R. Andrew Compton

High Places

Written by R. Andrew Compton |
Sunday, August 7, 2022

Efforts to go beyond God’s Word in worship do not end well. Efforts to “improve” worship based on our feelings, preferences, pragmatics, precedent, popularity, or good intentions do not end well. The story of the high places teaches us to be content with God’s revealed will for worship, reminding us that He will never fail to meet us in grace and mercy when we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

The Hebrew word bamah—translated as “high place”—has long puzzled linguists. In other ancient Semitic languages, its cognates refer to the “flanks” or “sides” of an animal, sometimes extended to refer to the open country on the slopes of the hills where battles were fought (see Ps. 18:33–34). Yet the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—sometimes translates bamah with the Greek word for “mountain peaks.” This agrees with verses that describe a bamah as something to which one ascends (1 Sam. 9:13–14, 19) or something associated with the clouds (Isa. 14:14).
So it is no surprise that bamah is translated “high place,” even though most scholars do not believe that the biblical writers had height primarily in view. Archaeologists give the label bamah to any shrine or cult-site found in ancient Israelite cities. One example of this is the small temple that existed inside the Judean fortress of Arad until it was dismantled, likely as part of Hezekiah’s reforms (see 2 Kings 17:9).
What is key is that Israel built shrines, sometimes out in the open (1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:4) and other times right in their cities and towns (1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 23:5; 2 Chron. 28:25). But what was their reason for building these?
Some high places were the result of idolatry and pagan religious practice. Numbers 33:51–52 states that Israel was to destroy various Canaanite religious implements, including high places. Solomon built a high place for the false foreign gods Chemosh and Molech (1 Kings 11:7). And wicked King Manasseh built high places during his despicable idolatry binge (2 Kings 21:1–5).
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