Mountaintop Theology

Mountains are used as an illustrative measurement by which we can better understand God

“It is of no small significance that the LORD ordained the King’s house and the Temple to be built on a mountain in Jerusalem. This act symbolized the exalted nature of God’s heavenly dwelling. The earthly king of Israel was to be typical of the heavenly King–Jesus.”

 

I’ve always loved mountains. I’ve lived in the Blue Ridge mountains, hiked the Sangre de Christo mountains, travelled through the German Alps, skied the French Alps and marveled as I’ve gazed at the seemingly endless Alaskan mountain ranges. There is something mystical and majestic about these natural structures which tower over the rest of creation. It was commonplace in the 1980s and 1990s to hear Christians speak of “mountaintop experiences”–when referring to some moment of spiritual revival or restoration. However favorably or suspiciously one may receive such language, it is important for us to understand that the Scriptures actually have quite a lot to say about mountains and their theological significance.

Mountains are used as an illustrative measurement by which man may better understand the attributes of God. The grandiosity of mountains is used to describe the mercy of God. The Psalmist described the righteousness of God in terms that the reader could understand: “Your righteousness is like the great mountains” (Ps. 36:6). He described the LORD’s power in creation by pointing to the mountains–the greatest objects in creation: “Who established the mountains by His strength, being clothed with power” (Ps. 65:6). In addition, the Psalmist noted the all-encompassing power of God over creation by recounting the details concerning the deluge, namely, the way in which “the waters stood above the mountains” (Ps. 104:6). Though the Scriptures make frequent illustrative or comparative use of mountains to explain the nature of God’s attributes, power, presence and protection, there is a biblico-theological development in the history of redemption. This is first seen by way of deduction, then by way of explicit reference.

The first three chapters of Genesis do not tell us anything about mountains, therefore it might be tempting to pass over any significance they might have in protology (i.e. the study of the first things). However, when we come to the book of Ezekiel, there are allusions to the idea that the Garden of Eden was on a mountain. G.K. Beale notes, “Just as the entrance to Israel’s later temple was to face east and be on a mountain (Zion, Exod 15:17), and just as the end-time temple of Ezekiel was to face east (Ezek 40:6) and be on a mountain (Ezek 40:243:12), so the entrance to Eden faced east (Gen 3:24) and was situated on a mountain (Ezek 28:1416).1  Michael Morales further explains what it meant for Adam and Eve to be exiled from the Garden on the Mountain of Eden:

The paradise atop Eden’s mount is described in Genesis 2-3 as a well-watered Garden with an abundance of fruit trees, a place where humanity and animals lived in harmony. These physical blessings, however, were but tokens (and small ones at that) of the greater delight of their Source: the very life-giving Presence of God. After Adam and Eve’s sin, and consequent descent from the mountain of the LORD, the biblical narrative continues to deal with the dilemma: How shall we abide in the divine Presence — who shall ascend?2

The fact that Eden was a Temple set on a mountain prepares us for all the all the other significant mountains in redemptive-history. Abraham was called to offer up Isaac on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22:2)–the very place where Solomon would build the Temple and the Kings house. God met Moses at Mt. Horeb. It was, in many respects, the archetype of the Temple. It was there that the LORD told Moses to take his sandals off his feet, “for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Wherever the presence of the LORD was manifested, there was the Holy Place. When Moses brought Israel out to Mt. Sinai, he led the people to the foot of the mountain. He then took some of the elders of Israel and went up the mountain to a second location. Being instructed by God, Moses left the elders there and went up by himself into the presence of God. When the LORD came down to meet Moses, there was smoke and fire and lightening. It was a prelude to the threefold division of the Temple and the smoke of the presence of God coming down and filling the Most Holy Place. Mt. Sinai was also an archetype of the heavenly Temple.

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