This is the second part of a multi-part series looking at creation and re-creation through the lens of mountains in the Bible.
Last week, we thought briefly through the fact that the Bible was written in the midst of culture and history. We said that it should neither be surprising nor alarming that the Ancient Near East would have parallel stories. Instead, we can often learn valuable things from these parallels. As we turn to consider the Biblical account of creation, we immediately encounter some of those parallels. Both this and the several reflections that follow are inspired by and heavily dependent upon two works by Dr. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus and Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus.
The obvious place to start when thinking through the thread of creation/re-creation in the Bible is Genesis 1-2. In these opening chapters of the Bible, Moses lays out God’s creation of the heavens and the earth out of nothing, the ordering of that creation, and its population. What starts as “formless and void” in Gen 1:2 ends with an orderly form that is teeming with life. The most important part of these chapters is the creation of man and God’s placement of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the garden, God meets with Adam and Eve. So, the garden is important as the place of God’s special presence with his treasured possession. And that point itself is important because it is a polemic against the creation accounts of Israel’s neighbors.
So, what were the basics of those competing creation accounts? At a high level, these accounts detail a cosmic war between the gods that ultimately brings order out of chaos. In many of these accounts, the waters represent chaos itself because water is unstable and the sea is threatening to humanity. On the other hand, land is more orderly. So, one way to describe how order came from chaos is to tell of land emerging from the waters. Thus, some creation accounts speak of the creation of the world as one huge mountain emerging from the chaotic waters. And since the top of mountains are where the earth meets the heavens, this is where humanity meets its maker(s).
Returning to the opening chapters of Genesis, the outlines of pagan creation accounts seem to be on Moses’ mind as he describes the work of God. In the beginning, there is darkness “over the face of the deep” (Gen 1:2). The “deep” is the word that is used in Scripture to describe chaos. On the third day of creation, the waters were gathered up, and dry land appeared (Gen 1:9), i.e. the earth rose out of the waters. Finally, God planted a garden in Eden and placed Adam there (Gen 2:8). In this garden, God spoke to Adam and met with him. So, Eden is described as a mountain and the Garden of Eden as the pinnacle of that mountain. These descriptions point to common themes of creation.
But there are important differences. In the first place, though chaos is the beginning state of creation, it is a chaos under the control of God. Though there is “darkness…over the face of the deep,” the Spirit of God is there, too, suggesting that the chaos was always under the control of God. Thus, creation was no accident, or the result of some divine conflict. It was the purposeful action of God.
Speaking of divine conflict, its absence is conspicuous. There was no struggle that resulted in creation. Instead, God spoke, and it was so. In fact, the idols of Israel’s neighbors are objects created by God, and they aren’t even named in the way we would expect. Rather than saying that God created the sun and the moon, Moses writes that “God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars” (Gen 1:16). This round-about way of naming keeps the focus on YHWH rather than on the names of the idols of Israel’s neighbors.
All of this is to say that Genesis 1-2 portray creation as a mountain surrounded by chaotic waters. At the top of that mountain, God planted a garden. In that garden, God met with man. This is the thread that is woven throughout Scripture to testify to all people that YHWH, the God of Israel, is the only creator and God and that he has made a place for the high point of his creation, his treasured possession, to dwell with him.
Of course, we know that things don’t stay this way for long. Adam will lose the privilege of meeting with God in his sanctuary. Thus, the rest of Scripture will point to the return of man’s communion with God atop a mountain. And so, mountains are an important thread of Scripture that link creation and re-creation.