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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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It is proper to observe, that in order the more effectually to guard the Israelites from idolatry, the blessed God, in instituting the rites of his own worship, went directly counter to the practice of the idolatrous nations. Thus, because they worshipped in groves, he expressly forbade "the planting a grove of trees near his altar," Deuteronomy 16:21 . Nor would he suffer his people to offer their sacrifices on the tops of hills and mountains, as the Heathens did, but ordered that they should be brought to one altar in the place which he appointed, Deuteronomy 12:13-14 . And as for the groves, which the Canaanites had planted, and the idols and altars which they had erected on the tops of high mountains and hills for the worship of their gods, the Israelites are commanded utterly to destroy them, Deuteronomy 12:2-3 . The groves and high places do not seem to have been different, but the same places, or groves planted on the tops of hills, probably round an open area, in which the idolatrous worship was performed, as may be inferred from the following words of the Prophet Hosea: "They sacrifice upon the tops of mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks, and poplars, and elms," Hosea 4:13 . The use of groves for religious worship is generally supposed to have been as ancient as the patriarchal ages; for we are informed, that "Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the Lord," Genesis 21:33 . However, it is not expressly said, nor can it by this passage be proved, that he planted the grove for any religious purpose; it might only be designed to shade his tent. And this circumstance perhaps is recorded to intimate his rural way of living, as well as his religious character; that he dwelt in a tent, under the shade of a grove, or tree, as the word אשל , eshel, may more properly be translated; and in this humble habitation led a very pious and devout life. The reason and origin of planting sacred groves is variously conjectured; some imagining it was only hereby intended to render the service more agreeable to the worshippers, by the pleasantness of the shade; whereas others suppose it was to invite the presence of the gods. The one or the other of these reasons seems to be intimated in the fore-cited passage of Hosea: "They burn incense under oaks, and poplars, and elms, because the shade thereof is good," Hosea 4:13 . Others conceive their worship was performed in the midst of groves, because the gloom of such a place is apt to strike a religious awe upon the mind; or else, because such dark concealments suited the lewd mysteries of their idolatrous worship. Another conjecture, which seems as probable as any, is, that this practice began with the worship of demons, or departed souls. It was an ancient custom to bury the dead under trees, or in woods. "Deborah was buried under an oak, near Bethel," Genesis 35:8 ; and the bones of Saul and Jonathan under a tree at Jabesh, 1 Samuel 31:13 . Now an imagination prevailing among the Heathen, that the souls of the deceased hover about their graves, or at least delight to visit their dead bodies, the idolaters, who paid divine honours to the souls of their departed heroes, erected images and altars for their worship in the same groves where they were buried; and from thence it grew into a custom afterward to plant groves, and build temples, near the tombs of departed heroes, 2 Kings 23:15-16 , and to surround their temples and altars with groves and trees; and these sacred groves being constantly furnished with the images of the heroes or gods that were worshipped in them, a grove and an idol came to be used as convertible terms, 2 Kings 23:6 .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Grove'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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