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then you must drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their stone idols, destroy all their cast metal images and demolish all their shrines. Bible other translations

“destroy all their stone idols.” God has no tolerance for idols of any kind. They are harmful in many different ways. They are to be destroyed. See commentary on Deuteronomy 7:5.

“shrines.” The Hebrew text is bamah (#01116 בָּמָה), the plural is bamot. The Hebrew word bamah should not be confused with the Greek word bēma (#968 βῆμα), which mostly refers to a judgment seat (cp. Matt. 27:19; John 19:13; Acts 18:12, 16, 17; 25:6; Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Although the Hebrew word bamah can refer to a hill or a place of high ground, when it is used in a cultic context, bamah usually refers to a raised platform on which a god or gods, and often an altar, would be placed, thus it gets translated “shrine” in some English versions. Sometimes the raised area would be large and there would also be some kind of temple or temples there too. The fact that the platform was usually raised up above ground level explains why it was called a bamah, i.e., an area that was high or lifted up. The worship of various gods and variations of gods (even Yahweh) was common in the cities and towns, so many of them had a bamah, a shrine. For example, after Israel split into the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, there were many cities in Samaria (Israel) that had shrines, and Judah had them also (1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:9; 23:5).

There is no single English word that exactly captures the cultic meaning of bamah, so the English versions differ in the way they translate it (cp. “high places,” CSB; ESV; KJV; NIV; “shrines,” CEB; “places of worship,” GNT; GWN; ICB; NOG; “pagan shrines,” NLT; and “cult places,” TNK). Also, the English versions are not consistent in the way they translate bamah due to the different contexts in which it occurs. Although most versions use the translation “high place,” that translation is somewhat misleading because quite often the bamah, the shrine, was inside the town and not outside it on some hill, and often it was not on a hill or height at all.

The shrines were usually built and maintained by a family or families in town who were attached to them by belief in the gods associated with them, or by sentiment (“My grandfather built that shrine!”). Knowing that fact helps explains why so many good kings could not seem to get rid of the bamot, the shrines (cp. 1 Kings 15:14; 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4, 35; 2 Chron. 15:17; 20:33). The people liked them and often protected them. Often if the shrines were torn down they were soon rebuilt (2 Chron. 33:3). Good evidence that the bamot were not always on a hill is in Jeremiah, where he accuses people of building bamot in the Valley of Hinnom, which was the valley just south of Jerusalem. Thus the bamot that Jeremiah referred to were leveled out places in the valley. A study of the various uses of bamah shows that the shrine could be inside a town or in a place close to the town, whether on a hill or height or in a valley (Jer. 7:31; 22:35; 32:35).


Commentary for: Numbers 33:52