Memories of Olivet: The Mount

We are pleased to again have a series of devotional articles from the pen of our brother Jim Flanigan.

The Mountains of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is associated with four mountains: Mount Zion, Mount Moriah, Mount Scopus, and the Mount of Olives. Scopus is not specifically mentioned in our Bible, being often regarded as but an extension of Olivet, but the name “Scopus” means “the view,” as in “tele-scope” or “micro-scope.” It was from Scopus that the Crusaders had their first view of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the surrounding country at the close of the 11th Century. It was here too that Titus, commander of the Roman armies, strategically pitched his camp in AD 70 with the fortified batteries of the 10th Legion. Scopus, like Mount Nebo, offers panoramic views of the land (Deut 34.1).

But there is something special about the Mount of Olives! Some readers may recognize in the title “Memories of Olivet,” an interesting old volume written by Dr J. R. MacDuff in 1868. These present meditations have borrowed MacDuff’s title but nothing of the content of his book except to quote an introductory remark of his in which he writes, “A recent visit has confirmed the long-entertained impression that the most interesting locality in Palestine – and if so, in one sense, the most interesting spot in the world – is the Mount of Olives.” Those who have studied the history and geography of Israel, or who have been privileged to actually visit the land, will readily agree with this. But MacDuff then adds, so aptly, “The place is nothing – the associations are everything.”

The Movements of the Savior

Blessed associations indeed, with the triumphs and tragedies of King David and with the excesses and backslidings of Solomon, but, in a special way, with the movements and ministry of the greater Son of David! Olivet is saturated with memories of the Lord Jesus. It has been sanctified with His prayers and wet with His tears. It echoes with the sound of His prophecies and warnings, and He has left sacred footprints on its every slope. Bethphage, Bethany, and Gethsemane unite to rehearse the story of His life and love. These are all on the Mount of Olives, places where He wept and prayed and preached. And the Mount has yet to be the scene of His future triumph when He returns in power to reign. Olivet is steeped in history, shrouded with a certain glory, and veiled in prophecy. Memories of Olivet are very precious indeed, particularly to those who love the Savior. As another has said, “No name in Scripture calls up associations at once so sacred and so pleasing as that of Olivet. The mount is so intimately connected with the private, the devotional life, of the Savior, that we read of it and look at it with feelings of deepest interest and affection” (Dr. Porter, cited in Easton’s Bible Dictionary).

The Meaning of the Name

Although its Arabic name, “Jebel Hur” means “mountain of mountains” or “the strong mount,” the physical features of the Mount of Olives are not at all imposing. It is so called because of the olive groves which at one time clothed its every side, but of which it has largely been denuded except for a few fine old specimens which yet remain, still bearing fruit, with their memories of former years. The Mount rises only about three hundred feet above the level of the Temple Mount, so that compared with Hermon with its crown of snow it is perhaps but a hill. Nor is its outline as clearly defined or as prominent as Tabor. It lies close to Jerusalem, on the eastern side of the city, and separated from it by the Kidron Valley. It is so close indeed, that, descending suddenly from the area of the Golden Gate or from Stephen’s Gate, no sooner is the bed of the valley reached than the ascent of Olivet begins. This Kidron gorge however, narrow though it is, separates the dust and bustle of the Jerusalem streets from the clear air of the hill, and protects the quiet tranquillity from the noise of the city.

The Majesty of the Sight

Many refer to the Mount of Olives as a ridge. It is perhaps about a mile in length, running from north to south and screening the city from the wilderness which lies beyond. Looking east from its summit one may view the sunrise over the distant hills of Moab, and, when the sun has risen, on a clear day perhaps there may be a sight of the Dead Sea. To the south there will be glimpses of the Valley of Hinnom, the village of Silwan, and the infamous Aceldama. To the north, beyond the north wall of the city, it may just be possible to see Golgotha itself. On Olivet’s eastern slope, hidden from Jerusalem, lie the villages of Bethphage and Bethany with its memories of the home of Mary and Martha and the tomb of Lazarus. The present road to Bethany winds around Olivet between the Mount and the Kidron, but there is an old road which leaves Bethany, ascends for a little, then turns around the shoulder of the Mount and descends past Gethsemane to the Kidron and the city. This road is for the most part narrow and stony, at times little more than a bridle path, but, as will be seen, it has very definite memories of the closing days of the Savior’s lovely life. At the commencement of the descent there will come into view a most glorious panorama of Jerusalem. From this point, the city, shining golden in the sun, presents a sight which to many is unequalled anywhere in the world. Of course this preciousness is particularly so because, without doubt, the Savior trod this road often, especially during His last week on earth, and wept on it as He looked over the city. And almost certain it is that His father David ascended this same road in rejection, weeping as he went up, with a usurper upon his throne (2 Sam 15.30).

Memories of Olivet therefore are many and varied. Some are pleasant and some are painful; some are splendid and some are sad. But the Mount remains, standing as a monument, inviting us to recollection and meditation. If “Memories of Olivet” makes Him more precious to us, He who knew the Mount so well, then our memories will be worthwhile indeed.