Isaiah 40:9 says: “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, Do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”.
According to the ancient peoples, mountains are the dwelling place of the gods. This was also true of the people of Israel, mentioned in Isaiah. One was able to get closer to God up on the mountain. For many people they are still sacred places, like the Black Hills. Even today when Christians have a particularly vivid encounter with God they say they have been ‘up on the mountain’ or they refer to going on retreat as ‘going to the mountain’.
Psalm 121:1-3 says: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.”
Sometimes I think mountain reference is similar to how I respond to the tall trees – I look up to the top of them and I am ‘looking up’ to God whom we think of as not only making the heavens and earth but of being ‘in heaven’. Now, in reality, Christians know God is not “up” but ‘within’ us. But still this ‘up/mountain/heaven’ imagery is a part of our scriptures, our poetry and hymns and so we still refer as looking up to God. In truth, it is looking up in a more reverent/humble way versus the actual location of God. When we look for help; we look to the hills. When we need the protection and connection with our loving God who watches over us and will not fall asleep on us; we look to the hills.
Whatever and however we say it the reality is as I looked up at the mountains all around us in Yellowstone, I thought of God. Mountains are large. Mountains draw our eyes from the minutia to the scenic picture. Mountains are made of strong rocks or lava or earth and even though we are looking up – we feel more ‘grounded’ in their presence even as our spirits are lifted skyward. I think the praise, holiness, thinking of God, is a combination of all these things and the stories in Holy Scripture – of Moses being ‘up on the mountain’ to see the burning bush (Exodus 3) and to receive the ten commandments (Exodus 20). Its the stories of Elijah going up on the mountain to ‘see’ God and finding out that God is in the still small voice not the wind and rain and storm on the mountain (1 Kings 19:12). That mountain is present in the stories of Jesus in the story of the transfiguration when he takes some disciples up on the mountain as he meets with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9) . Or we remember the holy moment of deep, painful, honest prayer of Jesus on the Mount of Olives on the night prior to his crucifixion. Significant, holy things happen up on the mountain.
It wasn’t just this trip to Yellowstone that got me to thinking about mountains. We were surrounded by mountains two years ago when we went to Utah and Arizona and saw the Grand Canyon. Every week when I travel down to Charlottesville, I love to take a quick peak at the scenic views I pass by on my way to see my Uncle. There have been a lot of mountains in my life of late. They are beautiful and they are strong and solid and seem to have been there forever, although after reading many of the signs in Yellowstone National Park, we know that is not true. The very strength and ‘being’ of a mountain speaks of the very strength and longevity and being of God.