Memories of Olivet: The Mount of Corruption

What a sad description of the lovely Mount of Olives, “The Mount of Corruption,” but it is so called in 2 Kings 23:13 as we shall see. The Mount of Olives is mentioned some twelve times in the New Testament, but only twice by name in the Old (2 Sam 15:30; Zech 14:4). There are however, other references to it there, where it is described as “the mountain which is on the east side of the city” (Ezek 11:23), and “the hill that is before Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:7), and these we shall consider in more detail.

David and the Mount

The story in 2 Samuel is sad in the extreme. Consequent upon his conspiracy in the slaying of his brother Amnon, Absalom had been banished from the king’s presence. Through the mediation of Joab, David eventually relented and permitted Absalom to return to his home in Jerusalem, but not to see the king’s face. It was only a partial forgiveness, and it was to have bitter consequences. Through the continuing intervention of Joab, the king finally agreed to see Absalom and there appeared to be a full restoration to favor. There was, though, no true repentance on Absalom’s part, and, as Delitzsch comments, “The king sent for Absalom, and kissed him, as a sign of his restoration to favor. Nothing was said by Absalom about forgiveness; for his falling down before the king when he came into his presence, was nothing more than the ordinary manifestation of reverence with which a subject in the East approaches his king.”

Back in Jerusalem and restored to favor and freedom, Absalom soon aspired to the throne. He set up a princely court, adjudicating in the causes of the people and casting aspersions and suspicions about his father’s ability to rule (2 Sam 15:1-6). He then requested the king’s permission to go to Hebron on the pretense of fulfilling a vow which he had made during his banishment. It was but pretense indeed. Absalom had won the hearts of the people. Now in Hebron where he had been born and where David had been crowned king (2 Sam 2:3; 5:3) trumpets were blown, accompanied by the cry, “Absalom reigneth in Hebron.” It was rebellion. The king’s own son was a usurper upon his father’s throne. Poor David fled. He was reaping the reward of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. He was soon to be betrayed by his familiar friend Ahithophel, and publicly cursed by Shimei of the house of Saul. The Psalms 41 and 55 are memorials to the sorrows of those days.

With his head covered, and barefoot, as tokens of his reproach and shame, David crossed the Brook Kidron, weeping as he went over to the ascent of the Mount of Olives on the way to the wilderness. Little did he know that he was enacting a prophetic parable, for the greater Son of David, one thousand years later, was to cross this same brook, rejected by His own people. On this same Mount of Olives, He too would be betrayed by one who had walked with Him, and eaten bread with Him at the same table. And on this Mount, He, too, would shed tears of anguish.

Solomon and the Mount

The story of 1 Kings 11 is equally sad, if not more so. It involved another son of David, Solomon. Solomon was the son of Bathsheba, destined for the throne and blessed above measure with the gift of wisdom from Jehovah for the ruling of the nation. The early days were glorious, but later years were a tragedy. Polygamy and idolatry stained the record and reign of Solomon, and on the Mount of Olives, “the hill that is before Jerusalem,” he erected high places, shrines, sanctuaries, altars, for the worship of Chemosh and Molech, the gods of his strange wives, and the abominations of the Moabites and Ammonites. He made the Mount of Olives a hill of corruption, a mount of scandal or offense (2 Kings 23:13). It was a grievous transgression of the law which he knew so well, as will be seen in his prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:22-61).

The Savior and the Mount

But a Greater than Solomon has sanctified the Mount of Olives. Here on the very slopes which Solomon had desecrated our Lord Jesus held communion with His Father. Here He interceded. Here He wept and prayed. And here, at Bethany, He spent evenings of fragrant fellowship with those who loved Him and who lived in godly simplicity. His ministry of intercession and His nights of prayer were a reversal of Solomon’s high places indeed.

Ezekiel’s story is of Jehovah’s long-suffering with His people and His reluctance to withdraw from them. It was not at all a hasty or immediate removal of the Shechinah, the glory. First it left the house, the temple (Ezek 10:18). It then withdrew to the eastern gate, where it seemed to linger (Ezek 10:19). Eventually it left Jerusalem and stood upon the Mount of Olives on the east side of the city (Ezek 11:23). From here the glory departed and several commentators quote a remarkable Rabbinical comment from the Jewish Midrash. “The Divine Majesty dwelt three years and a half on the Mount of Olives, to see whether the Jewish people would, or would not, repent, calling, ‘Return unto Me and I will return unto you:’ … and then, when all was in vain, returned to its own place.” The Shechinah had gone. The glory had departed.

The Savior, too, left the city, and after three and a half years of gracious ministry, it was from the Mount of Olives that He finally departed and ascended to the heavens. One day the glory will return to the Mount (Zech 14:4). In power and great glory, the rejected Messiah will set His feet upon the Mount which He left so long ago and from the same Olivet will enter the city to reign as the King of Glory (Psalm 24:7-10). And we, by grace, shall be with Him!

Thou art coming! Thou art coming!
Jesus, our beloved Lord!
O the joy to see Thee reigning,
Worshipped, glorified, adored!