Repetition is God’s signposting. Sometimes it takes me a while to spot a pattern, but then God brings it up again. And again. And again. I’ve said it before, but this textual maneuver means God wants us to do the work of asking Him to reveal what He is saying.
And IF I’ve been paying attention (which sometimes I haven’t been),
And IF I’ve been asking for His help (which sometimes I haven’t been),
I can begin wrestling with the text.
In the books of Kings, God refers to ‘high places’ 15 times (in Hebrew: bamah, plural bamot). Okay, we need to sit up. But as it turns out God’s been pointing us to high places for quite some time already, in fairly regular intervals.
In many places in the Bible, ‘high places’ refer to places of worship, often on hills and mountains, often idolatrous, though not always so. We frequently find them in summaries of a king’s character, for instance. And here’s something to read with soberness: God is here demonstrating that He holds the king responsible for the spiritual state of His people. For example, by mentioning high places, 1 Kings 3:3 draws our attention Solomon’s inadequacy. And we find the same in 2 Kings 22, this time about Jehosphaphat.
41 Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel.
42 Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi.
43 He walked in all the way of Asa his father. He did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord.
Yet the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.
2 Kings 22:41-43
But there is still more to these high places.
The Tower of Babel was the first high place that caught my eye. And no wonder as it is also a major clue to the meaning God attributes to high places. If we haven’t gotten the message earlier, God gives it to us now. At Babel, we learn about humanity’s gut instinct to reach heaven by human hands.
Okay so high places can be hills, mountains, and structures. We’ve still got a ways to go as the Bible carries on this connection between high places and striving for the heights of heaven but in other, subtler ways. We encounter it in the physical height of the Nephilim and their descendents (2 Samuel 21:20). This prepares us for Saul’s double whammy in the high places department, the first in reference to his physical stature. God even has to warn Samuel (and us!) not to be taken in by his handsome looks.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7
But the text still has more to give. Because notice where Samuel meets Saul: on the roof of Saul’s house (1 Samuel 9:25), a symbolic site of sin that appears again later, in David’s adulterous desires (2 Samuel 11:2).
A picture is emerging, is it not? But at this point, we still need to get a fuller lay of the land. We need to go back to the beginning, back to Genesis. This is where the seeds of sin were planted for the weeds of Babel, of Saul, of all of us. And here we see it: After the serpent deceived Adam and Eve, God delivers the ultimate disgrace:
On your belly you will go (Genesis 3:14).
Adam came from the dust and, as a result of his sin, would return to it. But the serpent’s return was immediate. He would crawl on the earth in total humiliation (Isaiah 14:12).
So what we are learning as we read on is that Satan’s response is, as ever, DEFIANCE. Ever since his descent, that serpent Satan has been trying to return to heaven on his own graft, in ways both large and small and in all ways spiritually symbolic. What this reveals is that sin is actually pretty simple: We humans are endlessly reaching for the forbidden fruit. We are forever recreating the Tower of Babel.
You know already where this is going, don’t you? Satan had promised Adam and Eve another way to heaven and in so doing, cast us all to the earth. From then til now, Satan has continued to tempt us with his endlessly empty offers. All who choose his way will be “as grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up” (2 Kings 19:26). And they will end up lower still.
For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning
Against everyone who is proud and lofty
And against everyone who is lifted up,
That he may be abased.
But we who are saved know the truth that Satan endlessly rejects. There is only one way to return to the blessings of heaven. There is only way to be reconciled to God.
God gives us an early glimpse of this at times, like when Moses climbs the mountain. Here, we see not Satan’s rebellion but instead God’s sign of the One who would defeat Satan on the high places of the wilderness (Matt. 4). We see His sign of the One who would climb a high mountain with His disciples, witness Moses and Elijah in glory, and hear the voice of God His Father (Matt. 17).
In all this, God offers us union with this One, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose humiliating death on a hill sets us on the high places (Matt. 27).
“God is my strong fortress;
And He sets the blameless in His way.
“He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me on my high places.
“He trains my hands for battle,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
2 Samuel 22:33-35