The Hebrew word generally translated “high places” (ba·mohthʹ) is usually associated with worship, but it can also simply refer to elevations, hills, and mountains (2Sa 1:19, 25 [compare 1Sa 31:8]; Am 4:13; Mic 1:3), “high waves of the sea” (literally, high places of the sea) (Job 9:8), and heights, or “high places of the clouds” (Isa 14:14).
Evidently the expressions ‘to ride upon earth’s high places’ and ‘to tread upon the high places’ are to be understood as signifying victorious subjugation of a land, for one controlling all the high places, that is, the hills and mountains of a country, is, in effect, the lord of the land.—De 32:13; 33:29.
Centers of False Worship. High places, or the sites or shrines where idolatry was engaged in, were to be found not only on hills and mountains but also in the valleys, in streambeds, in cities, and under the trees. (De 12:2; 1Ki 14:23; 2Ki 17:29; Eze 6:3) They were equipped with altars for sacrifice, incense stands, sacred poles, sacred pillars, and graven images. (Le 26:30; Nu 33:52; De 12:2, 3; Eze 6:6) At many of the high places, male and female prostitutes served. (1Ki 14:23, 24; Ho 4:13, 14) Frequently the high places were the scenes of licentious rites, including ceremonial prostitution and child sacrifice.—Isa 57:5; Jer 7:31; 19:5.
There were also houses, or sanctuaries, of the high places where priests officiated and where the images of the deities were kept. (1Ki 12:31; 13:32; 2Ki 17:29, 32; 23:19, 20; Isa 16:12) Thus, the designation “high place” may at times refer to such a sanctuary rather than to an elevated site for worship. This is suggested by Ezekiel’s reference to high places of varied colors. (Eze 16:16) Perhaps these high places were tentlike sanctuaries.
Before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were commanded to destroy the sacred high places of the Canaanites and all the appendages of false worship associated therewith. (Nu 33:51, 52) But the Israelites failed to do this, and after the death of Joshua and the older generation, wholesale apostasy set in.—Jg 2:2, 8-13; Ps 78:58.
Not All High Places Condemned. According to Jehovah’s law, sacrifices were to be offered only at the place he designated. In the days of Joshua, the Israelites recognized that the unauthorized building of an altar for burnt offering was, in effect, rebellion against Jehovah. (De 12:1-14; Jos 22:29) However, there are indications that, after the sacred Ark was removed from the tabernacle (1Sa 4:10, 11; 6:1, 10-14; 7:1, 2), approved sacrificing at places other than the tent of meeting was done, not only under special circumstances but, in some cases, also on somewhat of a regular basis. (1Sa 7:7-9; 10:8; 11:14, 15; 16:4, 5; 1Ki 3:3; 1Ch 21:26-30) On the high place at an unnamed city in the land of Zuph, a structure had been erected where, it seems, the communion sacrifices could be eaten. The dining hall there accommodated about 30 men, if not more. Even the girls in the city were familiar with the sacrificial procedure there. (1Sa 9:5, 11-13, 22-25) It may also have been a practice for families to have a yearly sacrifice, not at the tabernacle, but in their own cities.—1Sa 20:6, 29.
The sacrificing on high places was excused on the ground that no house had been built to the name of Jehovah. Hence, Solomon had to sacrifice on the great high place at Gibeon, where the tabernacle was located at the time.—1Ki 3:2-4; 1Ch 16:37-40, 43; 21:29; 2Ch 1:3, 13; see ALTAR; OFFERINGS.
Solomon’s Reign and Ten-Tribe Kingdom. Toward the latter part of his reign, King Solomon built high places for the false gods worshiped by his foreign wives. This contributed to the Israelites’ abandoning the true worship of Jehovah and serving false gods. Therefore, Jehovah, by means of his prophet Ahijah, indicated that ten tribes would be ripped away from the son of Solomon and that Jeroboam would rule over these.—1Ki 11:7, 8, 30-35.
Although Jeroboam had Jehovah’s assurance that his kingship would be secure if he continued serving God in faithfulness, as soon as he became king he feared that the Israelites would revolt if they continued going up to Jerusalem for worship. For this reason he instituted calf worship at Dan and Bethel and there built high places. (1Ki 11:38; 12:26-33) As long as the ten-tribe kingdom existed, idolatrous worship continued at high places. “The sons of Israel went searching into the things that were not right toward Jehovah their God and kept building themselves high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen clear to the fortified city.”—2Ki 17:9.
Under inspiration, the prophet Amos foretold that the “high places of Isaac” would become desolated. The “high places of Isaac” evidently refer to the sacred high places where the Israelites of the ten-tribe kingdom, descendants of Isaac through Jacob, or Israel, practiced apostate worship. This is also indicated by the fact that the expression “high places of Isaac” runs parallel with ‘sanctuaries of Israel.’—Am 7:9; see also Ho 10:2-10.
After the king of Assyria took the ten-tribe kingdom into exile, the high places continued to exist for a time, since the foreign peoples who were moved into the territory of Samaria by the king of Assyria continued employing the high places in their worship. (2Ki 17:24, 29-32) About 100 years after this, faithful King Josiah of Judah pulled down the altar and the high place at Bethel and desecrated the altar by burning human bones upon it. He also removed all the houses of the high places in the cities of Samaria, sacrificed (killed) all the priests of the high places, and burned human bones upon the altars. (2Ki 23:15-20) This fulfilled a prophecy uttered over 300 years earlier by an unnamed “man of God.”—1Ki 13:1, 2.
In the Kingdom of Judah. King Rehoboam followed the apostasy of his father Solomon, and his subjects continued building high places and practicing licentious rites. (1Ki 14:21-24) Rehoboam’s son and successor Abijam “went on walking in all the sins of his father.”—1Ki 15:1-3.
Asa, who succeeded Abijam to the throne, served Jehovah in faithfulness and put forth decisive efforts to rid the kingdom of all appendages of false worship. (1Ki 15:11-13) “He removed from all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense stands.” (2Ch 14:2-5) However, 1 Kings 15:14 and 2 Chronicles 15:17 apparently indicate that the high places were not removed. It may be that, although Asa removed the high places for worship of false gods, he left those at which the people worshiped Jehovah. Or, perhaps, high places cropped up again toward the end of his reign and were thereby present for his successor Jehoshaphat to destroy. But even during Jehoshaphat’s reign the high places did not fully disappear. (1Ki 22:42, 43; 2Ch 17:5, 6; 20:31-33) So entrenched was Judah’s worship at high places that the reforms of both Asa and Jehoshaphat could not remove all of them permanently.
King Jehoram, unlike his father Jehoshaphat, made high places on the mountains of Judah. (2Ch 21:1, 11) The religious state of the kingdom remained in a degraded condition throughout the reigns of Ahaziah and the usurper Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. (2Ki 8:25-27; 2Ch 22:2-4, 10) Although definite reforms to restore true worship were undertaken at the beginning of Jehoash’s reign, apostasy set in once again after the death of High Priest Jehoiada, and the high places did not disappear. (2Ki 12:2, 3; 2Ch 24:17, 18) The high places continued to exist as centers of unlawful worship throughout the reigns of Kings Amaziah, Azariah (Uzziah), and Jotham. (2Ki 14:1-4; 15:1-4, 32-35) The next Judean king, Ahaz, not only sacrificed and made sacrificial smoke on the high places but even made his own son pass through the fire. (2Ki 16:2-4) He also made additional “high places for making sacrificial smoke to other gods.”—2Ch 28:25.
During the days of King Hezekiah, another extensive purge was undertaken to remove the high places. (2Ki 18:1-4, 22; 2Ch 32:12) After the great Passover celebration held during his reign, the Israelites went throughout the cities of Judah and Benjamin and even in Ephraim and Manasseh breaking up the sacred pillars, cutting down the sacred poles, and pulling down the high places and the altars.—2Ch 30:21, 23; 31:1.
This restoration of true worship was short lived. Hezekiah’s son Manasseh rebuilt the very high places that his father had destroyed. (2Ki 21:1-3; 2Ch 33:1-3) Manasseh caused the people to act even more wickedly than the pagan Canaanites whom Jehovah had annihilated. Hence, the Almighty determined to bring calamity upon Judah and Jerusalem. (2Ki 21:9-12) After being taken captive by the king of Assyria and brought to Babylon, Manasseh repented. Upon returning to Jerusalem, he took steps to remove the appendages of false worship. But the people continued offering sacrifices upon the unauthorized high places, not to false gods, however, but to Jehovah. (2Ch 33:10-17) Manasseh’s successor, his son Amon, did not continue the reforms started by his father but made guiltiness increase.—2Ch 33:21-24.
Josiah, who succeeded Amon, distinguished himself by doing what was right in Jehovah’s eyes and adhering to the law of Moses. He put out of business the foreign-god priests, who rendered up sacrificial smoke on the high places. He pulled down the high places not only throughout Judah but also in the cities of Samaria. The sites used for false worship were desecrated so that they could not be used to offend Jehovah.—2Ki 23:4-20; 2Ch 34:1-7.
The account of Josiah’s making the high places that had been built by Solomon unfit for worship tends to confirm the conclusion that, although previous kings had torn down the high places, there was a revival of these. It seems only logical that faithful Kings Asa and Jehoshaphat had torn down these high places of false worship that dated from the reign of Solomon.
Although no further mention is made of high places in the Kings and Chronicles accounts after Josiah’s thorough purge of all vestiges of false worship, the last four kings of Judah, namely, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, are reported as doing what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes. (2Ki 23:31, 32, 36, 37; 24:8, 9, 18, 19) Apostate worship at high places was resumed by the Israelites. Hence, Jehovah, through his prophet Ezekiel, warned the nation of the dire consequences to come upon them: “I am bringing upon you a sword, and I shall certainly destroy your high places. And your altars must be made desolate and your incense stands must be broken, and I will cause your slain ones to fall before your dungy idols.”—Eze 6:3, 4.
It is noteworthy that there is no record of any worship at high places after the return from Babylonian exile. As had been foretold, the faithful Jewish remnant had profited from the bitter experience and had come to know Jehovah.—Eze 6:9, 10.
[Picture on page 1108]
High place at Gezer. Sacred pillars were erected here