“In everything he [Jehoshaphat] walked in the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” 1 Ki 22:43
“He [Jehoshaphat] walked in the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD . The high places, however, were not removed, and the people still had not set their hearts on the God of their fathers.” 2 Chr. 20: 32-33
I find the Old Testament to be absolutely fascinating. The worship pastor part of me loves the poetry of Psalms and Job. The girly part of me loves the stories of Ruth, Esther, Rachel and Leah. The history buff in me loves the accounts of the Kings of Israel and Judah, but what has always intrigued me about the books of Kings and Chronicles is that the authors are able to sum up the reigns of these kings (and one queen) in one of two phrases; “He did evil in the eyes of the LORD” or “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” What’s extra fascinating about most of the good kings of Judah (Israel didn’t have any after the division) is that there’s this little addendum about the high places.
According to that always 100% correct source Wikipedia (although in this case it does happen to have it right, albeit with some commentary I could do without…you rarely see people making up stuff about the super popular subject of high places and asherah poles. It’s a Wiki-War!), high places were usually on a hill or higher elevation outside of town and were marked by the placing of an asherah pole (named after the Canaanite fertility goddess of the same name) which was also used as an object of worship. See, the high places were substitute sites of worship that the Israelites borrowed from the Canaanite neighbors. Over time, however, these substitute sites replaced temple worship and other gods crept in and usurped Yahweh’s rightful place as the one true God. Scripture tells us that, beside animal sacrifice, other “religious” activities like prostitution, human sacrifice, fire walking and incense burning took place there.
It’s interesting to note that Jehoshaphat, for example, removed the asherah poles from the high places, but not the high places themselves. And it’s also interesting to note that God called him out on it. God was adamant that these asherah poles and high places be destroyed, but only a handful of Judah’s kings ever bothered to even try. The vast majority not only did not remove the high places, they built them, embraced them, and led their subjects in the worship of idols. So why, when kings like Jehoshaphat, Asa, Joash, and Amaziah are said to have done “what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” are we always reminded that they didn’t destroy the high places?
I’m sure the high places seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s not like they had high speed bullet trains to get to the temple in Jerusalem. For most Israelites, it was a difficult journey. A substitute place of worship probably seemed like a reasonable thing. The problem arises when those things that seem like a good idea supplant what God commands. In our own lives, there are plenty of things that are good, noble, and worthwhile. In proper priority, they’re great. The problem comes when we begin to forgo what God requires of us for the sake of these other good, noble, worthwhile things.
We rarely build the high places of our lives around “big” sins. More often than not, the high places of our lives start off as a desire to do good that then goes horribly astray. That’s how truly noble and good things like family, friends, even church become more important than a relationship with God. As a musician, I struggle with this. My reason for being a worship pastor is based on a very real call from God to use the gifts and talents He’s given me to edify and build the local church. If I start focusing entirely on the quality of the music I create (a worthwhile pursuit, in proper context) as opposed to the God I serve, I’ve created a high place that MUST be destroyed.
This sort of sin is the most insidious because it starts out looking so good, so right. For example, who would say that having a strong family is a bad thing? But when those family obligations conflict with spending time with God, well then, Houston, we have a problem. This is why God called the kings out on their failure. When the kings failed to completely eradicate the high places, they allowed the mechanism for disobedience and idolatry to remain in tact.
I am convinced that the only way to keep God priority one is to constantly evaluate our lives to ensure that God has an uncontested place in the top slot. For me, one of the best ways of determining someone’s priorities is to listen to what makes them truly passionate. Do they light up when they talk about their kids? Are they chatterboxes when it comes to their relationship with God? It’s like Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” If the most frequent thing out of your mouth is profanity and course discussion, you know what’s really in your heart. High places start out innocently enough, but give them an inch and they’ll take a mile in your heart. God doesn’t play second fiddle.
This relationship with God deal is NOT easy. If you just try to follow a bunch of rules to get into heaven, I promise you you’ll burn out. Living in relationship with Jesus as the response of a grateful heart is the only way to go. It’s not about rules. It’s about relationship.