January 8, 2014

Highlanders: Mountain Men and the Bible

If one reads the Bible they will find that mountaintops are popular places for God to carry out events. Mountains seem to play a prominent role in either the lives of God’s people or in Gods interaction with His people.  I will try to mention them all but will only go into detail with a few of the episodes that I have not formerly written about. There is the fact that Noah’s ark came to rest on Mt Ararat (Genesis 8:4). We see Abraham about to offer up Isaac as sacrifice to God on Mt Moriah which will one day be the location of the Temple (i.e.: Temple Mount) and will later be the place of Christ’s Crucifixion at Calvary (Genesis 22:2). The importance of the convergence of all these episodes at the same location cannot be overstated. It is God showing people through foreshadowing how things will be. It shows that He is behind them all. It is not coincidence that all these magnanimous events are located on the same real estate.

We then have the supernatural occurrence of the Angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in the burning bush on Mt Horeb.

Exodus 3:2 ~ “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.

This is Moses direct call from God. Compared to the rest of his life up to this point it is abrupt and profound. We are shown Moses during his active pastoral stage in his life. We will now see God take on the very same role with his people. As we will see in the lives of many others in the Bible we will see the work of God parallel the very ones He shepherds. It of course is no accident that it will be on Mt. Horeb the “Mountain of God”. Moses, first driven from Egypt will  be driven from Midian deeper into the desert wilderness. There he and the people of God will be stripped bare down to the only thing they will need to survive: God. Moses and the people will be forced to rely and trust on God’s supernatural provision.

Moses will have another mountaintop experience even grander than the first when he receives the Ten Commandments atop Mount Sinai. In this narrative we sort of see why it is always Moses and a mountain top experience in verse 23.

Exodus 19:20-23 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.” Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”

Verse 23 tells us it is for separation between God (holy, righteous) and man (unholy, unrighteous). We saw the very same thing in Moses’ burning bush experience in Exodus 3 when the Lord speaks out from the bush and tells Moses (v.5), “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 

It is the same separation we will see in the Tabernacle between the outer courts and the Holy of Holies. As with Exodus 3’s requirement to remove Moses’ sandals we will see similar requires of the priesthood’s attire. It is a requirement so that humans and the human mind will draw a distinction between the mundane and ordinary and the super-mundane, the sacred and the holy. The attire requirements are not necessarily for God…they are for the people so that they maintain a reverential awe and respect for God. It is this very separation that will become annulled by the arrival of God’s Son Jesus. It is the separation that will be negated when the rending of the Temple veil takes place at the time of Jesus’ death.

Deuteronomy 34: 1-4 ~ “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

As it is fitting for the Bible’s “Mountain Man” who spend much time with God (some of it supernaturally), Moses will later leave this earth in an enigmatic manner at his death. As Moses had routinely met with God before the Tabernacle is built on a mountain as the go-between for God with His people, he will depart this earth one final time in a similar location. It is befitting that he will leave the earth altogether and end his ministry from the same geographic/geological feature that his ministry began. It has been mentioned before but bears repeating. Moses was in good health when he dies going to Nebo/Pisgah. It is as if he offers up the remainder of his life to God. Regardless, there is an air of mystery around Moses’ death. As with all of the mountain top experiences with God (including the forthcoming Transfiguration) there is a mysterious nature to them.

Interestingly, the Scripture also tells us that when Moses died, “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone”. There is a good probability that God took Moses home and may have taken Moses before his time. The words stated Moses’ “freshness, vigor or natural force” had not fled him or vanished away from Moses. Moses wasn’t dying nor does this sound like a dying man.

The Scripture does say Moses "died" at 120 years old and is buried in an unmarked grave by none other than God Himself. The word died here is וימת the best I can translated to mean "to kill; be killed" or "to die prematurely; before one's time". It is as if God intervened to cut it short and end it. Obviously sin was the mitigating factor as is the case in all human death but the active Agency/Agent that "removed" him from earthly existence was God. This is common to all deaths as God is the one who numbers our days in this life.

All indicators point to God "taking" Moses in death before his time and it appears he departed in fellowship with God because the last thing we see Moses "doing" is listening to God speaking the promises of the Promised Land that He made to the Patriarchs. This monologue from God to Moses is ironic because Moses is essentially going to the heavenly version of the earthly place that was promised.

He goes up to see the earthly Promised Land but ends up in the heavenly Promised Land. It is ironic that the reason Moses will not enter the earthly Promised Land is because of his sin but because of his repentance he will garner something much greater. How great is unstated as it is on the other side of the veil of death.

In the New Testament we will see Jesus deliver His Sermon on the Mount on a “mountain” so to speak or at least a steep hillside. We will also see the initiation of Jesus ministry take place on a mountain (similar to Moses). His ministry will begin by being driven into the desert wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. One of the places Satan will take Jesus to tempt Him is an exceedingly high mountain top to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the world thereby offering them to Jesus. Of course they are not Satan’s to offer and he is soundly rebuked by the Son of God (Matthew 4:8-10).

The last mountain top experience I will detail is the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). It is here we see another mysterious episode take place in salvation history. Much is speculated of the Transfiguration’s importance but we know a few things for sure. Jesus is in the center of between Elijah and Moses. Elijah who was also quite familiar with mountains will be indelibly associated with Mt Carmel and the inept Prophets of Baal. Elijah himself being the Old Testament representation of the Prophet who foretold of Jesus’ coming and Moses who was a representation of the Law…of which Jesus would abrogate and fulfill.

Jesus, Elijah and Moses were talking. So what were they talking about? They were talking about the "departure" which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). It was a "departure" that included not only the Crucifixion on Calvary (Mt Moriah) but it was also a discussion about the Resurrection and ascension. So where did Jesus ascend from into Heaven? Acts 1:12 tells us that after Jesus’ ascension, “…the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives.” It seems that Jesus in his resurrection body had led the apostles/disciples over the summit of the “mountain” and onto the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives to Bethany (Luke 24:50).

At the Transfiguration Jesus’ true nature and brilliance is manifested in its glory. Just as the Angel of the Lord had exhibited glory in the Burning Bush and other Mosaic occurrences in mountain top experiences. All of this narrative including the Moses’ experiences, the disciples and even the Abrahamic Mt. Moriah narrative point invariably to the Cross.

Peter, James and John, his three most intimate disciples of His “inner circle” bear witness to the Transfiguration. The Scriptures tell us that, “His face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as the light." What we saw was Jesus’ glory break through to this realm just as it had at other times in Bible narrative. The eternal shines through to the temporal at this moment. It shows Jesus’ true identity as both human and divine. The junction point between God and man…in Christ who is both fully God and fully man. As God had done many times in the past, He did it on a mountain.

God really seemed to like “Mountain Men”. I suppose it was so God would have such a high vantage point from which to display His glory. Not only physically but also through His chosen whom He had set apart, sanctified and made a lot like Himself.

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