‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’ (Isaiah 2:3)
The ‘mountain of the Lord’ is a phrase commonly used to refer to the temple. The ancients believed that mountains were holy places where it was easier to commune with God. Some of the most sacred events in the history of the world have occurred on mountains – Moses ‘ experiences with the Lord; the testing of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah; Peter, James and John’s witnessing of the transfigured Saviour and the crucifixion of the Saviour on Calvary.
In many ancient cultures the temple represented the ‘cosmic mountain’ – the first place on earth to arise from the waters of Chaos and a place where man and gods could meet. Many ancient temples (think of the Aztec temples and the Mesopotamian ziggurats) included steps up which men could ascend and gods descend.
Josephus wrote of Herod’s Temple:
‘The exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white.’ (Josephus, War 5.222-223)
Part of the holiness of a mountain is that it is secluded and reaching its summit requires effort and commitment. Similarly, we might reflect that it takes effort and commitment to qualify to enter the Lord’s house. Latter-day prophet Spencer W. Kimball wrote:
In our journey toward eternal life, purity must be our constant aim. To walk and talk with God, to serve with God, to follow his example and become as a god, we must attain perfection. In his presence there can be no guile, no wickedness, no transgression. In numerous scriptures he has made it clear that all worldliness, evil and weakness must be dropped before we can ascend unto “the hill of the Lord.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], chap. 2)