by Jeannette Haley
Mountains have always held a deep fascination for me. By mountains I mean “real” mountains such as the great ranges in Alaska, or the Rockies, The Tetons, or Cascade and Olympic ranges in Washington State where I grew up. Their rocky, rugged and wild terrain helped forge one of the opinions I’m so famous for; that is, so much of what other folks around the country call “mountains” are nothing but foothills to me.
In my vivid imagination I have climbed a thousand forbidden peaks, explored the beauty and treasures of nature in a million hidden crevices, crystal lakes like gems hidden in high mountain meadows, and stream-filled forests. From the safety of my sheltered existence I’ve discovered sights and sounds that no mountain explorer has ever seen. But then that killjoy of all dreamers by the name of Reality steps on the scene, reducing me to the confinement of just that—reality!
In everyday life, of course, there may be those rare interludes of ecstasy that can be compared to “mountain top” experiences of goals reached, battles won, accomplishments acknowledged, and success obtained. But even those memorable pinnacle moments give way to the shadowy valleys of daily life with its responsibilities, drudgery, and challenges. The truth is among the world’s vast population there is only a very small percentage of people who ever experience such “mountaintop” moments. People who do manage to get to the “summit of success” soon discover that they cannot maintain and live in a state of euphoria forever in this life. Even the television romance shows that Hallmark produces demonstrate this fact of life. Generally they go like this: after nearly two hours of suspense between a man and a woman, (in which viewers gain five pounds anxiously munching on snacks) the whole tale finally culminates in mere seconds of an “emotional mountaintop” where at long last they finally kiss, or maybe there is a wedding, and that marks the end. We all love those happy endings, but most of us know that after the “mountaintop” experience of a grand wedding, there is no such thing as “they lived happily ever after” in the valley of real life.
Mountains themselves can represent a lot more than inspiration for artists and photographers, and the challenges of physical prowess, exploration, and athletic ability. Mountains offer valuable spiritual lessons, truths, insights, and applications. Consider the mountain upon which Abraham faced his greatest test. In Genesis 22:1, 2 we read, “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt [test] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Can you even begin to imagine how you would respond to God if He asked you to sacrifice the one dearest to your heart? Yet Abraham never faltered or argued, but set out to obey to the letter what God asked him to do.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com gives these points of interest from the sacrifice of Isaac: “God had earlier promised Abraham that he would make a great nation of him through Isaac, which forced Abraham to either trust God with what mattered most to him or to distrust God. Abraham chose to trust and obey. Abraham told his servants ‘we’ will come back to you, meaning both he and Isaac. Abraham must have believed God would either provide a substitute sacrifice or would raise Isaac from the dead. This incident foreshadows God’s sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ, on the cross at Calvary, for the sin of the world. God’s great love required of himself what he did not require of Abraham. Mount Moriah, where this event took place, means “God will provide.” King Solomon later built the first Temple there. Today, the Muslim shrine The Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem, stands on the site of the sacrifice of Isaac. The author of the book of Hebrews cites Abraham in his “Faith Hall of Fame,” and James says Abraham’s obedience was credited to him as righteousness.”
Abraham called this place Jehovah-jireh which means “The Lord will provide.” And, provide He did. Not only the ram caught in a thicket by his horns that God provided for the burnt offering in the place of Isaac, but He has provided His only begotten Son for your sins and mine. This mountain also served as a place of promise, prophecy, and great blessing for Abraham. (See verses15-18.) Upon this mountain Abraham received a revelation of God’s plan of salvation. “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” Hebrews 11:17-19.
After this, Abraham returned to the valleys and plains where he had to face the loss of his beloved wife, Sarah. There is no escaping the fact that while most of us long to dwell on “mountaintops” of revelation, elation, and joy, it is in the valleys and lowlands of everyday life where we are called to walk out the revelations given in mountaintop moments with God.
In Exodus we read the thrilling account of God meeting with Moses on Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments and the Oral Law. Concerning the Ten Commandments, (which are the foundation of our civil laws,) A. W. Tozer wrote, “Because we live in a period known as the age of God’s grace, it has become a popular thing to declare that the Ten Commandments are no longer valid, no longer relevant in our society. With that context, it has become apparent that Christian churches are not paying attention to the Ten Commandments. But Dwight L Moody preached often in the commandments. John Wesley said he preached the commands of the Law to prepare the way for the gospel. R. A. Torrey told ministers if they did not preach the Law they would have no response to the preaching of the gospel. It is the Law that shows us our need for the gospel of salvation and forgiveness! It is accurate to say that our binding obligation is not to the Old Testament Law. As sincere Christians we are under Christ’s higher law—that which is represented in His love and grace. But everything that is morally commanded in the Ten Commandments still comprises the moral principles that are the will of God for His people. God’s basic moral will for His people has not changed!”
This thrilling and monumental time with God wasn’t enough for Moses, however. Moses wanted more—the more he met with God, the closer he wanted to be to Him. Remember, when Moses first encountered I AM in the burning bush, he hid his face from Him: “Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.” This is quite a contrast to what we read in Exodus 24:9, 10 (after Moses had received the Ten Commandments from the Lord on the mount) “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: Also they saw God and did eat and drink.” Even after all his encounters with God, Moses beseeched the Lord to see His glory! God put him in a cleft of the rock (which represents Jesus) and passed by, proclaiming, “The LORD, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty….” Exodus 34:6b, 7a. “And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped” vs 8.
“And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights….” Exodus 34:28a. Oh how the Church today needs a vision of the LORD in His glory! A vision that will cause her to shine with the brightness of holy fire that draws people to Christ, and worshippers to worship God in Spirit and in truth!
It is in the times alone with God and His Word that we are prepared to descend into the valleys of lost humanity, where the harvest is ripe. Our example is Jesus, who “…when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray” Matthew 14:23a, Mark 6:46; and Luke 6:12. Then there is the mount of transfiguration where Jesus took Peter, John, and James to pray. The Bible tells us, “And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” Luke 9:29-31. After Moses and Elias departed, while Peter was speaking of how good it was for them to be there, “there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him” vs. 34, 35. To stay upon this mount with Christ is what the believing soul desires above all else. Yet, the bulk of the Christian’s service to our Lord is in the shadowy valleys of demonic strongholds, walking in obscurity, and remaining faithful to whatever is before us, while looking for His return.
Mountains not only point heavenward, but they represent being closer to heaven. Mountains offer a vantage point that can expand one’s perspective, and scope of vision. And, “mountaintop” experiences with God bring a stark contrast between the spirit and the flesh—between that which is eternal and that which is temporal; between that which is vital and that which is nonessential; between that which is holy and pure from that which is polluted and unacceptable.
A closer look at Psalm 23 reveals a progression in the believer’s life, through both mountains and valleys. First, it is established that the LORD is my shepherd. That makes me His sheep, and being His sheep, He provides what I need so that nothing is lacking. From this foundational point, He makes me to lie down in green pastures—pastures that are lush, and green and safe. Consider God’s beautiful promises to the scattered sheep of Israel, “For thus saith the Lord God; Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries; and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God: Ezekiel 34:11-15.
This is also Jesus’ desire for His called out ones (Church), to be fed the pure Word of God, “line upon line, precept upon precept.” His commission to Peter was to “feed my sheep.” Our spiritual food is the ever living, ever “green,” ever growing, ever nutritious, ever life-giving Word of God, and then we are to “lie down” in this lush green pasture of life, resting (trusting) in it as fully satisfied sheep. Jesus feeds His sheep “upon the high mountains” where they are in constant communion with their shepherd as they learn of Him. Then we read in verse 2b of Psalm 23 “he leadeth me beside the still waters.” Still waters represent a place of refreshing, peace and rest. Still waters offer reflection so that we can look into this mirror to see what kind of a person we are, and if we can see the likeness of Christ. The water also represents the Holy Spirit, and the rivers of living water that Jesus promised to those who receive Him. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” Romans 6:3, 4.
How beautiful it is to then experience the restoration of our soul from the ravages of sin, as He leads us “in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” verse 3. Such paths are narrow, and often steep. Sometimes we may question if we are truly on the right path, but as long as we stay close to the Shepherd, He will direct our steps. “All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” Psalm 25:10. “He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path” Proverbs 2:8, 9. His sheep must learn that all He does is for His name’s sake. Everything is for His glory, not ours. He is the only One that men should see, as did the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration “when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only” Matthew 17:8.
The first three verses of Psalm 23 are a beautiful harmonious melody of “mountaintop” experiences. But then, in the middle of the Psalm, we hit a minor key and find ourselves suddenly plunged into a deep, dark valley of death. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….” Verse 4a. Ominous, mysterious, and dark may be the shadows that lurk in valleys. There are shadows of disappointment, loss, sorrow, betrayal, sickness, and weariness. Yet the saint who knows the Lord as his or her shepherd, the one who has been in the high places with God and whose soul is nourished, revived, and restored by His Word, who is filled with the living water of the Holy Spirit, and who has obediently follows Jesus in paths of righteousness fears no evil. Such a person knows that the shepherd is with him or her, and receives comfort from His rod of correction and staff of protection.
It could be very tempting at this point to consider another trip up the mountain. But God has other plans, and those plans take place in the valleys where our enemies dwell. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” verse 5. God prepares a table for us in plain view of those who oppose us as Christians. Here they can behold how God has prepared His table for His people—the fruit of the Spirit, the bread of life, the living water, and the wine of the Holy Spirit. They can be drawn to the light of Christ within us that shines forth, and taste the saltiness of our lives. “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” Psalm 34:8.
Still in the presence “of mine enemies…thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” Psalm 23:5b. Anointed from above with the Holy oil for service to the Lord of lords—anointed and set apart as an abundantly overflowing cup in the hands of the Lord. And the result? “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” verse 6.
The Mount of Olives is only 2,684 feet in elevation, but what a famous mount it is! From this mountain Jesus was taken up into heaven (Acts 1:9-11) and to this mountain He shall return. What a day that will be! “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south….And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: In that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one” Zechariah 14:4, 9.
Are you prepared for that day? Have you met with God “on the mountains of revelation” through His Word and by His Spirit? Have you walked it out in obedience through the shadowy valleys of your life? “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17.
Whether we are on the mountains high, or in the valleys low may we remain steadfast in the faith, redeeming the time, and always looking for His appearing. Amen.