Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Lord commanded them to destroy the High Places (altars and poles) of foreign Gods and to offer Him true worship in the place He commanded.
Deuteronomy 12:1-4 clearly explains: “These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. 2 You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. 4 You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things.” NKJV
In this day and age I’m afraid if we tore down the kinds of physical high places outside our homes as described in the Bible, we’d be accused and imprisoned for hate crimes. You must remember that God had commanded His people to first drive out the inhabitants of the Promised Land before removing their high places so the redeemed would not be led into idolatry. Since they did not fully accomplish their assignment, the Lord allowed these nations to remain in the land in order to test the nation of Israel to see if they would live according to the commands of the Lord or not (Judges 2:22-23). The Scriptures tell us that the Israelites failed this test and were not faithful to the Lord.
During the period of the divided kingdom, every king in the northern kingdom (Israel, Ephraim) was evil and practiced idolatry. The southern kingdom (Judah) had some good kings and some bad kings. The kings who were loyal to the Lord opposed idolatry but didn’t always remove the high places from the land.
Most of us live do not live in the Promised Land and we must learn to be faithful to the Lord in the midst of the other religions of the world that surround us. When a person decides to trust in Jesus, he needs to remove all high places, idols, or inappropriate objects from his property, body, and soul. These objects can take a variety of forms. They can be obviously pagan or even seemingly ordinary. They don’t even have to be worshiped or venerated.
Do you have a carved statue from a vacation that you may need to get rid of? When you bought it, did the vendor tell you it would bring prosperity or fertility into your home? This is a clue that it is really an idol and not simply a decoration. Occasionally, souvenirs or figurines can be familiar objects. For example, figurines of dragons are inappropriate because they can represent the beast of Revelation. Certain kinds of pictures may not be appropriate in your home either. I once met a Jewish cantor who had a picture of King Tut on her wall. You would think a Jewish person would know that the Pharaohs of Egypt considered themselves to be gods and for that reason it wasn’t appropriate to have such a picture on the wall. Religious icons are another object that should be removed (Deut. 12:4). It doesn’t matter if you worship or venerate these things or not. By giving it a place on your walls, you’ve given it a place of honor in your home. Occultic jewelry such as talisman should also be discarded too.
Objectionable things for the soul can be things we take into our hearts and minds through our senses. Pornographic material obviously stimulates the lust of the flesh and should be discarded. Visual images we’ve seen in the past are especially hard to remove and require us to reprogram our minds. The lyrics of music with themes of Satanic worship, blood, gore, and death penetrates our ears and goes straight to the heart and mind and should never be listened to. Discard those kinds of CDs, DVDs, and delete them from your computers and MP3 players. These kinds of things we’ve seen and heard need to be removed to a “audio and visual virus vault” in our mind and never accessed because they can cause considerable spiritual harm. The reason we need to do all of this is because what goes on in our physical lives always impacts our spiritual lives whether we realize it or not. These things need to be replaced with things are holy and acceptable.
Paul suggests, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things (Phil 4:8-9).” NKJV
After Moses commanded the Israelites to tear down the High Places, he said, “But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. 6 There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you (Deuteronomy 12:5-7).” NKJV
God wants us to seek His kingdom and righteousness first. While the Israelite wandered in the wilderness, they sought the Lord by bringing their offerings to the Lord at the Tabernacle where the Lord dwelled among His people and tried to obey His commandments. Offerings are the method of approaching God and are the means of restoring broken fellowship with the Lord and others as well as worshiping the Lord and fellowshipping in peace with others.
After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Lord eventually chose Jerusalem to be the place where His name would dwell. From that point on, Jerusalem was the proper place where offerings were to be made and where the people would come to celebrate the three major feasts of the Lord.
Many years later, the united kingdom of Israel became divided after Solomon’s reign. In 1 Kings 12:28-29, Jereboam did not want the people of Israel to worship in Jerusalem because he didn’t want the people to return to Rehoboam, the king of Judah. He made two calves of gold and told the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” 29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.” NKJV
This sounds vaguely familiar to the sin of the golden calf that was committed at Mount Sinai. If you recall, the priests at that time were still the firstborn sons and after the golden calf had been raised up so it could be worshiped, a feast was declared for the Lord.
First Kings 13 explains that Jereboam made shrines on the high places and made priests of non-Levites. Jereboam also made sacrifices to the calves and burned incense to them. He ordained his own feast on the 15th of the eighth month. This was really a counterfeit of the feast of Succot (Tabernacles) which the Lord had commanded His people to celebrate in Jerusalem in Judah. Today, many believers would not consider this to be a bad thing because Jereboam made the worship of God more convenient but this is not how God saw it. By making these commands, Jereboam was attempting to elevate himself to the same level as God. This was so wicked that the Lord sent a man of God from Judah to Bethel (which means “house of God”) to say that one day a child named Josiah would be born to the house of David that would sacrifice the priests of the high places on that altar (1 Kings 13:2). This was fulfilled in 2 Kings 23:16-20.
Now let’s fast forward in time to John 4. This is where Jesus met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’ well and asked her for some water to drink. After a while, Jesus offered her living water. The woman told Jesus to give her this water because she thought it would keep from having to come to Jacob’s well to draw water. Jesus responded by pointing out her sinfulness by asking her to go and bring back her husband. She recognized Jesus as a prophet and in John 4:20 she said, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
Many think the Samaritan woman was simply trying to divert Jesus attention away from her sinfulness but if this woman really wanted to properly deal with her sin so she could have living water, she would have to know which was the proper place to offer her sin offerings and worship the Lord.
Jesus responded by saying an amazing thing. He said, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:21-24)” NKJV
By attempting to worship God in the wrong place, the Samaritans were essentially worshiping someone/something else because He’s wasn’t there. You see, the Lord has always wanted us to worship Him in the place where He dwelled. He dwelled wherever the Ark of the Covenant was kept. If you recall, the ark was in the wilderness, in Shiloh, among the Philistines, and a few other places before it was finally brought to Jerusalem. Because the people defiled the temple, the Spirit left it (Ezekiel 10:18). As a result of Christ’s obedience to the Father, the Holy Spirit now dwells within the heart of believers. This makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to go wherever the believer goes and for believers to worship the Lord wherever they go.
We can learn several things from the passages we’ve covered today.
- We shouldn’t worship or serve the gods of the nations of the world which surround us.
- High places should not be permitted in our lives or homes.
- We should offer true worship to the Lord in the place where He dwells by worshiping in spirit and in truth.
- We should avoid trying to worship God through counterfeit feasts of the Lord.
Before we end our time together today, let’s see how the command from Deuteronomy 12:1-4 impacted Gideon and how that was a pattern for the future.
In Judges 6, Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep the Midianites from stealing it when the Angel of the Lord appeared to him. The Angel of the Lord wanted him to rescue Israel from the Midianites but Gideon saw himself as weak and not strong. After giving Gideon a sign of his identity, the Angel of the Lord instructed Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole next to it using his father’s bull and a seven year old bull. He also told Gideon to build an altar to the Lord and commanded him to take the second bull which was 7 years old and offer it to the Lord on the altar. Since Gideon was afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city, he did this in the middle of the night with the help of ten of his servants. As you can imagine, the men of the city were so furious when they saw what had happened that they wanted to kill Gideon. Fortunately, his father interceded and Gideon’s life was spared. Later, the Midianites were defeated by Gideon and his army of 300 men.
Not only is this a historical account, it is a picture of what will happen in the future. A temple or house of God will be built in the future. The False Prophet will erect an abomination of desolation (high place) in the temple—an image of the Beast who may possibly be a descendant of the tribe of Dan. This will happen in the middle of the last seven year period prior to Christ’s return. The Father’s bull, Jesus who is alive in heaven, will come and tear down and destroy this abomination along with the Beast, False Prophet, and all of Israel’s enemies. No one will be able to defeat the King of kings and Lord of lords. Instead, everyone will worship the true King who will reign in Jerusalem!