Mountains are fitting, places to worship God, but as metaphors they become particularly effective theology instructors when moved or disturbed at God’s direction. As the Lord’s unlimited presence took up residence on Mount Sinai, the mountain trembled, smoked, and blazed as a way of showing how unique and powerful God’s presence was (Exod 19:16-19). This event was recalled centuries later when the poet spoke of the Lord as the one “who touches the mountains, and they smoke” (Psa 104:32; 144:5). The mountains of the Promised Land are
made of very durable limestone that shows virtually no change in appearance over thousands of years, but when God wants to change them, he can. “The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth” (Psa 97:5; Mic 1:4). And this is only the start of references in the Bible to mountains trembling, skipping, swaying, and quaking in the presence of the LORD (Job 9:5-6; Psa 114:4, 6; Isa 54:10; Nah 1:5).
The beauty of the mountains can lose its luster for travelers who are forced to either lengthen their trip by circumnavigating them or accept the bone-wearying challenge of climbing their steep ridges. At times ancient travelers chose the latter, but while shortening the distance to be covered, this decision left them gasping for breath as they trudged and scrambled up steep slopes into thinner and thinner air.
It is this literal travel experience that makes the image of mountains being made level so very inviting. This recasting of the landscape is mentioned by the biblical authors as a way of facilitation the mission of Cyrus, the return of the exiles, and the arrival of the Messiah (Isa 40:4; 45:2; 49:11; Zech 4:7; Luke 3:5).