On a bright, sunny day in the Seattle area, you can see a mountain no matter where you are. Rising majestically above the evergreens, Mt. Rainier, a mountain of more than 14,000 feet, is the orienting landmark for the locals. They always seem to know where it is as they drive, hike, or come out of school or work. The mountain, implacable and sublime, seems to be almost a symbol of meaning, evoking wonder and respect.
After I graduated from seminary, my first assignment was pastoring at a small church in rural Washington. I lived in a cottage on a lake shadowed by Mt. Rainier. In the evenings, I occasionally would sit on a nearby dock and gaze at the mountain as the sun went down.
Mountains, as it turns out, are good teachers. Nothing moves a mountain. Rain, wind and storms have little effect. They’re durable. Mountains outlast us. They’ll last past our children’s children. Mountains teach us about our fragility. People can lose their lives on its unforgiving slopes. But mountains are also life-giving. They are the “world’s water towers.” People in the Pacific Northwest would fret when there wasn’t enough snow on the mountains, because it would mean that the supply of fresh water might be threatened. Mountains are important – which is why you’ll hear people who move from a mountainous region to, say, the Midwest, talk frequently about missing them.
Mountains are also prominent in the Scriptures. Mountains were places that reach up to heaven and so they were places to encounter the divine realm. That’s why temples were built on mountains. The mountain is where Moses received the 10 commandments (Exodus 19-20). The mountain is where Jesus was transfigured (Mark 9:2-13).
The Prophet Isaiah tells us that HOPE is a mountain (Isaiah 2:1-5).
For those of us who observe the church calendar, we know that Advent is upon us. Advent – the time of longing for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that his historic first coming is redemption, victory and promise: He came once; He will come again. Advent is eschatological. It points to the future. It’s lament (He’s left us) and it’s hope (He’s coming back again). Hope is the theme in the first week of Advent.
And the first reading in the lectionary for the first Sunday in Advent doubles down on this hope in Isaiah 2:1-5. Isaiah writes:
1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:1-5, NIV).
Here is Isaiah telling us that hope is solid; it has form and shape; it’s even eternal. It’s a mountain! It’s THE mountain of the Lord, the “highest” or most prominent of mountains; our bright and vivid hope. It’s the ‘Reverse Eden,’ as some scholars call it, where streams of “many peoples” come into his presence, a reverse of the flow of the rivers going out of Eden to water the earth.
Indeed, mountains are a good metaphor for Christian hope. Just as nothing can move a mountain, so nothing can thwart the return of our King. Our hope is not wishful thinking. Just as mountains are durable and will outlast us, our hope is an eternal hope. And just as mountains provide 60-80% of all freshwater for the earth, hope is water to our souls. We can’t live without water. We cannot live without hope.
Advent – the time of longing for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that his historic first coming is redemption, victory and promise: He came once; He will come again. (1/2) Click To Tweet
If hope is a mountain, what does Isaiah tell us about that mountain? How does it relate to hope?
Two lessons from Isaiah on mountains call for careful consideration:
- The mountain is where we learn to be human.
What’s true for any mountain, every time, is that mountains teach us something about our fragility. We have to respect the mountain. We could die on the mountain. Anyone who has ever seriously hiked becomes immediately aware of how careful they must be. None of us would survive a fall.
But just as mountains teach something to us in the natural, the mountain of the Lord is where the Lord teaches us his ways. The Mountain of the Temple is where our Teacher is, the Lord. The LORD is going to teach everyone: He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. Here, again, is how this is the ‘Reverse Eden.’
I can imagine Yahweh and Adam walking together in the garden; the Lord teaching Adam how to live from the land. How to pluck its fruit. What to do, what not to do, in order to flourish. To be fully human. This is all coming back. In the new Eden, we, who have been made in his image, are going to go back to the beauty of intimacy with God. We will walk this garden with him again (walk in his paths), just like it was at the beginning. This is your destiny. This is mine. Remember, Revelation 22:4-5? “They will see his face…They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.” God will teach us to live properly, to love well, to be wise, and to be faithful.
The world would tell us that we learn how to be human from instinct. The world forms us through a chaotic mix of stories, competing to tell us how to be happy. How do we choose? The good news of the coming Kingdom is that we don’t have to ask “which” or “what” – we only have to ask ‘Who?’ The Who teaches us how to be human. We go to him…we learn from him.
I think part of what it means that his mountain is exalted over the other hills is that his ways are the best ways – we don’t have to look to other hills that might teach us how to live. In fact, in the ancient world, other hills would have temples and shrines to other gods with their own competing stories about the best ways to live. We don’t have to learn from the hilltop of nationalism. Or from the hilltop of “success.” Or from the the hilltop of “acquisition.” None of these mountains truly teach us to be happy. Hope is a mountain because Isaiah’s eschatological mountain is the place of our highest good.
Here is Isaiah telling us that hope is solid; it has form and shape; it’s even eternal. It’s a mountain! It’s THE mountain of the Lord, the 'highest' or most prominent of mountains; our bright and vivid hope. (1/3) Click To Tweet
It’s the ‘Reverse Eden,' as some scholars call it, where streams of 'many peoples' come into his presence, a reverse of the flow of the rivers going out of Eden to water the earth. (2/3) Click To Tweet
Indeed, mountains are a good metaphor for Christian hope. Just as nothing can move a mountain, so nothing can thwart the return of our King. Our hope is not wishful thinking. Our hope is an eternal hope. (3/3) Click To Tweet
- The mountain is where all enmity dies.
Mountains do that today. If you look at the composition of any expedition, you’ll find people who shouldn’t be helping one another because their national affiliations would make them enemies. Way back in 1996, during the disaster of Everest, who helped one another? You guessed it. Whoever could. No matter where they were from. The stark, brutal reality of the mountain created a common obstacle that united people, even sworn enemies.
But in the New Eden, the reason why we can have hope is that we don’t need to be brought to our knees in surrender to the harsh punishing elements of the mountain to be united, to be together and to achieve the pleasing unity of humankind with one another. Why? Because in the new Eden, He will judge between nations….He will settle disputes for many peoples. In other words, Jesus will unite us together! This judging is not condemnation of people, but rather a judging between nations to settle disputes. As Jacques Ellul helpfully says, judgment is about the stripping of powers of evil: “Words of judgment…when correctly understood, are words of liberation for everyone. They are words of hope which certify the love of God.”
Words of HOPE issue from the mountain of the love of God. Love makes our enmity unnecessary and so, as a result: we will beat swords into plowshares, and we will turn our spears into pruning hooks.
The mountain is where the essential darkness of humanity, its conflict and war, end. Swords are beaten into plowshares. Spears into pruning hooks. Plowshares and pruning hooks are gardening tools! Instead of engaging in conflict with one another, we’ll work the ground to produce fruit together. Again, this is a new Eden and a reversal of the curse! Cain wanted the blessing, but he didn’t get it. So he took his pruning hook, his sickle, made it into a spear. and destroyed his brother. On the mountain of the Lord, Cain’s sickle goes back to being a sickle. Hope is a mountain because this is where all enmity ends, because God makes it end. The mountain is where swords and spears become unnecessary, because there is no more need for power to dominate, because there is plenty of room for EVERYONE. Love is everywhere. Knowledge of the Lord is democratized. Scarcity is abolished. Intimacy is the rule. We are loved. Love makes conflict unnecessary.
Isaiah, brimming with hope, leaves us with a short injunction at the end of this passage and it’s what I leave us all with: “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5). Darkness can shroud even the tallest mountain. But there is One whose light pierces the darkness. He was born on a high place, a mount that was taller than Jerusalem by almost 100 feet, about 2500 ft. above sea level. The mountain is what Isaiah tells us to look to, and then proleptically calls us to look toward the light that will issue from a mountain some hundreds of years later. The mountain again gives us hope in a baby whose name is Jesus. His light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. We walk in the light of Jesus and as we do, we remember that the hopeful mountain is an occasion to be prophetic witness to the world. We bring the nations along with us as we “go up” to meet with God. We learn our humanity, and we return to God’s original intention to be image bearers, to be divine partakers. And we lay down our weapons. We turn our sharp words into peaceable ones that give life. We become imbued with the hope that is the future hurtling into the present. This hope will endure to the end.
Ted Kim is the Senior Pastor of the Evanston Vineyard, a church that has ministered to Chicagoans in the North Shore for over 45 years. Ted assumed leadership of the church in 2020 after an intentional transition season from the founding pastor, Steve Nicholson. Ted is passionate about proclaiming the beauty of Jesus and stewarding the formation of our desires toward God, so that we can all flourish. Prior to pastoring the Evanston Vineyard, Ted was a worship pastor and creative, publishing songs with Vineyard Worship. Ted holds a MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is married to Brittany, an Old Testament scholar, and they live with their three children in West Rogers Park.
We learn our humanity, and we return to God's original intention to be image bearers, to be divine partakers. We become imbued with the hope that is the future hurtling into the present. This hope will endure to the end. Click To Tweet