Mountains in the Bible

What Do Mountains Symbolize in the Old Testament Bible?



Mountains are another symbol of the sacred. Mountains are not mentioned in the creation myths found in the Book of Genesis.  The first mention of a mountain in the Book of Genesis was part of the narrative of the great flood.  As the floodwaters receded from the earth, “the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat…in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains began to appear.”

Mountains become a symbol of struggle in chapter 19 of the Book of Genesis. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his daughters settled in the hills. His daughters thought that everyone and everything were destroyed and they believed that they would die unwed and without children. They devised a plan to get their father drunk. Once he became drunk, his daughters had sex with him. The sons that were born to Lot’s daughters were named, Moab and Ammon. The descendants of Moab and Ben-ammi (Ammon) became bitter rivals of the Israelites. References to this rivalry that began in the hills can be found throughout the Torah and the writings of the Old Testament prophets.

Mountains again appeared as symbols of the sacred in chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis. God told Abraham, “Take your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the Land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” Abraham told his servants to stay with the donkey while he and Isaac went and worshiped God.

Isaac asked his father where the lamb was that they were going to offer to God. Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the sacrifice. Abraham bound Isaac to the altar and was about to kill him when God spoke to him again, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have no withheld your son, your only son from me.”

It was at this mountain in the Land of Moriah that God promised Abraham, “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore….”
The image of mountains as symbols of the sacred are not directly connected to the creation myths found in the Book of Genesis. However, the mountains are linked to creation, especially in the narrative of the great flood. In the narrative of Moab and Ammon, Israel’s enemies were born.

In the narrative of Abraham almost sacrificing his son to God, Abraham was promised that he would have many descendants. These two narratives are linked not only by family and genealogical ties but because the descendants of Abraham and the descendants of Lot became rivalries; a reminder that myths and symbols tell us who we are. 
1 Genesis 8:4-5 (New Revised Standard Version)2 19.30-38 (NRSV)3 22. 2 (NRSV)4 22. 12 (NRSV)5 22. 17-18 (NRSV)