worshiping the high places

Category : God, bible, faith, sin, taking action

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Like us, ancient Israel struggled with finding their way into a relationship with God.   Many Israelites desperately wanted to have God in their life.  After all, he was the one who freed them from slavery, fed them in the desert, and protected them from their enemies.  But they couldn’t escape the prevailing culture of their day.

(Some things don’t change very much, do they?)

They found themselves surrounded by foreign gods and religious practices.  Instead of rejecting that, they saw those traditions as another way to connect to God.  They started to think, “well if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.”

And so Israel began to worship at “high places.”

Now “high places” were religious shrines built (primarily) by other religions.  They were a place where people who didn’t believe in God worshiped.  But somewhere along the way Israel got involved with worshiping at the high places.  While there were exceptions (such as Manasseh who instituted child sacrifice) most Israeli’s were trying to do “the right thing” even if they didn’t know what that was.

That’s the irony.  Most Jews didn’t really understand why worshiping at the high places was such a problem.  They wanted to be closer to God.  After all, they were “good people”, what did it matter if they worshiped God at a temple or a high place?

Just like the Golden Calf incident, Israel didn’t mean to offend God.  They just didn’t want to wait.  They wanted a relationship with God, just not on his terms, but on theirs.   So they tried to encourage action by building a golden calf.  This same mentality led them to use the high places.

The sad fact is, in both cases, Israel missed the fundamental nature of who God is.  They wanted a relationship with God, but were willing to settle for much, much less.

How could God not be outraged?  To him, high places are an insult and blasphemy.  They were declarations that Israel didn’t trust him.  That they didn’t believe in him.  That they were sure they knew how to do it “better.”

Reading about their struggles, it’s easy to point the finger and say, “they should have known better!”  But do we live as if we know better?  Or do we build our own high places?  Do we build monuments that he finds offensive?

When we see a need do we act out of love?  Or do we act because we want to be seen as special?  Are our churches just another high place?  Built not to honor God, but to amuse our sense of pride, to entertain us, to make us feel cool and hip?  Or are our churches empty, stuck in tradition (with us unwilling to change), because we’ve convinced ourselves that God cares more about tradition than people?

Many of us are not going to like the answers to those questions.

We criticize Christians for failing to live a Christ-like life.  In many cases that criticism is justified.  But how many times are we like the Israelites – trying to do what we think is right, but missing the mark by a mile?  Maybe the reason we don’t look different from non-believers is not because we want to fit in, but because we don’t know what we’re supposed to look like?

In their book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell and Don Golden say, “In Jesus’ day, people could read, study, and discuss the Scriptures their entire lives and still miss its central message.”

Is it any different today?

We all have built alters on high places thinking we are honoring God.  Instead we offend him.  The bigger our high places get, the more distant God becomes.  And slowly, over time, we just can’t see past the alter.

But there is hope.  God always encouraged Israel to tear down their high places.  He still wanted to be in relationship with them.  He still wants to be in relationship with you.

You still have time to tear down your high places.