“Not all those who wander are lost.” — Gandalf
Gandalf wrote these words in a poem to Frodo. The poem is called “The Riddle of Strider”. The poem is vital to the narrative of the Fellowship of the Ring as it gives Frodo confidence to trust the Ranger Strider (who is yet to be known as Aragon).
The plot of the book is a journey, a quest, to a mountain. The mountain is Mount Doom. The travellers were an unlikely group: four hobbits; two men; a Wizard; an elf; and a dwarf. An odd traveling party and a weird collection of travelers. In their care was the most powerful ring on earth, “the One Ring”. They must avoid the evil that seeks it out and the evil within the power of the ring. Only the fires of Mordor at Mount Doom can destroy it.
Mountains and power. Mountains as a destination. Mountains at the center (Middle) of Earth. Elijah made his trek alone, without a ring, but a mountain still stood out at the center of his story (or should I say the apex of his story). But there is more to this story than lets on and this is not a series of mountain top moments.
Great things happen above the clouds. Edmund Hillary in 1953, reached the summit of Mt. Everest and in doing so conquered the tallest mountain in world. He didn’t find gods living there. In ancient times, gods were thought to dwell on the mountain tops. Massive ziggurats, ancient temples, rose from the plains of Babylon. Mt. Olympus towered over Greece, housing Zeus and his compatriots. The Mayans had their pyramids that poked through the jungles of Mexico. Bipin Shah, in his article published on academia.com, observed on page 15:
Some spelling aside, his point is accurate. Ancient minds associated God/gods with the mountain tops.
First Kings 19 tells of one account where Elijah met God on the mountain top. The mountain top is where a closeness to God is felt. It is where His power is on display. The mountain top is where His voice is so clear that it is nearly audible. It is a place where His direction is as clear as lines on a map. A couple things stand out about Elijah’s Mountain top.
First off, no one begins on the mountain top. This story actually begins in the desert. With all that was happening around him, Elijah fled to the wilderness. It began as a day. Burnout set in that night. He asked God to take his life! (19.4) He’s not the first man in Scripture to ask this. He is tired and worn out. An angel woke him and made him food. Then he was sent on a 40 day and night journey to Mt. Horeb (19.8). This journey was straight through the desert. Moses traveled across the wilderness with his flocks prior to meeting a burning bush that called himself Yahweh. Moses, before reaching Sinai, traveled through the desert. Before the blessings and cursings at the end of Deuteronomy, the Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years. An intimate relationship with God doesn’t materialize automatically. It doesn’t arrive in the present. It has a past that has roots in the desert. A mountain is on described in height by its relationship to sea level. So it is true with Spiritual mountain tops. Our closeness to God is often understood by how far away we felt in the wilderness.
Second. No one leaves the Mountain top unchanged. When the power of God is on display, be it in a changed life (yours or another’s) is seen, addiction overcome, healing taken place, or worship felt, lives are changed forever. Once a mountain has been summitted, that can never be taken away. The accomplishment that I feel having climbed three fourteeners is something that can never be taken from me. Elijah arrived on the mountain in need of change. He had wished for death on his journey and he arrives complaining. Twice he tells God about his resume and his complaints. God decides to show Elijah His power, His glory, and His identity. On the same Mountain that He showed Himself to Moses many years prior, He is on display for Elijah. In the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, He wasn’t seen. But in the gentle whisper, from behind Elijah’s cloak, was God. A beautiful picture of the Almighty juxtaposed by the All-compassionate. The softening of Elijah is on display. When a prayer life is dynamic, Bible study transformative and discipleship is authentic, life changes. Mountain tops change us.
Finnally; no one gets to stay on the mountain top forever. Normally the phrase “it’s all down hill from here” is a positive one implying that it only gets easier from now on. Not the case with mountain top moments. Everyone has to come down from the summit. There will be days ahead where prayer seems unheard, study seems empty, worship is uninspired, and discipleship is undirected. Even Jesus came down from his transfiguration on the mount to a seizing boy and failing disciples. No one gets to stay on top forever. Elijah’s story actually takes place between two mountains. First Kings 18 takes place on Mt. Carmel. It’s a showdown between Elijah in the blue corner and the 450 prophets of Baal. The question: “whose God will answer?” The stakes: life. Elijah of course wins. Then he out-runs a King on a chariot for miles. He is jazzed up. Any athlete will tell you that adrenalin will mess with you. But now he has caught the attention of the King and queen. Elijah was afraid? I have written elsewhere that I feel this verse is mis-translated. I don’t feel like rehashing the argument here, but I do feel that Elijah looked around to see everything he had worked for go for naught. But God redirects him. Command 1: “Go back to the desert!” Really? No one leaves the mountain top to go to the desert. Command 2: Annoint Hazael, King of Aram. A pagan ruler? Command 3: Annoint Jehu, King of Israel. Adulterous Israel? Command 4: Annoint Elisha, your successor. “You mean it’s over?” This seems the opposite direction we need to head. But it is God showing Elijah that no one stays on the Mountain top. The mountain tops challenge and sustain us, but most ministry happens when things aren’t going great. Elijah has work to do and it isn’t done in the rarified air of the summit.
Elijah runs to mountain top because that is where he needs to meet God. In the desert, dependence and trust is learned. On the mountain top, intimacy and power is revealed. Our mountain top moments happen at times when we most need to see the power, feel the presence, and drink in the intimacy we can have with our God.