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tear down the high places

At Mount Sinai God made a covenant with the people of Israel. The words of the covenant were written on two tablets of stone; they were the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). The Ten Commandments and the various laws that were given were the covenant God made with Israel. The Ten Commandments were a summary of the covenant. Immediately after giving them the Ten Commandments, the Lord gave to Israel instructions for worship through sacrifice. Each Israelite could build an altar to sacrifice to the Lord (Exodus 20:22–26). However, when God would lead them into the land and designated the place he was to be worshiped, they were to cease offerings sacrifices elsewhere (Deuteronomy 12:1–7). It was not until Solomon’s day, many centuries later, that God chose Jerusalem and the temple as the place for sacrifices.

The nation would later split into two and both quickly fell into idolatry and worshiped the gods of the land rather than the God of Israel exclusively. Occasionally a king would reign who loved the Lord and led the people of Judah to worship the Lord. Jehoash was one such king. In 2 Kings we read,

Jehoash was seven years old when he began to reign.

In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.

2 Kings 11:21–12:3 ESV

Though he began to reign as king at a very young age, Jehoash was well-taught. Jehoida the priest was his teacher and no doubt taught him the law of Moses—the covenant God made with Israel. There is little reason to doubt the pattern that had been long established: when a wicked king reigned the people worshiped other gods but when a righteous king reigned the people tore down those altars and worshiped the God of Israel alone. When the author says that Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, he certainly meant that he led the people to worship the God of Israel alone. The problem was almost never a failure to worship the Lord. The problem was a failure to worship him alone. Since Jehoash did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, he would have led the people to get rid of the worship of all these other gods.

However. Notice closely the criticism of Jehoash’s reign: “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.” A high place is simply an elevated area where offerings and sacrifices were made. There is no indication that they were worshiping false gods on the high places. There is no pagan activity indicated. It appears that while Jehoash removed the worship of false gods from the land, one criticism remained: the people continued to worship the God of Israel on the high places.

They had the temple. God had chosen Jerusalem to be the place where his name would dwell and he expected his people to worship him there, to offer their sacrifices in the temple. It was good and right for the people to worship him through sacrifice, but they must do it on his terms, and his terms did not include the high places.

God is too great for incomplete worship. Jehoash’s problem was not that he did not worship God, but that he worshiped God incompletely. He was satisfied with an incomplete worship. In Romans 12 Paul tells us how we are to worship God today.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1–2 ESV

Paul says to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Not part of our bodies. Not most of our bodies. Our bodies. We must give ourselves entirely to the Lord as a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to him. We must not be conformed to this world, which means we must not be shaped by the thoughts and desires of this world. Instead, our thoughts and desires ought to be transformed by God.

We must not allow “high places” to remain in our lives. We must not section off any part of our lives from the transformation that God intends. He is too worthy of worship for us to limit how much worship we offer him.