A Place For Worship

By Stephen Campbell

The people sacrificed at the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the Lord until those days … Now the king [Solomon] went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place … At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon. 1 Kings 3:2,4-5 NKJV

First Kings 3 describes a pivotal moment in Israel’s worship of the LORD. More than four centuries earlier, before the people of Israel entered Canaan, Moses told them to anticipate a central location for worship. The portable tabernacle of the LORD had been the designated site for worship as the nation traveled across the desert, but in the Promised Land there would be a “place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide,” a place for sacrifices and rejoicing (Dt. 12:11-12). As Joshua and the people of Israel took possession of Canaan, the tabernacle was set up in Shiloh (Josh. 18:1), and there it remained during the long years of the judges.
However, Israel’s moral condition brought no honor to the LORD. Their identity as God’s people continually weakened until, during the time of the blind priest Eli and his immoral sons, the ark of God – which normally rested in the holiest part of the tabernacle – came to be viewed as nothing more than a good luck charm. When enemies captured the ark, it was as if the glory of the LORD departed with it (1 Sam. 4). The traditions of worshiping at Shiloh dissolved.

As a result, the people began worshiping the LORD on mountaintops and high places, as our introductory verses describe. The great bronze altar and other parts of the tabernacle were moved to the mountains of Gibeon (1 Chr. 16:39, 21:29), and the people also built altars to the LORD elsewhere. For example, it is likely that the altar on Mt. Carmel which the prophet Elijah later repaired was one of these (1 Ki. 18:30). Although the high places were often associated with idol worship and other ungodly practices, that was not the case here. The people knew the LORD deserved their worship, so they sought Him where they could. Still, what had happened to Moses’ statement about a central gathering place for the LORD’s name? It seemed as if his words had fallen to the ground and would remain unfulfilled.

But God was at work. The ark of the LORD was returned to Israel, and King David ordered the construction of a new tent where it could be kept (1 Chr. 16:1). David later discerned that a spot in Jerusalem was to be the location for the house of the Lord (22:1), and he gathered a vast supply of materials for its construction. As yet, however, the building process for such a house had not begun. Hence, when Solomon began his reign, he visited the great high place at Gibeon. There, on the altar of burnt offering constructed nearly 500 years earlier, he offered a thousand sacrifices to the LORD.

This event was a turning point, for it was the last time Solomon ever offered there. The LORD appeared that night to give the new king a blessing. Solomon asked for wisdom, and his humble desire was granted. The very next day Solomon returned to Jerusalem and offered sacrifices before the ark of God; and soon afterwards, temple construction began. God’s wisdom, coupled with the discernment of Solomon’s father David, led Solomon to abandon the high places and embrace the long-awaited revelation of a place where the LORD’s name would reside.

It is still a valuable desire to bring our worship to the Lord. He is certainly worthy of every sacrifice of praise! Now, however, as the Lord Jesus Himself taught in John 4, our worship is not restricted to a specific location. Yet it is still important to seek the place where His name is honored, for in such a place He meets His people as they are gathered unto Him.

Worshipers Found In Matthew

• “Wise men from the East came … to worship Him” (2:1-2).
• “Behold, a leper came and worshiped Him” (8:2).
• “A ruler came and worshiped Him” (9:18).
• “Those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him” (14:33).
• “A woman of Canaan … came and worshiped Him” (15:21,25).
• “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary … came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (28:1,9).
• “The eleven disciples … when they saw Him, they worshiped Him” (28:16-17).