Holman Bible Dictionary
Heathen Worship at the High Place The average high place would have an altar (2 Kings 21:3 ; 2 Chronicles 14:3 ), a carved wooden pole that depicted the female goddess of fertility (Asherah), a stone pillar symbolizing the male deity (2 Kings 3:2 ), other idols (2 Kings 17:29 ; 2 Chronicles 33:19 ), and some type of building (1 Kings 12:31 ; 1 Kings 13:32 ; 1 Kings 16:32-33 ). At these places of worship the people sacrificed animals (at some high places children were sacrificed according to Jeremiah 7:31 ), burned incense to their gods, prayed, ate sacrificial meals, and were involved with male or female cultic prostitutes (2 Kings 17:8-12 ; 2 Kings 21:3-7 ; Hosea 4:11-14 ). Although most high places were part of the worship of Baal, the Ammonite god Molech and the Moabite god Chemosh were also worshiped at similar high places (1 Kings 11:5-8 ; 2 Kings 23:10 ). Scripture speaks negatively about these heathen places of worship; still they played a central role in the lives of most of the people who lived in Palestine before the land was defeated by Joshua. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of high places at Megiddo, Gezer, and numerous other sites.
God's Hatred of the High Places When the Israelites came into the land of Canaan, they were ordered to destroy the high places of the people who lived in the land (Exodus 23:24 ; Exodus 34:13 ; Numbers 33:52 ; Deuteronomy 7:5 ; Deuteronomy 12:3 ) lest the Israelites be tempted to worship the Canaanite false gods and accept their immoral behavior. The Israelites were to worship God at the tabernacle at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1 ; 1 Samuel 1:3 ).
An exception to this practice existed in the years between the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines and the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Solomon. During this short period Samuel worshiped inside a city (possibly Ramah) at a high place dedicated to the worship of the God of Israel (1 Samuel 9:12-25 ), and a group of prophets of God worshiped at the “hill of God” (1 Samuel 10:5 , probably Gibeah or Gibeon). David and Solomon worshiped the God of Israel at the high place at Gibeon where the tabernacle and the altar of burnt offering were located (1Chronicles 16:1-4,1 Chronicles 16:37-40 ; 1 Chronicles 21:29 ; 2Chronicles 1:3-4,2 Chronicles 1:13 ).
False Worship at High Places in Judah After the Temple was constructed, the people were to worship God at this place which He had chosen (Deuteronomy 12:1-14 ), but Solomon built high places for the gods of his foreign wives and even worshiped there himself (1 Kings 11:1-8 ). Because of the seriousness of this sin, God divided the nation by removing ten tribes from the kingdom of his son Rehoboam (1Kings 11:9-13,1 Kings 11:29-38 ). Following this, each new king that ruled in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and in the Northern Kingdom of Israel was evaluated in the books of Kings and Chronicles according to what they did with the high places where false gods were worshiped. In Judah, Asa is called a good king because he removed the Asherah, idols, and sacred prostitutes but, unfortunately, he did not destroy the high places (1 Kings 15:9-14 ; 2 Chronicles 15:17 ; initially he may have destroyed them according to 2 Chronicles 14:2-5 ). Jehoshaphat was a man of God who followed the ways of David by seeking after God, but he followed a pattern similar to Asa of initially removing the high places (2 Chronicles 17:1-9 ) but not totally eliminating them from Judah (1 Kings 22:43 ; 2 Chronicles 20:33 ). This policy may have made it easier for his son Jehoram to build new high places which caused the people of Judah to worship other gods (2 Chronicles 21:11 ). The Judean kings Amaziah (2 Kings 14:3-4 ), Uzziah (2 Kings 15:3-4 ), Jotham (2 Kings 15:34-35 ), Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3-4 ), and Manasseh (2 Kings 21:2-7 ) allowed the people of Judah to continue worshiping at their high places. Although several are called good kings, their obedience was incomplete. Only Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:3-4 ) and Josiah (2 Kings 23:4-15 ) had the courage to destroy the high places in the land of Judah. Only these two kings brought major revivals to the land of Judah.
False Worship at High Places in Israel When Jeroboam created the new kingdom of Israel after the death of Solomon, he put two golden calves at high places at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-32 ). An unnamed man of God came to Bethel and pronounced God's curse on this high place (1 Kings 13:1-3 ), but the following kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel followed in the ways of Jeroboam and did not remove the high places where the false gods were worshiped. This involved following the cultural and religious practices of the nations surrounding Israel rather than keeping the covenant stipulation of having no other gods (Exodus 20:3-6 ; Deuteronomy 5:7-10 ). Because Israel built high places in all their towns and set up sacred pillars and Asherah under the trees on their hills, God sent the Assyrians to destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:8-22 ).
The Israelite prophets also condemned the high places of Moab (Isaiah 15:2 ; Isaiah 16:12 ), Judah (Jeremiah 7:30-31 ; Jeremiah 17:1-3 ; Jeremiah 19:3-5 ; Jeremiah 32:35 ), and Israel (Ezekiel 6:3 ,Ezekiel 6:3,6:6 ; Ezekiel 20:29-31 ; Hosea 10:8 , Amos 7:9 ) because they were places of sin where false gods were worshiped. See Asherah ; False Gods; Golden Calves; Prostitution .
Gary V. Smith
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'High Place'. Holman Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/h/high-place.html. 1991.