How could Asa be considered a righteous king if he left places of idol worship standing in Judah?
2 Chronicles 15:17 But the high places were not taken away out of Israel: nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days.
There were two kinds of high places:
1. Where offerings were made to idols
2. Where offerings were made to the God of Israel
Israel was told to destroy the places of idol worship and to worship God only in the place that he would choose.
Deuteronomy 12:1 These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the LORD God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth. 2 Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: 3 And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. 4 Ye shall not do so unto the LORD your God. 5 But unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come: 6 And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: 7 And there ye shall eat before the LORD your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the LORD thy God hath blessed thee. 8 Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes. 9 For ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the LORD your God giveth you. 10 But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the LORD your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; 11 Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD: 12 And ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your gates; forasmuch as he hath no part nor inheritance with you. 13 Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: 14 But in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee.
Israel was guilty on both counts. The people turned to idolatry and worshipped idols in groves and high places. They made high places to worship God before the Temple was built in Jerusalem.
1 Kings 3:2 Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days. 3 And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places. 4 And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar.
Solomon built the Temple but in his old age he built high places for idol worship:
1 Kings 11:4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. 7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. 8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.
Because of this God divided the kingdom in the days of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. In Rehoboam’s reign things went from bad to worse
1 Kings 14:22 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.
Images and groves were associated with idolatry rather than the worship of the true God.
2 Chronicles 15:17... ‘The heart of Asa was perfect all his days’
From this we conclude that Asa was not an idolator. The high places in question could be either places for the worship of idols or the true God or both. Asa ruled over Judah not Israel. His son Jehoshaphat also eschewed idolatry and was successful in removing the high places and groves out of Judah.
2 Chronicles 17:6 And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the LORD: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.
Because it says high places and groves we might reasonably suppose that he removed the places of idol worship out of Judah. Other high places were not removed.
2 Chronicles 20:32 And he (Jehoshaphat) walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the LORD. 33 Howbeit the high places were not taken away: for as yet the people had not prepared their hearts unto the God of their fathers.
We might suppose that these high places were for the worship of the true God. The reason why they were not removed is given here.
‘The people had not prepared their hearts unto the God of their fathers’
From this we conclude that the people were not of a mind to obey the Law of God as given through Moses. They worshipped at high places of their own choosing rather than the place chosen by God. Good kings could set an example but could not alter the mindset of the people. It was one thing to remove idolatrous high places but the removal of those used for the worship of the true God was another matter.
In the days of Hezekiah the problem continued. Hezekiah tackled both kinds of high places, and gave commandment that they should worship only at the Temple altar in Jerusalem.
2 Kings 18:4 He (Hezekiah) removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
2 Kings 18:22 But if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?
Hezekiah’s son Manasseh restored the high places and idol worship.
2 Kings 21:3 For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.
Worship in high places continued until the Babylonian captivity.
I hope you have found this helpful.