(30) I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols;and My soul shall abhor you.
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As God promised, Israel's and Judah's pagan high places were destroyed long ago. Their gods have essentially passed into history, although remnants of their cult still live in holidays like Christmas (which honors Baal, the sun god) and Easter (an Anglicized name for Ishtar/Ashera/Ashtoreth/Astarte). Thus the high places might appear to border on the irrelevant for us today, except that the apostle Paul instructs us that "these things happened to [ancient Israel] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (I Corinthians 10:11; emphasis ours throughout). Though we will probably never be tempted to burn incense to a pagan god on top of a hill, the high places of old still contain instructions and warnings for us in these end times.
The critical point of the high places is that they facilitated idolatry; they were instruments by which Israel was led away from God. They introduced a belief system and a perspective of life contrary to the abundant life God intended for His people.
Statistically, whenever two options exist—one good and one bad—in time, some people will always choose the bad option. In wanting the best for the Israelites, God commanded them to destroy the bad options (alternatives to Him that were, by definition, supremely inferior) to safeguard their future. They only half-heartedly obeyed, and beginning with Solomon's official sanctioning of the high places, the alternatives to true belief—the proper way to live—became increasingly accepted. The God who redeemed them from Egypt and provided their every need was gradually squeezed from their minds, replaced by gods and ways of worship, thinking, and living that were probably very popular but were also directly opposed to eternal life.
We find ourselves in a parallel circumstance, surrounded by behaviors, beliefs, and cultures opposed to God. We can liken the pagan high places to outposts of the world in our lives. Just as God commanded Israel to destroy the high places upon entering the land, upon our conversion, we, too, became responsible for rooting out those outposts so that the true religion would be unimpeded. Yet, the apostles' repeated warnings about the unrelenting dangers of the world teach us that we probably did not tear down all of our spiritual high places initially or that we allowed some to be rebuilt over time. Resisting the world's influence is a full-time obligation for those God has redeemed!
The Parable of the Sower shows us that "the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches" will tend to "choke the word"—the truth—that sanctifies us (Matthew 13:22; John 17:17-19). Paul exhorts the congregation in Rome, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing [renovation] of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). He includes a brief anecdote to Timothy that Demas, a man mentioned in two other epistles as being involved in God's work, "has forsaken me, having loved this present world" (II Timothy 4:10; see Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24). No one is immune! The apostle James defines "pure and undefiled religion" as "to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27), and he strongly warns his audience that "friendship with the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). John likewise warns us:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2:15-17)
The Bible does not give a simple definition of "the world," yet we know that it opposes God and His way of life because its source is Satan the Devil. The specific aspects of the world that may draw us away from God can vary from person to person and even throughout a person's life. Regardless of the exact application in our lives, one lesson from the ancient high places is clear: Leaving them intact welcomes spiritual weakness and estrangement from God. Further, if we tolerate these outposts of the world in our individual realms, the lives we risk are not just our own—those who look to us as an example of how to live may be the ones to reap the whirlwind.
For Israel and Judah, the high places led the people away from God and toward Baal, Ashtoreth/Astarte/Easter, Molech, and a host of other gods. For us, the outposts of the world will be more deceptive, and the stakes—eternal life—far higher. If we have spiritual high places in our lives, we probably do not see God as clearly as we could. The noise of this world may drown out His voice. We may not fully trust Him to provide for us or to direct our steps. Our Bible study may have lost its appeal; our interest in the riches of God's Word may be flagging. Our prayer time may become shorter or sporadic—perhaps done out of rote habit rather than a heartfelt desire to know the Father and the Son.
Perhaps we have become embittered with our lot in life or envious of what everyone else seems to have. Perhaps the spiritual riches we alreadyhave seem of little immediate value, like Esau selling his birthright or Israel nullifying her covenant with the Most High God. Perhaps our thoughts are anchored in the material and the temporary or focused on the surrounding culture.
All these indicate that the world is encroaching into our lives, changing our attitudes, distracting us, and threatening our high calling. They signify that a high place needs to be torn down.
— David C. Grabbe