is starting to fall into less favor and the god of 401K is on the rise. Still, we know that long term security comes not from God, but from the "high place" of the Stock Market with its priesthood of wise financial advisors. You know their names in some cases. Most of us have heard of the high priests Charles Schwab, T.D. Waterhouse, and Ed Jones. Names we can relate to. We sacrifice and they provide us with comfort and security. Throw another virgin on the fire.
Our high places don't stop there. We have a lot of them. We have sex and money and power. We have friendships and self-esteem and pride. There are a host of high places that we might seek out for blessings and answers to our difficulties instead of God. And, too often, like the good kings of Judah, while we do indeed serve God, we still retain these high places, back up gods to get answers to our daily problems. To our own shame.
So, what am I saying? Should we ditch the government, eliminate the judiciary, and drop our 401K's? No, that's not what I'm saying. Let me illustrate from another repeated sequence in First and Second Kings. Over and over some army would threaten some king. What's a king to do? Well, you can try to buy off the opponent which many did or you can try to fight off the opponent which many did or, of course, you can just surrender. Not a lot of options. What is interesting, however, is that the good kings of Judah when faced with this problem would typically not come up with their own plan, but would ask God for His plan. Sometimes God's plan was for them to do nothing and watch God beat the enemy. Nice! Sometimes God's plan was to do exactly one of the things that they would typically have done, but with an assured outcome because it was God's plan. Excellent! So, you see, in God's plan, kings often used standard means to accomplish what God wanted to accomplish. The difference, then, between the ungodly king who went to battle and won and the godly king who followed God's instructions to go into battle and win was that one was relying on his own strength and the other was relying on God. Thus, I'm not advocating that we withdraw from the government, avoid the judiciary, ignore the police, or withdraw our 401K's. God will use what God will use for His purposes with an assured outcome -- good (Romans 8:28). I'm not saying that we don't use these high places. I'm saying that we don't worship at these high places. I'm saying that we allow God to use whatever means He pleases and trust Him for the outcome rather than anticipating that the gods of this world will provide the relief we need. Sometimes God will use common means to solve our problems. Sometimes God will use uncommon means for solving our problems. Sometimes that means that an apparent injustice will be done, and we can join the early disciples in rejoicing "that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41). But in all cases we have relied on God, the outcome is assured, and it will be certainly good. On the other hand, the "high places" of our current world do not offer the same guarantee. Counting on them to do so is foolishness.
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I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.
For more writings you can see my blog at birdsoftheair.blogspot.com.
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