When God Spoke to Mountains: What the Mountains of Israel Can Teach the Mountain of the Lord's House

Our firstborn son is named after the prophet Ezekiel. While we hope this will help him remember and emulate that great man, we also enjoy telling him about the interesting things that his namesake had to do (in particular, watching him squirm whenever he hears about how Ezekiel had to make bread). One of the tasks the prophet was given was to prophesy on the Lord’s behalf to the mountains of Israel. Though not as challenging or as interesting as some of the other things he did, it’s still worth asking: why did God want to talk to mountains?

Ezekiel is told to prophesy to “the mountains of Israel” twice (Ezekiel 6:2; 36:1). You could argue that when he first turns to the mountains and says on behalf of God, “Indeed I, even I, will bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places,” some sort of metonymy is at work; he’s not talking to the mountains but to the people that inhabit them (Ezekiel 6:3). The second time he talks to them though, the mountains have been made “desolate” (Ezekiel 36:3) and the heathen believe they have “become our possession” (Ezekiel 36:2). Though it’s a figurative image, it isn’t simply a figure of speech; God really is talking to mountains because the inhabitants are gone. The question again is, why would God do that?

Any discussion like this should be prefaced with a bit of humility: while I can and should be able to “know the things that have been freely given to us by God,” I can’t claim to know “the things of God” that haven’t been revealed (1 Corinthians 2:11-12; cf. Deuteronomy 29:29). Simply put, God didn’t tell us why He spoke to mountains. Still, He did reveal this message to Ezekiel and preserved it “for our learning” (Romans 15:4), inviting us in doing so to consider its significance. Reflecting on this text in the light of the rest of Scripture, what might that significance be?

Throughout the Old Testament, mountains are a symbol of power. When “mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD,” it illustrates the Lord’s power over even great powers of the earth (Psalm 97:5; cf. Judges 5:5; Job 9:5; 28:9; Micah 1:4; Nahum 1:5; Malachi 1:3). Conversely, when it’s said that the Lord “established the mountains by His strength” (Psalm 65:6), it demonstrates that no power exists except by the Lord’s ordination (cf. Romans 13:1).

As a nation created by the direct, miraculous action of God, Israel should have been more secure than any other nation. Symbolically therefore, her mountains should have been the strongest of any nation. However, the Israelites made the mistake of trusting more in their mountains than in the God who established them. Ezekiel’s contemporary Jeremiah recorded the lying words of some Israelites about their nation: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD” (Jeremiah 7:4). They thought that where they dwelled was their safety and thought nothing of sinning against their God. It’s therefore very appropriate that Ezekiel turned to the very mountains in which people trusted to give the Lord’s message about impending doom (Ezekiel 6:2-3). Israel needed to understand that their trust had been misplaced and that their sin wouldn’t go unpunished.

By turning to the mountains again in Ezekiel 36 though, Ezekiel reminds us of something important. When God chose to create Israel by miraculous decree, He didn’t do so because the people of Israel deserved it. Instead, He did so because He had a plan. He had made promises that would be fulfilled, and the physical nation of Israel was central to his doing so (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7-8). So, as Ezekiel prophesied, the mountains would be restored to their place of prominence and would once again become a place of security, not because of the people but for the benefit of the people (Ezekiel 36:1-15). To be a part of it again, they would have to understand how they had defiled what they were given and had profaned God’s name (Ezekiel 36:16-21) and then allow God to create in them a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:22-28).

The mountains of physical Israel existed because it was God’s intention to send Jesus to them and, through His death, burial, and resurrection, establish “the mountain of the Lord’s house,” namely, “the house of God, which is the church of the living God” (Isaiah 2:2; 1 Timothy 3:15). The church of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is like the mountains of Israel in the Old Testament; it is established apart from the work of man and exists for the benefit of man.

What can the mountain of the Lord’s house, the church of Christ, learn from when God talked to the mountains of Israel? There are many lessons, but I want to highlight three. First, the church is not our safety; God is our safety. Too many people draw comfort from the fact that they are “church-of-Christ-Christians,” saying, “This is the temple of the Lord” even as they denominationalize their local congregation, depart from the teachings of the Gospel, and deny their Lord. If judgment came to those ancient Israelites, won’t “judgment… begin at the house of God” (cf. 1 Peter 4:17)? Two, the mountain of the Lord’s house will remain established whether we partake of its blessings or not. We can’t expect to defile the church through “our ways and deeds” and profane God’s “holy name” and partake of His blessings (Ezekiel 36:17, 20). Three, when we fail to do our part, Satan is given opportunity to slander, mock, and plunder what could and should be dedicated to the Lord, just as the heathen did during the time of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:3-5). He will bear his own shame just as the heathen did (Ezekiel 36:7), but we will be held accountable for how we helped him make what should have existed for the Lord’s glory become “the shame of the nations” (Ezekiel 36:6).

Samuel Stone wrote, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord… Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song!” It’s worth noting that the oppression he views the church facing is not from without but from within. Let’s not take “the mountain of the Lord’s house” for granted and add to its oppression, but let’s instead partake of its blessings and draw others to it (cf. Isaiah 2:2-3).  

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