“He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth–the Lord God Almighty is his name” (Amos 4:13 NIV).
This is a brilliant and succinct summary of all of history, the vastness of all of reality, and much of what we need to know about life–all contained in this one verse of the Bible. It is a message of eternity, origin, destiny, judgment, salvation, and the nature and character of God. Quite an accomplishment for just a few words and a single verse.
He who forms the mountains
The Bible often uses mountains as symbols of things that are old or eternal. Do not we ourselves say of such things that they are “as old as the hills”?
Mountains also serve as appropriate symbols for God in that they are among the most massive and impressive features that we have upon this earth. Looking at mountains, we feel dwarfed by their huge size and awed by their glory and majesty.
But mountains also have deficiencies as symbols to help us describe God (what doesn’t?). Mountains are hard, stony, unyielding, distant. But, of course, that is how some people view God. They see him as a stern taskmaster, living far off in a distant heaven, with little concern for man–a frightening, wrathful God whom they want to stay at a distance from themselves.
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’ . . . The people remained at a distance” (Ex. 20:18-21 NIV).
While it is true that we should have a reverent fear for God, it is also true that God created us for more than that. He wants an intimate, close relationship of love with us. Love from a distance is impossible. To really know God, we must draw near to him. This is impossible if we cannot get past our fear of his greatness.
Notice that while the mass of people stood trembling at the mountain of God, unable to overcome their fear of God, one man dared to draw near to God on that mountain. The passage from Exodus quoted above says that though the people remained at a distance, “Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”
What was it that made Moses able to do what the others could not? What was different about this man? God reveals the secret elsewhere in Scripture:
“I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach to me: for who is he who has had boldness to approach to me?” (Jer. 30:21 WEB).
God himself is the cause of any who would overcome their fear of God and approach him. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn. 6:44 NIV). Moses was drawn to God by God himself, the same invitation which God issues to every human being.
“Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev.22:17 NIV).
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (Jn. 6:37 NIV).
When commending Moses, the writer of Hebrews said that “he was looking ahead to his reward” (Heb. 11:26 NIV). Moses saw beyond what the people saw, to the great reward that awaited him on that terrifying mountain of God: God himself. For this, he was willing to risk all, even his very life, even though he also was greatly afraid: “The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear'” (Heb. 12:21 NIV).
Nevertheless, fear or not, some things are worth losing everything for, even one’s life. Certainly God is at the top of that list.
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Ph. 2:12,13 NIV).
“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Ph. 3:8 NIV).
“They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11 NIV).
It is indeed a fearful prospect to approach God on his mountain. But the good news of the gospel is that that Old Testament mountain is no longer the mountain with which we must deal. That mountain has been transfigured by Jesus Christ, so that now, “you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded” (Heb. 12:18-20 NIV).
But rather, “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb. 12:22-24 NIV).
Yes, we who live in the New Testament age have come to a better mountain, the mountain that transfigures Jesus, who clears the way for us to approach God unafraid in him.
“Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16 WEB).
That is where Moses found the boldness to go up the mountain, despite his great fear and trembling: He found it in Jesus Christ, even though he lived long before Jesus was even born. He was “. . . accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith, he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:26 WEB).
If we are to be like Moses and overcome our own fear of approaching God on his mountain, we too must endure as seeing him who is invisible. And that brings us to the next description which the Amos passage uses of God, as he who:
creates the wind
Though there are many good similarities between mountains and God, there are also deficiencies in using mountains alone as a symbol when describing God. For one thing, mountains are static while God is dynamic and alive. Therefore, something else must be added. Wind is the perfect choice. Jesus himself used this symbol:
“The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8 WEB).
Wind, like the Spirit of God, is invisible. Wind, like God, however is capable of being felt. We can feel that which is invisible to our eyes. Under certain weather conditions, a warm wind called a chinook can sweep down the Rocky Mountains (foehn, in other regions of the world) to the plains, enlivening an otherwise dead land in the midst of winter and melting a foot of snow or more in a day. This would be a beautiful illustration of how the invisible Spirit of God can descend into the cold heart of a sinful human being and melt that which encases it in coldness so that the life of God can warm and soften that heart. Thus mountains and wind work together in this illustration from Amos to help us understand God’s work in the human heart.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezk. 36:26 NIV).
We can think of the mountain made of stone being the inert, unmoved heart of man, down which moves the enlivening, warming wind or Spirit of God that provides the warmth that melts that which keeps one from ascending the mountain to be with God. If man, out of fear, will not ascend the mountain, then God will descend to meet man below on the plain, like the chinook.
“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming” (Rom. 10:6-8 NIV).
God did descend from heaven to earth, in the form of his Son, to rescue those too afraid to go up onto the mountain to meet God. Through Jesus, God meets man where he is. In this way, God frees “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:15 NIV).
Thus, as in Moses, who was the forerunner to Jesus, God and man meet and we are set free from our fear of God and death. The wind of God has done its work.
But there is more. It was mentioned that the picture of wind sweeping down the mountain brings life to an otherwise static and dead picture. Now the Amos passage moves on with this advancing concept to the very heart of the message. For one meaning of the Hebrew word used in this passage for wind is that which is used only in the context of a rational being. God is a rational being; so is man, made in his image. The question arises, Why does God do this? Why does he call Moses up the mountain or descend himself to the heart of man down on the plain? Because he desires a relationship of love with us, to share his deepest thoughts with us. Incredible! But that is the next thought conveyed in the Amos passage:
reveals his thoughts to man
“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Ps. 139:17 NIV).
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him–but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Cor. 2:9-13 NIV).
This is the amazing truth of Scripture, whether declared in Old Testament Amos or New Testament Corinthians, that we who have been lifted up to God, high on his mountain, through our union into his Son Jesus Christ, have revealed to us the very thoughts of God. This is surely one of the greatest blessings we can receive from God. To think that he desires to share with us the deepest thoughts of his heart and mind. . . .
But with great blessing comes great responsibility. There is also a darker side to this tremendous blessing that God gives to those who accept his invitation to meet with him on the mountain. When the disciple Peter was chosen to be with Jesus on the mountain when he was transfigured with glory, Peter later wrote this about that moment:
“We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Ptr. 1:18,19 NIV).
Truly, once we receive Jesus as Savior, we do have the light of morning shine into our hearts; the day has dawned indeed. But Amos warns that darkness can return. We can still sin. For this, God must rebuke us; that is the condition for being able to receive the thoughts of God:
“If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you” (Prov. 1:23 NIV).
It is possible not to respond to God’s rebuke over our sin. That was the situation in which Amos spoke to the nation of Israel. They had turned away from God, their light, and returned to darkness.
he who turns dawn to darkness
“Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. . . . Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light–pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?” (Amos 5:18,20 NIV).
The day when Jesus enters the heart as its Lord and Savior is truly a day of light and rejoicing. But if that heart then turns back to its former sinful ways, the morning light becomes darkness. Then there is nothing left but a dreadful expectation of judgment.
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned” (Heb. 6:4-8 NIV).
This is the terrible, horrifying possibility that arises when the light, wind, and Spirit of God leaves the dark heart it came to enlighten, enliven and meet with on the mountain. Then there is nothing left but the prospect of the judgment of God. He will come down and walk on the very mountains that were meant to be a place of salvation but have become the place where his footsteps now walk upon the unrepentant.
and treads the high places of the earth
There are connotations of the Hebrew word translated “treads” that imply a smashing or threshing, a harsher meaning, besides the main meaning of simply walking. Elsewhere Scripture reminds us that the wrath of man may make the mountains tremble:
“Though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. . . .” (Ps. 46:2,3 NIV).
Though man can make the earth and its mountains quake and reel by his wrath, when God strides upon those same mountains, the mountains not only quake, they melt:
“The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth” (Ps. 97:5 NIV).
“The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope” (Mic. 1:4 NIV).
This is the sobering possibility that is always present in this world. Even those who belong to Christ and say they serve God need to examine themselves to be sure they are not lessening in their devotion to him. No one wants to be subject to the wrath of God. The whole message of the prophet Amos was one of warning to the people of God that they were in danger of this wrath for their waywardness. It was also a call for repentance, for God does not desire to have to punish anyone, but rather that they would turn from their wayward paths and live. Nevertheless, if they refuse, then he has no choice but to be faithful to his nature as a righteous God who punishes wickedness. Whether wrath or blessing, he alone is the one who does all these things. That is the final comment of the prophet Amos in this passage, and it is a fitting close to the message.
“The Lord God Almighty is his name” (Amos 4:13 NIV).
“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Is. 45:7 ESV).
Praise the name of the Lord God Almighty!