What is it about high places? In the Bible we hear a lot about people putting altars up to other gods in high places. Why do we have this human tendency to seek high places, this need to climb up closer to the heavens, especially when we are in trouble?
I had this amazing opportunity when I was in Greece to visit ancient Minoan ruins site upon a small mountain in Crete with my cousin who is an archaeologist. The famous Knossos was down below with all its theater and reproduction. But up top, there is no pomp and circumstance, luxurious findings or embellishments of what it might have been, just the ruins, ashes, and writings that have yet to be deciphered.
So, on the hill, which is described as the face of Zeus, there lies many mysteries. What was done up there? Why?
Mt Yuhtas/Juktas, Heraklion Crete, compliments of cropssuites.com
Archaeologists have found many similar ruins on other mountains in Crete. Most people believe they are important religious sites. Interestingly, a fire lit at any of these sites can be seen by several other sites. Did they use this create a highway of information? Did they light them up for festivities? To tell each other if invaders were coming? To worship? Or was it just for comradery—a way to tell others afar that they were there? My cousin thinks it could be a way for for sharing in ritual celebrations that would unify the island.
Possible Minoan Crete Proto-Palatial Communication Infrastruture of palaces and peak sanctuaries
(c) Shappard Baird
It makes me think of when Jesus tells us not to hide our lights. In Matthew 5:14, He tells us,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
What if shining our lights, not only shines to bring hope to darkness, but also communicates with others our faith so that we don’t feel alone either, like the intricate communication system in ancient Crete? What if people look to you for signs and signals that everything is going to be okay because God is with us? There is something very special about a light on a hill.
The next interesting learning from this tour is that at these sites, they found clay moldings of small body parts. The wonder is if people brought these up to the high places to ask for healing.
Clay body parts from peak sanctuaries of Pesofas and Traostalos (1800-1600BC)
(Dimopoulou-Rethemiotaki N. 2005,The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion)
There is a Greek Orthodox church nearby on that mountain dating back as far as 1443. In the church, there is an area where people bring metal pictures of body parts, to ask God to heal them of their ailments. There were legs, arms, hearts, eyes, ears, etc. Every year, the local people still climb the mountain on foot to that church to celebrate the day of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the heat of the August sun. They bring with them things to celebrate in a form of worship. My cousin said she did it once with a friend. She commented that it was hard enough just to climb a hill, why did they also have to carry things? Wouldn’t it be a sacrifice enough to just bring yourself?
Mt Yuhtas, Heraklion Crete, Church of the Transfiguration
Seeing these things made me think about how in both eras, people may have climbed the mountain to bring offering and artifacts representing their pleas for healing. The more modern church had been built thousands of years after the Minoan civilization lived there, and when it was built, there was no evidence of that civilization—just the stories that had been passed down through generations in the form of mythology.
Our instinct to climb to high places to ask for healing, worship, and appease the gods seems to be innate. We see the Aztecs and the Egyptians did it. We read about it with the tower of Babel and the high places dedicated to Baal and Asherah. I will admit that up on that mountain top, you do feel closer to God as you take in the amazing aroma of wild herbs and the breathtaking views of His creation when elevated high above the earth.
Yet, when we read about our God, the one true God, in the Bible, we learn that He does not like high places. Other than meeting Moses on a mountain, He mainly meets us where we are. The first tabernacle was not built on a mountain, but in the desert. He dwells among His people. Jesus came to dwell among His people and after He died and rose again, those who love and follow Him have His Holy Spirit that dwells within us, no matter where we are located.
When my cousin made that statement about climbing the hill with offerings, I replied, “Our God says exactly that. He doesn’t want our offerings; He wants our hearts.”
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” –Mark 12:32-34