In II Chronicles 14, the Chronicler continues to tell the story of King Asa of Judah.
II Chronicles 14:3-5 states (in the KJV): “For he took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves: And commanded Judah to seek the LORD God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment. Also he took away out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the images: and the kingdom was quiet before him.”
Asa removed the high places (sanctuaries on hills) of Judah. II Chronicles 15:7, however, appears to say something different: “But the high places were not taken away out of Israel: nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days.”
Scholars have sought to harmonize this apparent contradiction in different ways.
1. One way is to say that Ahaz removed the pagan high places but they came back, and Asa did not remove them then. This is conceivable. Consider a similar apparent contradiction in II Chronicles regarding Asa’s son and successor, King Jehoshaphat. II Chronicles 17:6 affirms that Jehoshaphat removed the high places and groves from Judah, whereas II Chronicles 20:33 states that the high places had not been taken away under Jehoshaphat. II Chronicles 20:33 says that this failure was because “the people had not prepared their hearts unto the God of their fathers” (KJV). Perhaps Asa and Jehoshaphat removed the high places, but people persisted in rebuilding them because their hearts were so attached to idolatry and alienated from God. While some may conclude that the Chronicler blames the people and not the righteous kings for this, the Chronicler does appear to treat it as a blot on the righteous kings’ record, as if they were somehow responsible because they failed to be consistent in spotting and eliminating idolatry.
2. A second way is to say that Asa removed high places that were dedicated to pagan deities, but not the high places that were dedicated to YHWH, the God of Israel. II Chronicles 14:3-5 does focus on paganism right before it mentions Asa removing the high places. Moreover, the Chronicler, like the Deuteronomist before him, believed that Israelites should sacrifice to the LORD at the central sanctuary, which was in Jerusalem, not on the hills, so the Chronicler could conceivably have faulted King Asa for failing to remove the Yahwist high places.
3. Raymond Dillard in the Word Biblical Commentary on II Chronicles refers to the apparent contradiction in II Chronicles over whether Jehoshaphat removed the high places. Dillard mentions the view that the Chronicler believed that Jehoshaphat did remove them but was working with a source, I Kings, which said that under Jehoshaphat the high places were not taken away (see I Kings 22:43). Dillard does go a harmonizing route when it comes to Asa, though, and he states that this is because “it is unlikely that either the author or a later editor would contradict himself in such short compass.” Would an author or editor include a source that said something with which he disagreed? Would that make him neglectful? Or would he be trying to include an alternative perspective in the interests of historiography? I do not know. It does seem that biblical authors and editors included contradictory stories.
4. A fourth way is to say that Asa removed the high places from Judah but not from Israel, meaning the Northern Israelite cities that Judah had captured. II Chronicles 14:5 does say that Asa removed the high places from Judah, whereas II Chronicles 15:7 says that they were not taken away from Israel. The question would be whether “Israel” there specifically means the Northern Kingdom of Israel or could apply to Judah, or, more, to both Judah and Northern Israel. In II Chronicles, “Israel” often means the Northern Kingdom, but it can sometimes pertain to Judah (II Chronicles 19:8).
What’s interesting to me is that, in II Chronicles 17:7-8, King Jehoshaphat is said to send officials, Levites, and priests to teach in Judah, perhaps to teach the Torah. David Rothstein in the Jewish Study Bible deems it significant that the Chronicler says Jehoshaphat sent teachers to Judah while not saying that teachers were sent to Northern Israel, specifically the Northern Israelite cities that Judah had captured. Rothstein speculates that “this may be the author’s way of expressing Judah’s religious superiority.” Is that what is going on with Asa in II Chronicles 14-15: he is removing the high places from Judah but not Northern Israel because he deemed Judah to be religiously superior? Could Asa have considered removing high places from Northern Israel to be an uphill battle because the North was so enmeshed in paganism. Yet, II Chronicles 15:8 affirms that Asa did remove idolatry from the Ephraimite cities that Judah had captured.
I do not think that the Chronicler believed that Judah should obey God whereas the North was not expected to do so, for King Hezekiah in II Chronicles 30 invites the Northerners to come to Judah to observe the Passover; many Northerners laughed him to scorn within the story, however. My impression is that the Chronicler believes that Judahite kings should have encouraged the Northerners to observe Torah and properly worship the God of Israel, even if Asa and Jehoshaphat sometimes had different ideas about this, perhaps out of a sense that Judah was religiously superior, or other reasons. Still, the Chronicler seems to acknowledge that getting the North on the right path was an uphill battle. There were Northerners who left the North and voluntarily dwelt in Judah (II Chronicles 15:9), but many Israelites in Northern Israel could have been resistant to repentance, in the mind of the Chronicler.