Unlocking symbolism in the Bible
One of the biggest problems in understanding prophecy is unlocking symbolism in the Bible. We don’t understand the language and we try to read it using our own understanding and cultural background. This will only take you so far but you will always come up short. One of the problems in our time is that many take some of these symbols literally. Yes some may be but not all will make sense if you are always looking for the literal reading. Once we can unlock the symbols in the text we will have an easier time in understanding what the prophet is actually trying to say to us.
One such example is the use of the word Mountain. On some occasions the Prophet is referring to a literal mountain but on many occasions he is referring to a Kingdom or Empire. It all depends on the context.
Let’s look at a few verses.
“My sheep wandered around aimlessly on every mountain and hill; yes, my sheep were scattered all over the land, with no one to search for them or look after them.” (Ezekiel 34:6)
Obviously God’s sheep (The Jews) were scattered in the Diaspora into different nations, so the word “mountain” is symbolic for nation, empire, or kingdom.
“We wish you would tear open heaven and come down, so the mountains would shake at your presence! It would be like fire kindling the brush, and the fire then makes the water boil. Then your enemies would know your name, the nations would tremble before you! When you did tremendous things that we were not expecting, we wish that you would come down, so that the mountains would shake at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1-3).
We see here again that mountains and nations is interchangeable and many times in prophecy refer to the same thing.
Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we are unafraid, even if the earth gives way, even if the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, even if its waters rage and foam, and mountains shake at its turbulence. There is a river whose streams gladden the city of God, the holy habitation of Elyon—God is in the city. It will not be moved—when daybreak comes, God will help it. Nations were in turmoil, kingdoms were moved; his voice thundered forth, and the earth melted away.”
In verse 3 above, the “mountains shake” and in verse 6 “the nations are in turmoil” and “kingdoms were moved”. So, when comparing verse 3 and 6 we can conclude that the “mountains” are nations/kingdoms. Besides that mountain here clearly means nations, it is interesting from this verse and many others to note that waters and rivers are the flow of nations, peoples and tongues. This is exactly what John interpreted in Revelation 17:15 “And he said unto me, the waters you saw, where the whore sits, are peoples, multitudes, and nations, and tongues.”
To understand what something means, we must always first go to the Bible, and with a simple search we can easily find the meaning. Now we can understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”
In other words, if we have faith, we can affect kingdoms and nations. This is so true. Yet so many have taken this literally and made the Bible sound like a book of magic.