We live near the beautiful Cabinet Mountain Wilderness Area and over the years have had the privilege of doing lots of hiking in the area, including making it to the top of a number of the mountains. What an amazing view and perspective you get when on a mountaintop! I also had the opportunity a few years ago of taking a scenic flight over the Cabinets, and within just over an hour seeing all the places we have hiked, spending many hours just to reach one of the destinations. Mountains are so majestic and seem to represent power and authority and stability. We speak of having “mountaintop” experiences as highlights in our lives. But, in our humanity, we always have to return to the valleys and live out our everyday lives.
While many actual mountains are connected with key events in Scripture, they are also used figuratively as symbolic of strength and stability. In Psalm 30:7, King David, in reference to the stability of his kingdom, writes: “O LORD, by your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong…” David also speaks of the mountains as symbolic of the righteousness of God (Psa. 36:6). The prophet, Isaiah was given a vision of the glory of the future kingdom and writes: “Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills and all the nations will stream to it” (Isa. 2:2). Daniel, in prophesying of the coming kingdom on earth, writes about the “stone” which crushes the earthly kingdoms and becomes “a great mountain that fills the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35).
Mountains have served as the site of many significant events in Bible history. Noah’s ark, after surviving the world-wide flood, “rested upon the mountains of Ararat (which reach 17,000 feet in elevation)” (Gen. 8:4). (It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for “rested” is the same as the word for “Noah.” Also, the ark came to rest on the seventeenth day of the seventh month, which—after considering the calendar change God made at the time of the Passover [Ex. 12:2,6] is the same day Christ was raised from the dead (Jn. 19:4; I Cor. 5:7).
When God requested that Abraham offer up his promised son, Isaac, He sent him to the mountains of Moriah, where Solomon later built His Temple in Jerusalem (II Chr. 3:1). “Moriah” means “The place to see God,” or “The place where God provides.” It was there that God did provide the ultimate sacrifice for sin, His only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him would have eternal life (Jn. 3:16 cf Gen. 22: 8).
It was, of course, Mt. Sinai that Moses ascended (twice) to receive the Law for the Israelites during the third month after their exodus from slavery in Egypt (Gen. 19:1). Mt. Sinai is usually identified as Jebel Musa, a 7500-foot peak at the southern end of the “V” formed by the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. At the foot of the peak is a plain 2 1/2 miles long and 1/2 mile wide in which the people could easily have camped for the more than 11 months that they were there.
In the central part of Palestine are two mountains rising about 3,000 feet on either side of the narrow valley of Shechem. On Mount Gerazim Moses stood and promised a blessing to the Jews if they would obey God’s commands. Then he stood on Mount Nebal and proclaimed a curse upon the people if they would not obey God’s commands (Dt. 11, 27).
Carmel is a mountain range, rising to 1800 feet, which juts out into the Mediterranean near modern Haifa, Israel. It was there that the prophet Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the Asherah (mother of Baal) to a contest to see whose god was the true God–Jehovah God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Baal. They would prepare offerings upon an altar and call upon their god to send fire to consume it. The Baal worshipers cried out to their god, danced around the altar, cut themselves, but to no avail. Then Elijah prayed and God sent fire to consume not only the sacrifice but the altar itself and licked up the water in the trench around the altar (I Kgs. 18).
When Jesus began His public ministry, He went into the desert (probably near Jericho) where he fasted for 40 days and was then tempted by the devil, who “took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory” (Mt. 4; 8). Satan, the usurper, had become the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31), and offered these kingdoms to Jesus if He would just bow down and worship him. Satan’s offer was genuine, but, of course Jesus—as the God-Man— couldn’t, and wouldn’t worship Satan, or He would not have fulfilled His mission to go to the cross and die for sin. Jesus will one day rule over the world, in His time.
Probably the most familiar of all Jesus’ teachings also took place on a mountainside in Galilee. It is referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount,” and contains the Beatitudes (Mt. 5-7). Later in His ministry, “Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them…and behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him” (Mt. 17:1-3). This event probably took place on Mt. Hermon, with an elevation of 4200 feet. The transfiguration gave the three disciples a preview of Jesus future exaltation and the coming kingdom. Peter wanted the experience to continue and offered to build tabernacles there for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (v. 4). When we have those “mountaintop experiences,” we want them to last!
Near the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He sat on the Mount of Olives and answered His disciples’ question about the signs of His coming and the end of the age (Mt. 24:3). Jesus’ response (Mt. 24,25) is referred to as “The Olivet Discourse.” Shortly after that Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples and then returned to the Mount of Olives where He was betrayed by Judas, arrested, tried, and taken to a hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem called “the skull” (Golgotha in Hebrew and Calvary in Latin). It was probably in a prominent place near the public highway. Some claim that Moriah (where Abraham took Isaac) and Calvary are identical.
When the Lord returns to judge the nations of the earth and to set up His Millennial Kingdom, He will set foot again on the Mount of Olives on the east of Jerusalem and it will split in two… “and the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one. All the land will be changed…and the people will live in it, and there will be nor more curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security” (Zech. 14:4-11). Seven years before that, the Church will be removed as Christ comes in the air for His Bride (I Thes. 4:13-18). “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)