At Mount Tabor, Close Encounters of the Divine Kind

Mount Tabor from Nazareth ridge, tb011400115
Mount Tabor From Nazareth (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)

No matter where you stand in the Jezreel Valley, located in northern Israel and also known as the Valley of Armageddon, you can see the rounded visage of Mount Tabor. Located at the nexus of many ancient travel routes that crisscrossed Palestine, Mount Tabor served as a strategic sentinel during Biblical times and a symbol of majesty and divinity in scripture.

Mount Tabor Basilica of Transfiguration mural, tb040200100
Mount Tabor Basilica Mosaic (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Gospel Accounts of the Transfiguration

Today a Franciscan Church stands on the summit of Mount Tabor, commemorating the Transfiguration of Christ with mosaics depicting Jesus standing between Moses and Elijah, while His Father tells Him how much joy He has brought to His Heart and commands all to “Listen to HIM!” Although scholars disagree on whether Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon was the actual scene of the Transfiguration, described in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9: 2-8 and Luke 9:28-36, throughout history Mount Tabor has been a place where humanity has sought contact with the divine.

Mount Tabor from southeast, tb041003101
Mount Tabor (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
The Prophet Jeremiah and Mount Tabor

The Prophet Jeremiah employs the rounded Holy Mountain, rising 1800 feet above sea level, as a symbol of the Messiah in Chapter 46, verse 18 of his book…”‘Surely one shall come who looms up like Tabor among the mountains…’” In addition, Psalm 89 references Mount Tabor in recounting the wonder of God’s creation: 11 The heavens are yours, and the earth is yours; everything in the world is yours—you created it all. 12 You created north and south. Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon praise your name.

Mount Tabor Basilica of Transfiguration interior, tb032904197
Mount Tabor Basilica (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Moses and Elijah Encourage Jesus

Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration, with all three of them appearing in a divine state, brings His Messiahship into full view. Both Elijah and Moses held a special place in the Israelite’s hearts.  They represented the two principle components of the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets.  The fact that these two Old Testament figures conversed with Jesus about His departure from this world, illustrates convincingly that the Old Testament points toward the Messiah and His sufferings….Luke 9: 30 – 31 30 Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. 31 They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about His exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.”  In Luke 24: 13 – 27, Jesus reiterates this point as He talks with Cleopas and the second follower on the road to Emmaus….that the Old Testament scriptures consistently and deliberately reveal the Him as the Messiah.

Mount Tabor summit aerial from northeast, tbs121150011
Aerial of Mount Tabor (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Peter Has An Idea

Peter, James and John, Jesus’ inner circle, are privileged to be with Him for this mountaintop event while the rest of the disciples waited below.  Peter, with his foot-shaped mouth, has some earnest, yet misguided, advice for Jesus.  He suggests that huts or tents be built for the three, either in an attempt to prolong the glorious encounter or an effort to show respect.  Either way, Peter misses the point, just as we often do.

The Valley of Armageddon From Mount Tabor (courtesy of Pam Kroger)
Privileged Spiritual Experience

Elijah and Moses were there to strengthen the disciples faith, revealing to them, in a powerful way, the Divine Hand at work, not only in the coming events that Jesus would endure, but throughout the ages. The Transfiguration was a special event in which God not only revealed His Son’s divinity, but also allowed certain disciples the privilege of a spiritual experience to brace them for the future and all that it would entail.  Peter wanted the encounter to last forever, God only meant it to be temporary.

Mount Tabor tree lined entrance road, tb032904204
Mount Tabor Entrance (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Special Experiences of Grace

In the same way, God may give us special experiences of His grace that strengthen our faith. We should welcome these experiences for the moments of grace that they are, but we should not expect them to continue forever or become discouraged when they seemingly end.  They are momentary glimpses of the joy to come, close encounters of the divine kind, meant to keep us strong as we face the all too familiar challenges of life.  Join us on a faith-based tour and view Israel from this majestic mountain, known to be where humanity sought and found God.

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