The Mountains of God
Mr. John H. Jobbins, formerly of Vancouver, B.C., presently resides in Victoria and is in fellowship at Westview Gospel Chapel.
Scripture is filled with glorious imagery and beauty, whether originally written in Hebrew, Greek or Aramean, and the wonders of the natural world are frequently used to elevate the souls of men to experience the heights of spiritual realities. One of these pictures, used time and again to provide spiritual teaching, is the image of the hills or mountains of God. How often Scripture takes us to these high places, where the lives of His servants came into their greatest experiences of the impact of God’s wonderful presence! These are the places and moments in time when we look back to catch the glories of God sweeping downward to touch our lives and to lift us out of the depths of human tragedy and sorrow. On each of these peaks we are also enabled to look onward to catch the further rays of glory that tell us of waiting splendours in the presence of the Risen Christ which await us in the not too distant future. These are the peaks which truly declare the wonders of God’s grace in all His dealings with mankind, and such realities of truth will one day lift us out of this world of time and sense to dwell upon that “great mountain peak” of all eternity, in the very dwelling place of our God and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are many of these peaks within the Bible, but we are able to touch on just five of them. Each peak will have its own lesson for us, and that lesson will depend on the circumstances of our lives as we consider it. The number five speaks of the grace of God which overcomes the weakness of man, and having reached him, accords to him the great privileges of approach and communion.
The first peak to meet our gaze is Sinai. It is also called the mountain of Horeb. The meaning of both names seems difficult to trace, but the significance of Mount Sinai is great indeed. This is the mountain where Moses met with the revealed glories of God in the burning bush. Here God manifested Himself to Moses in the grandeur of that name which teaches His eternity and omnipotence. As the great “I AM” God revealed Himself in the majesty of His eternal being, and showed His strong desire to reach out to, and be known by man.
Sinai was also the place where the fledgling nation of Israel found the presence of God in the awesome displays of His power, as recorded in Exodus 19:12-24:17. It was here, too, that God manifested the wonders of His grace and compassion in maintaining the covenant relationship that He had promised. (Ex. 34:6). Here, too, the full majesty of God’s laws was presented, indelibly etched on tablets of stone, indicating the standards of behaviour required from all who would approach God or seek to know Him. These requirements of God, necessary because of His divine and holy nature, became the standards before which men failed so completely. This left man totally dependent on God’s grace and mercy, if he was to be accepted at all.
There is no success attendant upon man’s earnest attempts to live by the high standards of God. The purest and best of men have failed and fallen far short in their endeavours to merit the commendation of God, or to measure up to His standards by their own efforts. Some have boasted of their ability to live by the Ten Commandments yet, in the final analysis, they have not even understood that the first and greatest of all the commandments requires them to worship God totally, and that this is the prior condition to a beginning of understanding the final six commandments (Ex. 20:1-7) .
How often the lofty displays of the glories of God are seen, not as a mountain peak experience, but as the darkest and most awful valleys of deepest depression. It is out of these pits of depression that the majesty of the goodness of God lifts the soul to enter into the truths which are manifested on the peaks. Here the holiness of a triune God is seen, and here our hearts begin to recognize the greatness of the gulf that separates man from God, and the manifest wonder of His grace in spanning this abyss and permitting us the privilege of approach and fellowship as a continual personal experience.
The second peak is that of Calvary (Luke 23:33). Note that Sinai is a high and lofty place, so appropriate to the display of God’s full glory and grandeur, while Calvary is a low and sordid place by comparison. It has been suggested that it was in fact very close to the place where refuse from the city was thrown out and burned. The dark and awesome place of Calvary is said to resemble a skull and this suggests its foreboding nature. As we gaze at Calvary, the mind of man registers the form of the skull and it speaks to us of the total loss of sight, hearing and intelligence.
As we reflect on that, we understand the reality of the truth that all of man’s best accomplishments have come to nothing at this place. Man’s highest and best endeavours have all come to naught at death, and the sordid remains of the skull hold no pleasant values for any of us.
It is in this place, stripped of all the best that man can devise, that the sovereign grace of God reaches out to the needs of sinful man. Calvary is the mountain upon which the seeking Saviour meets with the souls of sinning men. This is the place where the grand expression of Paul in Philippians 2:5-11 is fully revealed through divine love. The Eternal Son, in the body prepared (Heb. 10:5), makes the one full and sufficient sacrifice that opens the glories of an eternal relationship with God and makes it all possible for those who place their full faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Calvary is filled with sorrow and sadness for those who reject the Lord as Saviour, but for those who have experienced this great transaction, there is the certainty that this place is the highest and best of all places for the human soul to climb. The “place of the skulls” has no fears for the believer, but engages the soul in the most delightful of all occupations, which is that of worshipping the risen Christ in his own appointed way, at the remembrance feast.
The third peak is called Moriah (Genesis 22). At Calvary we professed our faith in Christ. This does not end our sorrows, for many will need to be tested in order to be proved genuine. God does not need to test us, for He knows whether our profession of faith is real, but we need the tests ourselves, to show us that our faith is indeed genuine. The testing that God allows to come into our lives generates the necessary heat and pressure to rid us of the things that are hindering the full manifestation of real spiritual progress. God takes us through the dark places so that we may rise victorious conquerors over all that stands in the way of spiritual growth and maturity. It is this testing that evidences to ourselves the reality of the steps of faith that we have taken, and encourages us to press ever onward in the strength of a faith that looks only Godward for help in times of need.
With a sense of fear and wonder at what awaits at the crest, we climb the rugged sides of Mount Moriah with Abraham and Isaac. What a trial that was for the godly old man, Abraham. Isaac reminds him that they have brought no lamb for the sacrifice. The great wonder of Abraham’s total dependence on God is seen in his declaration, with absolute assurance, that “God will provide Himself a lamb” (Gen. 22:8). If we can really understand that God will always make the necessary provision for every trial, as in Abraham’s case, we can go forward into the darkest of testing knowing that God is with us and will provide the essential ingredient for the successful completion of whatever He has demanded of us.
This trial of Abraham’s teaches us that what we hold most dear in this life is that very thing which God demands of us as the price of continued advance in a spiritual life. It would appear that this is no mountain peak, but rather the deepest and darkest of valleys, yet it is there that the presence of God is found. It is truly a mountain peak experience as we place on the altar of God that which is dearest and best to us. We find that He has met us in the presentation of His glory, and has given back to us much of what we treasured, and has further placed upon our gift a manifestation of His love to sustain and encourage us through our wilderness journey. Here we find that God’s rewarding riches are far beyond our own understanding, and the fresh experience of the gifts of true grace lift us once more to the crest of the mountain (Luke 6:38).
The fourth mountain is called Gerizim (Deut. 28). The people of Israel had passed into a valley that stood in the shadows between two great mountains, Gerizim and Ebal. They paused here to learn a little of their future. The shadows of the place must have overwhelmed their souls, yet the impression was fleeting, for it was not long until they took paths contrary to the will of God. Having passed through the many trials of wilderness, and having been given the law of God, they were now poised to move into their promised homeland. Their trap, into which we all fall, was the attempt to live up to God’s standards in our own strength. This dependence on self caused them to pay attention to the blessings of Gerizim, but to give little heed to the warnings of Ebal. Following the Lord Jesus demands that we look only to Him for the ability to please Him. We must understand that the expression “the lordship of Christ” is not easily taken as our personal possession unless we are fully prepared to yield all to the risen Christ at every step of the way. Nor dare we fall into the trap on the other side, which is belief in “sinless perfection” for the believer.
The ability to enter into all the blessings of God, both personally and collectively, is possible only when we yield our all to Him and recognize that as Christians we are made new creatures so that we may live in “good works” (Eph. 2:10) and in the proclamation of the gospel and the teaching of the Word of Truth. If we attempt any of these things in our own strength and self-sufficiency, we are deprived of the blessings of God because we have not walked in faith.
The Holy Spirit moves us in this age of grace only as we yield ourselves to His guidance, and when we do, we discover that the “fruit of the Spirit” is evidenced in our lives to the glory of God and man (Gal. 5:22-23). A careful study of these nine “fruits” shows that three look Godward, three look manward, and three look inward to the self. This presents a constant lesson of Mount Gerizim, since the blessings of God flow in us and through us only when we are in the place where God desires to use us and in the state of soul that permits God to use us for His glory.
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is the final mountain, as mentioned in Matthew 28:16. The blessings of this peak figure in the church age and in the future (Acts 1:9-10 and Zach 14:4). It is the peak from which our Lord Jesus ascended into glory after the resurrection, and it is the place to which He will return to this earth when the tribulation period ends and the millennium begins. It is also the place where our Lord spent much time In prayer to the Father, as He made reedy for the awesome moment of the cross.
It is here in this peak that the presence of God seems to be most strongly experienced. The Master trod this ground and left us much on which to meditate in our moments of silent contemplation. Here our souls look so longingly, as the sense of Christ returning for His own gathers momentum in our minds. The darkest thoughts of the Mount of Olives preceded Calvary, but the loftiest of all God-given truths lifts us to the summit to await that moment when the trumpet call of God will sound and we will lift our eyes to see the dawning radiance of His face and we shall be lifted out of this world to dwell in the continual light of His glory for all the eternities yet to come! Consider the wonder of it! Our Lord and Saviour will catch us out of this scene to escape all the judgment of a just and holy God on a sinful world. We lay hold of this expected reality, whether we are taken individually through death, or with all of the Lord’s people at the coming of the Lord Jesus for His Church. It matters little how we go, provided that we take firm possession of the fact that this moment will be that great moment when we will be able to shout that great cry of “victory in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). This great cry of victory in Christ is the central theme of the Mount of Olives. From this place He left and returned to the Father. To this place He will return bringing peace in the fullest possible sense of that precious word to all of God’s creation on earth.
May our hearts be strengthened as we grasp the truths of the mountain peaks of God, and may the time spent meditating on the riches of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ encourage us ever onward to renewed spiritual exercise for His glory, and for His glory alone.