Why was it good for Noah and the patriarchs (before the Tabernacle), and for judges, David, and Elijah (after the Tabernacle or Temple) to build altars to God (often on high places) when Israel was condemned continually for sacrificing at the high places?

  • In Genesis 8:20 Noah built an altar to God and sacrificed animals on it. God was pleased.
  • In Judges 6:24, Gideon built an altar to the Lord in Ophrah.
  • In 1 Samuel 9:13, Samuel blessed a sacrifice at a "high place."
  • In 1 Chronicles 21:26, David built an altar and sacrificed to the Lord at the site of Araunah's threshing floor.

However, in Leviticus 17:3-5, Moses commanded that all sacrifices were to be done at the tabernacle of God. Plus, in the Kings and Chronicles, Israel is often condemned for sacrificing on the high places.

Why was it sometimes okay to sacrifice to God at one's own high place, but generally wrong to do so?

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  • Some High Places (Bamot, בָּמוֹת֙) were used to burn human infants to the idols Baal (בַּ֣עַל) and Milkom (מִלְכֹּ֖ם) - This idolatrous worship is an abomination in the Tanakh [2 Kings 23]. – Visual Hermeneutics Oct 17 at 16:11
  • Excellent question, especially when you draw the comparison of those high places with things referred to in a search of the phrase,"up out of" – Bill Porter Oct 17 at 18:23
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    The question should be edited to only ask about cases of people making sacrifices not at the tabernacle or temple, after that law was given. Before a law is given you cannot be guilty of violating it! – curiousdannii Oct 20 at 8:13

Leviticus 17:3 Any Israelite who sacrifices an ox, a lamb or a goat in the camp or outside of it 4instead of bringing it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord—that person shall be considered guilty of bloodshed; they have shed blood and must be cut off from their people. 5This is so the Israelites will bring to the Lord the sacrifices they are now making in the open fields. They must bring them to the priest, that is, to the Lord, at the entrance to the tent of meeting and sacrifice them as fellowship offerings

The above law applied particularly to Israelites in the wilderness. As pointed out by Dottard in a comment, there was a transitional period:

The official place to sacrifice was at Gilgal, Bethel, Shiloh, Gibeah, and other places before it was finally located in Jerusalem

After that the applicable law is in Deuteronomy 12:11:

Then to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name--there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the LORD.

The dwelling for his Name was the Jerusalem temple built by Solomon. All 4 instances of sacrifices that you listed happened before Solomon's Temple existed. It's a matter of what law to apply to what people and when.

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  • I may have been lax in my examples. Elijah sacrificed on Mount Carmel - after the temple was built. Plus, after Moses spoke Deuteronomy 12 and before the Temple, it appears that the former regulation found in Leviticus 17 was still binding. Note Joshua 22:29 - “Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle.” – DThornton Oct 17 at 15:48
  • Elijah was a prophet. He was following the direct and specific word of God at that time and at that place to him only. Joshua 22:29 happened before Solomon. – Tony Chan Oct 17 at 16:43
  • This is not factually correct. The official place to sacrifice was at Gilgal, Bethel, Shiloh, Gibeah, and other places before it was finally located in Jerusaelm. – Dottard Oct 18 at 8:10
  • Good point. I incorporated your comment in my answer. – Tony Chan Oct 18 at 15:00

1 Kings 3:3 Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the instructions given to him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

Why were the "high places" generally forbidden but sometimes okay?

Even Solomon was reprimanded. The only times that it's okay is when the Lord said so. Otherwise it was wrong.

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