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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Challenge the High Places

Lately I have been re-reading the records of the kings of Israel and Judah, which make up the majority of the second book of Kings in the Bible.  This makes for some interesting reading, but there is very little in there that I feel is directly applicable to my readers' needs or the message of this blog.

However, there is one detail, frequently repeated, that I have given a lot of thought.  Frequently, the Bible records, "[Fill in a king's name] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father, David," but later the recorder notes, "but the high places were not removed."

Just what was a high place?  An ancient "high place" was a shrine, often with an altar, that was built at the top of a hill or mountain.  There, people gathered to have pagan, riotous festivals and make sacrifices to idols, or to the sun, moon, or stars.  There are still "high places" today in many parts of the world.  See my previous post that goes into greater detail on this subject.

I perceive this editorial note as a complaint, on the part of the one writing it down, and really on God's behalf, that the King in question had failed to fully execute his job as leader.  Each king who had this written about him knew God and had obeyed God.  He had personally gone against the pressure of peers and the "fashionable" practices of idolatry in his time.  However, each of these kings had refused to take a strong stance against idolatry where those outside of his household were concerned.  They had followed God faithfully, but they had never challenged others about what they were doing, and God had a problem with this.

Bringing it Home: Our Own High Places

First, before I explain my point, I have to make it clear that I am not suggesting that Christians today should react violently against the non-Christian religious influences in the society around us.  This is illegal, and the Bible instructs us to "submit [ourselves] to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Romans 13: 1-3 NIV).  I just want to summarily state that I do not want to promote that kind of behavior with this blog.

In fact, this is the key difference between modern Christians and ancient kings.  The kings of Israel and Judah were leaders, and they had both the power and the mandate to set the religious tone of their nations.  We, on the other hand, have not been given that kind of a mandate.  Our mission is the spoken message (Matthew 28: 18-20).  That is our job, and like the kings of old, we ought to do it, so that it does not stand as a mark against us when history is being written.

It is still legal, and is not shameful, to say "I disagree," or "what you say offends me," or even add, "I am not joining you because...."  These few little words are immensely powerful.  They challenge the existence of every "high place" in the world.  In fact, the effects of these words last longer, and have a clearer intent, than any law or action against another religion, because they challenge the "high places" in the heart, and not just on the hill.  As the Bible records, "Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone" (Proverbs 25: 15 NIV).

 King David, who was the pattern for later kings, wrote, "I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.  I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly"(Psalm 40: 10 NIV).  David thought it was important to share his relationship with God with everyone; he was both a model for them, and a leader of them.  He made a point to tell others about what he thought, and I take this verse as a clear challenge to "the great assembly" to follow his example.  This is something that his descendants did not appear to continue.  I read little proof, even "between the lines," that they spoke out against the prophets of Baal and all the other deities.  There seems to be more proof that they had a tolerant attitude, even a kind of openness, toward everything that was happening.  The spiritual welfare of the nation around them suffered during their reigns.  Could this be a contributing factor?

At this point, I cannot say anything more about the king's silence on the "high places" issue without jumping into pure speculation.  I can, however, say that I take this charge against the righteous kings very personally, and I can see proof outside those passages that God does not approve of the way they looked the other way in their day.

I see the complaint about the "high places" as a challenge to Christians today to speak out against the overly-tolerant attitude we have been taught to have these days.  We know some things are wrong; we know God and we know nonsense.  Now is the time to share what is between our ears with the rest of the world.  God has made us accountable, because we know what is right, and He will take it up with us if we stay silent.

This charge has been written against us, "When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood," (Ezekiel 33: 8 NIV).  Therefore, I must speak.  I am bound to speak out.  The "high places," whether on hill tops or in a sinner's heart, are no laughing matter.


Anonymous said...

What a great lesson for us all. I don't want the rocks to cry out for me. God give us the boldness to always speak up when you are leading us.

Thank you for this word. This is the only way to reach our generation.

Rachel said...

That's exactly how I was feeling when I wrote it--that if I didn't say something, the rocks were going to cry out for me. Thank you for your comment! :)