GOD'S UPWARD CALL
Q1: Who has ever experienced climbing up a mountain? Share your experience. Why did you do it? How did it feel to be at the summit?
We begin our new series for this Month: Mountains, Rivers, Gardens and Deserts. What this series is about is to explore the topography and landscape of the Bible. Why? Because GOD uses them to convey His Message and Redemptive plan. In particular, Mountains, Rivers, Gardens and Deserts are recurring features in the Narrative of the Bible. Many significant stories in the Bible that we grew up knowing took place in these locations. Today we are talking about Mountains.
I grew up and lived in 2 mountainous provinces in the Philippines - Laguna and Rizal. They are places where you can literally see mountains as a view to your room window. There is something majestic and quite spiritual about mountains. In the Philippines we always went to Prayer Mountains and Youth Camps were normally held on Mount Makiling. Our Camp on the Easter weekend on April 2022 will be on a mountaintop as well.
What does the Bible say about mountains?
Mountains are mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible. They are very symbolic and not all the time we read on it, we understand what they pertain to. Take for example this text: Micah 4:1-2
1 In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis’s young heroes travel to the edge of the world and get a glimpse of Aslan’s country. Here’s how Lewis describes it:
What they saw—eastward, beyond the sun—was a range of mountains. . . . And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter or a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full of forests and waterfalls however high you looked.
What the reader may not know is that Lewis is alluding to the end-time mountains of Israel described in Ezekiel 34:13–16, where Yahweh promises to dwell with his people:
I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. (Ezek. 34:14–15)
Yahweh’s description of these future mountains wasn’t meant to be confined to the imaginations of fictional writers. It was meant to be real. And as we’ll see, this imagery is hardly limited to Ezekiel 34.
Biblical Theology of Mountains
The story of the Bible is a story of salvation and in the many generations of this long history of God’s faithfulness, He has always been in the business of redeeming and saving His covenant people.
Salvation in the Old Testament is often viewed in spatial terms, meaning that salvation is found where Yahweh is present. And more often than not, Yahweh seems to be present and reveals himself to humanity on mountains.
The story begins on a mountain. Many Old Testament scholars have suggested that Eden was a mountain since it was the source of a major river (Gen. 2:10) and was mentioned in Ezekiel 28 also.
After the fall, the religious significance of mountains was tainted by sin, as was the rest of the cosmos. Most ancient civilizations that we know, centred divine worship on mountaintops; if not physically, they built ziggurats (ancient Mesopotamia e.g. Tower of Babel) or pyramids to emulate them.
Q2: Why do you think many temples of many ancient religions and many structures like above are found in Mountains or emulate mountains?
There is an ancient belief that to be on the mountain is to be the near God as the people would believe that their “gods” or god lived in the Heavens and to be at the peak of the mountain is to reach them.
The Bible has this similarity of symbolism; but whilst other religions tried to reach God, the God of the Bible came down, revealed Himself and manifested Himself on mountains in His desire to restore broken humanity and creation unto Himself.
God’s redemptive plan to save the world began and continued to unfold on mountains.
Q3: Name as many mountains in the Bible as you can remember and what story can you remember from them?
2. Mount Ararat
Genesis 8 (A Covenant was made by God with Noah)
3. Mount Moriah
Genesis 22 (Covenant was made by God with Abraham)
God reveals himself to Abraham on a mountain, as Abraham demonstrates his willingness to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac (Gen. 22:1–14), pointing to the sacrifice God would one day make of his own Son.
4. Mount Horeb
God reveals his redemptive plans to Moses on Mount Horeb (Ex. 3:1–2). The Hebrews exodus from Egypt pointing to the time when he’d save his people once and for all from the slavery of sin.
5. Mount Sinai
God revealsed himself to the Israelites on Mount Sinai and gives Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 19–20), pointing to how he’d one day dwell with his covenant people in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24).
6. Mount Zion
(2 Samuel 5:1-10, 1 Kings 8:1)
David conquers this mountainous terrain and it becomes the City of David and where the Temple of Solomon was built - this is in Jerusalem. There the temple is intricately designed with garden themes (1 Kings 6:29), pointing to its continuity with Eden as Yahweh’s new dwelling place on earth.
Due to rampant idolatry and covenant infidelity, though, the Spirit of Yahweh departs from the temple (Ezek. 10:18), bringing into question what the promised land was ultimately supposed to be.
THE EZEKIEL PROPHESY
With the destruction of the temple and the exile of God’s people, Yahweh then prophesies about a land filled with lush mountains, green pastures, and ravines (Ezek. 34:13), echoing the language of Eden and of Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:17).
JESUS and the MOUNTAINS in the New Testament
In the New Testament, Jesus identifies himself as the archetypical Chief Shepherd. He knows his sheep, and they know him (John 10:14; cf. Ezek. 34:16). He is the “good shepherd” who lays down his life for them (John 10:15; cf. Ezek. 34:12) and keeps the covenant as the promised descendant of David’s line (1 Sam. 7:8–16; cf. Rom. 5:18–19). He has more scattered sheep that aren’t in the Jewish fold whom he will gather (John 10:16; cf. Ezek. 34:13). And when He gathers His sheep, He leads them up the mountains where the grazing lands are richer.
Look at how the Gospels show Jesus always found on the mountains:
Proclaims the Great Commission on a mountain (Matt. 28:16)
Mount of Olives - Ascends into heaven from a mountain (Acts 1:10–12)
Christ will return on a mountain (Zechariah 14:1-5).
Q4: Why do you think Jesus goes up to the Mountains oftentimes to preach and teach there? Q5: Why do you think the mountains are a good place that Jesus often goes to pray?
Do we need to climb up a mountain for us to be able to experience or encounter God? The answer is No. The point of this is to show us that GOD WANTS US TO BE IN HIS PRESENCE and the mountains symbolised just that. Every time we choose to intentionally pray and devote time to be alone with God, spiritually speaking we are ascending the hill of the Lord - Mt. Zion. The Israelites had an old songbook which called, in Hebrew, shiray hammaloth—Songs of Ascents. The songs are Psalms120 through 134. These fifteen psalms were likely sung, possibly in sequence, by Hebrew pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem to the great worship festivals. Topographically Jerusalem was the highest city in Palestine, (previously Mt. Moriah and eventually referred to as Mt. Zion - the City of David - the city of God - where the original Temple of Solomon was built) and so all who travelled there spent much of their time ascending.
But the ascent was not only literal, it was also a metaphor: the trip to Jerusalem acted out a life lived upward toward God, an existence that advanced from one level to another in developing maturity—what Paul described as “the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
The mountains were all pointing to the essence of God’s Presence. And where God's Presence is these are found:
Q6: Why do you think, encounters with God's presence is often referred to as mountaintop experience? Share a time when you experienced one of these 5 in God's Presence.
From Mt Sinai to Mt Zion - Our Christian Ascent
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The letter was written to Jewish Christians and they would already know that verses 18-21 was pertaining to - Exodus 19.
Observe the difference. All the fear and everything Israel witnessed in the account in Exodus 19 - was not able to keep them from sinning and in fact 40 days later after this was when they had a drunken immoral party and built the golden calf and decided it will be their God.
“Awe is one thing the submission of the will of God is another.”
Hebrews 12, however, compares the fiery quaking Mount Sinai of Exodus 19 to a different Mountain - Mount Zion. This is where Jesus died for our sins and have been forgiven so we can approach and co-habit with God.
Q7: What are the differences of Mt. Sinai Israelites to Mt. Zion Christians?
Sinai speaks of FEAR and TERROR
Zion speaks of LOVE and FORGIVENESS
Sinai is in a dry desert
Zion is the City of the Living God
Sinai is earthly
Zion is heavenly
In Sinai, only Moses can meet with God
In Zion, there is an innumerable assembly of God’s people welcomed
Sinai, Moses is the mediator Zion, Jesus is the Mediator
Sinai represents the Old Covenant that is ratified by the blood of animals
Zion has a New Covenant ratified by the blood of God’s precious Son
Sinai is always about barriers and exclusion - about Religion and legalism Zion is all about invitation and inclusion - about Relationship with God
Sinai is about the Law which we cannot fulfil
Zion is about the Grace given to us because Christ fulfiled the Law
We have a choice in which mountain we will live in.
“Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
Q8: Why do you think the Christian Life is metaphored as an upward call?
We shouldn’t come to God under the New Covenant as if we are coming to God under the Old Covenant. The curtain of the Temple has been torn when Jesus died on the cross and His blood has made us worthy and cleansed us from all our sins if we have truly repented and submitted our will to His. So with these in mind let us:
1. Come up to Mt. Zion with Confidence and Boldness
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
2. Come up to Mt. Zion with Humility and Submission
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
3. Come up to Mt. Zion with Gratitude and Joy
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
4. Come up to Mt. Zion with Intentionality and Devotion