Thursday, January 15, 2009

HIGH PLACES


When we search the Bible, we find 120 times that God speaks about High Places. If God mentions High Places that often, we have to conclude that these must be very important places.

Just before the children of Israel entered into the Promised Land, God gave them some definite instructions through Moses. God said in Numbers chapter 33:

Numbers 33:50
And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,

Numbers 33:51
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan;

Numbers 33:52
Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down (Lit: destroy) all their high places:

Numbers 33:53
And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it.

This was God's command to the children of Israel. They had to drive out the Canaanites and destroy all their high places. They had to destroy all the places of idol worship of the Canaanites. The idolatry of the Canaanites was an abomination in the sight of God.

Whose High Places Were These? (Numbers 33:50-53, Leviticus 26:14-17, 30)

In Numbers 33 God was speaking about the high places of the Canaanites.

The children of Israel were forbidden to build to themselves new high places of idol worship. God warned them that if they would depart from worshipping Jehovah and turn to idols, then God would destroy them. God said in Leviticus 26:14,

Leviticus 26:14
But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;

Leviticus 26:15
And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:

Leviticus 26:16
I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

Leviticus 26:17
And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.

And then God pronounced a long list of curses that would come upon them if they would depart from worshipping the only true God. We'll now drop down to verse 30. Here: the 1st time high places in the Bible.

Leviticus 26:30
And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.

Did God Permit High Places? (1 Kings 3:2-5)

From the passages I just read, the answer is: NO! And yet, if we look at the history of the nation of Israel, it seems that God tolerated high places for a while.

As you may already know, 2 Samuel begins with the reign of king David, and 1 Kings begins with the reign of king Solomon. But between the beginning of the entrance of the children of Israel into Canaan and the beginning of the reign of Solomon, 436 years passed by. 436 years is a very long time. The children of Israel erected many high places in those 436 years. And God tolerated that, because we read in 1 Kings 3:2,

1 Kings 3:2
Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days.

That was the reason: Because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days. Before the temple was built Solomon also worshipped the LORD on the high places. We read:

1 Kings 3:3
And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places.

1 Kings 3:4
And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar.

1 Kings 3:5
In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.

At that time God tolerated that Solomon still worshipped on the high places, and God appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said: "Ask what I shall give thee". Then Solomon did not ask for earthly riches, but Solomon asked for wisdom and an understanding heart. And God granted that request. God gave him great wisdom and riches too.

This event, in 1 Kings 3, was the last time God had anything good to say about the high places. Shortly thereafter the temple in Jerusalem was built, and this was the place where God wanted to be worshipped. From this time on God had nothing good to say about the high places in Judah and in Israel. From this time on the high places in Israel and Judah only meant spiritual wickedness. From this time on the high places were identified with idolatry. Holy men of old had erected the high places, and the people did not want to tear them down. But God did not tolerate them any more.

And does this history not run parallel with the history of the New Testament Church?

The reason God gave us the Old Testament is so that we get a good birds eye view of how God deals with the New Testament Church. The temple was a picture of Christ, because the Lord Jesus said in John 2:19, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up".

The temple was also a picture of those who are in Christ, because God says in 1 Corinthians 6:19, "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?"

In the Church the utterances of holy men of old and of the saints have been crowding out the Word of God. These preserved utterances of the past have become high places. Over the past 1968 years many such high places were erected in the New Testament Church. It seemed that God tolerated that for a long time. During what is called by many as the Reformation most of those high places were torn down, but at the same time new high places were erected. And God tolerated those high places to some extent. But there comes a time when the Spiritual Temple, the body of believers, will be completed, and then God will not tolerate these high places any more, and God will destroy those high places when He judges the visible Church near the end of time.

Please turn with me to 1 Kings 15, and to 2 Chronicles 13. In the New Testament Church as well as in Old Testament Israel:

The High Places Were Not Removed (1 Kings 15:14, 2 Chronicles 14:2-3, 2 Kings 17:9-11, Ezekiel 16:39)

In 1 Kings 15 we read about Asa, king of Judah. Asa was a good king. But we read in 1 Kings 15:4,

1 Kings 15:14
But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa's heart was perfect with the LORD all his days.

But now, let us compare this with 2 Chronicles 14:2-3,

2 Chronicles 14:2
And Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God:

2 Chronicles 14:3
For he took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves:

What does this mean?

Obviously it meant that God gave Asa credit for removing high places, but God could not give him a clean slate. Asa did not remove all the high places. There were 40 kings after Solomon, 20 kings in the nation of Israel and 20 kings in the nation of Judah. Only two of these 40 kings removed all the high places: Hezekiah and Josiah. All the other 38 kings either partially removed the high places, or they themselves built more high places. This went on for hundreds of years. This was terrible. These high places were the main reason for the wrath of God coming on the nations of Israel and Judah, and their resulting destruction. The first one to go was the Northern kingdom of Israel. God speaks about their destruction in 2 Kings 17,

2 Kings 17:9
And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.

2 Kings 17:10
And they set them up images and groves in every high hill, and under every green tree:

2 Kings 17:11
And there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the LORD carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger:

About 100 years later God gave to Ezekiel the prophecy of the destruction of Judah in Ezekiel 16:39,

Ezekiel 16:39
And I will also give thee (Judah) into their hand (the hand of Babylon), and they shall throw down thine eminent place (the temple), and shall break down thy high places: they shall strip thee also of thy clothes, and shall take thy fair jewels, and leave thee naked and bare.

God's patience had run out on Israel and Judah. They did not remove their high places, so God now called the Babylonians to do the job for Him.

O yes, there was Josiah who tore down the high places, but his three wicked sons and one wicked grandson build up those high places again. And o yes, there was Hezekiah who tore down the high places, but his wicked son Manasseh build up those high places again. Just to give you an idea of how entrenched the children of Judah were in their high places I have to tell you about:

Nehustan (2 Kings 18:4)

Hezekiah was a good king. Hezekiah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord. Hezekiah removed the high places, as we read in 2 Kings 18:4,

2 Kings 18:4
He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.

"He broke in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made". How dare he do that! God had commanded Moses to make that serpent on a pole. This serpent on the pole had saved the lives of a multitude of people in the wilderness. But over time the people began to worship this serpent on a pole and burn incense to it. Something good and holy has been turned into an idol. Therefore Hezekiah destroyed it and called it: "Nehustan", meaning "just a piece of brass". That brass serpent was in existence at least 700 years. Even during the years of Samuel and David and Solomon it was in existence and it may have been worshipped already. That is amazing.

How could such a blatant error live that long?

But compare this now to our time.

How can people believe that something written by holy men of old must be retained as a standard of the Church because of its antiquity?

That is just as well a high place, and if we do not toss it, then God will.

Where did the nations of Israel and Judah go wrong?

The fact is they had forgotten that God said:

Leviticus 26:30
And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.

This is a warning for us that we do should not fall into this trap. We must worship the only true God.

Where Must Our Focus Be? (John 3:30, 6:37, 44)

The Lord Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: We must worship God in Spirit and in Truth. We do not worship God by going to a particular place. We do not worship God in the things that we do or in the ceremonies that we do. We worship God in our heart. We praise Him in our heart. God looks upon the heart. We do not worship God because we are sincere. We can be sincerely wrong. For example, we cannot have a picture of Jesus on the wall. Jesus is God, and God has forbidden making images of God. If we have Jesus in a picture on the wall, then we tend to worship God in that picture on the wall. Then that picture has become a high place. But high places are taking away from the glory of God. High places give glory to another god, or they give glory to man.

We must refuse to give glory to man. We must apply to ourselves the words of John the Baptizer, who said in:

John 3:30
He must increase, but I must decrease.

Where must our focus be?

We must go to the Bible and seek for God on the pages of the Word of God. There is where we find our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is where we find what God has done to save us. We did not do anything. He did everything. The reason why we worship Him is because He drew us to Himself. The Lord Jesus said it so plainly and so clearly in John 6:37,

John 6:37
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

In a nutshell the Lord Jesus is telling us here the whole Gospel: "All those whom the Father has chosen to become saved, the Father has given to me, so that I may atone for their sins on the cross and save them from Hell. And at sometime in their life God the Holy Spirit shall give them a new soul. They shall hear the preaching of the Gospel and shall be drawn to me. Therefore, him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." This is what God has done to save us. He did everything.

Do you find within yourself that you are drawn to the preaching of this Gospel straight from the Bible?

Then in time you will understand that it was God who made you spiritually alive and made you able to hear this Gospel and believe the Bible.

Do you realize that there are very few people who actually want to read and know what the Bible says?

Most people just pick and choose from the Bible. Most people take for granted what their Church teaches them. For many their Church teaches them that they must accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. They do not realize that they are following a man made gospel. God says in Jeremiah 17:5, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man".

God says in Isaiah 43:11, "I, even I, am Jehovah; and beside me there is no Savior."

We do not give God a helping hand. We do not do any accepting of Him. He alone does the saving, 100%. Just to make sure we understand this God repeats this thought in John 6:44,

John 6:44
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

This verse says that: No one has the ability to come to Jesus, on His terms, believing that God alone chooses whom He will save and that the Father will draw to Jesus whom He intends to save. God does the saving, and He saves mightily. He is not dependant on the feeble decisions of man. This is the God on whom our focus must be. And therefore:

Whom Do We Worship? (Revelation 22:18-19)

We worship the God who gave us the Bible. We worship the God who is described by the Bible and by the Bible alone. God did not give us any other Divine revelation than only the Bible. As soon as we claim to have additional information from God, other than the Bible we have proclaimed God a liar, because God said in Revelation 22:18,

Revelation 22:18
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

If anyone adds to these words from God by claiming he had a message from God in a dream, or in a vision, or in an angel visitation, or in a tongue, or he heard God speak to him, then that person is still in an unregenerate state before God. Anyone following that person, believing that he indeed had a message from God, is likewise still in a lost state before God, and is still unregenerate.

Likewise God says in Revelation 22:19 that we should not take away from the Word of God.

Revelation 22:19
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

These two verses clearly spell it out that God's entire message of salvation is circumscribed by the whole Bible, and by the Bible only, nothing more and nothing less. We don't worship a Book. We do worship the God who gave us that Book and who is described by that Book. God's message is also a revelation of Himself to mankind. Therefore if anyone adds to the words of the prophecy of this Book, or if anyone takes away from the words of the Book of this prophecy, then he is by definition worshipping another god, who does not exist, and is believing another gospel, that does not save.

What is the Gospel that saves?

God says, it is the message of:

Only Christ Crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, Leviticus 26:30).

1 Corinthians 2:1
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

1 Corinthians 2:2
For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Why is the message of Christ crucified so central to the message of salvation?

Because that is the only way anyone can be saved: Christ has to take the place of man and pay the penalty for man, because sinful man is unable to pay such an enormous penalty, to satisfy the righteousness of God.

But all those whose sins have not been paid at the cross, will try to find their own paths to righteousness, and they will try to find their own way to heaven by trusting in their own idols, and they will build their own ceremonial high places, because they are spiritually blind. God says to them:

Leviticus 26:30
And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.

This is a dreadful warning from God. We do well to search ourselves and see if we are perhaps guilty of these evils.

What are our high places?

What are the things that we call:

Our Holy Places?

Do we have any high places?

Do we have any things that take away from the true worship of Christ?

Do we have writings of wise and holy men that we consider so valuable that we cannot live without them, even though they contain errors?

We struggled with this question about 1½ years ago when we saw the errors in our Confession of Faith, also known as the Belgic Confession. Keeping the Confession of Faith would elevate this document to one of our high places. Our response was that we should do away with this Confession of Faith, because it is more a hindrance to our faith than an asset. That was a right decision we made, because the works of men may never be so holy that we do not dare to toss it out.

But why did we not continue to clean house?

The Heidelberg Catechism is another possible source of promoting error. I do not quote the Catechism in my sermons. I do not like to put myself in a straitjacket. The Catechism should not dictate what I must be preaching, because the Catechism does not have the authority that the Bible has.

But when we hear someone on the Radio stating that sacraments increase our faith, and when we discover that the Heidelberg Catechism may have something to do with that idea, then we should take a closer look at the Catechism.

Is it possibly promoting error?

Let us make sure that it does not become one of our high places.

Is there someone here who believes that the sacraments, like the Lord's Supper, increases our faith?

You must throw that idea out as quick as it comes. Baptism and the Lord's Supper should not become a high place. We should heed the warning that Old Testament Israel was snared by the Ceremonial Law so that we don't let these things snare us. If we assign spiritual value to any ritual that we do, then we are on dangerous ground.

Why do we celebrate the Lord's Supper?

Because the Lord Jesus said: "This do in remembrance of me". We remember His suffering and death, but the bread and the grape juice do not suddenly become magic potions which increase our faith. The Bible does not teach that at all.

Think of it:

If we indeed have become saved, do we lack anything before we partake of the Lord's Supper?

NO!

Have we become more holy after partaking of the Lord's Supper?

NO! There is no special grace in the Lord's Supper.

Our children may think so, because you can hear a pin drop during the Lord's Supper. Our children may think that the Lord's Supper is more holy than the preaching of the Word of God. But the truth is that it is just the other way around. When God's Word is opened and preached, that is when you should hear a pin drop, because the spoken words from the Bible are God speaking.

Now, can we set our priorities straight?

Another high place, of course, is the Westminster Confession where divorce and remarriage are condoned, and where our faith is described as an instrument of our salvation. This is where the idea of "saving faith" comes from. But check your computer program. "Saving faith" does not appear anywhere in the Bible, because it is not our faith, but it is Christ who saved us.

Whenever we discover errors in our ancient documents, we should be willing to throw them out, or else they will become high places, and these high places are taking the place of the Word of God. When we have high places, we are worshipping other gods in those high places. That is why we want to spend time learning about those high places and we want to teach our children right.

Now let's talk about:

Our Holy Rituals (Leviticus 26:30, John 6:63)

Do we have any rituals that we think are so holy that we think they are from God?

Let's get down to earth about our rituals, or else we are in danger of changing our rituals into high places. We do have rituals. Every Church has them. But rituals can be very dangerous when we value them for the wrong reason. For example, when I give the parting blessing at the end of the service, I say very clearly: "Receive the Lord's parting blessing" and then I read a doxology from the Bible. I do not make something up, but I read aloud God's words, because it is God who is giving these blessed words. I am not blessing you, but God is speaking the blessing, and God is speaking to whosoever He intends the blessing to go to. But this does not mean that we become more filled with the Holy Spirit after the blessing. Rituals do not fill us with more of the Holy Spirit.

How can we be more filled with the Holy Spirit if the Holy Spirit already dwells in us?

Did we leak, and now we need to be filled up again?

You can see that this is getting ridiculous.

One of our rituals is that we sing from this blue hymnal. But did you know that singing these hymns is like singing praises and prayers to God.

Do we mean what we sing?

Do we check the words against what we believe the Bible teaches?

If we just sing to get into a spiritual high, then we do not understand what we are doing. It is vital that we get a spiritual understanding of the things that we do. When a Church does not teach these fundamentals, then the rituals become high places, just like they are in the Roman Church where rituals have completely taken over everything.

From earliest times people have chosen high places on top of hills or mountains.

Why did people choose these high places?

Because they felt there to be a little closer to God. They thought of their Deity as someone dwelling in the heights. These days we are a little more sophisticated. We don't go to a mountain, but we build these high places in our mind. We are imagining that a special grace is attached to our ceremonies. And we do that because we want so much to reach out and touch Him. That is what people do with Baptism and with the Lord's Supper. We do it more subtle than the Jews did with their ceremonial laws, but it is just as bad.

High places are places where we serve other gods. High places are most often created sincerely, but we are sincerely wrong. High places are made from spiritual items. We like to exalt these things. However, we must not lift up anything but God. Our God is a jealous God. God says in Exodus 34:14 that His name is "Jealous". We have more Biblical information than any of the generations that were before us, and so we will be held more accountable. God warned us way back in Leviticus 26:30,

Leviticus 26:30
And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.

Paraphrased God says, "If you do not put down these high places, then I will."

For some people a big high place is their stubborn determination to view the Bible simply as a history book. They will avoid spiritual interpretation at any cost. They think that believing the stories in the Bible is sufficient unto salvation. But the Lord Jesus said in John 6:63,

John 6:63
The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

In fact, the whole Bible are the words of Jesus. Therefore Jesus said, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing".

Therefore we must remember:

The Things Which Are Not Seen (Rom 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11, 2 Corinthians 4:18-5:6)

Are more important than the things which are seen. God did not write the Bible to satisfy our curiosity about the history of the nation of Israel, or about the number of miracles Jesus did, or about the fearful and wonderful travels of the Apostle Paul. God wrote the Bible for us, to make us aware that without the Lord Jesus Christ we are on a slippery slide into Hell. God says in Romans 15:4,

Romans 15:4
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

And God says in 1 Corinthians 10:11,

1 Corinthians 10:11
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

In other words, there is a spiritual dimension in all these things that have been written. They were written to teach us some aspect of the Gospel of salvation. That is why we now read in 2 Corinthians 4:18,

2 Corinthians 4:18
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Do you know what myopia is?

Myopia is another word for nearsightedness. You can only see things that are close by; you cannot see things that are far away. When we develop myopia we tend to develop high places, because we do not see the important things that are far away. We humans are inclined to focus on the things that are seen, and not on the things that are not seen.

For example, when we grieve about the 6,000 or more people who were killed in the terrorist attacks last week in New York and in Washington D.C. but we do not grieve that every day about 145,000 people die all over the world and most of those will stand for judgment on the Last Day, then we have developed myopia. We do not see God's salvation plan clearly.

When we believe that the Bible was written mainly to teach people how to better get along with each other, then we have developed myopia. This is a high place for many people. They do not see God's salvation plan clearly, and they worship a god, which is not the God of the Bible.

Our God teaches us in the Bible that the life hereafter is far more important than the life we live in this vale of tears. That is the future we live for. That is our Hope. God continues in 2 Corinthians 5:1,

2 Corinthians 5:1
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 Corinthians 5:2
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:

Now, drop down to verse 6,

2 Corinthians 5:6
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

If we are feel at home in this earthly body, we have developed myopia, and we tend to look at the Bible as a good book teaching us good morals through the examples given by the moralizing stories in the Bible, and before you know it we will be developing a list of Do's and Don'ts, which is another high place for many people. This is another example that the flesh profiteth nothing.
It is the Spirit that gives life.

But where should our focus be?
Our focus must be altogether on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the one whom we worship in Spirit and in truth. And He gave us the task to be His witness in the world, so that we are testifying to the world what He has done for us. We are His Ambassadors.

By Alfred J. Chompff

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