Home > Mountains in prophecy > Interpreting the mountains of prophecy

Interpreting the mountains of prophecy

February 26, 2012

In the table below, various interpretations proposed for the symbolic meaning of the mountains in prophecy are listed by authors’ names, with references, and the Scriptures linked to the interpretations.

Author & Reference Scripture Interpretation of mountains
Charles D. Alexander. Revelation Spiritually Understood Revelation 6:14 “The mountains and islands being moved out of their places represent the consequent disorder among the nation as the central, controlling power for the time being is destroyed.”
J. A. Alexander. Isaiah translated and explained. Volume 2 (1851) Isaiah 40:3-5 obstacles or difficulties
Isaiah 65:9 “My mountains denotes the whole of Palestine, as being an uneven, hilly country. See the same use of the plural in ch. 14:25, and the analogous phrase, mountains of Israel, repeatedly employed by Ezekiel (36:1, 8. 38:8). The corresponding singular, my mountain (ch. 11:9. 57:13), is by many understood in the same manner. … the verse foretells the perpetuation of the old theocracy or Jewish church; not in the body of the nation, but in the remnant which believed on Christ; and which, enlarged by the accession of the gentiles, is identical in character and rights with the church of the old dispensation, the heir to all its promises, and this among the rest, which either has been or is to be fulfilled both in a literal and figurative sense; in the latter, because the Church already has what is essentially equivalent to the possession of the land of Canaan under a local ceremonial system; in the former, because Palestine is yet to be recovered from the Paynim and the Infidel, and rightfully occupied, if not by Jews, by Christians, as the real seed of Abraham, partakers of the same faith and heirs of the same promise (Heb. 11:9); for the promise that he should be the heir of the world was not to Abraham, or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:13).”
Albert Barnes. Notes explanatory and practical on the Book of revelation. Knight and Son, 1853. p. 221. Revelation 6:14 “The removal of mountains and islands: And every mountain and island were moved out of their places. This would denote convulsions in the political or moral world, as great as would occur in the physical world if the very mountains were removed, and the islands should change their places. We are not to suppose that this would literally occur, but we should be authorized from this to expect that, in regard to those things which seemed to be permanent and fixed on an immovable basis, like mountains and islands, there would be violent and important changes. If thrones and dynasties long established were overthrown; if institutions that seemed to be fixed and permanent were abolished; if a new order of things should rise in the political world, the meaning of the symbol, so far as the language is concerned, would be fulfilled.”
Daniel I. Block. The Book of Ezekiel: chapters 25-48. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998 p. 327. Ezekiel 36:1-2 “This prophecy concerns primarily the land of Israel, not the people”
Loraine Boettner. Postmillennialism: Principles of Interpretation Isaiah 2:2-3 In the following passage material objects and familiar ideas of the Old Testament era are used to set forth spiritual truth and to describe an era that had not yet dawned and which therefore could be described intelligently only in the thought-forms and language with which the people were familiar. ‘And it shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of Jehovah’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem’ (Is. 2:2,3).These words are fulfilled in that the Gospel took its course out from Jerusalem as the disciples went under orders to evangelize all the world, with the Church over the centuries gradually coming into a position of world-wide prominence, gradually increasing in power and becoming more influential in the lives of men throughout the world until it stands out like a mountain on a plain. The attempt to assign specific meaning to each figure of the landscape not only mars the beauty of the picture but obscures the real meaning of the prophecy. When God says, ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,’ let not the reader absurdly imagine that He had in mind only that insignificant elevation called Zion, in the southeast corner of the city of Jerusalem. ‘God’s holy mountain,’ which at that time was the site of the temple and the center of the true religion, is the familiar and endeared name for the Church or Kingdom in the present Messianic age.
John Class
Mountains represent kingdoms or strong, powerful governments… “hills” sometimes mean a lesser government or kingdom than “mountains” — possibly less powerful kingdoms, or less dictatorial [like republics].
Robert L. Cohn mountain imagery indicates permanence, height, fertility
Frederic Charles Cook. The Holy Bible, According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611): Ezekiel. Daniel, and the minor prophets. J. Murray, 1876. p. 672. Habakkuk 3:6 the everlasting mountains: Symbols of all that is most stable and enduring, the sure foundations of the earth.
David Psalm 36:6 “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains”
Terence L. Donaldson. Jesus on the Mountain. A Study in Matthean Theology. JSNTSupplements 8. Sheffield: JSOT Press. 1985 Matthew “Donaldson identifies four types of mountains significant for the interpretation of second temple Judean theology: covenant mountain, cosmic mountain, mountain of revelation, and eschatological mountain” [Hanson]
Julian Duckworth ‘Mountains’ stand for higher levels of awareness.
Patrick Fairbairn. Prophecy viewed in respect to its distinctive nature, its special function, and proper interpretation. T. and T. Clark, 1856. “in prophetic language powers or kingdoms, as such, are spoken of under the image of mountains—mountains varying in height or stability according to the character and position of the kingdoms themselves.”
Ward Fenley Isaiah 40:4 “So how does all of this help explain the exaltation of the valleys and the bringing low of the mountains? When we examine the scriptures we begin to see that God uses metaphors and similes to describe people. Many of us are familiar with passages that speak of God’s people as trees planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:3), or as the planting of the Lord (Isaiah 61:3). We even see people described as various kinds of animals ranging from wolves, to sheep, even to bears and lions (Daniel 7:4-5). Even in Daniel 12 we see the prophet identifying the righteous as shining like the stars (vs.3). It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that God uses valleys and mountains to describe the humble and the proud, respectively. This isn’t to say that mountains always stay mountains. Mountains, as the text says, can be brought low, or humbled.”
Richard Wayne Garganta An earthly nation opposed to God.
Avraham Gileadi. Isaiah Explained Isaiah 40:4  40:4  every ravine must be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground must become level and rough terrain a plain.
That’s an allegory of what? Yes, it’s true that during the horrendous destructions of the earth there will be many mountainous places that will be made low, and many low places that will be raised up. But it also refers, allegorically, to people’s spiritual condition. That those who are lowly will be raised up. The oppressed must be released from their bondage, and lifted up. And those who are high mighty, the exalted, and the elite of the earth must be made low, so that there is unity among the people, an equality.
Isaiah 41:15 And mountains, in Isaiah, is a metaphor for nations, and so are hills, lesser nations and peoples. So, they’re threshing nations to dusts, as well. They’re both involved in a new conquest.
That’s what the Israelites did when they went and conquered the land of Canaan. They threshed nations to dust, and made chaff, of hills, in their conquest of the Promised land.
John Goldingay. The message of Isaiah 40-55: a literary-theological commentary. p. 19. Isaiah 40:4 Every ravine will rise up, every mountain and hill sink down. The ridge will become level ground, the cliffs a vale. A series of promises back up the imperatives of v. 3 and take them further as the parallelism keeps heightening through vv. 3-4, with v. 4a also taking up v. 3a, v. 4b taking up v. 3b. So v. 3a commands a road through territory like that of the Judaean hill country, and v. 3b makes it a royal highway through territory as hostile to road building as the Rift Valley. Verse 4 goes on to speak explicitly of all the obstacles to such engineering, whether they are milder (v. 4a) or more formidable (v. 4b). When Yhwh decides to return to Jerusalem, no obstacle or opposition can prevent it.
Gregory the Great Ezekiel 40:2 “Christ is the ‘high mountain’ of Ezekiel 40:2 because he is both of the earth (de terra) and beyond the earth (ultra terram); his flesh takes its material substance from below, but stands up above the surface of the earth; although he is earth in the substance of his humanity, he is beyond grasping in the height of his divinity; some good men are called ‘mountains’ because they come close to heaven in the merit of their lives. (Ez. II. i. 4, pp. 209.100-210.125)” [G. R. Evans. The Thought of Gregory the Great. Cambridge University Press. 1988. p. 92.]
K. C. Hanson. Transformed on the Mountain: Ritual Analysis and the Gospel of Matthew Matthew 4:1-12 testing
Matthew 4:25-8:1 instruction
Matthew 15:29-31 healing
Matthew 17:1-8 epiphany
Matthew 28:16-20 commissioning
Heinrich Andreas Christoph Hävernick. Commentar über den Propheten Ezechiel. Erlangen: C. Heyder. 1843. p. 569. Ezekiel 36:1 the mountains are monuments of God’s promises, Genesis 49:26; “… the mountains are held to stand in relation to the promises of Israel as imperishable memorials of the patriarch’s blessing.” [Schröder]
Matthew Henry. Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible Ezekiel 36:8 The mountains of Israel were “a type of the heavenly Canaan, to which all God’s children are heirs”
Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, The Revelation of St John: expounded for those who search the Scriptures, Volume 2. [R. Carter, 1853] p. 224-225. Revelation 16:20 “The islands, like the mountains, denote kingdoms; comp. on ch. vi. 14. The difference is merely this, that in the designation of kingdoms by islands respect is had only to their separate existence, while they are called mountains, in so far as they exercise dominion over others.”
Holman Bible Dictionary Psalms 30:7 stability
Isaiah 40:4
Zechariah 4:7
obstacles; God will remove all obstacles when His redemption is complete, “and every mountain and hill shall be made low”
Psalms 121:1-2 God’s power
H. A. Ironside. Lectures on the Book of Revelation. 1920. Revelation 6:14 “It is therefore not a world-wide, literal earthquake that the sixth seal introduces, but rather the destruction of the present order – political, social, and ecclesiastical – reduced to chaos; the breaking down of all authority, and the breaking up of all established and apparently permanent institutions.”
Jacob Genesis 49:26 God’s promises; “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills”
W. Kay. The Holy Bible, according to the authorized version (A.D. 1611): with an explanatory and critical commentary. Frederic Charles Cook, Ed. (1875). p. 224. Isaiah 40:4 Then justice shall raise the lowly, and depress the haughty (cp. ii. 12, 14).
Wm. Kelly. Notes on Ezekiel. 1876. p. 176. Ezekiel 36:10-15 Can any one who respects scripture and knows the facts pretend that the Lord multiplied men on the mountains of Israel, “all the house of Israel, even all of it?” (Ver. 10.) Such words seem expressly written to guard souls from such meagre and misleading views. Did Jehovah settle the returned remnant after their old estate, and do good more than at their beginning? (Ver. 11.) Did the land, did the mountains, become Israel’s inheritance and no more bereave them? (Ver. 12.) Do we not know that under the fourth empire a still worse destruction came and a longer dispersion, instead of the land devouring no more, neither bereaving its own nations nor bearing the insult of the Gentiles any more? (Ver. 15.)
No! the fulfilment of the prophecy is yet to come, but come it will as surely as Jehovah lives and has thus sworn through His prophet concerning the land of Israel. To suppose that the gospel or the church is meant by such language is very far from simplicity or intelligence.
Revelation 6:14 The opening of the sixth seal, Kelly said, “sets forth, first in figures and then in simple language, an overwhelming revolution which overthrows existing institutions and governmental order. The authorities, supreme, dependent, and subordinate, are broken up.”
George Kirkpatrick Nations and Kingdoms, including God’s Kingdom.
Clarence Larkin prophetic revelations
Phillip LaSpino A state or nation. Christ’s church.
Richard C. H. Lenski. The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation. Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943, 2008. pp. 239-240. Revelation 6:14 “mountains and islands are to be understood literally.”
F. R. McCurley. Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith. Scriptural Transformations. Philadelphia: Fortress. 1983 “McCurley sees Matthew’s use of the mountain as specifically exemplary of the “cosmic mountain” based upon what Jesus does there” [Hanson]
Carl Wilhelm Nägelsbach [Johann Peter Lange, ed.]
The Prophet Isaiah theologically and homilectically expounded. (1878) p. 423.
Isaiah 40:4 The meaning … is evidently that the way of the people shall go out straight, and thus be as short as possible. To be such, it must make no deviations either in horizontal or vertical directions. The former appears to be the meaning of ver. 3b; the latter is made prominent ver. 4. The valleys … shall raise themselves …, and all mountains and hills shall lower themselves … the rugged places shall become even and the connection of mountains … shall become valley depths. The Prophet would say, therefore, that the obstacles that would prevent the coming of the Lord into the heart of His people, and thereby hinder the coming of the people into their land, shall be rid away. And should not thereby the glory of Jehovah become manifest to the world? When the nations see how gloriously the people Israel serve their God and how gloriously He serves His people, will they not make efforts to attain the righteousness and salvation of this people and seek the Lord who is the author of both (соmр. ii. 2 sq.)? The great, glorious promise, which the Prophet has just announced, must be fulfilled, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and the mouth of the Lord does not lie.
Michael Morrison. How to Interpret Prophecy Isaiah 40:3-4 As another example, Isaiah 40:3-4 says that the mountains will be brought low and uneven ground will be made level. Literally, this would mean that there will be no hills. However, Luke 3:4-6 implies that this prophecy was fulfilled by John the Baptist. Luke understood it figuratively, in a very non-literal way. He was not talking about mountains and roads at all.
Due to the way New Testament writers present Messianic prophecies, some readers may think there has been a “literal” fulfillment. But a comparison of Old Testament context and New Testament fulfillment sometimes shows a major shift in meaning. In fact, it may be that the original verse in the Old Testament wasn’t a prophecy at all – it was just fulfilled, or given greater meaning, in the life and ministry of Christ.
David. C. Pack. Earthquakes and Volcanoes–Their Role in Prophecy. The Real Truth, March 5, 2010. Isaiah 40:4-5 Pack claimed “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,” refers to the disappearance of the earth’s great mountain ranges. He wrote, “These verses speak of dramatic changes in the earth’s surface. Vast mountain ranges will no longer exist.”
Laverna Patterson Nations and Kingdoms, including God’s Kingdom.
E. H. Plumptre. An Old Testament commentary for English readers, edited by Charles John Ellicott. Vol. 4. 1884. p. 521. Isaiah 40:3-4 (3) The voice of him that crieth . . .—The laws of Hebrew parallelism require a different punctuation: A voice of one crying, In the wilderness, prepare ye . . . The passage is memorable as having been deliberately taken by the Baptist as defining his own mission (John i. 23). As here the herald is not named, so he was content to efface himself—to be a voice or nothing. The image is drawn from the march of Eastern kings, who often boast, as in the Assyrian inscriptions of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal (Records of the Past, i. 95, vii. 64), of the roads they have made in trackless deserts. The wilderness is that which lay between the Euphrates and Judah, the journey of the exiles through it reminding the prophet of the older wanderings in the wilderness of Sin (Ps. lxviii. 7; Judg. v. 4). The words are an echo of the earlier thought of chap. xxxv. 8. “We are left to conjecture to whom the command is addressed: tribes of the desert, angelic ministers, kings and rulers—the very vagueness giving a grand universality. So, again, we are not told whether the “way of Jehovah” is that on which He comes to meet His people, or on wluch He goes before and guides them. The analogy of the marches of the Exodus makes the latter view the more probable.(4) Every valley shall be exalted.—The figure is drawn, from the titanic engineering operations of the kingly road-makers of the East, but the parable is hardly veiled. The meek exalted, the proud brought low, wrong ways set right, rough natures smoothed: that is the true preparation for the coming of the Lord, and therefore the true work of every follower of the Baptist in preparing the way. (Comp. Matt. iii. 5—7; Luke iii. 3—9.)
J. L. Resseguie. The Revelation of John. Baker Academic, Gramd Rapids, MI. 2009. p. 33. “A mountain represents the earth reaching to the heavens, the place where heaven and earth meet”
John W. Ritenbaugh. Forerunner, “Prophecy Watch,” December 2004 mountains are symbols of nations
Revelation 6:14 “As a result of the great convulsion of the earth, massive land transformations occur, shifting mountains on land and undersea”
Wilhelm Julius Schröder. The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel; tr. by Patrick Fairbairn, William Findlay. A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: critical, doctrinal, and homiletical, Volume 13. T. & T. Clark, 1876. p.95. Ezekiel 6:2 “those who tower like mountains above the level of the rest of men, princes and kings and the like, with the word (Ps. cxliv. 5)”
C. I. Scofield. Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition) Isaiah 2:2 A mountain, in Scripture symbolism, means a kingdom Dan 2:35 Rev 13:1 17:9-11.
E. Swedenborg Isaiah 2:2
Micah 4:1
“the mountain of Jehovah, which is Zion, denotes the Lord’s celestial kingdom”
Isaiah 30:25 “channels of waters denote the knowledges of good and of truth, which are said to be upon every high mountain and lifted up hill because these knowledges flow from the goods of celestial and spiritual love.”
Isaiah 31:4; Psalm 68:15, 16; 72:3; 114:4, 6; 148:9 “hill denotes the good of mutual love; and as by a hill is signified the good of mutual love, and by a mountain the good of celestial love … mountains denote celestial love, and hills spiritual love; that mountains are not here meant, nor hills, nor they who were upon mountains and hills, is very manifest.”
Deuteronomy 33:15, 16; Isaiah 55:12; Ezekiel 34:6, 26; Jeremiah 12:12; Joel 3:18; Amos. 9:13;  Habakkuk 3:6 “the mountains of eternity denote the good of love of the Most Ancient Church, which was celestial; the hills of an age, the good of mutual love that belonged to that church; the former being its internal, the latter its external. When that church is meant in the Word, seeing that it was the most ancient one, eternity is sometimes added, as here the mountains of eternity, and elsewhere the days of eternity; and an age also is added, as here the hills of an age, and also in the prophetic utterance of Israel: to the desire of the hills of an age. Hence it is evident that by the hills of an age are signified the goods of mutual love, which are of the celestial church, or of the Lord’s celestial kingdom.”
Isaiah 40:4; 41:15; 42:15; Jeremiah 4:24, 25; 16:6; 50:6; Nahum 1:5, 6; Micah 6:1 “Because idolatrous worship took place upon mountains and hills, by them are signified in the opposite sense the evils that belong to the love of self”
Robert L. Thomas. Revelation 1-7 Commentary (Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary) Moody Publishers, 1992. Revelation 6:14 “The moving of the mountains with their islands is probably tied to the great earthquake in v. 12 and possibly to volcanic disturbances through which mountains and islands rise and disappear.”
UCG Bible Commentary Isaiah 40:4 Notice the message: “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low” (Isaiah 40:4). What does this mean? Does it mean that all mountain ranges on earth will be flattened and all valleys filled in? If so, it would mean no more Grand Canyon. No more Yosemite Valley. No more Matterhorn. No more great cascading waterfalls and other such beautiful wonders of God’s creation. A perpetually flat landscape, with only slight dips and rises. Is this what God means? No, for while there will likely be topographical changes to the surface of the earth, “every” valley and “every” hill will not disappear. If that happened, the whole world would be flooded. Indeed, Scripture says that Jerusalem itself will be an exalted mountain during Christ’s reign.So what does the prophecy here mean? It appears to have both a figurative and a literal meaning. Mountains and hills being brought low can represent large and small nations being humbled, and valleys being raised can represent oppressed and downtrodden people being exalted (compare verses 17, 23, 29; 2:11-17; 24:21; 60:10, 14, showing that God hates pride, and how the haughty will be humbled and the humble—especially the faithful saints—will be exalted). Yet again, there is apparently a literal fulfillment as well. Consider that the passage is discussing the building of a highway (verse 3). It is in the construction of this highway that mountains are brought low and valleys are raised—crooked places made straight and rough places smoothed (verse 4). Thus, if there’s a mountain in the way, it is brought low; if a valley would impede the highway, the valley is raised up (compare 42:15-16; 49:11). Furthermore, since the purpose of a highway is to facilitate interchange between separated people, we can look at this figuratively as well. Any obstacles that separate and divide people will be removed (compare 19:23; 62:10).
Samuel White. A commentary on the Prophet Isaiah: wherein the literal sense of his prophecy is briefly explain’d. (1709) p. 288. Isaiah 40:4 this be the Voice of One crying in the Wilderness, Prepare ye the Way of the Lord; this shall be the Subject Matter which shall be proclaim’d; as if he had said, Tell the Jews in Captivity that they must shake off their National Vices, which, like Mountains, interpose between God’s Favour and them, before they can expect to be restor’d; but this to me seems flat and unnatural, and I should rather understand the Words with others thus; Me thinks I hear the joyful heralds cry, Prepare ye a Way in the Wilderness for the People of the Lord to return to Judea, ye Nations thro’ which they must pass make their Way plain and easy, let every Valley be exalted, and every Mountain made low; by which we are not to imagine that the Hills were to be really depress’d, or the Valleys raised to a Level with them, the Design of the Prophet being only to set forth the Convenience and Pleasantness of their Journey homeward, they should not be fatigu’d in climbing steep Ascents, but travel as easily as if the Road all along were smooth and strait; and he speaks as if God were resolv’d to march out of Babylon at the Head of his People, and make his Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, preceded all the “Way by Harbingers, who should clear the Roads, and remove all Impediments which might delay his Passage or offend his Sight.”
John Chappel Woodhouse. The Apocalypse: or Revelation of Saint John, translated; with notes, critical and explanatory. 1805. p. 171. Revelation 6:14 mountains are “places of greatest security in times of hostile invasion; the mountain is difficult of access, by reason of its height and steepness”
Darrell G. Young The word “mountain” is commonly used in the Bible to describe a world power, a political power, an authority or a ruler. Mountains symbolize, as it were, the “high powers” of the world. The future kingdom of Christ and His rule are also described as a “mountain,” a mountain that shall fill the whole earth.
E. J. Young. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. p. 508. Isaiah 65:9 What Isaiah is predicting is not a physical return of the Jews to Palestine, for the seed is to consist not merely of Jews but also of Gentiles (c. v. 1). The geographical figures are symbols of the heavenly Canaan. God’s purpose was to perpetuate the old theocracy not in the empirical nation of Israel itself but in the believing remnant of that nation which turned to Christ, “…and which, enlarged by the accession of the gentiles, is identical in character and rights with the church of the old dispensation, the heir to all  its promises…” (Alexander). Believers are now in the heavenlies; and when the Lord returns in power and glory, then they will realize the fulness of the promises and blessings as now they cannot do.