Axis Mundi is a Latin term meaning axis of the world. You may have seen or read a book by Samuel Cox entitled, "Salvator Mundi," or, "Savior of the World." Mundi is the Latin word from which we get our English word, mundane, or pertaining to the world. Axis mundi is a term used to describe a particular feature of philosophies and religions. The following definition of the term is taken from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia:
"The axis mundi (also cosmic axis, world axis, world pillar, center of the world, world tree), in certain beliefs and philosophies, is the world center, or the connection between Heaven and Earth. As the celestial pole and geographic pole, it expresses a point of connection between sky and earth where the four compass directions meet. At this point travel and correspondence is made between higher and lower realms. Communication from lower realms may ascend to higher ones and blessings from higher realms may descend to lower ones and be disseminated to all. The spot functions as the omphalos (navel), the world's point of beginning.
"The image is mostly viewed as feminine, as it relates to the center of the earth (perhaps like an umbilical providing nourishment). It may have the form of a natural object (a mountain, a tree, a vine, a stalk, a column of smoke or fire) or a product of human manufacture (a staff, a tower, a ladder, a staircase, a maypole, a cross, a steeple, a rope, a totem pole, a pillar, a spire). Its proximity to heaven may carry implications that are chiefly religious (pagoda, temple mount, minaret, church) or secular (obelisk, lighthouse, rocket, skyscraper). The image appears in religious and secular contexts.
"The symbol originates in a natural and universal psychological perception: that the spot one occupies stands at 'the center of the world'. This space serves as a microcosm of order because it is known and settled. Outside the boundaries of the microcosm lie foreign realms that, because they are unfamiliar or not ordered, represent chaos, death or night. From the center one may still venture in any of the four cardinal directions, make discoveries, and establish new centers as new realms become known and settled. The name of China, meaning 'Middle Nation'…is often interpreted as an expression of an ancient perception that the Chinese polity (or group of polities) occupied the center of the world, with other lands lying in various directions relative to it." (Wikipedia)
The writer of the article above credits origination of the idea of a central starting point for humanity to "a natural and universal psychological perception." I disagree with that premise. Instead, I believe that the universality of this thought comes from a common cultural beginning being applied to varied local and historical features. What does make sense to me is that mankind had a central beginning in one place, the garden of Eden, and as mankind was scattered over the earth the cultural memory of this originating event was modified and related to local sites, traditions and events. As Christians we believe the Bible and that we have a reliable record there of these events of beginning. Having explained our position, let us pursue our subject - the axis mundi.
1. Biblical Symbols and Examples of the Axis Mundi
One of the most interesting aspects about the axis mundi is the number of different symbols for it, and the number of those that can be found in the Bible. For trees we have: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Eden; the high tree at Shechem to which Abram travelled when leaving Haran and where he built an altar, which may also have been the same tree where Jacob later buried the idols Rachel stole from her father and those his people had; the tree under which Deborah the prophetess judged Israel; the tree under which the angel who came to Gideon sat; the tree under which king Saul met with his officials; trees under which idolatry was practiced; the enormous tree of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, a tree that shaded the earth as far as the eye could see; and the cross of Christ referred to as a tree.
The columns of smoke, cloud or fire take us back to the exodus from Egypt and the wilderness wanderings. The thought of towers reminds us of the tower of Babel, which was probably a ziggurat, and such things as Jacob's ladder or staircase - a vision Christ indicated referred to Himself. It is also interesting that Christ told Nathaniel He had seen him under the fig tree - a symbol of the kingdom, and that this convinced Nathaniel of Christ's divine origin. Throughout the O. T. we also have frequent references to "high places" as locations for false worship (see especially the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles).
Temples are also axis mundi symbols, and it is interesting that the O. T. uses the filling of the tabernacle and Solomon's temple with smoke to show God establishing His axis mundi in a new place. Remember that Mt. Sinai, the site of the covenant, was cloaked in smoke when God's presence descended there, so the dedications of the tabernacle and temple show the God of Sinai taking up His abode in those newer habitations and those different locations. He told Moses that He would speak to Israel from above the mercy seat in the holy of holies, just as He had spoken to Moses on the Mount.
Mountains are one of the primary symbols identified with the axis mundi. There are abundant biblical references to mountains in such contexts. The site of the garden of Eden would necessarily have been at a considerable elevation in order for the four rivers flowing out of it to become as significant and large as their context indicates. And when Ezekiel spoke of Eden, he placed in parallel the phrases: "Eden, the garden of God," and, "the mountain of God" (Eze. 28:13, 14) showing the single identity of the garden and the mountain on which it was situated. Israel's covenant with God was contracted at Mt. Sinai, sometimes called Mt. Horeb. At Mount Moriah Abraham would offer Isaac and hear instruction from God. This is apparently the same site as the threshing floor of Araunah, where the death plague was stopped in Jerusalem, where David offered sacrifice and where Solomon built the temple. Christ was crucified on the hill, or mount of Golgotha. Daniel had a vision of a stone which became a mountain that filled the whole earth, representing a kingdom of earth-wide dominion with a single axis for the whole world in relationship to heaven. Mt. Carmel, where Elijah overthrew 450 prophets of Baal was probably one of the high places mentioned so frequently. There was an altar to Yahweh there that had been demolished. What this probably tells us is that sacrifices had been made to the true God there, but Baal worship became so popular, especially with Jezebel's support, that the Baal worshippers demolished Yahweh's altar and dedicated that place to Baal alone. This would mean that Elijah went into Baal's stronghold and overthrew him and delivered God's people there. There are many biblical references relating mountains both to kingdoms and to divine communication and rule.
One important aspect in consideration of the axis mundi is that in the world's religions and philosophies - outside of the Bible - the axis mundi is one of two things: (1) a static, historical phenomenon; or, (2) a condition or object achieved by human effort. Most of the symbols of an axis mundi are stationary objects. As we will see, the axis mundi in the Bible was sometimes mobile, and capable of changing from one semi-permanent location to another. For instance: the mobile pillar of cloud and fire which led the Israelites through the wilderness, visibly moved into the tabernacle as a more permanent place of abode. When the temple of Solomon was completed, it became the axis mundi, as was verified by the presence of the glory-cloud filling the temple. A primary underlying purpose for the exodus and the conquest of Canaan was to find a place where the Name of God could be established (note the references in Deuteronomy concerned with finding and establishing a place for God's Name). With New Testament revelation, the bodies of believers become the dwelling of God. Currently this is only an earnest, but with the future outpouring of God's Spirit and the glorification of believers, each individual actually takes on many characteristics of an axis mundi.
As we go forward in this study, there will be two primary points of emphasis which relate back to the encyclopedic definition: (1) the axis mundi is the connecting point of heaven and earth - it is the point of access to God and of divine rule on the earth; (2) it is the central point from which God's blessings radiate out into the rest of the world.
B. Biblical Examples of the Axis Mundi
There are a number of scenes in the Bible where heavenly governing and control of earthly events are shown to take place. These events and prophecies provide glimpses of the true, biblical axis mundi. In addition, they give insight into the divinely purposed place for humanity to function in the axis mundi. The purpose here is to show what the axis mundi is and does apart from the outward symbol for it.
Micaiah's Vision of the Axis Mundi
In 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18 we have records of a marriage alliance between Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and Ahab, king of Israel. Jehoshaphat was in Samaria for the celebration and feasting. Previously Syria had taken Ramoth-gilead from the northern kingdom, and Ahab used the opportunity of the wedding feast to ask Jehoshaphat to join him in battle against Syria to take back their lands. Jehoshaphat agreed, but asked that they consult God's guidance through the prophets. The prophets Ahab produced were 400 in number, and it seems likely they were the 400 prophets of the idols that ate at Jezebel's table. Jehoshaphat asked for a prophet of Yahweh to be consulted as well, and Micaiah was called. Micaiah told Ahab to go forth and be victorious in battle, confirming the prophecy of the idol prophets. Now the Bible does not fill in all the details for us on this conversation. But I would say rather confidently that Micaiah was either laughing when he said this, or he was being very sarcastic. We know this, because Ahab rejected what he said and asked for what God really had to say about it.
At Ahab's rejection of Micaiah's obviously fictitious statement, Micaiah told how he had seen the people of Israel scattered on the mountains as sheep without a shepherd. Then he related his vision of God, seated on his throne, surrounded to the right and left by spiritual beings. God inquired of His angels, or spirits, how they should go about convincing Ahab to go into battle, so that Ahab could be killed for his ungodly behavior and the corruption his wife, Jezebel had inspired. After several suggestions were considered, the commission was given to one spirit to go and be a lying witness in the mouth of Jezebel's prophets.
This is a picture of the reality of what the axis mundi truly is. Here was the throne room of heaven designating events in the affairs of earth. The Syrians would be victorious in battle. Ahab would be killed for his disobediences. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, would be brought to realize that he should not make an alliance with such an ungodly king, even if that man was the king of Israel. All this was accomplished by spiritual control over the affairs happening on earth.
The Job Scenario
The book of Job opens very much the same as the example we have seen with Micaiah. Job was a godly man blessed by God. At an appointed time the sons of God (spiritual beings) assembled before God to present themselves before them. Satan was among them. The topic of discussion was life on earth. God called Satan's attention to Job. Satan accused Job of serving God for profit, and challenged that Job would be unfaithful to God if God's blessings were withheld. You know how the story goes. What we see again is affairs on earth being determined by events transpiring in the heavens, at the control center of the universe - the throne room of God - the axis mundi - the place where heaven and earth are connected.
The fact that there was an appointed place and time is very important here. We will see this even more clearly in a moment when we come to Isaiah. God is a God of order, and we see the idea of appointed times in many places. Cain and Abel made their offerings to God at the appointed time of the end of a year. The Jewish calendar with its appointed times for the men of Israel to assemble was following the pattern of the appointed times in the heavens.
The Daniel Scenario
In the book of Daniel we repeatedly see angels involved through dreams and visions in the control of earth's affairs, and in revealing what will happen on the earth. Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great tree, and his humbling that the dream represented were for the express purpose of revealing that the heavens rule the earth. There is a controlling cosmic axis that extends from God's throne room to the earth. "the Supreme is in authority in the kingdom of mortals, and He gives it to whomsoever He will" (Dan. 4:17).
We will only mention the book of Revelation. Scene after scene there shows the throne room of God and angels employed in bringing judgments upon the earth and controlling the kingdoms of earth. Clearly, there, the heavens are ruling over earth.
Isaiah's Proverb against the King of Babylon
In Isaiah 14:4-23 God instructed Isaiah to Isaiah to take up a proverb against the king of Babylon. In this prophetic passage the collapse of Babylon and the utter fall of the king are forecasted. We want to focus on verses 12-14 because they supply a description of the axis mundi - the control center of earth's affairs located in the heavens.
"How have you fallen from the heavens! Howl, son of the dawn!
You have been hacked down to the earth, Defeater of the nations!
Yet you, you said in your heart: To the heavens shall I ascend;
Above the stars of El shall I exalt my throne,
And I shall sit on the mount of appointment,
On the remote parts of the north!
I shall ascend onto the high-places of the thick clouds;
I shall be like the Supreme!" (CV)
Isaiah begins here to lay before us the great fall of the king of Babylon for a second time, but this time he presents the desires and ambitions of the king. "How have you fallen from the heavens!" (Isa.14:12). The king of Babylonian empire had never been in heaven. So we understand his ambitions here to reflect those of Satan. "Above the stars of El shall I exalt my throne, and I shall sit on the mount of appointment, on the remote parts of the north! I shall ascend onto the high-places of the thick clouds; I shall be like the Supreme!" (vv. 13-14).
The "stars of El" is a term for the angels of God. What is referred to in these verses is the angelic council of God. In Genesis 1 God said, "Let us make man" Who is the "us" He was talking to? - His angelic council. The mount of appointment or mount of the congregation was the heavenly mount which was the meeting place of God's council. There was a mountain in heaven and the mountain on earth was a representation of it. There was a tabernacle in heaven and the tabernacle on earth was a representation of it. There was a temple in heaven, and the temple on earth was a representation of it. There is a holy city in heaven, and it will come to earth to be the holy ruling city there. It is the same place referred to in the opening of the book of Job and in Micaiah's vision of God's council. There was a group of angelic beings who were appointed to meet at designated times to be instructed and designated for carrying out aspects of God's purpose.
Israel had the tabernacle modelled after the divine precincts in the heavens. It was the tabernacle of the congregation. So Israel also became a model, in their intended role to the nations, fashioned after the angelic council of the axis mundi. They were to implement and fulfill God's purpose for the world. It was from above the mercy-seat in the holy of holies that God would communicate to Moses and Israel. From this throne above the mercy-seat God would communicate His instruction.
In the Hebrew this term might be spelled har moged, meaning: mount of the congregation, or mount of the appointed congregation - mount of the meeting of the appointed ones. "The remote parts of the north" can also be translated "the heights of Zaphon." Zaphon was the mountain in northern Palestine where the Canaanites believed Baal (the Lord of the gods) held his council of the gods. This Canaanite view was the corruption of the true idea of God's council of spiritual powers. It represented something that was true and actual, but it is described here in the words of the corrupted Canaanite traditions regarding the axis mundi. Isaiah provides this description to his audience using the familiar terminology about Baal to help his audience grasp his message. The ambition of the king of Babylon, as he represents Satan, was to sit at the highest seat of God's council - to sit in the seat of ultimate authority in the axis mundi.
God is often pictured as inhabiting the thick clouds - as being imperceptible. He was veiled in the holy of holies by the clouds of incense from the prayer altar. Sinai was covered with thick clouds and was smoking and burning with His presence. The idea of the king of Babylon ascending to the high places of thick clouds was that he would enter the holy precincts of God.
The king's ambition said he would be like the Supreme God. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-5 speaks of "the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who is opposing and lifting himself up over everyone termed a god or an object of veneration, so that he is seated in the temple of God, demonstrating that he himself is God." This is in accord with the operation of Satan. Remember that the temple of God is the axis mundi. So we see anti-christ and Satan being represented in this Babylonian king, and we see that this king, and Satan as well, will be cast down from the heights of heaven to the depths of the pit. This fall is from the seat of highest honor in the axis mundi to the depths of shame and namelessness.
The dimensions of this fall are significant in that they are the reverse of the exaltation of Christ. Though His grave was with the rich and not the wicked, the only transition that can in anyway compare with the extremes of Christ's exaltation, is the fall of Satan! These are not the extremes of earthly dimensions only, but these are the extremes of axis mundi dimensions - dimensions including both the heavens and the earth.
Isaiah's Vision of the Heavenly Temple
In Isaiah 6 the prophet describes of vision of the seraphim around God's throne. And from that throne he was sent to Israel with a message of blinding their eyes, dulling their hearing and darkening their understanding. Again we have the throne room of God controlling affairs on earth and doing so with communication of it going to earth and being shared with Israel. These are all aspects of an axis mundi.
When Jacob left home to journey to Haran, he camped at Bethel where Abraham had built an altar to God. That night he had a dream in which a stairway was set up from heaven to the earth, and God's angels were ascending and descending on it. And God spoke to Jacob telling him that He would preserve him and fulfill His promises through him. Bethel, meaning house of God, would become a center from which Jacob's multiplied descendants would go out to all the families or nations of the world and be the source of blessings to them. The description of this stairway makes it nothing less than the description of an axis mundi. Jacob himself said: "Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I did not realize it, this is none other than the house of Elohim, and this is the gateway of the heavens" (Gen. 28:16, 17 CV)
In the New Testament Jesus identified himself to Nathanael as this stairway. And it is the kingdom of God, founded on the work of Christ on the cross that will be the means of the fulfillment of God's promise to the patriarchs. The kingdom of God, in its future manifestations, will continue the work that is currently being done by the body of Christ, but in new and different demonstrations. In this we see the cross and Christ Himself as the focal point of the axis mundi.
The Axis Mundi of Pauline Revelation
Paul was given new revelation concerning God's purpose. He instructed believers that the Spirit of God lived within them, and that they were a temple of God. Further he said that in future times they would judge the world and judge angels. This is axis mundi work. In the book of Ephesians he went beyond this to say that the delight of God's will was to have an administration that would bring everyone in heaven and earth under the headship of Christ.
Ephesians 2:7 says: "He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus." I have heard people speak of this passage as if God's display of His great grace will be to set us on the shelf of His throne room like trophies of His accomplishment. Indeed, we are trophies of His accomplishment, but this idea of a trophy on display is very misleading and is opposed to the context of the book of Ephesians. The final request of Paul's prayer in the first chapter was for the believers to realize the transcendent greatness of God's power for the believers. In order for them to grasp this great blessing, Paul first describes the transcendent greatness of God's power displayed in raising Christ to the very throne of God, where He will be graced to exercise all power and authority in heaven and earth. That is the standard Paul gives us to compare to God's power for us.
Believers are given the life of the coming kingdom ages as a free gift. And we also read that those who are truly faithful will reign with Christ. They will function under His headship in the axis mundi. This is the calling of believers. They are not saved to escape doom or judgment, they are not saved to be trophies on a shelf, they are saved to rule and serve in the new coming government of the world and universe. May we be faithful enough in our conduct to receive the award, not just of life, but of reigning with Christ!
We have considered the axis mundi as God's axis/system/administration of universal control. Now we would like to consider the axis mundi as the central focus point from which God's administrative channels out to the world.
2. The Center or Navel of the World,
The Peaceful Aspect of the Axis
The center or middle or navel of the world is also an idea which is presented in the Scriptures. Ezekiel 38:12 speaks of the plan of Gog, from the land of Magog, to come with military force against Israel. Israel is described as a nation that lives unprotected without walls or gates, at the center, or navel of the world (marginal reading NASB uses navel). Gog comes with innumerable allied forces and is summarily vanquished when God intervenes to protect Israel. This event follows sometime after the events of chapter 37. There, God's Spirit was poured out upon Israel and they were renewed and restored to the promised land. God made a covenant of peace with them, and His sanctuary was among them in their land. That is what made the land of Israel the navel of the world. God's presence made it the center of blessing, prosperity and rule.
I have jumped into the middle of the Bible because I wanted to use this passage which can be translated navel of the world. If you can excuse the pun, we are considering a theme of biblical proportions. The axis mundi is placed before us in Genesis, and it comes before us again and again and it closes out the book of Revelation. But the description of Israel in Ezekiel 37-38 will be very helpful to us in realizing similar descriptions in other passages. We can understand the significance of the word navel, or umbilical. A mother is attached to the fetus in her womb by the umbilical cord. The umbilical attaches to the placenta which mediates the blessings of the umbilical to the fetus. The food that the mother eats feeds the unborn infant through her own blood flowing through the umbilical and the placenta. The air that the mother breathes provides oxygen to the unborn infant through her own bloodstream flowing through the umbilical and the placenta. All of the growing embryo's waste is cleansed away from it by the bloodstream of the mother through the umbilical and placenta. The navel, or umbilical, and the placenta form a wonderful illustration of God saving the world through the mediation of His people. Think of all the verses of Scripture that speak of the blood of Christ being our source of life and cleansing us from sin. We are considering the application of those verses.
Now we are going to back up a little bit and get some more pictures of this idea of the navel of the world. In Genesis 2:10-14 we read: "A stream was flowing forth from Eden to irrigate the garden: from there it parted and became four headstreams. The name of the first one is Pishon; it is the one surrounding the whole land of Havilah where the gold is. The gold of that land is very good; the pearl is there and the onyx stone. The name of the second stream is Gihon; it is the one surrounding the whole land of Cush. The name of the third stream is Hiddekel; it is the one going east of Asshur; and the fourth stream, it is the Euphrates." (CV) Notice that the river was forthing from Eden, not flowing - more about this later.
Did you know that Genesis chapter two spends more words describing this river and its branches than it does describing the forming and creation of man? Maybe this river is more important than we thought. This is a very unusual river. As we look at rivers on a map we can see that little streams flow into creeks and creeks flow into rivers and rivers flow into larger rivers. The Mississippi River is so big because the Wisconsin, the Des Moines, the Illinois, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Tennessee, the White, the Arkansas and the Red Rivers all flow into it - and a few others too. But the River of Eden flows out and divides into other rivers which themselves become so large as to encompass lands and nourish areas. Our experience is only with rivers that grow by receiving more water. This river almost seems to grow by dividing. It grows as it goes.
What this river is doing, according to Wikipedia's definition of the axis mundi, is showing us the center or navel of the world. It is showing us middle earth. (For Tolkien fans, this is probably where his idea of middle earth came from.) It is the starting point from which humanity expands and moves out and settles new areas. It shows us the fulfilling of God's command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Water is a life-giving and life-sustaining element of the world. And since all life comes from God this river stands as a symbol for God's Spirit.
Jacob's stairway shows us the same thing that Eden's river does, but by means of a different figure. In his dream, God said to Jacob: "I am Yahweh Elohim of your father Abraham and the Elohim of Isaac. Do not fear! The land on which you are lying down, to you I shall give it and to your seed. And your seed will become like the soil grains of the land. You will breach forth westward and eastward, northward and southward. All the families of the ground will be blessed in you and in your seed. And behold, I am with you; I will keep you in all the way you are going, and I will bring you back to this ground, for I shall not forsake you until I should have done all that I have spoken to you" (Gen. 28:13-15 CV).
Notice just a couple points in God's promise here: 1. Jacob's seed would multiply and move out from this central point in all four of the cardinal directions. 2. They would be a blessing to all the families or nations of the world. These are defining features of the axis mundi. Notice here that the figure is changing from what it was in Eden. There we have the figure of a river carrying blessing out into the world. Now it is the seed of Abraham that replaces the role of the river.
From River to People to Priesthood
In the book of Exodus we see Israel being freed from bondage in Egypt and traveling to Mt. Sinai where they entered into covenant with God to be His people. There the promises made to patriarchs were transformed into a covenant with a nation. Sinai was a mountain. Like the location of the garden in Eden it was a high place and a symbol of the axis mundi. The pillar of cloud and fire was the axis mundi also, and the thick clouds on Sinai tied them together. The mobile pillar image overawes all the axis mundi's of other nations and philosophies by the single fact of its mobility, and in this it represents Christ and the Spirit of God in unity and mobile connection with people.
Israel encamped in front of the mountain, and God spoke to them through Moses, telling that if they kept His covenant they would: become a people who were God's special possession; they would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They would be different from all other nations of the world. They would be mediators between God and other nations. The nation of Israel would serve the same purpose as the river in the garden of Eden, and blessings would flow out to the world through them.
This kingdom of priests was not speaking of the Aaronic priesthood and the law. It was speaking of the relationship of Israel to other nations. All of their nation would, in some capacity, function as priests - their nation would be a placenta. Here is the picture. The Garden of Eden was the axis mundi, and the river went out to lands outside encompassing them and watering them. The people of Israel, under God's covenant, were the new river which goes out to the people of the world. The people, as priests, communicate the life-giving knowledge of God to others.
The Water of the Tabernacle and Temple
Now let's return to our theme of the water spreading through the earth. To a small degree we see this in the tabernacle. The tabernacle became Israel's axis mundi. When the people camped at some location, the column of cloud and fire rested over the tabernacle. It was the place of communication with God for the mediation of His instruction and blessing. The tabernacle had a large laver that was used for the cleansing of the priests and also for the washing of the pieces of the sacrificial animals that were given to God on the altar. The washing of the inner organs of sacrificed animals represented the cleansing of conscience and heart that comes through the sacrifice of Christ to believers. The priests are representative of that gospel ministry.
When Solomon built the temple, there were 10 lavers in it and a huge eleventh laver that was called a sea. Solomon's temple, of course, represented and was a new axis mundi. The sea was a bronze casting, and its base was made to look like 12 oxen: 3 facing north, 3 south, 3 east and 3 west. This sea was placed at the front southeast corner of the temple. What does all this mean? This laver was enormous. It represented a huge capacity - capacity not just for Israel but for the world. The oxen represent the cleansing and life-giving aspects of the water going out in all directions to the world - like the river of Eden.
The River in Ezekiel's Vision
When we come to Ezekiel's vision of the temple the bronze sea is not mentioned. But instead, there is water issuing from under the sill of the temple in the southeast corner. This water becomes a river that starts from the same place where the huge bronze sea was located. It was a river that increased in size as it flowed, becoming a river that could not be waded or swum - a river that could not be passed over. It grows as it goes, but it does not grow from tributaries. No tributaries are mentioned. Part of this river flowed down to the Dead Sea and healed the waters there so that fish could live there again and people could make a living fishing.
God's Word as a River
Let's look at Isaiah's picture of the river. "And it will come to pass in the latter days the Mount of the House of Yahweh shall be established on the summit of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills, and all the nations will stream unto it. Many peoples will come and say: Come, and let us ascend to the Mount of Yahweh, to the house of the Elohim of Jacob; And He shall direct us out of His ways, so that we may indeed walk in His paths. For from Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples. They will pound their swords into mattocks, and their spears into pruners; Nation shall not lift sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2:2-4).
The Mount of the House of Yahweh shall be established on the summit of the mountains: What does this mean? The true axis mundi will be recognized and proven to be that pertaining to Yahweh, and that which is above all the false axes of the world's religions and philosophies.
From Zion will go forth the law and the word of Yahweh. In Eden the river went forth from the garden. It does not say that Eden's river flowed forth or streamed forth or rivered forth. It went forth, like a man walking through a door. The same is said here of God's word and law going forth from Zion. And in contrast with this it says that all the nations will be flowing, or streaming, or rivering to the Mount of the House of Yahweh. Notice that the movement is in two directions at once: the law and word of God are going out to the world, and the people of the world are flowing in to God. This is so like the umbilical. Food and nourishment are flowing to the fetus and cleansing takes place as carbon dioxide and waste flow away. The result is that the world will follow God's instruction and be at peace. They will not learn war any more. That is fabulous. Again, the river of Eden represented the people of God serving Him by ministering to others.
This explains to us how the outflow from Eden and the temple could increase as they go. The word of God touches one life and they share it and it grows and goes. It is like the disciples of Christ passing out the loaves and fishes for which the Lord gave thanks. And when all of the 5,000 were fed, there were 12 baskets full of fragments taken up afterward. The word of God grows as it goes.
Christ's River of Disciples
At the end of Matthew we have the command that Jesus gives when all authority in heaven and earth is given to Him to exercise. The disciples met Jesus on a mountain - an axis mundi symbol - a place where Jesus directed them to come, and Jesus told them: "Going, then, [like the river out of Eden and like the river from under the temple and like the law and word of God from the Mount of the House of Yahweh] disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to be keeping all, whatever I direct you. And lo! I am with you all the days till the conclusion of the eon! Amen!" (Matt. 28:18-20). In the coming age a river of people serving Christ will go out from Jerusalem to all the nations of the world.
The Body of Christ in the Navel of the World
Paul wrote in the Ephesian letter that the secret of God's will was to have an administration in the remaining periods of time that would bring everything in heaven and earth under the headship of Jesus Christ. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord and it will be to God the Father's glory. It is the calling of believers to participate in that administration - to participate in reconciling all to God through Christ - to be part of the river that cleanses and purifies all the world - to be part of the umbilical cord and placenta that will bring new life to this old world!
3. The Difference Between Human and Divine Axis Mundi's
Through the deception of Satan and the traditions of mankind looking back to their origin in Eden, there have come to be many imitations of the original axis mundi in Eden. If we compare Genesis 11:1-9, the record of the tower of Babel, with the record of the Sinai covenant in Exodus 19 and 20 (especially 20:24-26), we will see a remarkable contrast between a man-made axis mundi and a true, divine axis.
A Man-Made Axis Mundi
A True, Divine Axis Mundi
|Genesis 11:1-9 (also 10:8-10) ||Exodus 19:2, 5, 6; 20:24-26|
|The people of Nimrod's kingdom came from the east (11:2; 10:8-10) ||The children of Israel traveled toward the east |
|They settled in a valley in Shinar (11:2). They travelled at their own discretion.||They encamped at the foot of the mountain in the wilderness of Sinai (19:2). They followed the pillar of cloud and fire.|
|"Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered over the surface of the entire earth" (11:4) ||"An altar shall you make for Me. In every place where I shall record My Name I shall come to you, and I will bless you" (20:24).|
|Their decision was to build a tower/ziggurat/temple - an axis mundi, "with its top in the heavens" which may indicate a zodiac on the top and probably worship of the stars. It would be a place for sacrifices and for unifying the people.||God's purpose was to take Israel to the promised land and establish it as His axis mundi and the central place of worship for Israel, and eventually for the world.|
|They used bricks for their building material to build their tower/ziggurat. Natural stone was not used, and they used pitch or asphalt for mortar (11:3). There would be many steps leading up to the altar at the top of the ziggurat.||God instructed Israel to use earth or natural stones for building altars. If they used stones, they could not shape them with tools, or they would have profaned them. Also they could not ascend on steps up to their altars, or this would expose their nakedness (20:25, 26).|
|The goal was to keep themselves from spreading over the face of the whole earth (11:4). This was in violation of the commissions given to Adam and later to Noah (Gen. 1:28; 9:1).||The goal was for Israel to become a kingdom of priests that would go out and minister to all nations of the world, bringing them to God, to fulfill God's commission (Ex. 19:5, 6). |
|The goal was for man to elevate himself by his own efforts.||God shows the goal of the divine plan was to come down to men and bless them.|
|The first mention of the Hebrew word for kingdom (mmlke) occurs in connection with this account, in Genesis 10:8-10. ||The first mention of the Hebrew word for kingdom (mmlke), when used of God's kingdom, occurs in this account in Exodus 19:6.|
The episode of Babel, or Babylon, took place in one of the cities of the kingdom of Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10). There are a number of subtle statements in Genesis 11 that link it with Isaiah 14 and the king of Babylon at a later time. And both accounts are typically prophetic of the final fall of Babylon the great and Satan.
In Genesis 11 the goal of the people was to build an axis mundi. The tower was to be a link of heaven and earth - "with its top in the heavens" (v. 4). This was probably a ziggurat designed for sacrifices and possibly worship of the stars or heavenly beings. In Isaiah 14 the king of Babylon's ambition was to ascend the mount of the congregation - the court of the gods - the throne room of the highest God. He even aspired to be above the stars of God and to be like the Supreme (vv. 13-14). This ambition is echoed in Genesis 11 to a lesser degree in the ambition to "make a name for ourselves" (v. 4).
The phrase "let us" occurs 6 times in Genesis 11. 4 times it is used by the citizens of Babel, and twice it is used by God in speaking to the celestial beings of the heavenly council. The repetition of this phrase sets the plans of the Babylonians at odds with and in imitation to the divine council of the true axis mundi. There is one previous use of this phrase in Genesis 1:26 where God speaks to the angels of His council regarding the creation of man. Here are the first 7 occurrences of this phrase in Genesis:
"Let Us make humanity in Our image and according to Our likeness" (1:26).
"Do let us mold bricks…" (11:3)
"and do let us burn [heat-treat] them…" (11:3)
"Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens" (11:4)
"Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered…" (11:4)
"Do let us descend…" (11:7)
"and do let us disintegrate their language there" (11:7).
The Concordant Version used here capitalizes Us and Our in Genesis 1, assuming it to refer to conversation between Father and Son. It could also include the angelic sovereignties, as the two uses in 11:7 could also include the Son. Our point is simply to recognize that the repetition of this phrase points to man trying to ascend to the status of the axis mundi, as is seen in Isaiah 14:13, 14:
4. The Greatest Story in the World
Our final section will discuss the conflict at the axis mundi. But before we enter upon this we would like to point out that this is the greatest story ever told, and that it has been told thousands of times with thousands of variations.
One of the most recent versions of this story has been presented in the Cinema attraction: "Avatar." The title, Avatar, means Incarnation. Supposedly earth had become nearly desolate because of pollution and exhaustion of the earth's resources. So humans travel to another planet which has a rich deposit of the minerals they need. Sully, a soldier who lost the use of his legs in battle is given the opportunity to "live" in an artificially grown body of the natives of the planet. He is supposed to infiltrate the native race and become accepted by them so that he can persuade them to let the "sky people" (the earthlings) mine the ore, and in the process devastate the planet.
In the process of infiltrating the natives, Sully comes to respect and love the native inhabitants. So much so that after he fails in getting them to submit to the sky people for their own safety, he leads them in rebellion. In one scene he is tied to a framework for execution, but during an attack by the sky people the matron of the tribe releases him, asking him to help them if he can. The sky-people destroy a huge mother tree - an axis mundi for the people. All the trees of the planet are intelligently connected through their root system. Sully overcomes an enormous red flying dragon, and this is a sign to the native people that he should be their leader. Sully connects mentally with one of the trees and prays to the god of the planet for help. When it seems that all is lost, the god of the planet responds and the sky-people are overcome. In the final battle, Sully is overcome by the villain of the sky people who is enclosed in a powerful robot that gives him superhuman strength. Sully appears to die, but the villain is killed and Sully is revived. Sully becomes the new leader of the kingdom of people and evicts the sky people from the planet. Finally, Sully becomes permanently infused into the body that made him one of the native people.
We have incarnation, living among the people, rejection, near crucifixion, conquest of the red dragon, victory coming in the hero's death, reviving or resurrection, and leading the people to victory over superior foes with divine help. Do we have any real trouble seeing a similarity here to the story of Christ?
J. R. R. Tolkien has a similar kind of fantasy tale in Silmarillion. There is a god, Iluvatar, who creates some immortal beings first. Seven of these are somewhat parallel to the Catholic doctrine of 7 archangels. Their creation, and their own involvement in creation is associated with music, reflecting Job 38:7 which, in the context of creation says: "When the morning stars [spiritual beings] sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Among them is one of great power - Melkor - who becomes envious and eventually tries to destroy the works of the others. He lacks the power to make original creations, but is great in strength and in the power of deception. He parallels Satan.
In the paradise on earth, created by these Ainur (angels?) there were two magical trees that gave off great light. One gave off gold light like the sun and one gave off silver light like the moon. This light also seems to parallel truth and understanding. It is easy to see parallels to the trees of Eden there. But Melkor, in his envy, sowed doubt and dissension among the descendants of the Ainur, bringing great grief, and also destroyed the trees.
These are two more recently popular stories. Of course Tolkien's work includes The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit which abound with symbolism. Tolkien was encouraged to publish his writings by C. S. Lewis. Lewis is well-known for his series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the single title, The Screwtape Letters. These works have much symbolism in them like Tolkien's writings.
There are many versions and episodes of the story of Hercules. We will only mention a few salient points. He was a son of the god Zeus, but lived as a human. His battles saved not only the world, but Mount Olympus - the axis mundi and home of the gods. He rescued his bride, Megara from Hades and death.
And there are many more. Snow white, poisoned by eating the fruit of a tree by a deceiving villain seems to die until awakened by the kiss of true love. Humanity dies by disobediently eating the fruit of a tree till raised by the love of God in Christ.
Sleeping Beauty was wounded by the evil machinations of a jealous fiend and fell into an endless sleep that could only be broken by the kiss of true love. The prince had to slay the dragon to get to her, so he could awaken her. We were wounded with mortality by the jealous Serpent, and Christ had to destroy the serpent so that He can awaken us from death and raise us to immortality.
Pinocchio was a probationary boy. He was created by the toy maker. He got into trouble and did bad things and grew ears and a tail like a donkey and was finally taken to slave in the mines. He ended up dying - being swallowed by a whale, and was revived and made into a real boy. Who can fail to see humanity's fall and slavery in sin pictured in this story?
The list could go on. Those wishing to see other stories and televised programs that especially portray axis mundi symbols should refer to the New World Encyclopedia on line under the heading "axis mundi."
It seems everyone in the world loves and has heard or told some version of a conflict of a great hero who overcomes incredible foes, but only the Scriptures have the true version about Christ, the true Hero. We have the real true story. Will we hesitate to make it known?
5. The Conflict at the Axis Mundi
We have seen brief glimpses of one side - the peaceful aspects - of the axis mundi. Now we want to consider the conflict associated with the axis mundi. To do this we need to recall Isaiah's prophecy against the king of Babylon which we considered earlier. Previously we noted how certain parts of the prophecy described the har moged, the mount of the congregation. This mount of the congregation located in heaven is the very council room of the axis mundi. The king of Babylon's desire to exalt himself is presented as a reflection of Satan's desire to rule the axis mundi, and his fall that was prophesied also reflects the fall of Satan (Isa. 14:4-23).
The Conflict at the Axis in Eden
The original axis of the world where communication with God was made was in Eden. There God commanded Adam to guard and serve the axis mundi (Gen. 2:15). Guard and serve the focal point of communication with and instruction from God. This was no idle instruction. Someone else wanted Adam and Eve's designated authority on earth. Someone was apparently jealous of humanity's place at God's council table and in God's plan of the ages. Someone else wanted the place prepared for Christ. Evidently it was only through Satan's use of the serpent - an earthly creature, that he could breach into the authority structure on earth. Man's actual function in the axis mundi was limited at first to guarding the earthly portal. But in the future, under the headship of Christ, the authority given to man will be greatly expanded.
The Levites were to guard and serve the tabernacle, and that included executing the death penalty on unauthorized intruders. But it wasn't long until the priesthood became so corrupt that it had to be purged and re-initiated. The kings of Israel were to guard and serve the temple precincts by not allowing any false worship to infiltrate the nation. But after David they did no better than the priests. Christ reclaimed all these positions.
The original place was the mountain of God, the garden of Eden. There were trees. The trees and the mount on which they grew were symbols of the axis mundi. There was humanity - a woman and a man. There was a serpent. And there was the introduction of doubting God. Instead of always believing God, the possibility of believing a lie was introduced. This is why faith is so important. Faith is tied together, not just with the idea of believing, but of trusting the One Who is believed. The One Who is believed must be trustworthy. Man doubted God and then he sinned. And man lost guardianship of the axis mundi. So there was conflict between man and the serpent. And after humanity lost their position in the axis mundi, the serpent was cursed and cast down into the dust. Man was attacked and injured by the serpent, and the serpent was cast down. That judgment upon the serpent in Eden was a prophecy in picture of the ultimate casting down and defeat of Satan.
A Symbolic Scene at Sinai
In the book of Exodus, Moses was keeping the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro. He found himself at Horeb - the Mount of God - the axis mundi. Moses saw a bush that was burning but not consumed by the flames. You know how the story goes. There was a mountain: Horeb/Sinai. There was a man - Moses. There was a tree - the burning bush. And there was a serpent - when Moses threw down his staff at God's command, it became a serpent. But man's outcome in this episode was different than in Eden. At God's instruction, Moses took the serpent by the tail and it became a rod in his hand. And Moses' serpent swallowed up the serpents of Pharaoh's magicians.
The idea of faith had been introduced by Moses' forefather, Abraham, and this is the mountain where Israel would enter into covenant relationship with God, just as Abraham had been in covenant relationship with God.
The idea of power over death also comes in, and the idea of the one who possessed the power of death being destroyed by death. Like the serpent on the pole in the wilderness, Moses took the serpent by the tale, like Christ taking hold of fallen humanity's authority. What a change! God's people walked through the valley of death in the Red Sea, but Pharaoh and his armies could not pass through death - they remained and were conquered there. Rahab, the piercing serpent, became a symbol for Egypt, and God defeated Rahab! There was conflict between man and the serpent, and God resolved it, casting the serpent down in the sea (Ex. 14:27; Isa. 51:9; Ps. 89:10).
The Crucial Conflict of the Cross
The Lord Jesus came to the place of the axis mundi. He came to the temple of God in Jerusalem, to Mt. Zion and to the hill of Golgotha. There was a tree there - the cross. Satan, the ancient Serpent, was also there. It was his time. It was the hour and power of darkness. But there was also a serpent there in a different sense. Christ transformed into the serpent on the cross. Christ was made to be sin, or a sin offering, for our sakes. John said, "as Moses exalts the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of mankind be exalted, that everyone believing on Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian" (Jn. 3:14, 15 CV). The power of sin was broken there. Christ became accursed to destroy the curse that was on us. There the serpent's authority was nullified.
Such a wonderful thing happened in that catastrophe: Jesus said, "Now is the judging of this world. Now shall the Chief of this world be cast out. And I, if I should be exalted out of the earth, shall be drawing all to Myself." (Jn. 12:31, 32 CV). Jesus Christ had absolute faith in God the Father, and His faith is the basis of salvation. The apostle Paul, speaking of the resurrection said: "Swallowed up was Death by Victory [just like Moses' serpent swallowing up the serpents of Pharaoh's magicians]. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:54, 55).
When the 70 returned to Jesus rejoicing in the ministry they were empowered to do - power over spiritual beings - Jesus said, "I beheld Satan, as lightning, falling out of heaven" (Lk. 10:18 CV). He was speaking of their work and what it will yet become in virtue of His cross. This, with Paul's statement gives us a sampling of the casting down of the serpent that accompanied the death of Christ. So we have the mountain, the tree, humanity, the serpent, and the serpent being cast down. The serpent attacked humanity in Christ, and the serpent was cast down.
The Conflict Ushering in the Millennium
In Revelation 16 we're told how John saw frog-demons coming out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast and false prophet. These demonic spirits gathered the armies of the world to a place called Armageddon. If we place the rough breathing mark - a Greek apostrophe - in front of the A it becomes "Har." If we then separate the word into two words between the r and the m, we have Har Mageddon, which is the same as the Har Moged we saw in Isaiah 14. The suffix on at the end of the word indicates a place. So the armies are gathered at the mount of the congregation, or the mount of gathering - they are gathered at the cosmic axis.
They are gathered against God's people at the axis mundi to destroy the holy people and take over the world. But what we hear from heaven and the people of God is rejoicing that the great wedding feast of the Bride and Lamb is about to take place. The people in the axis mundi await their Deliverer. And One appears on a white horse, Whose name is called the Word of God, and at the command from His lips the invading armies fall dead, and Satan, the dragon, is locked in the bottomless pit. The serpent is cast down again.
The Final Conflict at the Axis
Next comes the millennium when the earth is at peace and Israel dwells in the midst of the lands - middle earth - and is safe without walls or gates or any means of protection. Believe it or not, here is a nation - a whole nation - living on faith in God. Can you imagine such a thing? Can you imagine England and all of Europe in WWII not preparing bomb shelters? When the 1,000 years is finished, Satan is loosed from his jail, and he mobilizes Gog and Magog for battle against the camp of the saints, the beloved city, which is the axis mundi at that time, and fire fell from God out of heaven and consumed them, and the devil, Satan the serpent, was cast into the lake of fire. The serpent will be cast down for the final time.
I hope by describing these events with less usual, non-biblical terms, and by pointing out the repeating pattern of events we will come to a fresh awareness of the importance of our calling. We are seated among the celestials in Christ - we will be, it is guaranteed. The delight of God's will was to call us to participate in the administration that will bring this world under the headship of Jesus Christ. Ultimately every knee will bow and every tongue will confess His Lordship. We are called to be a part of that administration on the mount of the congregation - har moged. We are called to function in the axis mundi - to be part of the mediating placenta of the navel of the earth - that is what eonian life is all about. How amazingly marvelous is the grace that calls us! How high a calling it is to believe in Jesus Christ, and to serve under His Lordship in reconciling the creation to God!
6. The Ultimate Elimination of the Axis Mundi
Even though we have covered a vast expanse of history in considering the axis mundi's of the Bible, we would be flagrantly remiss if we failed to note that the axis mundi's are only a temporary measure in God's plan. When the Lord Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, He said: "Believe Me, woman, that, coming is an hour when neither in this mountain [Mt. Gerizim, the axis mundi of Samaria that the Samaritans themselves established] nor in Jerusalem [Mt. Zion, the divinely established axis] shall you be worshiping the Father. You are worshiping that of which you are not aware; we are worshiping that of which we are aware, for salvation is of the Jews. But coming is the hour, and now is, when the true worshipers will be worshiping the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father also is seeking such to be worshiping Him. God is spirit, and those who are worshiping Him must be worshiping in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:21-24).
The Lord Jesus spoke here of the sending of God's Spirit to live within believers after His ascension. In the current age in which we live, believers have the first fruit of the Spirit - not the fullness. There will still be divine axis mundi's in the coming ages, but the goal is that there will be no tangible points on earth which are the designated places of communication with God. Paul speaks of believers being the temple of God's Spirit. And when he speaks of God being All in all (1 Cor. 15:28), he is speaking of the coming time when God's fullness will dwell in everyone. Then there will be no unholy locations on earth, but every place will be holy, and every person will be the equivalent of an axis mundi.