Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about mountains. Hardly surprising given that I have spent the past two weeks amongst the mountains at Loch Lomond and the Lake District! Mountains are hard to miss. By nature they are big and they impact everything around them. They are places people go for solace, peace, recreation and even for refuge or to hideaway. Over the past twenty years, basically ever since I met Debbie, mountains have been something of a draw for me. As a child I don’t remember visiting the mountains very often although I do remember visiting the high mountains in the Swiss Alps and climbing Helvellyn (Lake District) one time with my family and deciding to give up half way up! From the year 2001, I have another memory of mountains when I was gripped by fear on an ascent of the north face of Athur’s Seat in Edinburgh. My friend Mark took me there with his kids who ran up the face without hesitation or a second thought. Mark led me up by the hand and step by step I made it to the top. He remarked on the similarity between my experience and life in general. At times all we can do in life is to move forward one step at a time! Thankfully subsequent memories of the mountains have been much more positive as Debbie and I explored more of the Lake District and the high mountains of Norway. I am currently engaged in working out my pursuit to climb all 214 so called ‘Wainwright’ mountains in my beloved Lake District (I have currently done just over a third). Quite the turnaround wouldn’t you say for someone who has moved from a place of indifference to outright fear and now to a deep love and appreciation. And yet amidst this mix of respect, fear, love and desire is part of what makes up my thrill of the mountains. As someone who is actually quite scared of heights I will never enjoy the steep drops but there is something about the challenge of this which is really exciting. I love to be up on the high mountains and in the process have grown to understand a little of why mountains are so important in the Bible.
Finding God in the mountains
In my experience mountains are places where God seems to be particularly close. Mountains are placed that proclaim the grandeur, the magnificence and the awesomeness of God. The scale of them remind me of how in comparison I am a mere speck. David says something similar when he considered the heavens (the work of God’s fingers) and the moon and the stars (which God has set in place). As I look to the mountains I too like David reflect “…what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4).
As I look to the mountains they point me to God. Indeed it is actually God Himself who I find in the mountains. The Psalmist writes…
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2
Mountains appear strong, steadfast and unshakeable. The Psalmist says “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and for evermore” (Psalm 125:2). By and large mountains do not move, well at least not noticeably anyway! They are part of God’s creation but often appear to be in the minds of the Biblical writers. Why? Firstly because mountains are symbols of eternity and point to God (see for instance Deut 33:15 and there are numerous references to Mount Zion) and secondly because the characteristics of mountains actually point to an even greater reality in the character of God. In Isaiah 54:10 God says…
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10
The thought of mountains shaking or trembling is enough to put terror into any of us and yet it is God Himself who is described as shaking those same mountains (Exodus 19:18). In contrast it is not the mountains but rather His character and in particular His unfailing love and Covenant of Peace which are described as unshakeable.
Mountain top experiences in the Bible
Throughout the Bible mountains have been a place where God has met with His people in special ways. I know that there are all sorts of places where God meets with His people but to me it does seem like a particularly significant proportion of these occasions happen on mountain tops. For me some of the stand out names in this list would be; Mount Horeb where God meets with Moses through a burning bush and calls Him to go and rescue God’s people from Pharaoh (Exodus 3-4). Then there is Mount Sinai where Israel camped for some time while God gave them the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law. Mount Moriah is the place where God told Abraham to go and sacrifice His son Isaac (Gen 22). Interestingly it was also the place where God turned aside His wrath at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and where Solomon subsequently built the temple (see 2 Chronicles 3:1). Mount Ararat was the resting place of the Ark after the flood (Genesis 8:1-5). Mount Carmel was the location of Elijah’s famous victory over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). Blessings are proclaimed from Mount Gerizim and curses from Mount Ebal (Deut 27). Aaron, Moses and Saul all died on mountains at Mount Hor (Numbers 20), Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 34) and Mout Gilboa (1 Chron 10:1-12) respectively. In the New Testament Jesus does some significant things on mountains. First we see that He often went up on a mountainside to pray by Himself (Matt 14:23). He also spent time at the Mount of temptation where Satan offered Him all the Kingdoms of the world (Matt 4:8-9), He fed huge crowds from a mountainside (Matt 15) and Peter, James and John got a glimpse of His glory at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17). Jesus preached the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matt 5-7) and various events happened at the Mount of Olives including Jesus’ triumphant entrance to Jerusalem (Matt 21:1-11) and Gethsemene (Matt 26:30-46). Finally there are many references to Mount Zion which was the location of the City of David and the temple Mount in the Old Testament and is used metaphorically to refer to the heavenly Jerusalem, God’s holy, eternal city in the New Testament (Hebrews 12).
Lift up your eyes to God
As you see mountains are a common theme in the Bible! Yet God is not confined to any particular mountain even though He is closely associated with Mount Sinai and Mount Zion in particular. Sadly mountains all too often also became sources of Israel’s idolatrous worship practices. Still mountains throughout scripture have always carried a sense of God’s presence and as we have seen have served as places of special worship and meeting with God. I want to finish by returning to Psalm 121, one of the ‘songs of ascents’ (Psalms 120-134) and used by travellers to Jerusalem. This psalm is much loved by people relying upon God during literal journeys as well as in life’s challenges. In v1 the psalmist hints that he is in the midst of a difficult and/or uncertain situation. He is however able to affirm hope and demonstrate faith in God’s concern, even though the situation is one of uncertainty and/or difficulty. The encouragement of the Psalm therefore is to lift our eyes up to the mountains, to life up our eyes to God. Perhaps you too need to escape to the mountains. I pray that each of us would have mountain top experiences where we see more of who God is and what His heart is for us and our world. For me mountains are a smybol of hope because they point me to God. I pray therefore that as we look to the mountains that they would fill us with Hope…
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore. Psalm 121