What is the relation between the characteristics of the mountains of the promised land, and their use as symbols in prophecy?
In Psalm 114, David said that the mountains "skipped like lambs" and little hills, "like lambs," when Israel went out of Egypt. How did the mountains skip? These cannot be literal mountains. They would have to become airborne, if they were to literally skip like lambs!
Mountains that fly through the air would be very strange. But there may be a solution, if Israel is represented by a mountain. The 12 tribes of Israel "skipped" out of Egypt, crossed the sea, came to Sinai, sojourned 40 years in the wilderness, and finally settled in the promised land.
Israel is called a mountain in Ezekiel 17:23, which refers to "the mountain of the height of Israel."
The Israelites were called sheep in many scriptures. Christ is the "shepherd of Israel." [Gen. 49:24; Psa. 80:1; Jer. 31:10; Amos 3:12; John 10:11]
Mountains are symbols of some of the great truths of the Bible; for example, the kingdom of God is represented by a mountain in Daniel 2:35, and in Isaiah 2:2. Paul refers to mount Sinai symbolically; it represents the Old Covenant and the mosaic legislation, in Galatians 4:24.
In Isaiah 2:2, the relative height of the various mountains is the key idea in the prophecy. The mountain representing the Lord's house rises to an altitude greater than all others. What are the other inferior mountains? In this case, those other mountains and hills are not identified; but clearly they are not literal mountains. They may be nations, governments, or religions. Whatever they are, the Lord's house will be higher. The dynasties of kings, and rulers of the nations, and all the great men of the earth, will become subject to the house of God, which is the church. The Israelites after the flesh were among those lesser mountains.
Isaiah said "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low." [Isa. 40:4] This was the message of John the Baptist. In Luke's account, the prophecy is seen as a prediction that the valleys are to be filled up. [Luke 3:5] The filling of valleys would diminish the relative height of the neighboring mountains.
This idea of valleys being filled may be connected with processes involved in the formation of the mountains in Israel. That mechanism is erosion. Many mountains consist of eroded sedimentary rocks; they are the remnants of sediments that were once much more extensive. Erosion left resistant rocks as mountains, flanked by valleys.
Many mountains are eroded remnants of formerly continuous layers of rock strata. Those with hard cap rocks may be mesas, which are mountains consisting of layers of sediments, often with steep sides, and a flat top. They are remnants of former continuous layers of sediments, and if those missing sediments were to be somehow restored, the mountain would become a plain.
This idea may underlie John's prophecy of mountains becoming low, and valleys being filled. It reverses the process of erosion that formed the mountains. If the mountains are metaphors of prophecies, that remain mysterious to us because they are missing their context, the restoring of the context is the interpretation of those prophecies.
There are numerous examples of prophecies that are explained, when the missing context is provided. This is most clearly shown in the prophecies about the first coming of Christ. Many of these were explained to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, after Christ rose from the grave. His ministry, and his crucifixion and resurrection, was the context that filled in the gaps, or valleys, so the "mountains," or mysteries of Old Testament prophecy, were made plain, when it was all explained to them. It was as though the missing strata, that had been eroded away to form mountains, was restored. Thus, mountains being "made low," and valleys filled, suggests the prophecies of the OT about Christ were fulfilled, and their meaning explained.
Some mountains consist of older rocks that have been uplifted by tectonic forces to levels higher than younger sediments. Prophecies may be similar; earlier revelations may be more profound, and fundamental, and significant, for understanding the Gospel.
Mountains are durable, and long lasting. Gen. 49:26 refers to "the everlasting hills." They don't change significantly over time; David said, "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." [Psa. 36:6] Thus the mountains resemble the promises of God, which endure forever.
Mountains are landmarks, that guide a traveler on his way. Isaiah said, "And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted." [Isaiah 49:11] The mountains represent the great promises of God, and they help us find the way, if we keep our objective, and our promised inheritance in mind.
When Jesus said to "flee to the mountains" in Matt. 24:16 and Luke
21:21, he was not referring to literal mountains! He said "Whosoever
shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his
life shall preserve it." [Matt. 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24; 17:33] So,
clearly, he could not have meant flee to the mountains for self
preservation. Rather, he meant seek the promises of God that the
mountains represent. The mountains were prominent parts of the promised
land, so they represent the promises of God, and all the scriptures.
Copyright © 2010 by Douglas E. Cox
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