Mountains and rivers in the better land
Isaiah said in the last days, referring to Judah and Jerusalem, that the mountain of the Lord’s house would be raised up, to the top of the mountains, and exulted above the hills.
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
When we compare this with Ezekiel’s prophecy about the river flowing from the house of the Lord, a paradox appears. Any tectonic event that would elevate Jerusalem in a literal sense, would increase the slope in the surrounding area. But in Ezekiel’s description, the river in the vicinity of Jerusalem is shown to have a very gentle gradient, comparable to that of a football field, where a minimal slope is needed for drainage. In about half a mile, the depth of the river increases by only about three feet. [Ezek. 47:1-7]
The two prophecies thus seem to contradict each other, if they are viewed literally, but when considered as parables, or metaphors, each having a spiritual meaning, all of the difficulties disappear.
Zechariah described rivers of living water flowing from Jerusalem, and he also said Jerusalem would be raised up, in the same chapter. The rivers of living water are described in Zech. 14:8 “And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.” Two verses later, he says the city will be lifted up. “All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem: and it shall be lifted up, and inhabited in her place, from Benjamin’s gate unto the place of the first gate, unto the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananeel unto the king’s winepresses.” [Zech. 14:10]
The idea of Jerusalem being raised up agrees with Isaiah 2:2, but Zechariah is even more specific, giving boundary markers, and he adds that the city will be inhabited, and that the surrounding land will be a plain. None of this makes sense, unless understood spiritually.
Jerusalem was raised up, in a spiritual sense, when Jesus ascended to heaven, and sat down in his Father’s throne. This is when it became “Jerusalem which is above” [Gal. 4:26] and “the heavenly Jerusalem.” [Heb. 12:22] And Isaiah 2:2, together with Zechariah 14:10, establish the continuity between the Jerusalem of the O.T. prophets, and the church, the heavenly Jerusalem. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the prophecies about Jerusalem apply to the heavenly city, not the earthly one.
And because Jerusalem was raised up in a spiritual sense, and is a spiritual creation, a city prepared by God, made without hands, things said of it have to be interpreted in a spiritual way. For example, the time periods that apply to the heavenly city are not earth days, or earth months, or earth years. The times that apply to the heavenly city are invariably figurative, and not natural.
In prophecy, mountains and rivers are symbolic. Taking the rivers described by Ezekiel and Zechariah literally misses the point of these prophecies. Alva McClain (1888-1968) made this mistake, declaring they were “supernatural.” Then he contradicted himself by saying they were not “impossible.” He should have said they are “spiritual,” not literal. Like many commentators he said they are also symbolic. He wrote: [Alva McClain. The Greatness of the Kingdom, p. 237.]
In addition to these natural results which must follow properly controlled rainfall, there may also be streams continually flowing by miraculous causation, such as the marvelous stream pictured by Ezekiel (47:1-12). Its issue from the temple, its immense size, the beneficial qualities of its fruit, its perennial flow “in summer and in winter” (Zech. 14:8)–all emphasize the supernatural nature of the stream. There is nothing at all inherently impossible in such a phenomenon. Why should anyone stumble at the idea of a beautiful stream springing up at the geographical center of our Lord’s blessed Kingdom on earth, with healing in both its waters and the fruit which grows beside it? Is there anything incredible here, if we remember that the coming King is the One who once turned water into wine and sent the sightless man to wash away his blindness in the waters of Siloam (John 9:11)? What a visible symbol this will be to remind the nations of the unfailing blessings which will flow from the throne of the Son of David! And from this shrine none will go away in heartbreaking disappointment because no help has been found.
In John 7:38, Jesus said that rivers of living water will flow from the belly of whoever believes in him. The following verse explains what living waters signify. “(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
A high mountain is associated with Jerusalem, in Ezekiel’s prophecy describing the measurement of a visionary temple. “In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south.” [Ezekiel 40:2] There is no real high mountain there. It is a symbolic or figurative mountain, probably intended to convey the idea that this is a lofty spiritual prophecy. Similarly when John described the holy city he said he was taken in the spirit to a great and high mountain. In reality he remained on Patmos.
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.
These mountains convey the idea of something durable, and permanent, and stabilty, and height, and strength; they are symbols of the promises and revelations of God, and of spiritual benefits for the saints. They are sure, and real, but the mountains of prophecy are not literal mountains.
The idea of a river conveys the idea of continuity, and renewal, and life, and refreshment. As Jesus said, the living waters are symbolic of God’s word and his Spirit. Both metaphors are associated with the better land, and with the heavenly Jerusalem.
Both mountains and rivers are a way for God’s people. Isaiah 49:11 says the mountains will become a way for the saints; the sermon on the mount also defines a way. Jesus said “narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” [Matt. 7:14]. David said, “he leadeth me beside the still waters.” [Psa. 23:2] In Jeremiah 31:9, Israel is led by the rivers in a straight way; in Revelation 22:1-3, a river of the water of life flows in the street of the holy city.
On the mountains of Israel, God’s sheep will find pasture, by the rivers. [Ezek. 34:13]
Mountains and rivers are both mentioned as places for prayer. [Matt. 14:23; Acts 16:13]
In the gospels, a mountain was the place of Jesus’ transfiguration, [Matt. 17:2] and the Jordan river was the place where the Spirit descended upon him like a dove.
Joy is connected with both mountains and with a river. Mount Zion is “the joy of the whole earth,” [Psa. 48:2] where God will make a feast for all people; [Isa. 25:6] in Isaiah 44:23 the mountains break forth into singing; Psalm 46:4 says “there is a river that makes glad the city of God.”
Peace is connected with both mountains and rivers. Psalm 72:3 says “The mountains shall bring peace to the people.” Isaiah 66:12 says “I will extend peace to her like a river.”
David compared God’s righteousness to the great mountains. [Psa. 36:6] Amos wrote, “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” [Amos 5:24]
Mountains and rivers are each associated with the other; Joel 3:18 says mountains will drop wine, hills will flow with milk; in Isaiah 30:25 and 41:18, God will make rivers in high places.
Comparing the prophecies about mountains and rivers in the better land supports the idea that they are not meant to be taken literally; they are metaphors, and parables; the mountains represent eternal spiritual promises, and prophecies, and revelations of God, and the rivers represent the Spirit of truth flowing continually from the throne of God, and the gospel going forth from the church in every age. Isaiah said,
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
Prophecies about the rivers in high places and mountains that drop wine suggest a reason why the saints are exhorted to go to the mountains: spiritual rivers flow there, if we understand the higher spiritual meaning in the words of the prophets.