The Bible never uses the exact wording of a “mountaintop experience,” but it is certainly the origin of that expression. Throughout the Bible, people encounter God in remarkable ways on mountains.
In the Bible, many of these mountaintop experiences happen on actual mountaintops. Moses talked with God and received the Law at Mount Sinai. At the end of his life, God showed Moses the promised land on Mount Nebo. Elijah faced off against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and God sent fire from heaven that consumed his sacrifice.
In the New Testament, Jesus was transfigured in the presence of his closest disciples on a mountaintop. After the resurrection, Matthew says the whole company of disciples encountered the risen Christ on a mountain in Galilee (Matt 28:16).
When have you had a “mountaintop experience”? When has God’s presence been so real that you could almost feel it? When have you been so overcome by God’s glory that you just had to sit and let it wash over you?
To be sure, experiences like that are rare. Anyone who claims to be constantly awash in God’s glory probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Anyone who insists that such experiences should be the expected everyday experience of Christians at worship needs to read the Bible more closely. Even so, such experiences can bring us great comfort and courage, and we should treasure them when they come.
Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple is found in 2 Chronicles 6:14-42. Today’s lesson explores what happens at the conclusion of that prayer. When “the glory of the LORD” fills the temple, the people bow down, worship, and give thanks (v. 1). The observance ends with the consecration of God’s house and a week-long festival that concludes with a solemn assembly.
We may not think of it right away, but today’s Scripture passage also takes place on a mountaintop. Solomon built the temple on Mount Zion, a prominent hill within the city of Jerusalem. Though perhaps not as geographically impressive as any of these other locations, Mount Zion held a central place in the Jewish imagination. By some rabbinic traditions, Mount Zion was the only peak that wasn’t covered by the Flood in Noah’s day.
One commonly spoke of “going up” to Mount Zion and Jerusalem, no matter what direction you were coming from. You could be coming from Mount Everest and still say you were “going up” to Jerusalem!
We’ve studied Solomon and his construction of the temple for several weeks now. We’ve looked at all the work and planning that went into this endeavor. Today, we pause to reflect on the fact that none of Solomon’s hard work meant anything if God never showed up. What makes the temple great is not its grandeur or its artistic refinement, but that God is present there. As the temple is consecrated for use, God’s glory dominates the scene. Ever after, God will be there, sometimes in powerful and dramatic ways but always in the ways that Israel needs.
• When have you had a mountaintop experience? How did this experience assure you of God’s presence and power?
• What should we expect with regard to profound spiritual experiences?
• How might we prepare to encounter God’s glory?
• How should we respond to such a profound divine encounter?
Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
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