The Mountain of the Lord's House



Mountains are the meeting place between heaven and earth. .Man's spirit instinctively responds to the solitude and grandeur of these temples of nature. Here it is that prophets and righteous men from time immemorial have gone to meet their God, and here it is that many of earth's most singular events have taken place. So sacred is the mountain summit that our temples have come to be known as the mountain of the Lord's house. As there are sacred moments, so there are sacred places-places, like men, chosen and ordained to stand above the rest and point the way to God.


It was the "mountain of God," according to the scriptural account, that Moses ascended to see the burning bush (Exodus 3:1). Sinai, it would appear, was known as the "mountain of God" long before Moses and the Exodus. Here Moses was instructed to remove his shoes, for the place upon which he stood, he was told, was "holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). Such was the setting in which he was called as prophet and liberator to the nation of Israel, whom he was to bring to Sinai to worship God (Exodus 3:12).119


As there are proper forms of worship, so there are proper places of worship. Moses and Israel anciently were required to travel many days in the wilderness that they might make covenants with their God at Sinai. Isaiah prophesied that Israel of the last days would journey from the ends of the earth that they might worship in the mountain of the Lord's house and there be taught in the ways of the God of their fathers (Isaiah 2:2-3). Sinai was a sacred place, a place set apart, a place for the children of Israel to meet their God and make covenants with him. Sinai was Israel's first temple. There Moses taught them about the priesthood and sought to sanctify them that they might enter the presence of the Lord (D&C 84:23-24). Temples, both ancient and modern, are but the "architectural realization" of the Sinai experience. (Lundquist, John M. "The Common Temple Ideology of the Ancient Near East." In The Temple in Antiquity, BYU Religious Studies Center. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, Inc., 1984., pp. 33-35.)


From the Sinai experience we learn that ascending to the high place or presence of the Lord is a gradual process: First, we see Israel assembled at the base of the holy mountain; then we see the seventy, who were allowed to go up partway; and finally we see Moses, who at the invitation of the Lord passed through the veil of the cloud into the divine presence (see Exodus 24). The same pattern is reflected in the construction of the tabernacle. There we plainly see the pattern of graduated splendor designed to be both instructive and functional. Wood and brass were common to the outer court, whereas the glory of gold was the standard of the inner sanctuary. The sacred furnishings were arranged in such an order that their associated ordinances, performed by the priest, became more and more sacred as he progressed toward the Holy of Holies. The tabernacle itself consisted of three enclosures: the court of the tabernacle, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies.


As an Israelite approached the sanctuary (the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies), he was immediately confronted by the Court of the Tabernacle, which concealed the sacred dwelling place of the Lord by a generous enclosure of one hundred cubits north to south. This court was encompassed by a five-cubit wall of fine-twined linen whose white brilliance typified the cleansing purpose of the sacred ordinances120accomplished therein and served as a symbolic reminder to the children of Israel of the need for them to enter worthily. (Garner, David H. "The Tabernacle-A Type for the Temples." Paper presented at the Religious Educators Symposium, Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1979., p. 93.)


In both pattern and purpose the wilderness tabernacle foreshadowed the temple. The ordinances performed there have been common to the Saints of all ages. In our own dispensation we find the Lord commanding Joseph Smith to "build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein" (D&C 124:27). "How shall your washings be acceptable unto me," the Lord asked Joseph Smith, "except ye perform them in a house which you have built to my name?" Then to emphasize that the ordinances of salvation and the way to God are always the same, the Lord explained, "For, for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was." (D&C 124:37-38.) The Lord explained to Joseph Smith that such sacred ordinances as washings, anointings, and baptisms for the dead belonged to his house and were acceptable when performed outside of such a holy sanctuary "only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me." Thus the Lord's people of all ages have been commanded to build such holy places unto his name. (See D&C 124:30, 39.) Further, the place upon which the temple was to be built was chosen, consecrated, and made holy by the Lord (D&C 124:42-44). We have every reason to suppose that such sacred edifices stood in the great city of Adam-ondi-Ahman, in the city of Enoch, and in Melchizedek's city, Salem.


Subsequent to his call from the burning bush, yet before the Exodus, Moses "was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain... the name of which shall not be known among the children of men" (Moses 1:1, 42). Here Moses talked with God "face to face" and "beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created" (Moses 1:2,1218). Others of the prophets were also instructed in world history on this same heavenly campus, not the least of which was Christ himself. Attendant to his wilderness experience, and before he commenced his ministry, he "was in the Spirit, and it taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them" (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:8).

Nephi records that as he sat pondering the things that had been revealed to his father he was "caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot." Here Nephi was shown the history of his people through the ages, the birth and ministry of Christ, the history of the Gentile nations or the nations of Europe, and the restoration and teaching of the gospel in the last days. Much that he saw he was forbidden to write, for he was told that it was yet to be written by one of the Apostles of the Lamb and that the Apostle's name was to be John (1 Nephi 11:14). Nor was this Nephi's only such experience, for he was later to testify: "Upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them." (2 Nephi 4:25.)


In harmony with Nephi's revelation of the Apostle John's activities, the Revelator also professed to be among those who had been carried "away in the spirit to a great and high mountain" to entertain the visions of eternity (Revelation 21:10). Ezekiel, who was a prophet of the Babylonian captivity, also spoke of the visions of God in which he was brought to "the land of Israel" and there set "upon a very high mountain" that he might see the vision of the temple (Ezekiel 40:2).


Sinai was neither the first nor the last instance in which nature provided a place for a prophet and his people to meet their God. Surely Adam worshipped in such places, as did Enoch, the brother of Jared, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Nephi, Christ, and122many others. Enoch records the voice of the Lord directing him to ascend the mount of Simeon. "I turned and went up on the mount," he said, "and as I stood upon the mount, I beheld the heavens open, and I was clothed upon with glory; And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face; and he said unto me: Look, and I will show unto thee the world for the space of many generations." (Moses 7:3-4.) Enoch was also shown the vision of future history.

It will be remembered that the brother of Jared took his six teen small stones to the mountaintop, where he sought to have the Lord touch them with his finger. There the brother of Jared was privileged to see the Lord and also to obtain a revelation of the future. Recounting that experience, Moroni said, "The Lord commanded the brother of Jared to go down out of the mount from the presence of the Lord, and write the things which he had seen; and they were forbidden to come unto the children of men until after that he should be lifted up upon the cross." Further, he added that "never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared." (Ether 4:1, 4.)


Reference was made in the first chapter of this work to Abraham's journey to mount Moriah, where he and Isaac were to participate in a sacrificial ritual foreshadowing God's sacrifice of his Son. As with Sinai, Moriah seems already to have been known as a sacred mountain; in any event, at the conclusion of his experience there Abraham named it Jehovah-jireh. The name conveys the idea that this is the place where Jehovah "will provide" (that is, a sacrifice) and also the idea of the place where Jehovah shall be seen or manifest. (See note to Genesis 22:14 in LDS edition of the Bible.) After the deliverance of Isaac, Abraham named the spot Jehovah-jireh, meaning "the Lord will see or provide" (Genesis 22:14). The name Moriah was revived after the Lord appeared to David at this same spot (2 Chronicles 3:1).


The idea that certain places have been designated for holy purposes, and as such are known long in advance, is common to Latter-day Saints, who look for a day when the New Jerusalem will be established in Jackson County, Missouri. Along with123Sinai and Moriah, Bethel ("the house of God") appears to be another such place. It will be remembered that as Jacob was traveling from his father's house at Beersheba to seek a wife in Haran, the Lord appeared to him by night in a marvelous dream. Jacob rose up early the following morning and took the stone that had been his pillow and "set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first." (Genesis 28:10-22.) Years later, upon Jacob's return, God appeared unto him again at the same place and once more we read that "Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Beth-el." (Genesis 35:14-15.) Yet, if we accept the precise definition of Genesis 12:8, the name Bethel existed at this spot even before the arrival of Abram in Canaan. In future times it would be to Bethel (or as it is rendered, "the house of God") that Israel would go in times of distress to ask counsel of the Lord (Judges 20:18, 26, 31; 21:2).


In his dream Jacob saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. Above the ladder stood the Lord, who (and we must assume that Jacob ascended the ladder) covenanted with Jacob, as he had with Abraham and Isaac, to bless him and his posterity throughout all generations. He was told, as had been his fathers, that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. Joseph Smith tells us that the "three principal rounds of Jacob's ladder" were the same ascended by Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2) and that they represented progression from telestial to terrestrial, and from terrestrial to celestial degrees of glory (Smith, Joseph. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1927 (published by the Church). 5:402). When he awoke Jacob designated the place as "the house of God," and as "the gate of heaven" (Genesis 28:12-17). Describing the second appearance of God to him at Bethel, Jacob mentions the emphasis given to his new name (Israel), the command that he multiply and replenish the earth, and the promises associated with his posterity (Genesis 35:7-12).


The use of mountains as the meeting place between God and men is nowhere better illustrated than in the ministry of the124Savior. In company with Peter, James, and John he went "up into an high mountain apart" which we have come to know as the Mount of Transfiguration. That this was a temple experience there can be little doubt. Christ was transfigured and his "raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them (Mark 9:3). Moses and Elias (Elijah) appeared and instructed them, causing Peter to say, "It is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." Peter's suggestion that three tabernacles or tents be built brings to mind Moses' tabernacle in the wilderness. That tabernacle or portable temple, with its three parts, was covered by a veil or cloud which was the symbol of the divine presence (Numbers 9:15). Such was the experience of those on the Mount of Transfiguration, for we are told that as Peter "yet spake, behold, a bright cloud over shadowed them" and they heard a voice saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." (Matthew 17:4-5.)


Describing this experience, Peter said that he and his companions were "eyewitnesses" of Christ's "majesty." "For," he said, "he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount." (2 Peter 1:16-17.) Then he added, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy . . ." (v. 18). "The more sure word of prophecy," Joseph Smith tells us, "means a man's knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood" (D&C 131:5). We are also told that Peter, James, and John, while on the mount, saw, as had so many of the other prophets, the future history of the earth even to the time when it would be "transfigured" or receive again its paradisiacal glory (D&C 63:21).


Though our account is fragmentary, the high mountain, the raiment of white, the heavenly messengers, the cloud or veil, the voice of the Father, and the manifestation of the destiny of the earth all combine in a harmonious description of a temple experience125Indeed it has been suggested that Peter, James, and John, while on the mount, received their endowments and were there empowered for all that they would yet be called upon to do (McConkie, Bruce R. The Mortal Messiah. 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981. 3:58; see also McConkie, Bruce R. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary. Vol. 1. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, Inc., 1973. 1:400; Smith, Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation. Vol. 2. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft Inc., 1954. 2:165). Thus it seems natural that we would read that "as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead" (Mark 9:9).


On the night of the Paschal feast, at that event known to us as the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, "But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee" (Matthew 26:32). Lest they forget, at the open tomb the angel of the Lord instructed the two Marys to tell the disciples that Christ would meet them in Galilee (Mark 16:7). The risen Lord himself directed these same women to tell his brethren to go to Galilee with the promise, "there shall they see me" (Matthew 28:10). And so the word went out among those who believed, those of faith and proven devotion. Such was the assembly that gathered in Galilee, "into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them" (Matthew 28:16). Paul tells us that more than five hundred brethren were present (1 Corinthians 15:6), and if we can rightfully assume that their wives and families were with them along with other faithful women, it is an easy matter to suppose that the total congregation was of the same size as the similar meeting held in the New World where "about two thousand and five hundred souls" consisting of "men, women, and children" assembled and met the risen Lord (3 Nephi 17:25). Of this appearance on the mountain in Galilee, Elder Bruce R. McConkie writes, "It is pleasant to suppose it happened at the same site on which he preached the Sermon on the Mount, for that was the ordination sermon of the Twelve, and he now designs to give those same apostolic wit nesses their great commission to carry the gospel into all the world. What would be more fitting than to have the great com mission to take the gospel to all the world come forth at the same sacred spot whence they received their first apostolic commission, from the mountain which had become to them a holy temple?" (McConkie, Bruce R. The Mortal Messiah. 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981. 4:297.)126


So frequently had mountains served as the meeting place between God and men that Isaiah referred to the temple as "the mountain of the Lord's house" (Isaiah 2:2); Jeremiah used the phrase "mountain of holiness" (Jeremiah 31:23); and the Psalmist wrote of the "hill of the Lord" (Psalm 24:3). Nephi records that when the Lord sought to reveal to him the manner in which he should build the ship that was to bring his family to the Americas, he first heard the voice of the Lord say to him, "Arise, and get thee into the mountain" (1 Nephi 17:7).


It was commonplace among the ancient Near Eastern peoples to view mountains as temples, for they were the meeting place between heaven and earth. Anciently the temple was viewed as the ritual center of the universe. It was believed to be the place where men could establish contact with other worlds. Hugh Nibley writes, "It is now generally recognized that the earliest temples were not, as formerly supposed, dwelling-places of divinity, but rather meeting-places at which men at specific times attempted to make contact with the powers above" (Nibley, Hugh. What Is a Temple? The Idea of the Temple in History. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1968., p. 231). Thus it was natural that the temple be associated with mountains, for as still another scholar observes, "the mountain itself was originally such a place of contact between this and the upper world" (Nibley, Hugh. What Is a Temple? The Idea of the Temple in History. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1968., p. 231).


The temple is a symbol of true religion. The Lord's people have always been a temple-building people (D&C 124:39), thus accounting for the endless array of counterfeits in the ancient world. Only among those who deny the principle of revelation and refuse man the right to stand in the presence of his Creator are no temples to be found. As long as some degree of divine favor rested upon the nation of Israel, their temple stood.


When Christ died upon the cross, "the veil of the temple was rent in twain" by the hand of God "from the top to the bottom" (Matthew 27:51), thus symbolizing the end of the old covenant and the fulfillment of its sacrificial types. No longer was man to approach the Lord through its ritual or receive a remission of sins in its performances. The Jewish dispensation had ended, the Messianic had begun, and as the Savior had prophesied, not one stone of that temple would be left standing upon another (Matthew 24:2). The destruction of the temple betokened the destruction of a wicked nation. As its stones were not to be left one upon another, so its people would be scattered among all nations of the earth to await that future day when, in the economy of heaven, a temple would again be built on the sacred hills of Jerusalem. That temple, when built by the proper authority, will stand as a beacon to the scattered remnant of Judah that the days of her distress have passed and that the arm of the Lord now reaches after them. It will signal that the time has come for them to return to their God. Once again "he that hath clean129hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully" will be invited to "ascend into the hill of the Lord" to "stand in his holy place" and to receive "blessing from the Lord" (Psalm 24).


McConkie, Joseph Fielding. Gospel Symbolism. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1985.