Each year I make the reading trek through the old testament of the bible. I’m always amazed at the history of God’s people and how they choose to either follow him wholeheartedly or not. I believe its human nature to want to explore and find our own path without much governing or oversight. There are paths that we can choose that will be in direct conflict with who God is and what he has called us to be. When those things are identified and we choose to go our own way rather than God’s, we call that disobedience.
For many years, I have struggled with the things I know to do, but I don’t do. Then, there are those things that I know know know I shouldn’t even step foot near, and I don’t. But, a little something here and there and no one is the wiser. “Hey, at least I’m not a…., right?”
Do You Have Levels?
I believe it’s also human nature to create “levels” of anything like good, bad, or sin so that we can gauge how we are doing compared to the others. In reality, there is only one gauge as you are either saved by grace or not. Sin’s relevancy is then used as a mirror to show the greatness of God rather than the impotence of humanity to save itself.
Yet even with grace, we still have a responsibility to honor the sacrifice, stewardship to do our part, and awareness to be obedient even in the light of this endless grace. This awareness has been the focus of my year.
However, the last few weeks I’ve been stalled in the book of Kings. Not because of the levels of sin, but rather its direct correlation to the question I kept asking, “Am I really all-in”. Meaning, am I seeking God with my whole heart.
If you have heard any Bible teaching than you know about King David. He was a guy who was all-in. Every king after would be judged based on his example. To understand why David’s example was so unique a quick comparison can be gleaned through the two books of Kings. Ultimately, every king was compared to David in the way they lived and governed according to God’s word.
All-In, Half-In, Not-In…
The book of Kings has a consistent trend in the way it denotes a new king. There were kings who were all-in, half-in, and not-in when serving God. Of course, this is my way of filtering the kings, but follow me for a moment. This trend also places “high places” as an emphasis in the text as either being a way for us to denote their position before God; all-in, half-in, or not-in.
If they were “all-in” the bible denotes something like:
And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah.
If they were “half-in” the bible denotes something like:
And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away.
And if they were “not-in”:
And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done.
One constant no matter their position was that of trouble. Each king had their share of trouble; the only difference was if God delivered them from it.
There were some kings who were evil (the “not-in” crew), but because of David, and God’s promise to him, they were spared. Yet to me the focus was on the “half-in” kings.
Why? This is where I see most of us Christians living; the one-foot in, the other out, type of life. I say “us” because I have been there as well. Its why Kings stalled my reading. I can’t leave it until I get it.
Being “half-in”, in the book of Kings, always came down to one thing “the high places were not taken down.” Prior to that statement, you might read “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father had done.” So, let’s just call the King’s with this notation what they really were, “half-in.” They really didn’t do all they could have, but they met the basic requirements.
I‘m sure there were other things that interfered with them doing all God required, but it was these “high places” that caught my attention.
I had to understand what the significance of “high places,” so I started my research. Really, what’s the big deal? I mean, we have grace, right? I’ve heard those comments more lately, especially when something is addressed in the context of God’s truth.
But my question goes a little deeper in that do we really want to just pass through the pearly gates; or do we want to live to the next level, in this sold-out “David” obedience to God?
So this drove my next question: What are my high places; the places in my life that are not obedient to God?
About Kings; the “high places” referred to a “litmus test of Israel’s morality (Couturier, 2017).”
Adam Couturier describes their meaning in his article “What Were the High Places” when he says:
A high place was a localized or regional worship center dedicated to a god. Worship at these local shrines often included making sacrifices, burning incense and holding feasts or festivals (1 Kgs 3:2–3; 12:32). Some of these high places contained altars, graven images and shrines (1 Kgs 13:1–5; 14:23; 2 Kgs 17:29; 18:4; 23:13–14). The Canaanites, Israel’s enemy who worshiped Baal as their chief deity, also used them.
The term “high places” was translated from the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), not from the Hebrew. The term conjures up images of remote hilltops, but in the biblical context, it wasn’t limited to mountaintops; Jeremiah 7:31 locates a high place in a valley and 2 Kings 23:18 at a city gate.
When the Israelites first entered the Promised Land, they were told to destroy the high places, idols and molten images of the Canaanite inhabitants (Num 33:52). They were also instructed not to worship at high places that were Canaanite sites (Deut 12:2–3). They were told Yahweh wanted to be worshiped in another way: “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way. But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there” (Deut 12:4–5).
What’s the significance? High Places wasn’t where the LORD designated worship to happen. Ultimately this was a test of obedience and not of their geolocation. Many kings failed because they didn’t tear down the high places, rooting out other Gods. Their blessings were therefore limited and only when trouble arose did they cry out to God. Isn’t that like us today as we go on doing the things we have always done, never bringing them under God’s obedience?
So back to my question, what are my high places; the places in my life that are not obedient to God? This has become more of a prayer for revelation, rather than a list I can simply point to. Although a decade ago, the list would be easy to create…today I am out searching for those high places and the book of Kings helps to clarify it through an example of obedience when those before ignored it.
What does obedience look like?
One of the kings that chose obedience was Hezekiah. 2 Kings 18:3-8 (ESV) describes this:
3 And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. 4 He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).[a] 5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.
I get all jazzed when I read “there was none like him” and “the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered.” God gives us that when we walk in intentional obedience. Not because we don’t have a way out, as Christ is our only hope. But in the choice to do all we can do to choose God first. God wants us to choose him above everything else. There is something about being chosen isn’t there? I suspect someday, we will fully understand how God chose us which will bring eternal joy.
As I look at my life in the light of my “high places” I can see that there were many things I chose to live with rather than tearing them down. The justification was “oh, it’s not that disobedient” or “I’m not like so and so out doing that” or “it’s really not hurting anyone.”
Yet today to me, any hint of disobedience still limits God’s blessing in my life. Now let’s separate that from eternity. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, you have eternal life. While consistent disobedience can distance you from God, I believe part of his work in us, brings us back to him sooner or later. So in eternity’s sights, you are in. But walking in obedience does have its benefits like “the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered.” I want that, don’t you?
I challenge you to evaluate the things that are the “high places” in your life. Maybe you are focusing so much on your singleness that a shift toward God may open doors to your next season. Or its time to forgive? Maybe its time to finally let go?
Whatever it is, God’s blessing is just waiting around the corner as blessing truly does follow obedience.
Couturier, A. (2017). What Were the High Places? Retrieved from http://www.biblestudymagazine.com/bible-study-magazine-blog/2017/10/10/what-were-the-high-places