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What is the significance, if any, of the mountains?

Just doing a little thinking and noticed a parallel:

1.  Israel called to come into presence of YHWH at Mount Sinai.  The people were afraid.  Moses feared and trembled, too.  God spoke to the people there at the mountain.  The people refused to go up into the presence of the LORD.
2.  Jesus, Peter, James, and John all go up into a mountain.  There these three disciples found themselves in the presence of the LORD.  Peter seems to have wanted to stay in His presence.  While Israel refused to hear at Mt Sinai, the voice of the Father commands disciples to hear the Son.
3.  Hebrews 12 tells us that we are now come to something other than Mt Sinai.  We have come to Mt Zion.  We are again commanded to heed the One Who speaks.  We are not to refuse Him.

I see these parallels, but what is the deal with the mountain motif?

Tags: Biblical, grace, law, mountains, theology

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I don't know but I have an idea that if we go about it the right way, we can develop a nice fluffy system/sermon.
Not what I'm after at all, but I should've known that you would bring that up.


Rey Reynoso said:
I don't know but I have an idea that if we go about it the right way, we can develop a nice fluffy system/sermon.
God looks down at us and we look up to Him. Kings don’t sit lower than their subjects.

Mountains have always represented strength, power, shelter, refuge, fortress, safety, mystery….
MOUNTAIN
Mountains and hills proliferate in biblical landscapes, numbering approximately five hundred references. No clear distinction can be made between mountains and hills in biblical imagery. Together they represent an elevated terrain or region. A well-known rhetorical feature of biblical parallelism is that the need for similar terms in successive lines led to stock doublets that are regularly paired. “Mountains and hills” constitutes such a stock formula, being paired in parallel form forty times.
Biblical meanings of the mountain are paradoxical and even contradictory. Mountains are sometimes a symbol of refuge and security and sometimes a threatening place of military slaughter. At times inaccessible, barren and uninhabited, mountains are nonetheless places where God’s people will dwell in abundance. As sites of religious experience, mountaintops are places of pagan worship that God denounces and of true worship that he commands. The mountains and hills of the Bible are both physical phenomena and spiritual symbols.
Mountains as Physical Places. Although mountains and hills are a prime source of symbol and metaphor in the Bible, they are also an important physical phenomenon of the world of the Bible. Mountains and hills have always been significant natural barriers that readily become geographic and political boundaries (Josh 15:8–16). Extreme conditions make them barren and often sparsely populated. Their unchanging appearance makes them a measure of permanence and solidity. Their natural features (steep slopes, rock outcroppings, sheer cliffs) make them strategic fortress sites (Judg 6:2). Their many nooks and crannies make them places of hiding and refuge to which to flee.
These physical qualities of mountains give them connotations of being wild, distant and alien to civilization. There are nearly a hundred biblical references to “hill country” (NRSV), implying a region sparsely populated, beyond the pale of what might be considered civilized. People flee to the hills when their city is destroyed (Gen 14:10; 19:17), and Lot lives in semibarbarous fashion in a cave in the hills after eschewing a civilized existence (Gen 19:30). Mountains are where persecuted Christians wander in the skins of sheep and goats (Heb 11:37–38) and where Jephthah’s unfortunate daughter bewails her virginity for two months (Judg 11:37–39). The descendants of the uncouth Esau, the Edomites, settled, appropriately, in the hill country (Gen 36:8–9).
Other typical actions reinforce the alien quality of mountains in the Bible. Here is where fugitives hide (1 Sam 26:1), where routed armies seek escape (1 Sam 14:22), where soldiers pursue their enemies (Lam 4:19), where armies gather (1 Sam 17:3) and set ambushes (Judg 9:25). In short, hills and mountains are not inviting places. People hunt there (1 Sam 26:20), but the only agricultural activities undertaken in the hills are the planting of vineyards (Jer 31:5) and the pasturing of sheep (Mt 18:12) or cattle (Ps 50:10), not the growing of crops that require tilling of the ground. For the pilgrim traveling to Jerusalem, hills represent dangers that require God’s protection (Ps 121:1–3).
On a more positive note, the elevation of hills and mountains makes them natural places for vision (Deut 34:1–4; Rev 21:10) and proclamation (Is 40:9; 52:7; Mt 5:1). Covenant making, lawgiving and covenant renewal occur at mountains that, due to their permanence, stand as memorials to the covenant (Ex 19–20; Deut 9–10). They are also the place from which announcements are made-cursing and blessing from Ebal and Gerizim (Deut 27–28), for example, or the word of God from Zion (Is 2:3; Mic 4:2).
The Mountains of the Poets. In addition to their remoteness and ruggedness, hills and mountains are large and impressive. Their inaccessibility makes them unknown and gives them an aura of mystery. Their visible immensity makes them the benchmark for enormity. These are the qualities that impress biblical poets. In Moses’ farewell blessing on Israel, he speaks at one point of “ancient mountains” and “everlasting hills” (Deut 33:15 RSV). The most striking images of the destructiveness of nature in Psalms are the shaking of mountains in earthquakes (Ps 46:2–3) or volcanic eruptions (Ps 104:32) and forest fires on the mountains (Ps 83:14).
As recognized standards of immensity, mountains appear in descriptions of God’s divine power. When God appears (in either imagined or theophanic form) in his anger, “the foundations … of the mountains trembled and quaked” (Ps 18:7 NRSV). When he comes down, he touches “the mountains so that they smoke” (Ps 144:5 NRSV), and “the mountains melt like wax before the Lord” (Ps 97:5). Mountains are the standard of ancient existence against which God’s everlasting existence is measured (Ps 90:2). God’s righteousness is likened to “mighty mountains ” (Ps 36:6 NRSV), as is his protection of his people (Ps 125:2). He is “more majestic than the everlasting mountains” (Ps 76:4 NRSV). And God’s creation even of the mountains attests his strength (Ps 65:6). In Jesus’ teaching the largeness of mountains becomes a measure of what people can do through faith, as they cast mountains into the sea (Mt 17:20; 21:21).
Hills and mountains are also personified in Scripture, usually in passages of celebration. They rejoice (Ps 98:8), leap (Ps 114:4, 6), sing (Is 44:23) and praise God’s name (Ps 89:12). They also “gird themselves with joy” (Ps 65:12 NRSV). Ezekiel pictures God as addressing the mountains (Ezek 6:3), which in Micah 6:1–2 are summoned to hear a covenant lawsuit.
Mountains as Sacred Sites. Almost from the beginning of the Bible, mountains are sites of transcendent spiritual experiences, encounters with God or appearances by God. Ezekiel 28:13–15 places the Garden of Eden on a mountain. Abraham shows his willingness to sacrifice Isaac and then encounters God on a mountain (Gen 22:1–14). God appears to Moses and speaks from the burning bush on “Horeb, the mountain of God” (Ex 3:1–2 NRSV), and he encounters Elijah on the same site (1 Kings 19:8–18). Most impressive of all is the experience of the Israelites at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19), which Moses ascends in a cloud to meet God.
A similar picture emerges from the NT, where Jesus is associated with mountains. Jesus resorted to mountains to be alone (Jn 6:15), to pray (Mt 14:23; Lk 6:12) and to teach his listeners (Mt 5:1; Mk 3:13). It was on a mountain that Jesus refuted Satan’s temptation (Mt 4:8; Lk 4:5). He was also transfigured on a mountain (Mt 17:1–8; Mk 9:2–8; Lk 9:28–36), and he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:10–12).
The sacred mountain achieves its clearest expression in the OT motif of the mountain of God, or the holy mountain. Two separate mountains are part of the image—first Mt. Sinai or Horeb and later Mt. Zion, on which the temple stood in Jerusalem. The mountain of God possesses all the other mountain attributes and adds some special nuances. God’s mountain is a holy place (Ex 19:23; Is 11:9) on which God dwells and reigns (Ps 43:3; Is 24:23). It is a particularly threatening place (Ex 19:23) that becomes a welcoming place for the righteous (Is 2:2–4). God speaks of planting his people on his holy mountain (Ex 15:17). The metaphor suggests a change in the mountain habitat from barrenness to fruitfulness, from isolation to activity center.
Originally the mountain of God was Sinai, but through time and the movement of Israel into the Promised Land, Zion displaces Sinai as God’s dwelling place on earth. The movement of the mountain of God from Sinai to Zion tracks with the progress of redemption (prophesied by Isaiah [Is 2:1–3; 4:5] and explicitly stated in Heb 12:18–24). The threatening mountain of holiness becomes a welcoming mountain (still holy) where God’s people find refuge, peace and joy.
As the new mountain of God, Zion will be similar and dissimilar to Sinai. Both are holy places, both are associated with God’s appearing and dwelling, both are places from which the law comes (Ex 19–20; Is 2:1–5), and both are covered by cloud and fire (Ex 19; Is 4:5). But precisely in these apparent similarities a critical transformation is made. Zion is a holy mountain to which people will stream rather than from which they will be fenced away (Is 2 vs. Ex 19). The nations desire the law of God. The cloud and fire on Zion are not the threats of holy, theophanic presence but the comforting images of the presence of God that guided Israel in the exodus. No longer barren, no longer uninhabited, no longer somber, Zion is the first of many mountains to be transformed. Unimpressive in appearance and virtually indistinguishable from the hills and ridges all around it, Zion will become the chief of mountains (Ps 68:16; Is 2:1–5).
Apocalyptic Mountains. If Psalms is one main locus of mountain imagery, the visionary books are the other. In a sense all the motifs converge here. Given the way the physical elements become actors in apocalyptic visions, it is no surprise that the mountains figure prominently in the prophetic books (Is 5:25; Jer 4:24; Ezek 38:20; Rev 6:14; 8:8; 16:20). Being poetic in style, these visions naturally take mountains and hills as sources for figurative language (Is 5:1; 10:23; 40:4; 41:15; Jer 51:25; Mic 1:4). And in visions of God’s transformation of the world, mountains are participants in God’s judgment against an evil world (Is 17:13; Ezek 32:5–6; 33:28; Hag 1:11) and the locus of his blessing on a renewed world (Is 11:9; 25:6; 30:29; 42:11; Jer 31:5; Ezek 20:40; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13; Zech 8:3).
Summary. Mountains and hills are a master image of the Bible, through which one can trace the whole course of biblical history and doctrine in microcosm. They are literal landscapes in which a broad spectrum of human activity occurs. As symbols they declare the nature of God. As the place where humans encounter the divine, they epitomize how God and people relate to each other, both in history and in the eschaton. (The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery p.572)

Thought that this might be of some help in your study.
In ancient times the deities were believed to meet the world on the high places, which would normally include mountains. We see this as the motivation behind the Ziggurats (Babylon) especially, although the belief is also present in most ancient cultures (Egyptian, Greek, East Asian, even Native American societies). At the least this indicates a consistent cosmology among people, and influences the common notion that God and heaven is somewhere "up there" despite most of us would not actually believe that we transcend in an upward motion to meet with God.

The experience at Sinai is the part of the essential Israelite story, just as much as the Exodus in general. God comes down and meets with his people for the first time. His spirit follows the Israelite camp into the Promised Land over the Ark of the Covenant. When Solomon builds the Temple, he eventually sets the Ark in the Holy of Holies (1 Kgs 8), and God's spirit remains there on the Temple Mount.

The moment of Transfiguration is intentionally set as a contrast in the Mt. Sinai typology. The version found in Matt 17 makes this clear, with Jesus becoming the new Torah. Whereas in the Sinai event the Law is given to the people with the command to follow it, Jesus is now the God-given figure in which whose words the people are supposed to listen to and follow. This is crucial in our understanding of Jesus' relationship to Torah in terms of fulfillment, and crucial especially in terms of Matthew's intention to show Jesus as teacher. As well you also see Jesus/God making his way from the Mount of Transfiguration to the Temple in Jerusalem throughout the rest of the book.

I have not studied Hebrews as much as the Gospels, but my initial guess is that its emphasis is again on following Jesus (the One who speaks) instead of Torah (the one who is written). In all, understanding the key elements of the Israelite story (Exodus, Sinai, and especially Exile) helps us understand the New Testament stories.
A clue that God wants mankind to focus on "higher things"?
Yep. Are you gonna ride the Tail of the Dragon on it?

Dr Mike said:
God created mountains because of this:
I was thinking this morning about this and came to this conclusion: Jesus went up into a mountain to pray. He did so to separate Himself from others.
In the instances which I mentioned, the same thing happens; the people are separated from other people.
It seems the significance in this context is that God's call for us to commune with Him calls for us to separate ourselves to Him that we may worship without hindrance.
Just a thought.
Joshua,
I'm trying very hard to be charitable, but it's difficult when someone posts a comment such as this. You have told me that I have oversimplified the issue, but you have proposed no alternate understanding.
Secondly, your response presents a misunderstanding of what I said. I confined the separation application to the instances cited in the OP.
Please take the time to consider what you say before you say it.

Joshua Allen said:
I don't think that mountains were typically a place for finding solitude. Caves in the side of a cliff, empty gardens at night, etc. are places of solitude. It's a big oversimplification to reduce mountains to being merely a symbol of separation.

Jason said:
I was thinking this morning about this and came to this conclusion: Jesus went up into a mountain to pray. He did so to separate Himself from others.
In the instances which I mentioned, the same thing happens; the people are separated from other people.
It seems the significance in this context is that God's call for us to commune with Him calls for us to separate ourselves to Him that we may worship without hindrance.
Just a thought.
Amen!

Susan said:
"Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain"
by James Montgomery, 1771-1854
Text From:
THE HANDBOOK TO THE LUTHERAN HYMNAL
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1942), pp. 117

http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/online/tlh-149.mid


1. Come to Calvary's holy mountain,
Sinners, ruined by the Fall;
Here a pureand healing fountain
Flows to you, to me, to all,
In a full, perpetual tide,
Opened when our Savior died.

2. Come in poverty and meanness,
Come defiled, without, within;
From infection and uncleanness,
From the leprosy of sin,
Wash your robes and make them white;
Ye shall walk with God in light.

3. Come in sorrow and contrition,
Wounded, impotent, and blind;
Here the guilty free remission,
Here the troubled peace, may find.
Health this fountain will restore;
He that drinks shall thirst no more.

4. He that drinks shall live forever;
'Tis a soul-renewing flood.
God is faithful; God will never
Break His covenant of blood,
Signed when our Redeemer died,
Sealed when He was glorified.
__________________________________
Notes:
Hymn #149 from The Handbook to TLH
Text: Matt. 11: 28
Author: by James Montgomery, 1891
Composer: Ludwig M. Lindeman, 1871
Tune: Consolation
One thing is for sure, you've all been busy with mountains!
Thanks for all of the comments.

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