The Bible has many references to important experiences associated with mountains: Moriah, Sinai, Nebo, Carmel, Tabor, and so on (most of them on the scale of hills). Here are four biblical themes associated with mountains and ascent:
“God tested Abraham, and said to him . . .Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the hills that I will point out to you.” Mountains, often so arduous to ascend, can be associated with trials or tests. At the last minute, God sends an angel to intervene and save Isaac, while Abraham has passed “the test.” It is a very difficult and yet central text in Jewish tradition. Genesis 22
Theophany (Divine Encounter)
“On the third day, YHWH will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai. . .” This introduces the giving of the Ten Commandments/Utterances, the divine revelation
witnessed by the entire people, the forging of a covenant by a mountain, amid fire and thunder. Mountains can be the setting for encounter with the Divine. Exodus 19
“Moses went up from the high desert planes of Moab, to Mount Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah, opposite Jericho, and YHWH showed him the whole land.” From the peak of a mountain, Moses is allowed to see the Promised Land but not to enter it. Mountains can be associated with a vision for the future, even a future beyond our own attainment. Do you work for a vision that extends beyond the horizon of your own lifetime? Deuteronomy 34
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
–Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last speech, the day before his death
“I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘We are going to the House of YHWH. . .to which the tribes would ascend in pilgrimage.'”Three times a year, pilgrims ascended the hills to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, to rejoice in the festivals with God. Perhaps a trip to Israel, a life-cycle event, a festival, retreat, or conference has been your own aliyah le-regel (pilgrimage ascent). Psalm 122
And many peoples shall go and say: “Come and let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob. God will teach us godly ways, and we will walk in godly paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of YHWH from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3
Consider and Comment: Rather than focus in on just one text here, I am sharing a medley of texts about mountains/hills/peaks and their associations in the Bible. Does the theme of one of these texts resonate with something in your own experience, or something to which you aspire? Read the Biblical text by following the link, and reflect on this meaning of a “mountain” in tradition and in your own life.
Featured Image: Mount Sinai at Dawn, via Flickr