The mountains of Isaiah 40 & 41
Isaiah said, “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain.” [Isaiah 40:9] In the same chapter he says, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” [Isaiah 40:4-5]
The mountain in Isaiah’s exhortation, “get thee up into the high mountain,” must be similar in nature and kind, to those which were to be made low. And in the following chapter, where he says, “Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff; Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel,” these mountains and hills must be of the same kind too. [Isaiah 41:15-16]
They are not literal mountains, as the prophet also says, “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” [Isaiah 41:18] The high places remained intact; the mountains that are made low, and which are threshed and beaten small, to which Zion is encouraged to go, are still there, but now, there are rivers flowing on them.
These mountains are not “enemies of Israel,” as some commentators suppose. Why would the prophet say to Zion, “get thee up to your enemies“? Neither do they represent nations. What kind of rivers will be created in the nations of the world?
According to Isaiah, the mountains are to be made low; Zion is encouraged to go to up into them; they will be threshed, and beaten small by Israel, and hills will become chaff blown by the wind; and rivers will flow upon them. All these prophecies qualify the nature of the mountains in chapters 40 and 41.
Isaiah 2:2 says the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established in the tops of the mountains, and raised up above the hills. This should help us to identify the nature of the mountains in his prophecies. The Lord’s house is God’s kingdom, and his family; those who believe in Christ are God’s sons, and they are saints, together with the prophets and saints of all ages. This is the Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem of prophecy. The church is the Zion to whom Isaiah says, “get thee up into the high mountain.” What does it mean?
The mountains of Isaiah’s prophecies are symbolic, and they are not literal ones. In Genesis 49:26, the blessings Jacob received are compared to high mountains and hills. Jacob said, “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” These blessings were the blessings he inherited, the promises given to Abraham and Isaac, as well as promises he received directly from God, for example in his dream at Bethel where God promised to give him the land of Canaan. Jacob realized that these blessings were spiritual in nature. They were high, as there was a higher, spiritual meaning attached to the promised land. They were also durable, and eternal, and so he associated them with “the everlasting hills.” The mountains and hills of the promised land represent the great spiritual promises of the gospel.
In chapters 40 and 41, Isaiah uses mountains as metaphors, and symbols of God’s promises.
The land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has a hidden spiritual meaning, far higher and greater than the literal, limited territory of Canaan. That is why in Hebrews, the promises under the Gospel are referred to as better promises. [Hebrews 8:6]
The oracles of God are represented by the mountains. Prophecies that remain unexplained and mysterious are like high mountain peaks in remote places, but when prophecies are fulfilled, and and their meaning is understood, and explained, these figurative mountains are “made low.” The spiritual meaning of obscure prophecies becomes clear. This was the message of John the Baptist, based on Isaiah’s prophecies in Isa. 40:45 and 45:2. John’s prophecy applies to the ministry of Jesus, and his continuing reign throughout the present age of the church. Jesus fulfilled many prophecies, and explained how they applied to himself. The New Testament explains many of the mysteries of the Old Testament Scriptures. Prophecies and obscure scriptures being explained could be depicted by the mountains being “made low.” Valleys filled could mean that missing revelations will be provided.
The promises that the mountains represent are obscured by the teaching that the literal land of Canaan is all that the land promise involved. In the Gospel, it is revealed that the promise that Israel will possess the land of Canaan was but a shadow and a type of the greater and better promise of a better county, a heavenly one. [Hebrews 11:16]
Jesus said, Jerusalem is the city of the great king, and the light of the world. The holy city was raised up, and became a heavenly city, when Jesus ascended to heaven. Those who believe the Gospel are also raised up, in a spiritual sense, and “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 2:6] But many suppose that the prophecies about Jerusalem apply to the earthly city. They apply prophecies about the heavenly city to the earthly one. This leads to confusion and contradictions.
Many Jews in Jerusalem in 70 AD probably thought that the prophecy of Zechariah 14:1-3 applied to them, and perhaps they hoped God would fight on their behalf. But they were disappointed. Zechariah’s prophecies did not apply to the earthly city, but the heavenly one.
The mountains which are threshed, and beaten small, are the promises, and revelations, and prophecies that reveal God’s righteousness. Many scholarly studies of the Scriptures accomplish this. The psalmist said, “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains.” [Psalm 36:6a] Also, “The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.” [Psalm 72:3]
How is God’s righteousness like mountains? The mountains are prominent parts of the promised land, a symbol of spiritual promises to the saints. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” [Romans 1:16-17] The gospel reveals God’s righteousness; the mountains are compared to God’s righteousness; the gospel is also contained in God’s promise to Abraham. Paul said, “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” [Galatians 3:8]
The promise, “in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 28:14] was connected with high mountains by Jacob, when he blessed Joseph. The promised land was a token, or an earnest, of spiritual blessings promised to those who believe in Christ. Understanding the scriptures is one of these. [John 8:32] The mountains, as the most prominent, and highest parts of the land, represent the high and lofty revelations of God, the truths hidden in prophecies, that need to be threshed, for us to discover their true meaning. The saints are encouraged to go up to the high mountain, which represents these spiritual blessings, and God’s righteousness. When the saints understand and believe these things, God’s glory will be revealed, as Isaiah said. Thus, when Jesus said, in Matthew 24:16, “let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains,” he meant we should flee to the promises of God, and the high mountains, that represent God’s righteousness.
[Revised 18 June 2013]