Archaeological and scientific researches have made it evident that in the varying forms of early religions, and in lands far distant from each other, high places were selected for worship of a sacrificial character. This was so especially among the Moabites (Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 16:12; Numbers 23:28). The three altars built by Abraham at Shechem, between Bethel and Ai, and at Mamre, were on heights. Such sites consecrated of old would naturally be resorted to in after times as sanctuaries. Not only these, but heights originally dedicated to idols (Numbers 33:52; Leviticus 26:30). The law forbade sacrificial worship elsewhere save at the one national sanctuary. Old usage however strove against the law, and too frequently reasserted itself. The high places polluted by idol worship (2 Kings 23:9) were condemned by all the kings that worshipped Jehovah.
But those sacred to Jehovah (2 Chronicles 32:12; 2 Chronicles 33:17) were tolerated by less thoroughly reforming kings; and sacrifices and burnt incense were offered on them (1 Kings 12:3; 1 Kings 14:4; 1 Kings 15:35). Hezekiah and Josiah removed them utterly, as opposed to the letter of the law and mostly to the spirit of it too (2 Kings 18:4; 2 Kings 23:5 margin; 2 Chronicles 34:3). In the time of the judges (Judges 6:25-26; Judges 13:16-23; 1 Samuel 7:10; 1 Samuel 16:5), and while the temple was yet unbuilt (1 Kings 3:2), and in the Israelite northern kingdom where religious order could not be preserved, owing to the severance from Judah (1 Kings 18:30), greater latitude was allowed. But the strict rule was against it, except where God especially (1 Chronicles 21:26) sanctioned sacrifice on some one occasion at a place (Deuteronomy 12:4-11; Leviticus 17:3-4; John 4:20).
The priests whom the kings of Judah ordained to burn incense in the high places were called Chemarim; compare Hosea 10:5; Zephaniah 1:4 idol priests not having reached the age of puberty, meaning "ministers of the gods," the Tyrian camilli, (black attired ministers, subordinate to the priests, they felled the victim), from chaamar "to be black." The high places of Dan and Bethel were already sacred by usage; so Jeroboam found it easy to induce the people to forsake the temple and cherubim at Jerusalem for his calves in Dan and Bethel. Bamoth, the Hebrew for "high places," became so common that the term was used for a shrine in a valley or a city (2 Kings 17:9; Ezekiel 16:31; Jeremiah 7:31). In Ezekiel 20:29, I said ... what is the high place whereunto ye go?
And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day," the sense is, You ought to have long since put away the name, and the high place which it expresces; the very name implies it is not sanctioned by Me; therefore your sacrifice even to ME in it (much more to idols) is only a "provocation" to Me (Ezekiel 20:28). In Ezekiel 16:16," of thy garments thou didst take and deckedst thy high places with divers colors," the sense is: as a harlot spreading her tent of divers colors to lure victims, so Israel set up on the high places, not stone chapels, but tents hung with colored tapestry, as the "woven hangings of (Asherah) Astarte" (the right translation for "grove") (2 Kings 23:7). Asa in one place is said to have taken away the high places, in another not so; also Jehoshaphat similarly.
The seeming discrepancy occurs not only between Kings and Chronicles, but even between different passages of the same chronicler. Doubtless the godly kings at first tried to put down entirely the high places, but afterwards yielded to the general usage of the people in cases where the high place was to Jehovah; where it was to idols they put them down utterly. "They opposed impiety but winked at error" (Hall). So rooted was the practice that the removal of the high places was made by Rabshakeh a taunt against Hezekiah as if it were an impious innovation against Jehovah's honour; evidently he knew that the act had provoked the enmity of a considerable party among the Jews.