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Seven Mountains in Matthew

There are seven mountains mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel, but together they form a single literary mountain, one which highlights not only the authority of Jesus, but that of the prophetic voice of His church.

A voice from a mountain speaks to us of the authority of God, or the authority of His representative/s. At Sinai, Israel was given Covenant blessings and Covenant curses, but when Moses repeated the Law, the blessings and curses were twin mountains, or a “split” mountain through which Israel must pass into the Promised Land. Warren Gage writes:

The law of Moses instructed the people, when Joshua led them into the good land promised to the fathers, to assemble before the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal for a ceremony reaffirming their fidelity to the Lord and the law of the covenant (Deut 27- 28). The entire nation of Israel was to be arranged in ranks by their tribes in the valley between the slopes of the two mountains. Six tribes stood upon the skirts of Ebal, and six tribes stood upon the skirts of Gerizim. Joshua spoke all the law of Moses in the hearing of the twelve tribes of Israel (Josh 8:30-35). The six tribes upon Gerizim spoke the blessings that would be poured out as long as the nation obeyed the law and the covenant (Deut 28:1-14). The six tribes upon Ebal spoke the curses that would come upon the nation if they disobeyed the law (Deut 27:15-28). All the tribes affirmed that, upon their disobedience, a nation from afar would come upon them like the eagle, besieging the fortified walls of Israel (Deut 28:49-52) and driving all the people into exile among the nations (Deut 28:64-68). As each group of six tribes spoke the blessings and the cursings of the law, the six tribes opposite answered with an antiphonal avowal of their fidelity to the covenant and their imprecatory oath of obedience to the Lord.

In the New Testament, Matthew’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the True Joshua presiding over a new ceremony of blessing and cursing. To recognize this portrayal, we must understand something of the structure of the first Gospel. Matthew arranges his Gospel around seven mountains. These mountains are 1) the mountain of the temptation (Matt 4:8), 2) the mountain of the beatitudes (Matt 5:1), 3) the mountain of the separation (Matt 14:23), 4) the mountain of the feeding in the wilderness (Matt 15:29), 5) the mountain of the transfiguration (Matt 17:1), 6) the mountain of the Olivet discourse (Matt 24:3), and 7) the mountain of the commissioning (Matt 28:16).

The seven Matthean mountains are arranged chiastically, with corresponding pairs arrayed around the central mountain of the wilderness feeding. The mountains relevant to the Joshua typology are the second mountain and the sixth, which frame Matthew’s five discourses. The second mountain is the mountain of the beatitudes in Galilee, the site of the first discourse called the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt 5:1-8:28). The corresponding sixth mountain, the site of the last or “Olivet Discourse,” is the mountain before Jerusalem (Matt 24:3-26:1).

Matthew’s typology of the True Joshua is built around the relationship between the blessings pronounced upon the mount of the beatitudes in Galilee and the woes (or curses) spoken against the Pharisees in Jerusalem. By juxtaposing these mountains, Matthew anticipates the blessings to descend upon the mountain of the Gentiles, which has become Gerizim, and the destruction to come upon Jerusalem, which has become Ebal. Jesus solemnly pronounces nine beatitudes upon the mountain in Galilee (Matt. 5:3-12). Eight corresponding woes or curses are enumerated against Jerusalem, framed as antiphonal responses to the beatitudes spoken in Galilee. The juxtaposition of Matthew’s two mountains constitutes the restatement of the solemn ceremony at Shechem, and darkly foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people for their disobedience to the law of Moses in rejecting the Prophet of whom Moses spoke (Matt. 24:2).1Warren Gage, “Joshua Typology in the New Testament,” Biblical Theological Essays, 63-64.

Since there are seven mountains in Matthew’s Gospel, we should not be surprised if the events to which they are tied follow the Covenant literary pattern which makes sense of the seven great mountains of the Bible.2See The Highest of the Mountains.

The mountain of temptation (Creation – Genesis – Sabbath)
The mountain of blessings (Division – Exodus – Passover)
The mountain of intercession (Ascension – Leviticus – Firstfruits)
The mountain in the wilderness (Testing – Numbers – Pentecost)
The mountain of transfiguration (Maturity – Deuteronomy – Trumpets)
The mountain of curses (Conquest – Joshua – Atonement)

The mountain of commission (Glorification – Judges – Booths)

Gage explains the chiastic (or symmetrical) pairing of the other mountains in a footnote:

It may be helpful to the reader set out in broad outline the chiastic arrangement of the other paired mountains in Matthew’s Gospel. The first of Matthew’s mountains is the mountain of the temptation, the scene of Satan’s offer to give Jesus world dominion for His disobedience (4:8-10). The last mountain corresponds to the first. It is the mountain of the commissioning, the place where Jesus proclaims that He has been given universal dominion after His obedience (28:16-20). The other pair of Matthean mountains emphasize the singularity of Jesus “alone.” The third mountain of the separation, which Jesus ascended “alone” (14:23), is corresponded to the mountain of the transfiguration, where Jesus was likewise uniquely “alone” (17:8). The pattern that results from Matthew’s chiastic arrangement of the seven mountains is A B C D C´ B´ A´. This chiastic pattern builds an imaginative “mountain,” so that the literary structure coincides iconographically with Matthew’s literary theme, which is especially developed in his Mosaic typology. That is, Matthew depicts Jesus as the Prophet who brings us the word of the Lord from the mountain of God.

Aligning this literary mountain with Israel’s festal calendar and the first seven books of the Bible brings out further correspondences:

  1. Although Jesus’ temptation is the Testing step of Matthew’s initial cycle, here it corresponds to the reversal of Adam’s fall in Genesis, supporting the idea that the Tree of Knowledge (or Kingdom) was prohibited only temporarily. Unlike Adam, Jesus’ received “all nations” from the hand of His Father through priestly obedience.
  2. Similarly, the Beatitudes are the “Deuteronomy” of Matthew’s initial cycle, yet here they correspond to the first giving of the Law at Sinai.
  3. Gage notices the element of separation in the third mountain, but now we can see this separation was pictured in the Levitical rites, the Firstfruits lamb, and the ascension of the firstborn as a “near bringing.” Here, Christ is the ascended “head” of the sacrifice, the linen “napkin” set aside on its own (John 20:7), but the “body,” once washed, would follow (Leviticus 1:1-9).
  4. Jesus refused bread in the wilderness that He Himself might become bread, and now He gives that manna to His disciples.
  5. Jesus is robed at Maturity, now invested with authority as a blameless sacrifice, just as He was invested for ministry at His baptism (these two events are bookends to Jesus’ prophetic ministry, with the Father testifying at each). Adam and Eve attempted to hide their nakedness at this step in Adam’s pattern. Esther robed herself to approach the emperor’s throne at this step in her story. Peter robed himself at this point in John 21. And the saints, robed in white, are blameless sacrifices at this point in the Revelation. The white robe is the robe of the Covenant witness (Trumpets), and it is bridal in a typological sense, a seamless garment composed of the purified hosts of God.
  6. The fact that Jesus’ discourse concerning the last days of the Old Covenant occurred on the Mount of Olives is significant. Not only might it have been the site of the crucifixion,3See James B. Jordan, Christ in the Holy of Holies: The Meaning of the Mount of Olives. it explains the strange prophecy in Zechariah 14:4-5a: “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal.” The rocks were split at the crucifixion, prefiguring the symbolic division of Olivet into two mountains, like Ebal and Gerizim, that the people of God might enter the heavenly country. This corresponds to the splitting of the Altar in 1 Kings 13:3-5, signifying that its ministry of smoke and ashes (blessing and cursing) was over. Of course, this mountain also corresponds to the Day of Atonement, where the first goat ascended as fragrant smoke and the second was exiled, the word for scapegoat possibly being related to the word “Azal”.4Sair L’azazel
    Literally: The lamb sent to Azazel
    Idiomatically: Scapegoat
    The source of this phrase is from the laws of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:10) where a ram was taken out into the desert and let go as an atonement for the sins of the nation. While the word “sair” means ram, (Leviticus 2:24) many scholars have pondered over the word “Azazel.” Some think it came from “Ez” + “Azal” – meaning that the ram has gone. Others say it comes from the words “Azaz” + “El,” or strong God. The Talmud (Yoma 67b) deems it to be a steep cliff at the edge of the Judean desert near Jerusalem, from which the ram was thrown. The modern definition a scapegoat is someone (or something as in this case) which pays the price for another’s transgression. Azazel can be found in one other phrase whose use is not recommended for polite company or even impolite company. The term “Lech l’azazel” or “Go to Azazel” basically refers to the cliff in the first phrase as in “Go jump off a cliff.” Cited from Learn Hebrew.

    Of course, the Mount of Olives appears twice, in chapter 24 and chapter 26, the first for the curses on Jerusalem, and the second for blessings on His true disciples. After Jesus expelled Judas from the supper, picturing the great day of vengeance and redemption coming upon Judah, Jesus predicted His death and resurrection as the “ascension” goat, and also predicts Peter’s denial. Unlike Judas, and indeed Judea, Peter would be restored.
  7. The final mountain is in Galilee, symbolically on the border of the wild “sea” of the nations. After His resurrection, Jesus gives His disciples a commission to preach to the Gentiles, fulfilling the Feast of Booths. Glorification is about corporate representation, the stage where all the Lord’s people are prophets (Numbers 11:29).

References   [ + ]

1. Warren Gage, “Joshua Typology in the New Testament,” Biblical Theological Essays, 63-64.
2. See The Highest of the Mountains.
3. See James B. Jordan, Christ in the Holy of Holies: The Meaning of the Mount of Olives.
4. Sair L’azazel
Literally: The lamb sent to Azazel
Idiomatically: Scapegoat
The source of this phrase is from the laws of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:10) where a ram was taken out into the desert and let go as an atonement for the sins of the nation. While the word “sair” means ram, (Leviticus 2:24) many scholars have pondered over the word “Azazel.” Some think it came from “Ez” + “Azal” – meaning that the ram has gone. Others say it comes from the words “Azaz” + “El,” or strong God. The Talmud (Yoma 67b) deems it to be a steep cliff at the edge of the Judean desert near Jerusalem, from which the ram was thrown. The modern definition a scapegoat is someone (or something as in this case) which pays the price for another’s transgression. Azazel can be found in one other phrase whose use is not recommended for polite company or even impolite company. The term “Lech l’azazel” or “Go to Azazel” basically refers to the cliff in the first phrase as in “Go jump off a cliff.” Cited from Learn Hebrew.

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