This is the third part of a multi-part series looking at creation and re-creation through the lens of mountains in the Bible.
A few weeks ago, we looked at how Genesis 1-2 present creation as God’s sovereign and purposeful action to create and fill the world. The imagery that is used suggests that the land rises up from the waters like a mountain island. Eden is God’s mountain in creation and the garden of Eden is the pinnacle of that mountain. In this garden, at the top of the world, so to speak, God places Adam and Eve and communes with them there.
But this intimate communion between God and his image bearers does not last. As we turn from Genesis 2 to Genesis 3, Adam loses the privilege of dwelling in the garden, the sanctuary of God, because of his sin. The fallout from Adam’s sin is alienation in a number of ways: man is alienated from God, the earth is alienated from man, and husband is alienated from wife. But that’s not all; now that man is alienated from God, he cannot dwell in God’s sanctuary. So, God expels Adam and Eve from the garden and guards the way to the sanctuary with cherubim and a flaming sword. Michael Morales summarizes this way: “Being driven away from YHWH’s Presence, then, involves a descent, a ritual or symbolic movement downward, and reflected in the expulsion narrative (when the garden is understood to be located upon the summit of the holy mount of God).”
Thinking about the fall of Adam as a descent seems appropriate given how we speak about things going bad. You’ve probably heard someone say something along these lines, “The protest started peacefully, but soon descended into anarchy.” Or, “Her health really went downhill after she fell.” We have an intuitive orientation when it comes to good and bad. When things are going well, you might say, “Things are on the up and up.” But when things are not going so well, you may say, “I’m down in the dumps.” So, then, to describe the fall of Adam as a descent away from the presence of God fits well with our intuition.
But beyond our intuition, Scripture reinforces this orientation. As Jonah prays to God in Jonah 2, he describes his salvation in directional terms: “I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God” (Jonah 2:6). In fact, Jonah’s directional salvation is explicitly tied to creation. In a line that is parallel to v6, Jonah describes “the land whose bars closed upon me” as “the deep” which is the same word used to describe the chaotic waters of creation before God ordered and filled his creation. So, to be under God’s judgment is to be cast down whereas salvation is to be lifted up.
The Psalms reinforce this orientation. David speaks of directional salvation in Ps 30:3: “O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.” Again, David speaks of a descent in judgment in Psalm 55: “Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive; for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart” (v15). Finally, Psalm 115 points to this orientation explicitly. Salvation is an ascent because “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (v3).
Bringing this back to mountains, and the mountain of God, Adam’s descent from the garden of Eden is God’s ultimate judgment against him. Thus, the primary problem that must be overcome is finding a way to ascend the mountain of God to be back in his presence. But, as the psalmist asks, “Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord?” This is the question that must be answered now, and a foretaste of the answer will come with Noah.
 L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus, Biblical Tools and Studies 15 (Leuven: Peeters, 2012), 104.