Curiously, God specifically points out four successive kings of Judah who did remove the high places. This is of note because many kings neither built high places, nor destroyed them, yet God decided to highlight this negligence only in the reigns of Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham. These four are fascinating studies into carnality, the nature of sin and temptation, and the proclivities of leaders not wholly dedicated to God.
Before delving into the lives of these four kings, though, it is helpful to understand the issues surrounding the high places. The Hebrew words translated as "high place" and "lofty place" ( and , respectively) simply mean "elevation." In common usage, though, a high place is an elevation of land, natural or artificial, where worship by sacrifice or offerings was made, either to the true God or to a false one. The first altar after the Flood was built on a mountain—a high place—as was the altar constructed for the sacrifice of (; ). Laban and offered sacrifices on a mountain in Gilead (). God met with on Mount Sinai—another "elevation"—rather than on the surrounding plain. God was lawfully worshipped on high places by Samuel and others (; , 4; ), and ultimately even God's physical Temple was placed on a hilltop—a "high place" in the technical sense. Interestingly, was likely crucified on the Mount of Olives—another elevated setting.
2 Kings 17:9 And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.
Ezekiel 16:24 That thou hast also built unto thee an eminent place, and hast made thee an high place in every street.
Ezekiel 16:31 In that thou buildest thine eminent place in the head of every way, and makest thine high place in every street; and hast not been as an harlot, in that thou scornest hire;
Ezekiel 16:23-35 And it came to pass after all thy wickedness, (woe, woe unto thee! saith the Lord GOD;) 24 That thou hast also built unto thee an eminent place, and hast made thee an high place in every street. 25 Thou hast built thy high place at every head of the way, and hast made thy beauty to be abhorred, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms. 26 Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians thy neighbours, great of flesh; and hast increased thy whoredoms, to provoke me to anger. ...
1 Kings 14:22-23 And Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. 23 For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree.
Leviticus 26:30 And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.
2 Kings 17:11 And there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the LORD carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger:
2 Kings 17:18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.
The Israelites, forever turning away from God, practiced Molech worship and built high places for Baal (Jeremiah 32:35). Although Solomon built the temple of God in Jerusalem, he later established idolatrous high places for his foreign wives outside of Jerusalem and worshiped with them, causing him the loss of the kingdom (1 Kings 11:11). The people were still sacrificing at the pagan high places before the temple was built, and Solomon joined them. After the Lord appeared to him in a dream at Gibeon, the king returned to Jerusalem and sacrificed offerings; however, he continued to waver between the two places of worship.
The pagan peoples also typically chose elevated locations to make sacrifices to their gods, and so the high places began to take on a negative connotation. Shortly after Israel's exodus from Egypt, God instructed them to destroy any instruments of pagan worship, including the high places. Notice, for example,