Knowing His paths through Moses and David, in the darkness of the prophets we yet walk in His light.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it…
The narrative of the Bible consists mostly of a linear history until we reach the end of the era of the kings. Once we hit the prophets and the literature surrounding the exile, the Scriptures turn into a box of puzzle pieces. They are not lined up in historical order but grouped instead by genre or purpose.
This causes a great deal of confusion concerning the fulfilment of many of the predictions of the prophets. Do they concern Israel or the Church? Were they fulfilled spiritually, or are they yet to be fulfilled physically? And either way, why use language which causes such confusion? Thankfully, the Bible does provide the key to the puzzle. We simply need eyes which are trained to see it.
Despite the surgical approach to the Scriptures by many academics, the Bible is indeed one book. Though we must make an effort to understand each of its parts in its historical context, contrary to current thought, the Scriptures are not the product of their respective historical contexts. These writings were not the outcome of history, the thoughts of men about God, but revelations given by God as divine acts to change the direction of history and move it forward.
Thus, historical context is only a beginning. It reveals the problem but not the solution. What is required beyond an understanding of history is a Covenant context, the place of the text in all of Bible history. History and Covenant are complementary tools in our interpretive toolbox, but Covenant is in fact the crucial one. History will only tell us where we have come from. Covenant shows us where we are going.
Covenant history is the basis for understanding the prophets. Their writings were not merely desires expressed by a people hoping for restoration, but promises of a new life from God, by divine intervention, which would transcend the old. The prophets were the source of hope, not the expression of it. But this still does not explain why they are so confusing. We must first take note of the means by which the hope of Israel always came.
Salvation Through Judgment
One of the reasons Israel was established was to serve as a kind of “corporate sacrifice,” an entire nation acting as a mediator between heaven and earth, offering sacrifices on behalf of all nations. The annual cycle of Israel’s festal calendar recapitulated the “death and resurrection” of the harvest year. This procedure prepared and purified the people, culminating in the Day of Atonement, after which a holy Israel ministered to the nations at the Feast of Booths.
At a larger scale, Israel’s own history was also a succession of death-and-resurrection events, and each of these events also transformed her. The Israel which came out of Egypt was very different to the one which went into Egypt. Likewise, the new Israel and corresponding new Jerusalem would be as different from the Davidic kingdom as fragrant sacrificial smoke is from bloody sacrificial flesh.
Of course, all of these annual and historical events speaks of the death and resurrection of Christ, whose resurrection body was very different from the body that went into the grave, even though it was the same body. Understanding this process of “transformation by fire” is the first step in making sense of the words of the prophets.
Judgment Through Sacrifice
Covenant history is a series of sacrifices. The acts of God bring new life through judgment. Through death and resurrection, the natural becomes spiritual, the earthly is transformed and enabled to carry a heavenly office. In Israel’s history, this was not a one time, single event, but a series of events: a process of growth into godliness and spiritual maturity. 1
Like any good father or sports coach, the Lord keeps moving the goal posts to encourage further development. He always has something better in mind than we can currently imagine. He promised an earthly country to the patriarchs but deep down they knew this was only a taste, a promise of a heavenly country to come, just as the grapes of Eshcol had been a foretaste of Canaan itself.
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
God consistently used the concept of Firstfruits as an indication, a promise, of future glory. But each glory itself became a foretaste of something else. And so He moved His people from glory to glory, increasing their faith and understanding at every point. And every step forward involved some kind of “death” for the sake of a greater purity and a greater outpouring of blessing to the nations.
Natural Then Spiritual
This is the reason why the prophets used physical motifs to describe spiritual things. This does not make the physical things meaningless. Adam and Eve’s “physical” eyes were opened well before their “ethical” eyes were opened. Any preacher or teacher can open the Bible, but it takes a good teacher to really “open it” for the people. We must read or hear the texts with our physical eyes and ears before the eyes of our hearts can come to understand them. Both the natural and the spiritual are required.
So, the prophets were not gnostics, making promises based on past history which were nothing but ideology and would thus never materialise. They understood that the natural things were given to us so that we might understand the spiritual realities which they prefigured. The triune nature of the world, the physical, social and ethical/spiritual realms all image each other, and speak to each other. Just as Genesis 1-3 moves from the physical realm to the social realm, and then from the social realm to the ethical realm, so does Covenant history. Israel’s priests dealt with the physical, the kings with the social, and the prophets with the ethical. Each era contained all three facets, but in each one a different “office” came to the fore and received an emphasis. It was all part of a process of maturity completed for us in Christ, the perfect fulfilment of all three offices.
So, just as the “social” literature of the kings constantly alludes to the “physical” events recorded in the priestly books, so the “ethical” literature of the prophets and the exile constantly alludes to the priestly and kingly books. The physical and social became motifs employed to describe the ethical/spiritual. The prophets took all of the concrete things we learned from the priests and kings and used them to illustrate the next step in the plan of God. The seen was given that we might understand the unseen. This is why there is so much dispute and confusion concerning the prophetic books. Anyone can see the chariots of man. It takes a prophet to see the chariots of God behind the events of history. In the Scriptures, physical blindness is always a sign of being devoid of judgment.
The glory of Israel after the exile was a spiritual one, which is why no historians and few commentators recognise it. James Jordan writes:
The Restoration is the least familiar and least studied phase of Old Covenant history. It is often assumed that the Kingdom of God went into the doldrums during this period, and that the people simply suffered until the coming of Messiah. Such an understanding of the post-exilic era utterly fails to do justice to the case. The Restoration was actually a far more glorious time than ever before, in terms of spiritual power, though not in terms of outward glory and splendour. 2
The new Israel would be different from the Old, but in the process of transformation there was a “sacrificial” continuity between them, just as there would be in the body of Jesus before and after His atoning self-sacrifice. We make sense of the “disorderly cloud” of prophetic literature by interpreting it in the light of the “linear,” earthly texts which preceded it. The seen speaks to us of the unseen, the natural of the spiritual, and our eyes are opened to the ways of God. Knowing His paths through Moses and David, in the darkness of the prophets we yet walk in His light. This is the reason why Joseph, a man with the Spirit of God, saw no miracles as Abraham and Jacob did. Joseph himself was the sign. For him, physical or social signs were unnecessary. The Word was enough.
The Rock That Followed Them
One of the mysteries of the prophets is the meaning of the promises concerning the mountain of God. For everyone living before AD 70, the promises were expected to be fulfilled upon the physical real estate of Mount Zion. God had appeared upon various mountains throughout biblical history. This made Him unlike all other gods because He was not confined to a particular territory as they were. Yet for over a millennium the Lord’s house had been situated in Jerusalem, so an expectation of greater glory for that site was not unreasonable. Not for men who walked by sight, anyway.
The promises of Isaiah and others were no doubt the basis for the expansive construction projects of the Herods. First century Judah was indeed a glorious place. But in replacing the authority of God with their own, Israel’s priests and kings had once again turned Zion into a “high place,” a mountain which was not the mountain of God but a rival. Jerusalem’s physical beauty and social peculiarity again became a mask for her ethical apostasy. The Pharisees rejoiced in their Abrahamic Land and circumcision, but according to Jesus they were a brood of snakes.
Where the old Israel had succumbed to pagan idols, the new Israel now revered the Temple itself as an idol. Not only would the Herods’ Temple be torn down by invading Gentiles as had been the Temple of Solomon, the mountain itself would be “decommissioned.” Jesus died outside the city as something unclean, but in this act of condemnation the Temple itself was condemned. Following His ascension, the ministry of the apostles would bring about the end of earthly Jerusalem, the mountain of God on earth, that a better house on a better mountain might be “lifted up” as promised by the prophets. The Jewish “Land” would be engulfed by the untamed Gentile “Sea.” This is why Jesus said,
“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21-22)
The subsequent verses in Matthew make the context of these words very clear. After this statement, Jesus entered the Temple and His authority was challenged by the chief priests and elders. He Himself was the first stone of a new Temple, and He would be lifted up that He might draw all men to Himself as a better Jerusalem, a city built not by men but by God. Despite the ambitious renovations of the Herods, even Nehemiah’s “new Jerusalem” on earth was now old and ready to pass away.
A Flaming Mountain Thrown Into The Sea
This final resurrection and ascension of Israel necessitated another corporate death, which would, as always, be a sacrifice on behalf of the nations. As in the days of Joel, there would again be prophetic signs as warnings, followed by “blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke” (Joel 2:30; Acts 2:19). Zion would be turned into another Sinai, bearing the curses of the Law of Moses before its complete destruction.
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. (Revelation 8:8)
In the Jewish War, the Temple was destroyed by Roman armies and the entire landscape so defaced that archaeologists are still studying the “dental records” to identify what little remained. Just like the promises of a conquering Messiah, the promises concerning the mountain of God seemed to evaporate. For the rabbis, they are yet to be fulfilled. For many Christians, they became merely poetry or hopeful ideology.
If the promises were not physical in nature, how are we to understand them? At this point, many scholars would present a collection of proof texts, along with a grab bag of arbitrarily selected and most likely conflicting opinions of commentators through the ages. However, if our eyes are open, the Bible itself gives us the key, and it is sacrificial.
One of the means by which we can identify the book of Revelation as prophecy against first century Jerusalem is through its recapitulation of patterns established in the Torah, especially Levitical ones. The Revelation is an order of service for a great Day of Atonement. The Jewish rulers had “trodden underfoot” the blood of Christ, so they would atone for their own sins with their Temple and city. The prophecy describes the offering of the first century martyrs as a Firstfruits, and another fiery “Pentecost” which would destroy the old order completely. For those with the eye of the prophet, the destruction of Jerusalem was not a defeat but the first victory in an ongoing campaign.
Just like all the previous holy mountains in Bible history, Mount Zion became irrelevant in God’s economy. His focus had moved elsewhere, to a spiritual peak unseen yet sensed by all the saints throughout history as the antitype of every physical mountain. Yet, if we wish to understand the significance of this succession of high places, we must not only understand the rite of sacrifice, but its purpose as a microcosmic “substitutionary atonement” for all Creation.
On first reading, the many details given to us in the text of the Bible appear at first glance to be random dots or “junk DNA,” fragments of a cultural husk which must be discarded that we might obtain the “essence” of the truth. 3 But nothing could be further from the truth. Every detail is in fact a seed planted for a future typological payoff, and this includes the details and events surrounding all of the “mountains of God.” In hindsight, we are able to join the dots, trace the path of God, and the result is a pattern which resembles the sevenfold process of sacrifice.
Within the constraints of this article, we will only have space for a “flyover” of some related patterns from the Torah, but as you meditate upon them and become familiar with the order in which God does things, you will begin to see the same process everywhere in Scripture.
The first structure is fivefold, and it is the shape of every Covenant in the Bible. It begins with God and ends with the image of God.
God initiates a new era or event through His Word.
God delegates His authority to a representative.
God purifies His servant through a trial of faith.
God vindicates His obedient servant through blessed outcomes.
God’s servant now represents Him on earth
This process is chiastic, a “there and back again.” God’s servant is sent out with a mission and returns transformed. Every working day follows the same pattern, as the worker receives a task, carries it out, is assessed and rewarded. What is interesting is that when this spoken mission is played out in actual events, the process becomes sevenfold. Perhaps the clearest example of this is found in Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan.
The ETHICS step of the Covenant is the means by which the idolatrous “old” Israel which came out of Egypt was slain and “resurrected” as a new generation, a “second” circumcision, before the conquest of Jericho. I have included the names of the feasts from Leviticus 23 that you might also see this as a process of harvest. Israel was “threshed” — the wheat separated from the chaff — in the wilderness. What you must notice here is that the ETHICS (LAW) step has become threefold, resulting in a sevenfold process.
Moses is chosen by God as a mediator for Israel.
Israel is separated from Egypt by blood and water.
Moses ascends Sinai and receives the LAW
Israel is tried under the LAW
To a new generation, Moses repeats the LAW
God fulfills His Land promises to Abraham by water and blood.
Israel now represents God as a corporate mediator for all nations.
If you have your wits about you, you might notice that this is exactly the pattern of qualification which Adam failed, resulting in the shedding of blood that Adam and Eve might move from the Garden into their own promised Land and bear fruit. But we can take it back even further, to Genesis 1, which we must do if we are to understand the meaning of the mountains of God.
DAY 1: Light
DAY 2: The Firmament
DAY 3: The Land and its Firstfruits
DAY 4: The Governing Lights
DAY 5: “Swarms/clouds” above and below
DAY 6: Beasts and Man (Mediators)
DAY 7: Rest and Rule
The Creation Week was a process of forming (Days 1-3) and filling (Days 4-6) with Day 7, the first Sabbath, representing the future into which Adam failed to enter. These three cycles above all represent the same process, the same “image” stamped into different “media,” whether it be physical matter, the social salvation of Israel, or the ethical heart of the Covenant. In the rite of sacrifice, the entire Creation was slain and resurrected, de-created and re-created in microcosmic form. 4
Animal separated / sacrifice cut
Sacrifice lifted onto Altar
Holy fire descends
Clouds of fragrant smoke
The savor accepted by God
Reconciliation and reunion
With this background, we can see that the “seven mountains” in Bible history form a process of maturity which not only recapitulates the Creation Week, but also Israel’s festal calendar (as presented in Leviticus 23), the pattern of every Covenant, and every sacrifice. (Compare the chart below with the charts above.)
Once we trace the pattern, which also happens to be a chiasm, some very interesting points begin to rise out of the clouds. Looking back over this ancient landscape, the internal logic of the “mountain theme” begun in Eden becomes plain and we can understand the prophets as clearly as did the writer of Hebrews.
Creation: Eden – The initial triune world enjoyed the direct presence of God
(Day 1 – Genesis/Sabbath)
Division: Ararat – A “covered” three level “world substitute” passes through the waters
(Day 2 – Exodus/Passover)
Ascension: Moriah – Abraham offers Isaac, his firstborn, as an “ascension” offering for the Promised Land and its people
(Day 3 – Leviticus/Firstfruits)
(Day 4 – Numbers/Pentecost)
(Day 5 – Deuteronomy/Trumpets)5
Conquest: Olivet > Heaven – As foretold by the prophets, Christ mediates from the true mountain of God, the Most Holy. The Old Covenant saints rule with Him in their inheritance
(Day 6 – Joshua/Atonement)
Glorification: Shekinah – Finally, the kingdom mountain has grown to fill the entire world, which is indwelt by God, heaven and earth united as a single “cloud,” the completed Tabernacle
(Day 7 – Judges/Booths)
While there are seven in the complete pattern, the central three illustrate Israel’s role in the ethical transformation of the world. On Israel’s first mountain the father offered the son — the Most Holy. On her second mountain, the cloud appeared with blood, fire and smoke — the three furnitures in the Holy Place. Israel’s third mountain of God was Zion, into whose Temple courts the nations willingly brought their treasures.
What is interesting is that Moriah and Zion correspond chiastically, as the bloody Bronze Altar (Adam, earthy, a tent of coverings) and the fragrant Incense Altar (Eve, the resurrection body, a glorious testimony), with the “fire” of Sinai as the agent of sacrificial transformation. Zion was actually a different mountain until David’s purchase of the threshing floor for the site of the Temple. Moriah received “a new name.” Moriah (death of the Son) and Zion (resurrection of the Bride) are the “head and body” of this process of planting and harvest.
At the ascension of Christ, the role of Adam as the representative of the physical, social and ethical world before God was finally fulfilled. Zion was the last “earthly” mountain and it atoned for those who had trodden underfoot the blood of the Son of God and turned back to the blood of bulls and goats. The Temple itself ascended as sacrificial smoke.
“The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” (Revelation 19:3)
Jesus now advocates for the world until the new Jerusalem descends from God and unites heaven and earth, the final reconciliation and reunion, the entire world filled with Shekinah.
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25)
Mike Bull is author, most recently, of Sweet Counsel.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||For a full discussion, see James B. Jordan, The Future of Israel Re-examined.|
|2.||↑||James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing A Biblical View Of The World, 254.|
|3.||↑||For a full discussion of this subject, see Peter J. Leithart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture.|
|4.||↑||For more discussion, see James B. Jordan, Re-creation in the Ascension Offering, Biblical Horizons No. 107.|
|5.||↑||Mount Carmel, which seems to be left out of the pattern, was a prophetic reminder of Sinai, a second “legal witness” against the prophets of Baal that they might be condemned.|